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Find more Reid-Aloud Alert: Retellings of Fairy Tales
Retellings of Fairy Tales
Derivative tales and retellings of fairy tales and folktales, aka fractured fairy tales, have long been popular with young people. Modern-day classics that fall under this genre include Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine; The Frog Princess, by E. D. Baker; Spindle’s End, by Robin McKinley; Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale; and, for older audiences, Wicked, by Gregory McGuire. Here are some other retellings you’ll want to share with young listeners. As always, the “10-Minute Selections” are stand-alone sections that can be shared when a teacher, librarian, or parent doesn’t have time to read the entire book.
Hansel and Gretel
A Tale Dark & Grimm, by Adam Gidwitz (Gr. 4–8): The stories inside are indeed “grim,” with touches of humor. The tone is similar to Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events titles. A slightly worried but helpful narrator takes the characters Hansel and Gretel through several Brothers Grimm folktales. He warns, “As for the little ones, if they are still around, I warn you, I plead with you: Make them go away. Don’t let them hear this story. They may have nightmares. No, they will have nightmares.” Yes, there is the old woman who is pushed into the oven. The two main characters (and their father) also have their heads chopped off (they come back to life); Hansel turns into a beast and is killed by hunters (and comes back to life); Hansel takes a trip to hell; and Gretel cuts off her own finger. The violence is on a par with that found in the Harry Potter books and in Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. This is the first book in a trilogy and one of the first books I turn to with reluctant readers.
10-Minute Selection: Read the “Hansel and Gretel” story, in which the two children wind up at the house made of cake. The narrator tells us, “For, as you know, the baker woman was planning to eat them. But she wasn’t a witch. The Brothers Grimm call her a witch, but nothing could be further from the truth.” When Hansel finally dispatches the evil woman and frees Gretel from her cage, he tells her, “‘Dinner’s in the oven.’ But Gretel wasn’t hungry. And besides, he was only kidding. The end.”
Jack and the Beanstalk
Ivy and the Meanstalk, by Dawn Lairamore (Gr. 4–7): After a towering “meanstalk” (a beanstalk with pods containing sharp teeth) grows in the middle of the kingdom, Princess Ivy and her dragon companion, Elridge, fly to the top. There they find Largessa, a giant who is out for revenge: her husband was killed by a boy named Jack several years earlier. Apparently, Ivy’s fairy godmother, Drusilla, inadvertently set into motion events that led to Jack stealing the giants’ valuables and establishing the kingdom of Jackopia.
10-Minute Selection: Read chapter 7, “Largessa.” The chapter opens with the line, “Ivy could barely breathe in the giantess’ bruising grip.” Largessa blames Drusilla for Jack’s actions and needs the golden harp returned to her. She hasn’t slept for 1,000 years without its soothing music. “‘I’ve tried everything I can think of,’ sobbed Largessa. ‘Chamomile tea, counting sheep, warm milk, lavender baths, sleep masks, bedtime stories. I’ve drunk sleeping draughts by the boatload, but nothing works.’” The chapter ends with Largessa warning Ivy that she had better retrieve the harp “or else.” If you have time, read chapter 8, “A Rocky Bargain.” We learn that the “or else” means that Largessa will hurl boulders down on the kingdom below if she doesn’t get her harp. “Giant rocks raining down on your puny kingdom would do quite a bit of damage, I’d imagine. Your castle, your villages, your people—all would be crushed.”
Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin, by Liesl Shurtliff (Gr. 4–7): Rump does not know his full name; his mother died during childbirth, just as she was naming him. “Sometimes I thought if I just focused hard enough, I could remember the name my mother had whispered to me before she died. Rump . . . Rumpus, Rumpalini, Rumpalicious, Rumperdink, Rumpty-dumpty.” Rump is the target of local bullies who call him names like Butt and Cow Rump. When he discovers that he has the power to turn straw into gold, he also learns that “there will be magical consequences.”
