Captivating from Start to Finish
The Sleeper and the Spindle is a picture book that is as illuminating as it is dark. Spinning the fairytales of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, author Neil Gaiman and Illustrator Chris Riddell, combine the two lives into one hero’s, (or rather heroine’s) journey.
As a long-time fan of Gaiman’s writing, I found this story to be just as delightful and sinister as most of his tales. Gaiman is never needlessly gruesome or shocking, but he tells his stories in honest language and earnest characters. Every word counts in Sleeper and the Spindle, and while this story might be dark, the message is not, as it’s about finding courage in the wake of many expectations.
From the expectations of what the Queen is meant to become after she wakes from her spell, to the sleeping Princesses in need of rescuing (but maybe not in the way you’d expect), each character is faced with choices. Throughout the story, Gaiman plays with the consequences of each choice - and whether these choices come to fruition or not - giving the entire book an air of dream-like wonder.
One of my favorite elements of the story was the Queen’s journey. Rarely do we read fairytales detailing what happens after the princess is rescued, but in Sleeper and the Spindle, we see that Snow White is now a queen and doing the rescuing. She isn’t sure she wants to get married. She isn’t sure if she can save the kingdom, but she’s sure that if she stays and gets married, her life will change forever. So she fetches her sword and armor and travels to save a princess asleep in her tower, and a kingdom from dark magic.
While Gaiman’s words deliver a story full of adventure, Chris Riddell’s illustrations bring Gaiman’s words together and add a depth to the story that appears effortless. Unlike the colorful illustrations that typically accompany fairytales, the artistry for Sleeper and the Spindle is black & white pen work with golden accents throughout. While Gaiman’s words feel barely restrained, Riddell’s illustrations take a bare-boned approach that is decadent without being overpowering. However, both the artist and the author have a sense of wildness about their work that serves this story well.
The book has a wonderful graphic novel feel to it, which makes this story a good choice for older readers, or even a read-aloud bedtime story for younger children. While the book deals with some dark themes, the language and art provides a lightness that takes the edge off the darkness.