Lists: New Twists on Old Tales

At the heart of many fantasy stories lies the inspiration of fairy tales.  And in the case of some of those stories,  fairy tales are not just inspiration, but the actual subject of the story.  If you start looking, you’ll find any number of retellings of fairy tales with the author’s own embellishments.  Or you might find a tale turned upsidedown, where key elements of the story are changed, often to hilarious effect.  These would be our “fractured” fairy tales.

In the list below, I’m going to feature just a handful of my favorite retold tales to share with you this week!


Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff (Knopf, 2013)

Rumpelstiltskin is one of those troublesome stories that actually has a lot of puzzling elements.  A miller’s daughter is essentially taken prisoner by the king when her father boasts she can spin straw to gold.  She’s locked in a room full of straw and threatened with death if she can’t spin it all to gold.  A strange little man creeps in and offers to spin it to gold for her in exchange for things.  All in all a strange story.  Liesl Shurtliff’s brand new retelling tackles many of those elements and gives readers a fully fleshed out tale of a boy with half a name who is trapped in the family curse.


Beauty by Robin McKinley (HarperTeen, c1978)

Beauty and the Beast: a shut-in monster with a love of roses meets a girl who changes his heart.  This was one of my first full-length retold tales  that I read as a girl.  Unlike the classic story, the heroine tells the whole story from first person POV, and she winds up being a delightfully spirited character.    I love the fact that this version avoids the retread of nasty sisters and instead gives Beauty sisters that she wants to actually visit.  McKinley is the author of many fairytale retellings, both for children and young adults, so if you like this work, you may want to check out what else she’s written. Specifically for middle grade readers:  The Door in the Hedge (Firebird, c1981)


The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy, illustrated by Todd Harris (Walden Pond Press, 2012)

Okay, this isn’t a retelling precisely.  It’s a fractured fairy tale adventure of the first order!  Everyone knows the stories of Snow White, Cinderella, Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty. But Happily Ever After may actually be pretty far off for the various princes Charming and their ladies.  A hilarious adventure romp that turns fairy tales on their heads and gives our Prince Charmings a chance to grab the limelight for themselves.  The first book in a series of adventures.  The second installment, The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle, hit the shelves in April 2013.


Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (Scholastic, 1997)

This 1998 Newbery Honor took a very different look at Cinderella’s plight. Ella has been cursed from birth with obedience.  She must do whatever anyone tells her to do if they command it.  Because of her curse, she’s grown up a feisty and rebellious girl who would give anything to see her curse banished once and for all.  Lots of adventure, heart and happy endings!  The author has gone on to write a few other retellings including Fairest (HarperCollins, 2006) and A Tale of Two Castles (HarperCollins, 2011).


The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell (HarperCollins, 2011)

The twelve dancing princesses is not a story that has inspired a lot of retellings.  It’s a locked room mystery, a strange curse twelve princesses that wind up with ruined footwear every morning.  In this story,  Merrie Haskell’s protagonist of choice is a determined young heroine who takes it on herself to solve the mystery and free the kingdom.


The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale (Bloomsbury, 2003)

The Goose Girl, a non-assertive princess gets forced into switching places and circumstances with her ambitious maid.  Shannon Hale’s lyrical story weaves and embellishes the original story to give our characters some depth and power.  Her storytelling provides an  incredibly well imagined world, this takes one of the lesser known tales and spins it to life.  Also check out Hale’s story of another classic tale in Book of a Thousand Days (Bloomsbury, 2007).


The Wide-Awake Princess by E. D. Baker (Bloomsbury, 2010)

Your sister just got bespelled into falling asleep.  The rest of the castle has fallen asleep as well.  But you’re impervious to magic.  What do you do?  Well, in E.D.  Baker’s hilarious retake of Sleeping Beauty, our heroine sets out on an adventure to end the spell and save her whole family.  The author has written too many fractured fairy tales to include here, but if you like this one, be sure to check out its sequel, Unlocking the Spell (2012).


Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale and Nathan Hale, Illustrated by Dean Hale (Bloomsbury, 2008)

Rapunzel, the classic damsel locked in a tower story.  Now put that story in a fantastical Wild West.  Throw in some steampunk elements and give Rapunzel a backbone and all the derring do anyone could want.   Great illustrations and a great reinterpretation of the original tale!  Plus it’s nice to see those long locks put to some use!  Also check out the follow up adventure: Calamity Jack (2010).


Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu (Walden Pond Press, 2011)

The Snow Queen.  Two playmates are suddenly at odds with one another and then one of them is lured off by a icy queen to her castle, leaving the other heartbroken and determined to rescue their friend.  Anne Ursu gives readers an intriguing modern day retelling of this story of two friends, a wood and dark fairy stories that remind us how dangerous fairy tales can be.


The Prince of the Pond: Otherwise Known as the Fawg Pin by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Judith Byron Schachner (Puffin, 1994)

The Frog Prince.  Where a princess encounters a talking frog and must keep her promises to him . . .winding up with a prince at the end of the tale. Donna Jo Napoli takes a very different look at this story.  It’s beginning is when a prince is transformed into a frog, and finds himself struggling and helpless in the pond until another frog helps him and guides him.  A story of love and courage that is bittersweet and touching.  Napoli rarely takes the easy path in fairy tales, and that’s certainly evident here.  This author of re-imagined fairy tales has plenty of titles to choose from.  Readers here might want to check out Ugly (Disney-Hyperion, 2006) and Mogo: The Third Warthog (Disney-Hyperion, 2008)

What is your favorite fairy tale fiction?  Please Share!


About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on May 28, 2013, in General Posts, Lists and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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