10-Minute Selection: Read chapter 12, “The Miller’s Lie.” King Bartholomew Archibald Reginald Fife, or “King Barf,” as Rump calls him, demands that all gold be turned over to him. Rump is holding gold that he has just created from straw. The miller lies to the king, making up a story that it was his daughter, Opal, who actually made the gold. King Barf commands that the daughter return to the castle with him. Rump feels sorry for her: “It was my fault. I was the greedy one. I had spun the gold. I had traded the gold. Now Opal was all spun into the mess and she hadn’t done anything at all.” The chapter ends with Rump seeking advice: “I needed the Witch of the Woods.”
Grim, edited by Christine Johnson (Gr. 6–12): Most of these 17 retellings of both popular and obscure Grimm’s fairy tales retain the harsher qualities of older versions. Some of the stories, indeed, might be so graphic that they are best saved for individual reading. That said, there are many stories that are ideal for hooking a mature audience of middle- and high-school students in a read-aloud setting. “The Key,” by Rachel Hawkins, features young psychic Lana, who sees something very disturbing in the mind of her new boyfriend while they are kissing outside of her double-wide trailer. In Malinda Lo’s “The Twelfth Girl,” a retelling of the “Twelve Princesses,” Liv is both thrilled and anxious about joining an elite group of girls who enter exciting and dangerous worlds through portals in their boarding-school dorms. Ellen Hopkins includes a verse-formatted adaptation of the “Snow Queen,” entitled “Before the Rose Bloomed.” “The Brothers Pigglet,” by Julie Kagawa, shows what happens after the Pigglet brothers murder a witch, and a wolf-like creature comes after them for revenge. Check out all of these well-written literary tales, and spread them out over time for your audience.
10-Minute Selection: Read “Light Up,” by Kimberly Derting, a retelling of “Hansel and Gretel,” in which cancer-ridden teen Hansen and his chain-smoking sister, Greta, find that their “stepmother had up and left [them] in the middle of the freaking woods.” They come upon a park ranger, who invites them inside his remote cabin. He feeds them, and Greta finds herself passing out. Before she loses consciousness, she hears the ranger say, “I’m glad you found me. Some fates are better’n others.” Another strong story to read is Jon Skovron’s “The Raven Princess.” The tale opens with a frustrated queen who says to her crying baby girl, “I wish you would just fly away with those ravens.” The queen then watches in horror as her daughter “opened her mouth wide and made a gagging sound until a black, curved beak emerged and her lips peeled back, into nothing. Her legs grew thinner, then, with a loud crack, suddenly bent in the wrong direction, as her feet curled in like claws.” The princess flies away, and it’s not until years later that a young would-be hunter sets off to solve the legend of the Raven Princess. Note: Both suggested stories here will take longer than 10 minutes each.
The Snow Queen
Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy, by Karen Foxlee
(Gr. 4–7): While wandering around in a museum, Ophelia looks through a keyhole and finds an imprisoned, nameless boy. He tells Ophelia that he was put there by the evil Snow Queen. To free the boy—and to save the world—Ophelia must perform a series of dangerous tasks. And even then, after the boy is free, there is little chance that they will defeat the Snow Queen. When the boy is recaptured, the Snow Queen asks him, “‘Did you really think that scrap of a girl could help you? . . . A little girl who squeaks like a mouse?’ Then she began to laugh her terrible, clear, tinkling-bell laugh.”
10-Minute Selection: Before reading chapter 2, inform your listeners that a boy without a name is a prisoner of the Snow Queen, and he’s asked Ophelia to locate the key to his room in a museum. The chapter begins with Miss Kaminski giving Ophelia and her sister, Alice, a tour of the museum. The girls learn about the remarkable Wintertide Clock, which chimes once every 300 years. At some point, Ophelia leaves her sister and Miss Kaminski and sets off to search for the key. When she does find it, she drops it on the floor with a clatter. “There was silence at first, then a rustling, sighing, swishing, hushing sound. The rustling, sighing, swishing, hushing sound was small to start off, but then it grew louder. . . . The sound came from behind the doors.” The chapter ends with Ophelia hearing the sound of talons and claws from behind the doors trying to reach her.
Rob Reid’s newest book is Animal Shenanigans: 24 Creative, Interactive Story Programs for Preschoolers (2015).
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