Book Review: ‘Endlessly Ever After’ by Laurel Snyder, ill. by Dan Santat

Poet Laurel Snyder, an Iowa Writers’ Workshop alum, is a Geisel Award-winning children’s book author. Endlessly Ever After is her first collaboration with Caldecott Award-winning illustrator Dan Santat (beloved in my home for his work on Corey Rosen Schwartz’s The Three Ninja Pigs). It is not, however, her first pick-your-path book.

Her first published work, in 2005 (written before she went down the path to writing for children), was a chapbook called Daphne & Jim: A choose-your-own-adventure biography in verse. There, she turned the form to the task of exploring a couple’s courtship. That couple was based on her own parents, a sign of an intimacy with and trust in that form that is also evident in Endlessly Ever After (Chronicle Books, April 2022).

This winsome fractured fairy tale is un-put-down-able.

Of course, I had my own period of obsession with the original Choose Your Own Adventure series of books. They’re a deeply safe way for children to explore both the freedom and the fatalism of decision making. They make a reader feel as though they are collaborating in the act of creation, spinning alternate universes into being.

The struggle with a picture book crafted this way is that there is, necessarily, a hero to the story. The “you” isn’t solely a cipher, but a character whose role you step into. In this case, Snyder and Santat have created Rosie, a delightful amalgam of storybook tropes who, even while beholden to the reader’s choices, manages to exhibit consistent character traits of compassion, resilience and curiosity. Through a particular gift for facial expressions, Santat offers a visual of Rosie that seems to mature as more choices are made, a pragmatic child who learns enough from her choices that she wouldn’t dare call any of them “mistakes.”

Snyder’s snappy rhymes guide Rosie and the reader on a journey through a whole forest of fairy tales. The third little pig’s sturdy home lies just a few paths over from a gingerbread house where two hapless children await rescue. Jack is searching for his goose, dwarves hold a wake and a princess waits in a tower for a kiss. The storytelling is done in verse, but each choice is laid out plainly in prose. That break in flow and form drives home the importance of pausing before choice-making, something children — and all of us — could use more reminders about.

There are plenty of unhappy endings included in Endlessly Ever After. This book embraces the darkness of fairy tales as well as their joy and their effortless moralizing. But at no point does the reader feel trapped, or disappointed, or let down. The poetry of the text and the warmth of the illustrations make sure that the harshest lessons are graciously and gratefully received. And the happy endings are like hidden treasures, shining brightly when found.

Snyder and Santat have crafted a book that children (and their adults) will want to read and reread again and again. It’s perfect for curling up in a cozy chair on a cold or rainy day and escaping into a world where all things are possible.

This article was originally published in Little Village’s July 2022 issues.