Class Book Review: The Sleeper and the Spindle

Year 4 pupils love the magical, creepy The Sleeper and the Spindle, by Neil Gaiman, inspired by famous fairy tales

Jackie Murrell

Class book review: The Sleeper and Spindle by Neil Gaiman

The Sleeper and the Spindle

Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrator:  Chris Riddell 
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Details: 72 pages; £8.99
ISBN: 978-1408859650

When prize-winning author Neil Gaiman collaborates with the equally award-laden former children’s laureate and illustrator Chris Riddell, you can guarantee the result will be something unique and special, and this book is no exception. An extremely dark and gothic fairy tale, it features the stories of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, but given a very modern and feminist twist. 

A queen prepares unenthusiastically for marriage and a future that is mapped out for her. When three dwarves inform her of a cursed kingdom where a princess and her people have lied asleep for decades, the queen decides to take up the challenge to save them, even though many have failed before her. Her upcoming wedding, with some relief, is put on hold. Gaiman encourages you to believe that, just like the Snow White, herself once condemned to a year’s unconsciousness, she would be the ideal person to save the day – but not everything is as it appears.

This is no Disney-style fantasy for the very young, but instead akin to some of the original, more gruesome tales in the genre, but there is much to engage and thrill the older child. The narrative touches on themes of gender, power, beauty, ageing and death. The language is very expressive, and the narrative is deliciously creepy; the sleeping retinue move around like zombies, the thorny bushes grow around the skeletons of unsuccessful rescuers, menace and decay is everywhere. The narrative is wonderfully enhanced by Riddell’s illustrations, intricate black-and-white drawings with the occasional feature picked out in blood red. They are full of dark magic, innocence and corruption, and encapsulate both the beautiful and the grotesque.

Not the ideal bedtime story for a toddler, perhaps, but a richly nuanced tale with a contemporary slant that will fire your imagination – and haunt your dreams.

Jackie Murrell is a librarian at Bromley High School GDST, in south-east London

Pupil reviews

'The queen was brave, resilient and understood that she didn't need anyone to make choices for her' 

I really enjoyed reading The Sleeper and the Spindle. I found it both magical and creepy. Magical because the whole world was falling asleep, creepy because of the way the sleeping people were described as covered in cobwebs with their eyes rolled into the back of their heads. The illustrations throughout the book are beautifully detailed and they go perfectly with the story, encouraging you to read on. There is an interesting twist to the story as I initially thought that the old lady was the evil one who put the girl to sleep, but as the story goes on you find out that the girl is a nasty witch who put a sleeping spell on everyone, taking their youth away.

My favourite character was the queen because she was brave, resilient and understood that she didn’t need anyone to make her choices for her. By kissing the sleeping girl, she showed she was fearless and had lots of courage. At the end of the story, she chooses to walk away from her kingdom and go on a new adventure. This could lead to an exciting new sequel. 

Bella, age 8

'The book is fast-paced with lots of action jammed in'

Wow! Another exciting Neil Gaiman book! I loved this book and thoroughly enjoyed reading it from start to finish. The best part was that all the leading characters were strong, powerful and determined women, even if some were good and some were evil! My favourite character was the aueen. Brave and resilient, she battles through numerous challenges and sacrifices herself to save her people. 

Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, two classic stories have been intertwined and interpreted to create this modern masterpiece. The language used throughout this book enables the reader to feel every emotion and, coupled with the amazing illustrations, you truly immerse yourself in the story and are transported to the lands of Dorimar and Kanselaire. In my opinion, the only thing lacking is humour.  

The book is fast-paced with lots of action jammed into its 66 pages. In summary - a great read! I will be revisiting it time and time again. I did not want the story to end! I would 100 per cent recommend this book to children above seven years of age.

Sahana, age 9

'It made me feel as if I was really there'

I have enjoyed reading The Sleeper and the Spindle as it was very mysterious and interesting. In some parts of the book the description of the scene was so powerful that it made me feel as if I were really there! However, the book was also very frightening and creepy. I did not find that very amusing but the book still had its own jokes which made it bearable to read.      

Elif, age 9

'The illustrator had some incredible drawing skills' 

I liked the way the illustrator drew the pictures with no colours, but included tints. I liked the cross-hatching instead of bright neat colours, the illustrator had used some incredible drawing skills. I admired how the author thought about the inscrutable, magical and deep forest. Furthermore, I think the characters are stunning and amazing, and the queen was able to save the sleeper and travel through all of those terribly sharp thorns that tried to get in her way. 

On the whole, I liked this book but also realised something rather interesting – this book contained a whole lot of different fairy stories, for example Sleeping Beauty [sleeper], Snow White [dwarves]. The only part I found creepy was when all the people were coated in spider webs! I wonder what the queen felt like that time?   

Ella, age 9

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Jackie Murrell

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