In Ole Könnecke’s modern fairy tale, Dulcinea in the Forbidden Forest, Dulcinea’s father goes missing on her birthday. Though she’s promised to never enter the forest (because of the witch), Dulcinea follows her father’s footprints into this forbidden place and soon discovers he’s been turned into a tree. “Dulcinea wasn’t going to let an old witch spoil her birthday,” so she sets off to find the witch and reverse the spell even though “nobody enjoys walking through an enchanted forest.”
This chapter book is full of laughs, from the absentminded witch who carries her book of magic because she can’t remember her spells, to the comical depiction of Father as a tree. The determined expression on Dulcinea’s face contrasts with the silly-looking witch and monsters in her moat.
I like how this fairy tale is both a new story yet resonates with a classic feel. The limited earthy palate contributes a homey feel because, as we know, we’ve all been lost in the forest in a previous tale or two. Overall, this is a well-made, timeless book.
If you’re looking for an empowering new take on fairy tale princesses, look no further than Tracy Marchini’spicture book Princesses Can Fix It!This homage to The Twelve Dancing Princesses shows readers that princesses (and princes) can do whatever they set their minds to, no matter what anyone else thinks.
At the start of the book, we learn that there is a problem in the King’s castle. The alligators from the moat have escaped and are now running about inside! The three princesses, Margaret, Harriet, and Lila, have an idea how to help. Unfortunately, the King wants them to only focus on proper princess activities rather than their passion for inventing and building. Throughout the book, the girls secretly work on their creation to fix the problem and prove their father wrong.
Julia Christians’colorful and dynamic illustrations bring the characters to life and give the book a whimsical flair on every page. This, combined with the book’s poetic structure and use of repetition also gives the book excellent read-aloud potential.
Most of all, what I love about Princesses Can Fix it!is how it manages to be both silly and meaningful at the same time. This charming picture book is about three clever and committed young girls building a contraption to solve their alligator infestation. At the same time, it’s also about how they stand up for themselves and persevere, something that should motivate little girls and boys eager to pursue their passions in the face of societal expectations.
Guest Review by Mary Finnegan
Click any of the below links to purchase the book:
If you love fairy tale retellings, Federico and the Wolfis for you. Rebecca J. Gomez has taken the classic story and not only modernized it, but centered it in the Mexican American culture with great success.
The book’s appeal stems from its endearing main character Federico whose ingenuity and bravery will have young readers rooting for him as he takes on the infamous hungry wolf. And though he sports a hoodie, Federico is definitely not your grandmother’s Little Red. In fact in this version, Federico sets off to the local market “… to buy ingredients to make the perfect pico.” His plan is to get the stuff needed to bring to his abuelo (grandfather), then together the two can make a special salsa. The market art (see below), like so many other illustrations in this delightful picture book, is a razzle dazzle of glorious color and atmosphere. As a reader I wanted to jump into the scene.
On his way to see Abuelo, Federico heads through the city park and deep into the woods on his bike. It’s not long before the famished wolf stops him looking for “grub.” The young boy, however, claims he has no time or food to spare. When he arrives at his grandfather’s shop, Federico notices a suspiciously furry and pawed person beckoning him inside.
At first it might seem that Federico’s been taken in by Wolf’s disguise, providing the kind of suspense kids love. But, once he realizes what he’s up against, the clever lad resorts to clever measures. I won’t spoil the spicy ending, but suffice it to say that because of Federico’s quick thinking, the chances of Wolf ever returning are rather slim. When grandson and grandfather are finally safe from the the wolf’s conniving clutches, the pair can begin to prepare the pico as originally planned.
Chavarri’s vibrant illustrations work beautifully with the prose, helping to set the tone of this excellently executed fractured fairy tale. The pictures are light and lively when Federico is happy and they get darker whenever the wolf is present.
Gomez, with her wonderful use of rhyme, brings a spirited approach to this tale that invites multiple readings. I love how she’s incorporated Spanish words into the story. They not only feel natural, but add to the ambience of Federico’s world. Kids can figure out the words’ meaning many times just by looking at the illustrations such as silla for chair. Readers can also take turns playing the parts of Federico and Wolf for added enjoyment. A glossary in the back matter along with a recipe for the salsa tops off this read aloud treat. By all means, add this new picture book to your story time collection. And, remember to carry some chili powder in your hoodie pocket if you plan a walk in Wolf’s neck of the woods.
THE THREE LITTLE PUGS Written and illustrated by Nina Victor Crittenden
(Little Bee Books; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
THE LITTLE RED FORT Written by Brenda Maier
Illustrated by Sonia Sánchez
(Scholastic Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
The following pair of pleasing picture books, The Three Little Pigs and The Little Red Fort feature updated and revitalized tales with fresh characters and wonderful word choices in two debut stories sure to delight young readers.
Pugs replace pigs in Crittenden’s humorous THE THREE LITTLE PUGS, while the huffing-puffing wolf becomes a snoozy-sleepy cat who takes over the pugs’ cozy bed. Playing off the traditional story’s theme to build with straw, sticks or bricks, the pugs employ familiar household substitutes. Drinking straws, drumsticks and snaplock toy bricks don’t help the pups oust the cat from their wicker bed basket. How can the pug trio broker a lasting peace with the snoozing intruder?
Crittenden’s light, bright illustrations are perfectly suited to the short, sweet text full of rhyme and repetition. There is plenty of action from the busy and resourceful pups to keep the pages turning quickly. While this pug-a-licious tale could convince a few toddlers to embrace their nap schedules, the twist ending also lends itself as a fresh bedtime story selection perfect for a cuddle and a snuggle, pug-style.
