I'm always on the lookout for good retellings and so was interested in The Brixen Witch by Stacy DeKeyser as soon as I heard of it. The book is a retelling of The Pied Piper of Hamelin. How many of those can be found?
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
When Rudi Bauer
accidentally takes a witch’s coin, he unleashes her curse. Accident or
not, he knows he’s got to fix things, so he tries to return the coin,
only to lose it on the witch’s magic mountain just as the snows come.
Plagued all winter by terrible dreams, Rudi tries to find the coin again
in the spring, but it has vanished—and a plague of rats has descended
on his village.
Then a stranger arrives and promises to rid
the village of rats—for the price of the missing coin. Desperate to get
rid of the rats, the villagers agree—but when they cannot pay, the
stranger exacts a price too terrible for anyone to bear. Now Rudi is
going to need all his courage—and some help from his savvy grandmother
and a bold young girl—to set things right in this fast and funny
The Pied Piper is one of those tales that always leaves one scratching one's head. What did the Piper do with the children once he lured them away? Why on earth would the Piper think that kidnapping a town full of children was suitable revenge for not getting paid? There's a whole lot of creepy attached to this story if you think about it too much. The Brixen Witch attempts to tell a fuller version and answer some of the questions brought up by the original, but does it with an innocent and charming air. The conclusion seemed a little too easy, but it fit the tone of the book nicely. The plot moves along at a steady pace.
The story in the novel focuses on a 12 year old boy named Rudi. He feels the rat disaster in his town is his fault and he must be the one to put it to rights. He recognizes the Piper as the servant of the Brixen Witch as soon as he comes into town. Rudi's strength of character and actions are praiseworthy. He works hard to restore his village's good fortune and free his friends once they are taken by the Piper. I feel like he read younger than 12 in several places and that Sarah Louisa, the 8 year old girl who helps him, read younger than 8. Rudi is a typical folk tale sort of character, not terribly nuanced but serves his purpose in the story well.
I found this to be an interesting read and am excited to have another retelling to add to my book report list for my students, especially one that comes in under 200 pages. It's length and simplicity also make it a good choice for younger readers.