After talking about retelling fables, I’d like to share a very small selection of some of the traditional and modern versions we have on our bookshelves. Many of these are recently published, but I’ve added a few extra that I haven’t reviewed yet. You can find more I’ve already reviewed by clicking here for the Fables tag.
The Emperor’s Nightingale and Other Feathery Tales (The Story Collector 1): Jane Ray (Boxer Books, 2013)
If you’ve any interest in children’s literature, just put this on top of your Christmas list straight away. Or treat yourself now. Or use the children as an excuse. This will make a lovely gift for any
child person. The stories are perfect for reading aloud but even fairly early reader’s can attempt the easily laid out text (although the words may be challenging.) This is the first in a series of tales collected by the enormously talented Jane Ray and illustrated using scraperfoil techniques. It is a gorgeous book and only priced at £12.99. A mix of retold stories and collected poetry, this book deserves its own blog post. It is an example of traditional done well, with stories suitable for all ages. All the tales in this collection are linked by feathered friends and include traditional tales from across the globe. (Source: review copy)
What’s the Time, Mr Wolf?: Debi Gliori (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2012)
Technically not a retelling at all, but packed full of familiar characters following Mr Wolf’s day. Most children are familiar with the “What’s the Time, Mr Wolf?” game and the repeatedly asked question leads us through the day from 7am when Mr Wolf is woken by four and twenty blackbirds (“It’s time for blackbird pie,”) and sleepily wakes up and gets chores done in time for… Ah, that would be telling. Featuring three little pig neighbours (who slam their doors – “It’s time for bacon sandwiches,” (I feel like that most mornings when woken too early, and thankfully this Mr Wolf is a nice wolf when he isn’t being annoyed by naughty neighbours!) Gorgeously illustrated with Debi Gliori’s recognisable style, a humourous and happy story for toddlers and up. I’ve lost count how many times we’ve read it. What’s the time, Mr Wolf? Time to buy more books… (Source: review copy)
Beauty and the Beast: Ursula Jones & Sarah Gibb (Orchard Books, 2013)
The illustrations for this traditional retelling of Beauty and the Beast are exquisite. A mix of silhouettes and washes of colour, with gold foiled cover, this is a book to be cherished for its beauty and every detailed poured over. DG (4) certainly thinks so and requests the story night after night, and it’s a wordy book but she listens raptly all the way through and asks again (tomorrow, it’s a bit too long to read twice in a row…) I have some issues with the retelling. It is traditional, and there is a lot of focus on the sisters only being interested in gaining husbands, and new dresses every day being a highlight of Beauty’s stay in the Beast’s house. Beauty is also frequently described as stupid. It is, however, the most complete picture book retelling I’ve read. This Beast is not a Disney-fied softy but there is real horror in his appearance and the “ear-crunching noise” that accompanies his arrival. This really is a stunning, traditional retelling and deserves its place on any child’s bookshelves. (Source: review copy)
Goldilocks and Just the One Bear: Leigh Hodgkinson (Nosy Crow, 2012)
Another modern tale and not quite a retelling of Goldilocks but to say much more would give too much away. “Once upon a time, there was this bear…” and so begins a story of a bear finding himself in a big city and accidentally entering an apartment. There he tries to find some porridge, but the soggy, crunchy and dry “porridge” that he finds aren’t quite right (hilariously illustrated, you just have to get this book to see!) The same happens with the chairs, and the beds… The Daddy, Mummy and little persons who come across the mess left by the bear aren’t very amused, but the wonderfully satisfactory conclusion perfectly ends this familiar-sounding tale. Funny, stunningly illustrated, and a perfect addition to any bookshelf, I can’t recommend Goldilocks and Just the One Bear highly enough. (Source: own copy)
The Girl With A Brave Heart, A Tale From Tehran: Rita Jahanforuz & Vali Mintzi (Barefoot Books, 2013)
This is a traditional tale that I had no previous knowledge of. It starts in a Cinderalla-like way; Shiraz’s mother dies young and her father remarries but after he too dies, her life changes from one of happiness to drudgery as the step-mother and step-sister make her their maid. Unlike Cinderella, no prince is required for a happy ending. Shiraz loses a ball of wall off her balcony, precious to her because it was her mother’s, and goes to the house whose garden it dropped in. The lady living here appears to be an unkindly witch and sets three tasks, which Shiraz gladly completes. Because of Shiraz’s kind heart, and the good that she does, it appears that the old women gives her the gift of beauty. In reality it is Shiraz’s own personality shining through. The step-sister attempts to replicate what Shiraz has done but it backfires because of her selfishness. Beautifully illustrated and with an exotic (to my children) location, this story especially grips MG (6) who listens attentively (she usually wanders off during stories to do other things) and tries to read it herself after. A very positive and non-stereotyped story, this is the perfect antidote to Disney princesses. (Source: review copy)
Little Red Riding Hood: Alison Jay (Templar Publishing, 2013)
