The best thing about the end of June approaching is definitely the occasion of a new and entirely inaccurate review of a book I read this month. In June, I enjoyed re-reading The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, by Vivian Vande Velde.
The Rumpelstiltskin Problem is the biography of a young monk-in-training named Rumpelstiltskin. Constantly abandoning his studies and prayers in the pursuit of alchemy, Rumpelstiltskin is viewed by the senior monks – some fondly, some less so – as a walking disaster. At the outset of the book, he is sent to work for a nearby widowed miller with seven children, to babysit and educate them. This is to be both an act of charity and a learning experience for Rumpelstiltskin.
Each of the eight chapters in the book is devoted to Rumpelstiltskin’s interactions with one of the children in the family – the eighth chapter, of course, detailing his relationship with the miller – as he teaches them how to meet the challenges that life throws at them, how to find joy again after the death of a loved one, and how to spin straw into gold.
Set against the backdrop of World War I, The Rumpelstiltskin Problem is by turns laugh-out-loud funny and poignant, sweet and suspenseful, and Vande Velde’s anachronic narration is so masterfully done that it is easy to forget that this story, though told creatively, is entirely nonfiction.
I heartily recommend The Rumpelstiltskin Problem to any fans of twice (or more) told tales, spinning straw into gold, or magical babysitters.
Disclaimer: this book review is inaccurate. Any similarity to other stories, real or imagined, is entirely coincidental.