This is a collection of three stories, two traditional tales from Hans Christian Andersen and one original tale.
"The Red Shoes" is one of Andersen's most religious and dark tales. In the original, an orphan girl named Karen becomes obsessed with a pair of red shoes. She wears them to church and neglects the kindly lady as she is dying to dance. Then her shoes force her to dance until she finally begs an executioner to cut off her feet. Even then she is still prideful and thus refused entrance to church. Finally, as she lets go of her pride she is rewarded when the church comes to her, her heart breaks from joy, and she dies.
In Metaphrog's retelling, Karen is an innocent orphan who loves to dance and is tricked into wearing the shoes. Once they are on, the demonic seller activates their power and she is immediately possessed. Her aunt saves her and removes the shoes, but Karen can't stop thinking about them. Finally, when her aunt is ill, she puts them on - but once again they take control of her. She dances into church and sees her aunt's funeral, then begs the executioner to cut off her feet. She never dances again, but the shoes, with her feet inside them, dance on.
The second story is a short original, "The Glass Case." A boy becomes fascinated by a doll in a museum, even though the other kids taunt him. When he returns to visit Molly, he's not surprised when she talks to him. He gradually wishes he could escape his abusive father and live forever with Molly....and gets his wish.
The final story is the familiar tale of "The Little Match Girl." It stays close to the original story line, just simplifying the the story to fit into the graphic retelling.
"The Red Shoes" is the creepiest of the three tales; they are more melancholy than scary, having a dark undertone to each story that keeps and extends the black humor of Andersen's tales. There's just enough creepy to put make a little chill go down your spine and enough sad to give you the sniffles.
According to the publicity release, Metaphrog is two artists, Sandra Marrs and John Chalmers. They're apparently quite well-known, although I haven't encountered them before (not surprising, since it appears they don't usually do children's books). Their art has a delicate line that reminds me of Charles Vess, but their faces are unique, almost doll-like, adding to the creepy feel of the stories. "The Red Shoes" is illustrated in hues of green and blue, which darken almost to black as the shoes triumph and Karen neglects her dying aunt. Karen's red hair and the red shoes are given a subdued reddish hue, that is very creepy. "The Glass Case" is in sepia tones, which give it a feel of an old story or urban legend, but brights to yellows and light greens, which emphasize the child-like, creepy doll aspect. It seems like it should make it light and cheerful...but it doesn't. Dum dum DUM. "The Little Match Girl" is in sepia as well, but has a grayer tinge, emphasizing the older historical period and the gray winter days.
Verdict: These aren't super creepy and I think most middle grade kids could handle them, but my middle grade audience generally prefers graphic novels that feature more of the adventure/fantasy and not so much the short stories. This would probably click with teens who are fans of Neil Gaiman, Ted Naifeh, or Holly Black though. I'm not sure exactly where I'd put it in my library, but I think it would have an audience.
ISBN: 9781629912837; Published October 2015 by Papercutz; Galley provided by publisher