Apparently it is fairy tale retelling week here at Portsmouth Public Library- over and over again the theme kept cropping up as I went through my days. It started with reading Far, Far Away, followed by a mom looking for a story for her daughter’s class, followed by a middle schooler looking for Young Adult fairy tale retellings, and finally a Horn Book Magazine on my desk dedicated to “transformations” of old classics. When the universe screams I try to listen, so here is a quick review of a fabulous book and a few of my favorite fairytale “transformations” for each age group.
Fairy tale transformations (novels based on classics) are refreshing because they take something old and familiar and immediately turn it on its head. Currently, the most popular adult transformation is Wicked by Gregory Maguire – the biography of the wicked witch from Frank L. Baum’s Wizard Of Oz. Fractured fairy tales also provide a great opportunity for critical thinking skills- that’s why teachers love them! They encourage the reader to consider alternative perspectives, find gaps in the plot, and generally think deeper than the printed story.
Back to- Far, Far Away (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2013) by Tom McNeal. There are several levels of mastery in this book, not the least of which is that it truly felt timeless. For the first quarter of the book I could not determine when or where the book was set, which added to the fairytale mystique. Part Hansel and Gretel and part Cinderella, Far, Far Away tells the story of Jeremy Johnson Johnson – a teenager whose mom has left him, father has become a hermit, and whose home his lawn mowing jobs can’t pay for. His only hope and inspiration comes from the voice in his head- the ghost of Jacob Grimm, one of the famous Grimm Brothers. Jacob is also the story’s narrator and becomes a complex and well developed character of the story in his own right. Jeremey’s life is filled with the highs, lows, and nail-biting suspense of any good fairy tale. In this case, however, we don’t know if there will be a happy ending. Lyrical and suspenseful, Far, Far Away reads like a modern thriller and an old European folk tale all swirled into one. I would highly recommend this book for teen and adult readers!
Other transformation stories suggestions…
Cinder by Marissa Meyer (Feiwel & Friends 2012)– think Sci-fi Cinderella.
Beastly by Alex Flinn (HarperTeen 2007) – What if the Beast were a Manhattan prep school elite?
Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire (Candlewick Press 2014)–A Baba Yaga meets The Prince and the Pauper style story.
Middle Grade Readers:
Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff (Alfred A. Knopf 2013)—the name says it all!
A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz (Dutton Children’s Books 2010) –Your fairy tale heroes walk safely out of their own story only to meet the witches, goblins, and giants of other Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen tales!
The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy (Walden Pond Press 2012)- Humorous and fast-paced, four prince charmings unite to protect their kingdom from an evil witch!
Early Grade Readers:
Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith (Viking 1992)
The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas by Tony Wilson (Peachtree Publishers 2012)
A Bean, A Stalk, and A Boy Named Jack by William Joyce (Moonbot Books/Atheneum Books for Young Readers 2014)