Okay, I love a good fractured fairy tale, and even the predictable retellings for kids are fresh and new to them, so here I’ll share some of the fairy-tale-based books I’ve encountered either on my own, while teaching, or recently with BoyChild and GirlChild. If you like a fresh face on a fairy tale, one of these might be for you!
The Magic Porridge Pot, by Paul Galdone (1976): I’m starting with a classic author with a simple retelling because a lot of kids (or their parents who are trying to tell the story!) may not even know a basic version of folk and fairy tales! (I know GirlChild didn’t when I wrote the Cinderella post a couple years ago!) In this story, a little girl and her mother have nothing to eat, and the little girl comes across an old woman in the woods who gives her a magic porridge pot that will boil with porridge with the right phrase (“Boil, Little Pot, Boil!”) and stop with the right phrase (“Stop, Little Pot, Stop!”). They are well-fed and happy. One day when the little girl is off visiting friends, the mother forgets the stopping words and floods the streets of their village with porridge. In the end, the little girl saves the day and no one in the village is ever hungry again. Galdone has a version of pretty much every classic folk or fairy tale you can imagine (I exaggerate, but not much) available on Amazon.
The Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad Wolf, by Mark Teague (2013): In this retelling, the pigs are sent on their way with a hoof full of cash by the farmer and his wife when they retire to Florida. The first two pigs skimp on building materials so they can splurge on potato chips and sody-pop, but the third pig invests in bricks (and gets a bonus sandwich from the owner of the hardware store to keep her belly full). The wolf comes through town on an empty stomach and is hopping mad by the time he is turned away (by locked doors or unsympathetic restauranteurs) from several eating places and happens upon a house that smells rather piggy. In his grouchy frustration, he threatens to blow down the house and eat the pig, and his success in the first task both surprises and emboldens him. In the end, he was more “hangry” than anything else, and the sympathetic pigs and their practical sibling help the wolf out, and he’s barely ever bad again. I think this would make a great read-aloud for young elementary school kids who already know the story because the changes will keep them on their toes and are quite entertaining. (Written and illustrated by the guy who does the illustrations in the How Do Dinosaurs…? series.)
Dog in Boots, by Greg Gormley, illustrated by Roberta Angaramo (2011): Dog reads a very nice story about a cat who wears boots, and he’s inspired to buy a set of his own! He keeps trying different kinds of footwear at the shoestore, but each one turns out unsatisfactory in some way. The shopkeeper finally tells him that he doesn’t have quite the perfect thing, but that Dog does: his own paws! Dog agrees, has a lot of fun, then relaxes with another good book…about a girl who wears a red hood. This is clearly a fairy-tale-inspired book for the very young (I’d say preschool to primary school), and it is quite silly. It could always be a mentor text for young writers to imagine what might happen if Dog tried out something from another fairy tale (like growing long hair like Rapunzel or building houses like the Three Little Pigs) and what the results might be. The front papers show Dog trying out a variety of shoes (to fit the theme of the story), and the back pages show him trying out various costumes from other fairy tales.
The Very Smart Pea and the Princess-to-Be, by Mini Grey (2003): I’m not sure I’ve ever read a retelling of “The Princess and the Pea” from the point-of-view of a garden vegetable…until this one. This is the pea, in fact, that is chosen by the Queen as a test to the various visitors claiming to be princesses to prove their royalty in the standard way. First, the Prince traveled the world looking for a princess so that he wouldn’t lose his allowance (his mother’s threat), but none was quite to his fancy. (The illustration on this page shows Polaroids of a variety of princesses, some of them recognizable from other fairy tales.) The Queen then decides to invite prospects to the castle for the real-princess test, but all the visitors are too polite to mention their uncomfortable sleep, so none pass the test. The chosen pea decides to take matters into his/her own hands and, when her gardener comes to the door during a storm and is whisked away to try the test without being able to explain herself first, the pea tries some subliminal messages while she sleeps. The Queen is excited to hear the planted complaints during breakfast the next morning, and the Prince seems quite pleased with his unconventional “princess.” If the final illustration is to be believed, they live happily ever after while they tend the palace garden.
The Princess and the Peas and Carrots, by Harriet Ziefert, illustrations by Travis Foster (2012): Rosebud is a little girl who likes things just so. If things aren’t quite to her liking (mistakes while coloring, itchy clothes, green things in her food), she gets in quite a mood. During one of those moods (caused by food touching other food on her dinner plate), she shoves her plate away, accidentally causing it to spill her entire meal (chicken, mashed potatoes, peas, carrots, and gravy!) on the floor. Her mother sends her to her room where she takes out her frustration by completely ransacking it and throwing a massive fit. Her parents come and offer to help her…IF she calms down. When she does and apologizes for the messes she’s made, she and her parents work together to restore the room. After she eats her dinner and climbs into bed, her daddy tells her the story of the Princess and the Pea. Rosebud tries to go to sleep after the story, but something isn’t quite right…and her daddy finds a marble in it that had been missed during the clean-up, proving she’s a real princess, too. Cute illustrations and a phase of childhood (or personality type!) with which many parents and kids can identify!
The Great Fairy Tale Disaster, by David Conway and illustrated by Melanie Williamson (2012): The Big Bad Wolf is getting old, and he’s looking for a less stressful fairy tale for a change. His attempts to integrate himself into different stories don’t work out quite as he plans, especially when the Three Bears find him in their house and start chasing him from story to story, creating chaos in all the fairy tales! The Big Bad Wolf finally escapes back into his own story only to find himself in hot water–again. Poor Wolf can’t catch a break!
