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We’re in the midst of a “fractured fairy tale” unit in 4th grade ELA right now (last unit of the year!). How appropriate that today I’m bringing you a list of some favorite fairy tale and folk tale retellings!
Some of these titles are childhood favorites of mine, while others I discovered as an adult. Either way, there is a treasure trove here of adventuring, overcoming the bad guys, discovering courage to fight for what’s right, and finding true love. Some are more geared toward adults, and others are great for middle grade readers (and up!).
I hope you find a new book for your TBR pile or to savor sometime this summer.
Cinderella retellings are probably my favorite, and this one is my favorite of those retellings. Never mind the movie version; the book is better. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise.
In this version of the story, Ella is cursed with obedience. If anyone tells her to do something, she is forced to obey or else she starts to feel sick. She endures it, more or less, even with the unkindness of her stepsisters and stepmother, but it becomes a problem when she meets the prince and her curse of obedience might endanger his life.
Maybe it’s the fact that I’m such a rule-follower that I love watching her process of breaking free from 100% obedience. Maybe it’s the fact that I love stories where the underdog comes out on top. Who knows? I just know Gail Carson Levine wrote her own version of Cinderella that is captivating and worth rereading, time and again.
Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher
Shadow Spinner is a creative take on the story of Shahrazad and the 1001 Nights. The main character is not Shahrazad herself; rather it is the tale of a poor girl named Marjan who tells tales herself, and looks up to Shahrazad as a role model (from afar), but surprisingly finds herself brought to the palace harem to help Shahrazad when she begins to run out of stories to tell. There are plenty of flowery descriptions, but the display of bravery and life lessons in the story endear it to me.
Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen
This is not a fairy tale that people of Western cultures will recognize. It is based on an Iraqi folktale/legend about a girl, Buran, who was born into a family of seven daughters. In Iraqi/middle eastern culture, not having any sons signifies a curse, while having all sons is seen as a blessing. Buran’s family struggles to make ends meet, so she decides to dress as a man to make money for her family in another place where no one knows her. And she finds she has excellent business acumen.
It’s a fascinating tale, full of friendship, adventure, helpful strangers, revenge, and *swoon* true love. This is a childhood favorite of mine.
If you give it to your kids without reading aloud, just make sure you cover up one paragraph where it starts “I looked down and realized I was a woman” – or something like that. The author goes into too much description of how Buran realizes she’s a woman that isn’t necessary for young minds, and you don’t lose any understanding of the story itself by skipping that paragraph. My mom covered it with a post-it and told us not to look – and I never did til I was an adult. (And then I thanked her for looking ahead and covering it up for us.)
The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
The Lunar Chronicles series was one that pleasantly surprised me. (For those who are counting, I’m including this series as numbers 4-7 of the retellings that I’m writing about today.)
I loved how each book was a different fairy tale, but in a fascinating setting where cyborgs were looked upon as lesser people, people (and creatures) could live on the moon, and space travel that could happen with ease – no special training required to travel by space as a passenger. I’ll admit that this was the first time I’d read much of anything with cyborgs. In fact, I googled it because I wanted to make sure I understood correctly (they’re humans who have some technical parts – like a prosthetic hand that is wired into your brain so that it basically works like a normal hand).
This sci-fi version of fairy tales was unique and thoroughly enjoyable, as was the characterization. I listened to the audiobooks which was an excellent medium with which to devour these books. While I always love Cinderella stories, as mentioned above, I think my favorite might have been her retelling of Rapunzel (Cress). There were so many details from the original story, yet they fit so perfectly with her sci-fi setting that it tickled me all the way through.
Note: there is some violence in these; they’re not the Disney version. But they also have some interesting social commentary too. I’d say this is age 16 and up.
I stumbled upon this series when looking for a light read a few months ago. It, too, creates a world where many of the most famous fairy tales coexist in different kingdoms. I didn’t read any of the other ones, and I think this is the last. There are a few references to earlier books, especially at the (admittedly cheesy) end, but it works well as a stand-alone, too.
The Princess Game is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty: it has many elements of the traditional tale, but gives it a new spin. I thoroughly enjoyed this take on Sleeping Beauty: rather than lying asleep in some four-poster bed in the palace, the princess has been cursed with acting like she understands nothing of what is going on around her. However, someone is conspiring against the crown and she needs to figure it out because no one else seems to realize something nefarious is afoot.
This one has romance, intrigue, and adventure, all while being a book you could listen to in front of your kids and not be worried about them hearing things they shouldn’t, particularly in the romance department.
Beauty remains one of my all-time favorite retellings – along with Ella Enchanted above. Like the story, Beauty and the Beast, Beauty makes a sacrifice in staying so her father can go free. But what McKinley did is give a back story that isn’t present in the Disney version – I loved it! In fact, there is no Gaston, and Beauty’s name is Beauty because . . . well, I don’t want to give spoilers. Let’s just say, aside from the magic, McKinley adds depth and believability to a story that doesn’t usually have much.
The Land of Stories #1: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer
Okay, this one I admittedly have mixed feelings about. While I love the premise of two kids falling into a world where each fairy tale has its own kingdom all on the same landmass, some parts of this are not appropriate for kids. For instance, Little Red Riding Hood is apparently somewhat promiscuous, dresses provocatively and has portraits done of her where she is scantily clad. And a pre-teen boy, of course, stops, slack-jawed, when he sees them. Ew! Why would an author put that in a series meant for kids?? Please no.
However, I did like the twists and turns of the tale and how the main characters (siblings) have to complete a quest. It kept me guessing, and I like when a book can do that. Use discretion if you let your kids read it 🙂
What about you? Do you have any favorite fairy tale retellings? I’d love to find some more good ones, so tell me in the comments!