But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.
I am filling an intellectual and emotional pull to revisit these old stories. What better way to do it this new year than with Gary D. Schmidt, one of my very-most-favorite-authors-of-all-time? I was compelled to read Straw Into Gold, one of his earliest books, because I was considering it as a bookclub pick for my upper elementary/middle school bookclub at our homeschool co-op. It’s a rewriting of the fairytale “Rumpelstiltskin.” Actually, it picks up where the fairytale ends, more or less.
The story opens with a boy named Tousle on the morning of a long-awaited day: the day his Da will take him to the village of Wolversham to see the king and queen on parade. Tousle lives alone with his Da, an odd little fellow with magical powers, and has never been away from their home. Their trip to Wolversham sets in motion a series of events which leads Tousle away from his home and the life he has known on a quest to save the lives of a downtrodden people (“rebels”) by the answering of a riddle. His companion on the quest, a blind boy named Innes, is connected to him in ways he cannot even imagine at the outset of the story. There is adventure, even violence, a-plenty in this tale, and it ends satisfyingly, if a bit surprisingly.
I am amazed by how Schmidt can ply his craft in so many genre and still come through with both the same tone and themes time and time again. Straw into Gold is one of Schmidt’s earliest novels, but it “feels” the same as his later books in many ways. In it we have flawed parents and parenting, difficulties galore, and a resolution that requires loving sacrifice. While I can definitely see growth in his writing (this one is maybe a wee bit over-eager, trying-too-hard-to-be-beautifully-written), I adore it. This little bit of description encapsulates why:
And there was no doubt that she was the queen. All day we had tramped through the snow, with only a single break to eat. Her robe and skirts hung wet and heavy, the bottoms stiffened with frost. She had pushed back her hood, and her hair that had begun so tightly tied back had fanned out and flattened against her cheeks and forehead. Her breathing came loudly.
But there was no doubt that she would go on and on, that if she must, she would pick both of us up in her arms and carry us on her shoulders. (136)
If you’ve never read Gary D. Schmidt, this one is a good one to start on. Or any of the rest of them. You just can’t go wrong.