The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith (1992): I have to preface this one by saying that if you don’t like the word “stupid,” it’s probably going to spoil your enjoyment of this book. However, I find it absolutely hilarious and nonsensical, and–like most other Jon Scieszka books–a great hook to get boys into reading about things they otherwise wouldn’t. (What better way to work in a telling of the Gingerbread Man or Chicken Little than using them to explain what these silly stories are supposed to be like!) Primarily for those who like the humor of sixth grade boys. ;) It’s also a Caldecott Honor book if you need more convincing.
Fairest, by Gail Carson Levine (2006): Set in the same fantasy world as her first (and Newbery Honor winning) fairy-tale-inspired book, Ella Enchanted, Fairest pretty quickly reveals itself (through subtle details) to be a reimagining of the story of Snow White. Some of the in-world customs (singing random parts of ordinary speech, regional idioms, etc.) interrupt the flow of the book for me, but if you can let yourself get more absorbed in the storyline than a parent with two children interrupting repeatedly can, then you can probably take all those things in stride. Aza (the main character) was adopted by the innkeepers in whose inn she was abandoned as an infant, but her large-boned and pale-faced appearance among her dark, dainty countrymen gives her quite the complex, and she would give anything to be beautiful. Chance brings her to the royal city for the king’s wedding to a foreign commoner, and Aza gets swept into the intrigue that follows the new queen after an accident during the wedding celebrations puts him into a coma. Includes a handsome prince, a magic mirror, ventriloquy, and gnomes. Probably best suited for girls in middle school and up. (This is not the cover I have; mine has a more realistic illustration. I’m not sure which would have made me more likely to pick it up.)
A Tale Dark & Grimm, by Adam Gidwitz (2010): There is no false advertisement in this title! The first of three in a series, A Tale Dark & Grimm is a retelling of several of the more macabre fairy tales recorded by the Brothers Grimm. It is most definitely not bowdlerized, and it made me quite squeamish in parts. The author gives us frequent humor breaks, however, with his authorly interruptions (set apart by bold print and occasionally a few nearly-blank pages) that warn of gruesomeness to come (and other bits of trivia and explanation). If Lemony Snicket (apparently a reviewer at The New York Times agrees, if the review excerpt on the back of one of the other books is any proof) and Edgar Allen Poe cowrote a story, this might be it. The different fairy tales (most of them pretty obscure to me, but I never could get through our book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales due to a weak stomach and a propensity for vivid dreams) are woven together by making Hansel and Gretel take on a role in each that was probably formerly populated by a nameless unfortunate child. I couldn’t help but think of a former fifth grade student of mine who used to read Anne Rice books during free reading time; she probably would have found this a YA novel that would suit her fancy! I’d recommend these books for middle schoolers and up with intestinal fortitude and a strong ability to separate fantasy from reality.
The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale (2005): Based on a fairy tale with which I was unfamiliar, The Goose Girl tells the story of Ani, a princess who is betrothed (without her knowledge) to a foreign prince and then betrayed by her lady-in-waiting and most of her assigned guards during the long voyage to meet her fiance. Hale developed the more inexplicable elements of the story–the goose girl/princess’s ability to speak to her horse and command the wind–and turned them into some of the magical elements of her fantasy world, the ability to communicate with the natural world. (This also allowed her to branch beyond this fairy tale to create two more books set in the same world and not based on specific tales.) Ani disguises herself as a commoner and calls herself Isi, then uses her animal-speech to find success as a goose girl and plan her attempt to right the wrong that her lady-in-waiting created and save her country from invasion. And, eventually, to get the guy. Enna Burning, River Secrets, and Forest Born follow in the series, recommended for middle school and up. (She and her husband also collaborated on the graphic novel Rapunzel’s Revenge, another fairytale inspired story!)
Beauty, by Robin McKinley (1978): Robin McKinley has written a vast number of high-quality fantasy and fairy tale books for adults and young adults. My favorite by far, however, is Beauty. A novel-length retelling of the classic Beauty and the Beast story, you can’t help but think that Disney sampled from McKinley as much as they did from the original story! Beauty is the nickname of the youngest of three daughters, given to her when she replied in disgust to the meaning of her own name, Honour, “I’d rather be called Beauty!” (a request she regretted throughout her awkward teen years). She is intelligent and practical where her older sisters are sweet and beautiful, and she volunteers herself as her father’s replacement as the Beast’s prisoner to save him and her sisters (one of whom is married, and the other is pining for her betrothed who was lost at sea). Although it was published before I was born, I read this as a teenager, and I think romantics as young as middle school or as old as still can dream would enjoy the book.
I’ve previously reviewed The Frog Prince Continued and Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs so I won’t include them here, but those are additional titles for those who like more goofy than grand in their fairy tales! Find those reviews in my Jon Scieszka and Mo Willems themed reviews!
So there you have it. A good mixture of the silly and the serious, fanciful and farcical, inventive and intense, juvenile and mature (sorry, couldn’t alliterate there!), and all of them inspired by fairy tales! Let me know some of your favorites in the comments!
UPDATE: I have no idea how I failed to remember to include a couple books by Leah Wilcox! Waking Beauty and Falling for Rapunzel are hilarious retellings that depend on slapstick confusion and rhyme to entertain. Great for read-alouds for preschool to middle elementary!