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Excerpt: ‘The Sisters Grimm’

One great book club selection is "The Sisters Grimm," by Michael Buckley, illustrated by Peter Ferguson. For Sabrina and Daphne Grimm, life hasn't been a fairy tale. After the mysterious disappearance of their parents, the sisters are sent to live with their grandmother — a woman they believed was dead! Granny Relda reveals that the girls have two famous ancestors, the Brothers Grimm, whose classic book of fairy tales is actually a collection of case files of magical mischief. Now the girls, along with Puck, a boy both magical and mischief-making, must take on the family responsibility of being fairy-tale detectives. Their first case? A roller-coaster ride of an adventure to stop a giant from destroying their new hometown. With five books available so far and sixth due out in 2008, here's an excerpt of Chapter Two from book one, "The Fairy-Tale Detectives."

“What are we doing here?” Sabrina asked.

“We’re investigating a crime, naturally,” Mrs. Grimm said.

“Are you a police officer or something?” asked Daphne.

“Or something,” the old woman said with a grin. “Why don’t you get out and take a look around?”  She walked away, apparently to snoop through the rubble.

Having a two-hundred-pound dog lie on her lap had given Sabrina a charley horse, so she and Daphne decided to get out and stretch their legs.

“She talks to the house, and cows, and has all these crazy rules. Now she thinks she’s Sherlock Holmes,” Sabrina muttered.

“Maybe it’s a game,” Daphne said. “I’m going to be a detective, too! I’m going to be Scooby Doo!”

Despite all of Sabrina’s warnings, Daphne seemed to be having fun, something she hadn’t had in nearly a year and a half. It was nice to see a smile on her sister’s face and that old light in her eyes. It was the same look she used to have when their father would read them the Sunday comics or when their mother would let them invade her closet to play dress-up. Sabrina smiled and put her arm around the little girl’s shoulders. She’d let her have her fun. Who knew how long it would last?

Just then, a long white limousine pulled into the clearing. It was bright and shiny with whitewall tires and a silver horse for a hood ornament. It parked next to Mrs. Grimm’s car and a little man got out of the driver’s side. He couldn’t have been more than three feet high. In fact, he was no taller than Daphne. He had a big bulbous nose and a potbelly that the buttons of his black suit struggled to contain. But the most unusual thing about the man wasn’t his size or his clothing. It was the pointy paper hat he wore on his head that read, I AM AN IDIOT. He rushed as quickly as he could to the other side of the car, opened the back passenger door, and was met with a barrage of insults from a man inside.

“Mr. Seven, sometime today!” the man bellowed in an English accent. “Do you think I want to sit in this muggy car all afternoon waiting for you to find time to open the door? You know, when you came to me for a job, I happily gave you one, but every day you make me regret it!”

A tall man in a purple suit exited the limousine and looked around. He had a strong jaw, deep blue eyes, and shiny black hair. He was probably the best-looking man Sabrina had ever seen, and her heart began to race. That was, until he opened his mouth again.

“What is this? Heads are going to roll, Mr. Seven,” the man fumed as he looked around.

“Yes, sir,” Mr. Seven answered.

“I was told that this was taken care of last night. It’s just lucky that I realize that everyone who works for me is an incompetent boob or we would never have known this was still out here until it was too late. My goodness, look at that rubbish sitting there in broad daylight. What do the Three think I pay them for? I can’t have this nonsense going on right now. Doesn’t everyone realize that the ball is tomorrow? Heads are going to roll, Mr. Seven.”

The little man nodded in agreement. His boss looked down at Sabrina and Daphne and scowled.

“Look, the tourists are already here and they’re leaving their filthy children unsupervised. They are children, right, Mr. Seven? Not just a couple more of your kind?”

Mr. Seven’s dunce cap had slid down over his eyes. He lifted it and gazed at the two girls. “They’re children, sir.”

“The way they are dressed you would think they were circus folk. You worked in the circus for some time, didn’t you Mr. Seven?”

The little man nodded.

“Why, there ought to be a law about unsupervised children. This is a crime scene and it’s crawling with kids. Mr. Seven, let’s make that a law, if that isn’t too much trouble?” the man continued.

“No trouble at all, sir,” said Mr. Seven as he took a spiral-bound pad and a pen from his jacket pocket and furiously jotted down his boss’s instructions.

“See how easy it is to be a team player, Mr. Seven? I like your change of attitude. If you keep this up we might be able to get rid of that hat,” the man said.

“That would please me, sir.”

“Let’s not rush things, Mr. Seven. After all, you still haven’t given these children my card, which is incredibly frustrating, especially since we discussed this just last night. What did I tell you, man?”

“Give everyone your card. It’s good networking.”

“Indeed it is,” the man replied, tapping his toe impatiently.

“So sorry, Mr. Charming, sir,” Mr. Seven said as he rushed to the girls and shoved a business card into each of their hands. It was purple with a golden crown on one side and the words MAYOR WILLIAM CHARMING — HERE TO LEAD YOU written on it in gold lettering. Underneath the name were a telephone number, an e-mail address, and a Web site: mayorcharming.com

“Now, what was I saying before I had to tell you how to do your job, Mr. Seven?”

But before the little man could answer, Sabrina stepped forward. If there was one thing she couldn’t stand, it was a bully.

“You were saying there ought to be a law against unsupervised children,” Sabrina said angrily. “There should be a law against talking to people like they are morons, too!”