This is another huge success in our household, and has torn pages to show for how much its been read (sniffles!) Here we find Fairytale Village, where all the fairy tale characters live. Little Red Riding Hood’s mother runs the tea shop and sends our heroine with some treats to see her grandmother. But, oh, the illustrations! They tell the story and more. Starting in the tea shop, there’s Hansel buying a loaf of bread, the Frog Prince gloomily drinking a cup of tea, Rapunzel and the Gingerbread man chatting, Three Little Pigs munching cakes, and who’s that shifty looking character in dark glasses and a trenchcoat pretending to choose jam? MG (6) was the one who pointed out to me that the wolf appears on every single double page of the book, if you look carefully, and she’s right. The backgrounds of the illustrations tell too many stories to mention: Jack taking his cow to market, Hansel and Gretel going for a walk… The Hansel and Gretel tale plays out throughout the entire book, and we regularly see the woodcutter keeping an eye on Little Red Riding Hood too. Which brings me to my only grumble with the story. Despite the mostly modern retelling (the wolf locks grandma in a cupboard instead of eating her, and is sent to a school for naughty fairytale creatures at the end), this retelling doesn’t take the opportunity for Little Red Riding Hood to be resourceful and work her own escape, she is a passive traveller in the tale and the story just happens to her. I do wonder about Grandma too, she lives next door to the gingerbread house, didn’t she notice what was happening to the children there? Apparently I’m reading too much into this! The book really sucks you into the fairytale world and is wonderful for reading again and again. I do hope there will be more stories in this series and thoroughly recommend this version. (Source: review copy)
The Lion and the Mouse: Nahta Noj & Jenny Broom (Templar Publishing, 2013)
This is a very clever book. Cut-outs in the pages mean that what you think is part of a butterfly’s wing on one page, becomes a lion’s eye on the next; plants on one page become footprints on the next… The art style is simple enough to encourage small children to try making animals with paper collage, and complex enough to hold interest throughout. This is a beautifully illustrated and designed book and for that I think the designer, Jonathan Lambert, should be on the front cover too because he has done a superb job. This would make a lovely gift for toddlers and pre-schoolers (and grown ups…) and is full of educational potential as well as being a lovely read aloud. (Source: review copy)
Cinderella: An Art Deco Love Story; Rapunzel: A Groovy Fairy Tale; and Little Red: A Fizzingly Good Yarn retold by Lynn Roberts & illustrated by David Roberts (Pavillion Children’s Books, 2001, 2003 & 2005)
We love these books so much! David Roberts is one of the best illustrators working today and these three retellings of favourite fairy tales showcase his art beautifully. They are retold by his sister, Lynn, talent obviously running in the family. “In a time not too long ago and in a land much like our own, there lived…” begins each tale. Each has its own era. Cinderella is set in the Art Deco 1920’s/1930’s; Rapunzel in the 1970’s; and Little Red sometime in the 1700’s. They are all thoroughly hilarious with so much to look at in the illustrations that you could just spend hours pouring over them. They are a labour of love, and a must for any fan of fairy tales (or children’s books, or illustration, or humour…) Cinderella follows the most traditional route, with a prince and a ball along with step-mother and step-sisters. How Cinderella ends up with her step-mother is comic genius (a very absent-minded father is involved) and the attention to detail in the pictures is astonishing. We originally borrowed this one from the library but after keeping it for several months I had to buy it and the two others from the series. I am so sad there haven’t been any more since, it looks like plans for the fourth were postponed and I can but hope there are more one day as these are excellent. Rapunzel is set in the 1970’s with a dinner-lady aunt who keeps her long-haired niece on the top floor of a tower block before Roger from the school band finds her. No royalty or weddings in this tale which makes a lovely change, and oh, the ’70’s is so perfectly represented. The illustrator note in this book says he imagined Rapunzel being related to Cinderella somehow so look out in the background for items that appear in both books. Finally, Little Red is set further in the past and Red is gender-swapped to become a boy. I think there should be more gender-swapping in retold tales, it changes the stereotyped interactions into something more interesting in many cases. For instance Princess Rosamund in The Tough Princess finds a sleeping prince to wake. Just wonderful. Little Red does outwit the wolf on his own (now I wish he was female again, but only because of all the other female Reds who have to be saved) and how he gets grandma back after she was swallowed whole should delight almost every child. These three are a delight for children and adults. Humourous, intelligent, and great fun. (Source: own copies)
I would love to include more, because there are so many to write about, but I’m up to almost 2000 words already so this is finished but I’m sure I will write about more retold fables in future.
Disclaimer: We were sent copies of the books labelled review copy by Boxer Books, Bloomsbury Children’s Books, Orchard Books, Barefoot Books (via BritMums Meet Up) and Templar Publishing for review. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post.