Sarah's Reviews > The Rumpelstiltskin Problem

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde
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Nov 21, 09

bookshelves: fantasy-and-sci-fi

I really like the concept of this book, as well as the book itself. I am always wondering, “Why?” and “What if?” about stories. Since fairytales and folktales are fairly flat by the very nature of the genre, I have a tendency to want to know more. Sometimes I am curious about the background of a character or his/ her motivation. I want to know things like, “Is that character just evil by nature or did something happen to that character to make him/her so evil?” Often the cynic in me wonders if those utterly sweet, pure, and good characters are really that nice or are they just naive or vapid. This book takes a look at the story of Rumpelstiltskin from various vantage points. The author creatively devises her own stories to answer some of her own questions about the story (which she mentions in the “Author’s Note.” In the different versions the character who has the most to gain or who “wins” in the end varies. The characters’ actions are defined by different motives and personality traits in each story. By the end of the book, the author has successfully answered her questions-- as well as some of our own, perhaps—in a highly imaginative and well-thought-out manner.

This book could be used with various ages of students. I think, though that it could be best used with students 3rd grade or older. The following story study would be especially appropriate for 4th graders and up. First, a review of the elements of a fairytale should be done. It would be important to read—or have them read—one of the traditional versions first. Then, comparisons and contrasts can be made as the different versions in this book are read. Students should use higher level thinking skills to think about how characters’ motives changed when they had different personality attributes or backgrounds. They should likewise look at how these at how these then affected the plot or the outcome of the story. One way to do this study would be to divide the students into groups, each taking a “new” version of the story. The teacher can have students read it themselves; read it with a partner; or listen to it on a tape, CD, or computer. Having read (or listened to) the traditional version of the story first, students can then look at the elements of the story that are similar or different. A graphic organizer would be useful to help students organize their ideas. Then, later on, groups can share the results with the rest of the class. Afterwards, the class could discuss what they learned about how a story changes if you know more about characters, their motives, how the plot progresses, and the resulting outcome.

This can then be taken a step further by having students read commonly known fairytales and making up their own versions of the story by altering just an element or two, or by giving further background and establishing a motive behind the actions. Students would show how these would affect the rest of the story/ our understanding of the story.
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