“Yes, that’s correct. See, Seven, if this carnival girl can pay attention to the conversation, why can’t you? Why, she can’t be more than eight years old, and certainly slow in the head,” Mayor Charming said.

“I’m almost twelve,” Sabrina shouted. “And I’m not slow!”

Mayor Charming seemed startled by her anger.

“Where are your parents, child?” he snapped.

“We’re here with our grandmother,” Daphne answered. Sabrina spun around on her sister angrily. The old lunatic was not their grandmother.

“How splendid for you,” Mayor Charming sneered. “And who is your grandmother?”

Daphne pointed to Mrs. Grimm, who was busy taking notes on a little pad of paper.

“Relda Grimm is your grandmother?” the mayor growled between gritted teeth. “When will this cursed family die out? You’re like a swarm of cockroaches!”

Mrs. Grimm looked over, saw Mayor Charming, and quickly came to join them.

“Relda Grimm, I just met your granddaughters,” the mayor said, as his face changed from a scowl to a smile. “They’re the spitting image of their grandfather.”

He bent over and pinched Daphne on the cheek. “Hopefully, they’ll grow out of it,” he muttered.

“Mayor Charming, what brings you all the way out here? I thought you’d be busy planning the fund-raiser. It’s in a couple of days, correct?” said Mrs. Grimm with a forced smile.

“It is not a fund-raiser!” Charming insisted. “It’s a ball! And it is tomorrow night. But you know how the community is. If I don’t investigate every little stray cloud, the flock gets nervous. But then again, I could ask you the same question. What is the famous Relda Grimm doing in the middle of nowhere looking at a broken house?”

He was right — it was a house that had fallen down. Sabrina saw pieces of furniture and clothing sticking out of the pile and an old afghan quilt swinging from a stick in the breeze.

“I don’t know what the farmer expected with such shoddy workmanship. He’s lucky to have crawled out alive,” he continued.

“So there was a survivor?” Mrs. Grimm said, writing in her notebook.

“Here she goes, Mr. Seven. You can almost see the wheels spinning in her head. Relda Grimm, private eye, out to solve the case that never was,” the mayor said. “See, that’s the problem with you Grimms. You could never quite grasp that in order to solve a mystery there must be a mystery to solve. A farmer built a flimsy house and it fell down. It was an accident. Case closed.”

“Then why did you call it a crime scene?” Sabrina piped up.

Charming turned and gave her a look that could have burned a hole through her. “You must have misheard me, child,” he said between gritted teeth. “Mr. Seven, take down this note, please. New law — children should not ask questions of their elders.”

As the little man scribbled furiously in his notebook, Mrs. Grimm said, “We both know why we’re here, Mayor.”

Charming’s face turned red. He tugged on his necktie and adjusted his collar. “This is none of your concern, Relda.”

Before the old woman could respond, Mr. Canis joined the group.

“Well, if it isn’t the big bad ... ”

“Mayor Charming!” said Mrs. Grimm angrily.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I heard you were going by Canis now.” Charming grinned and leaned in close to Sabrina and Daphne. “Do yourselves a favor, girls, and check Granny’s teeth before you give her a good-night kiss.”

“Do you think it wise to provoke me?” Mr. Canis said as he took a step toward the mayor. Despite Mr. Canis’s quiet demeanor, the words seemed to unnerve Charming. 

“That’s enough!” Mrs. Grimm demanded. Her voice shocked the girls, but the effect on the two grown men was even more startling. They backed away from each other like two schoolboys who had been scolded by a teacher.

“The dog has found something,” Mr. Canis said gruffly. He placed an enormous green leaf in Mrs. Grimm’s hand and her eyes lit up in satisfaction.

“Well, look at that, Mayor Charming, I think we’ve found a clue. There might be a mystery to solve here, yet,” she said, waving the leaf in the mayor’s angry face.

“Congratulations! You found a leaf in the middle of all these trees,” Charming scoffed. “I bet if you could bring out the forensics team you might find a twig, or even an acorn!”

“It looks a lot like a leaf from a beanstalk,” the old woman replied.

Charming rolled his eyes. “That proves nothing.”

“Maybe, maybe not, but it does seem odd that a fresh green leaf is out here in late November,” Mrs. Grimm said. Sabrina looked around at the trees. Every limb was bare.

“Listen Relda, stop meddling in our affairs or you’re going to regret it,” said the mayor.

“If you don’t want me meddling, then you must really do a better job of covering up your mistakes.” Mrs. Grimm placed the leaf inside her handbag.

The mayor scoffed and then turned to Mr. Seven. “Get the door, you lumpy bag of foolishness!” he shouted. The little man nearly lost his paper hat as he rushed to the car door. Within moments, the limo was spitting gravel behind it as it drove away.

“Girls, why don’t we take a walk over to that hill and sit by the tractor? I’d like to see this site from above,” Mrs. Grimm said. Daphne took the old woman’s hand and helped her up a sloped embankment where a lonely tractor was parked. When they reached the top, the old woman plopped on the ground and caught her breath. “Thank you, liebling. Either the hills are getting steeper or I’m getting older.”

“Who was that man?” Daphne asked.

“Let’s just say he’s a royal pain,” Mrs. Grimm replied. “Mr. Charming is the mayor of Ferryport Landing.” 

Story used with permission of the publisher and author. © Michael Buckley from “The Sisters Grimm Book 1: The Fairy-Tale Detectives” published by Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

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