The Musicians of Bremen: A Grimm’s Fairy Tale by Gerda Muller

The Musicians of Bremen: A Grimm’s Fairy Tale by Gerda Muller. Floris Books, c2015, 2022. 9781782507925

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review): 5

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Folktale

What did you like about the book?  This lovely, graceful treatment of the Grimm’s classic folktale of four elderly animals will be a great update to library collections. It’s all about the art here, with Muller’s detailed and full-page bleeds using gouache, colored pencil, and graphite to great effect. We open in the French countryside with an old donkey pulling a heavy wagon, right in the center of the page. If you know the story, then you’ll remember that each of the protagonists is a working animal who’s outlived its useful years and is thus seen as disposable by its owners. In short order, the donkey leaves home and meets a dog, a cat, and a rooster who all decide to travel to Bremen and become musicians. But then the animals happen upon a cabin in which a band of robbers are enjoying their ill-gotten gains (shown here as wine, meat, and a delicious looking pile of veggies). The quartet starts baying through the window, frightening the robbers away. When the brigands force the youngest ruffian back into the lean-to, he’s attacked by the animals and comes back with a tale of a man with a long knife (the dog), a witch that scratched him (the cat), a giant who struck him with a club (the donkey), and someone who screamed “Catch the robber – Do!” (obviously the rooster). The 4 friends get to live happily ever after in the cozy little house, never making it to Bremen.

It’s hard to overstate the charm of Muller’s illustrations. The characters have so much personality and yet retain their animal qualities: the dog stops to scratch his ear with his hind leg, the cat pokes curiously at a tiny snail, and the rooster puffs up his little wings when he gets ready to crow. Wonderful details on every page will make this a version children return to again and again. I especially loved the subtle darkening of the sky as the little band draws near the cabin and the pitch blackness that hides their true nature as they attack the robbers. It’s very striking to see the brightly colored animals against the night sky.

Anything you didn’t like about it? No

To whom would you recommend this book?  Anyone looking to replace an older version of the story. Unusual among the Grimm’s tales, this one actually holds up to modern notions and will give readers opportunities to predict and also something to talk about. What rights do the elderly have in our culture? Do we value things that are old or disregard them without considering their true worth? This could even prompt a discussion about how rumors or urban legends are formed!

Who should buy this book? Elementary and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? 398.2 Grimm

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: August 2, 2022

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