The Little Red Hen becomes an able, ambitious little sister in Maier’s THE LITTLE RED FORT. Young Ruby wants to build a backyard fort, but her brothers refuse to help. When they say “You don’t know how to build anything,” Ruby shrugs and responds “Then I’ll learn.” She forges ahead with drafting plans, gathering supplies and cutting boards. Along the way she is skillfully assisted by the adults in the family (parents and a grandmother!) Once the fort is finished, Ruby is satisfied with some peaceful solo playtime until her brothers express an interest in her awesome project. Will they find a way to make it up to Ruby after scorning her efforts? The clever twist ending is modern, engaging and satisfying for all.
Sánchez puts bold colors and loose, sketchy lines to vibrant use, portraying pig-tailed Ruby with determination and enthusiasm. The large, textured images are well-matched to Maier’ssubtle patterned prose, echoing the traditional text in format and expanding the storyline to contemporary sensibilities. Determination, cooperation and creativity are powerful themes woven into the story with care while simple childhood fun and warm family life will be foremost in readers’ minds.
Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where obtained: I reviewed advanced reader’s copies from the publishers and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
The story takes place in “the magical land of fairy tales” where our hero, William, resides. Though it may seem like the perfect place to live, something is missing for William: an outlet to express his culinary artistry. In his endeavor to make his dream come true, he works as a chef in local restaurants, The Brick House and The Bears Bistro; but when the work proves far too dangerous and painstaking, respectively, he decides to cook from his own kitchen. With just a few coins left in his cookie jar, he heads out to the marketplace and purchases what he thinks are ordinary ingredients: raw apples, beans, and a pumpkin—items central to the plot of three specific fairy tales. These items are intended for delivery to Fairy Tale Headquarters. Convinced that Fairy Tale Headquarters simply “needs a good chef to spice things up,” William transforms each item into an exquisite dish and heads off to deliver them to their intended destination.
But William soon discovers his creations pose a possible threat to the children’s bedtime tales. His delicious creations are recreating the endings. Fortunately and most pleasantly, his creative flare produces an even more “happily ever after” than the original story lines.
A Cooked-Up Fairy Tale isn’t the usual fractured fairy tale in which a single tale is twisted, altered, or updated in some way. William is a unique character living in the land of familiar fairy tales. Klostermann’s frame technique draws us into the story of our hero who unintentionally disrupts the familiar, immerses himself into these stories, and ultimately becomes part of one. Children will get a kick out of the creative and comical changes that take place in the plot. I can imagine them laughing out loud about what “should” have happened.
Mantle’s illustrations delightfully blend the familiar and unfamiliar as well. Vertical lines move the plot along in an energetic and steady direction. At the same time, Mantle’s soft color palette creates a comfortable, safe and calm tone, and his curved drawings sprinkle in the fun.
I would recommend this book to children who enjoy lighthearted, wacky tales and to parents/caregivers who enjoy reading stories that celebrate creativity and individuality. The book’s underlying message of how our creative endeavors give us agency to write our own stories is something I truly appreciate and admire.
Written by Corey Rosen Schwartz Illustrated by Deborah Marcero
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Twinderella: A Fractioned Fairy Tale delights with its clever premise: Cinderella has a twin! In this 32-page picture book, Tinderella is a math whiz who divides the girls’ grueling tasks precisely down the middle. They each do, “Half the folding, half the mending, half the mean stepsister tending.”
Following the traditional story, on the night of the Royal Ball, Cinderella tearfully summons her “fairy godmom.” The fairy sparkles up some party dresses for the girls with accessories that Tin splits into two sets. However, when Prince Charming falls for both sisters, a dilemma ensues. Which sister should he wed? Luckily, Tin is again quick of mind and suggests a fabulous formula that, with some magic, may just work out.
This retelling enchants with its spot-on rhyme. The addition of the “fractioned” facts smartly introduces simple math, demonstrating in a straightforward manner how parts of a whole fit together.
Marcero’s artwork combines the timeless feel of a “Cinderella” story with a modern edge. Black spaces are skillfully presented—from classroom blackboards showing mathematical formulas to shadowy silhouettes in the margins.
Schwartz, author of The Three Ninja Pigs, Ninja Red Riding Hood, Hensel and Gretel: Ninja Chicks, and Goldi Rocks and the Three Bears continues to reign supreme with her funny adaptions of fractured fairy tales. In Twinderella, the girls, of course, live happily ever “half-ter.”
IT’S NOT JACK AND THE BEANSTALK
Written by Josh Funk
Illustrated by Edwardian Taylor
(Two Lions; $17.99 Hardcover, $5.99 Digital, Ages 4-8)
Josh Funk is fab at doing funny. His first fractured fairy tale (good news, there’ll be more!), It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk, breaks with picture book convention and the fourth wall or maybe it’s the fourth page in this case, by introducing an uproarious dialogue between the narrator and the main character (to name a few) that kids and parents alike will eat up. Parents, caregivers and more experienced readers will be unable to resist the urge to to jump in and take on voicing all the characters’ roles if reading aloud. Being a fractured fairy tale, this story unfolds with a humorous back and forth between the narrator and the titular Jack (see artwork below) whom he must awaken in order to get on with his storytelling. Soon Jack has his magic beans, but he’s also been growing frustrated with the direction of the tale, often making demands of the narrator that are not unlike those of a child who doesn’t want to do his homework, brush his teeth or go to bed.
While climbing the seriously high stalk, Jack sees his pal Cindy (Cinderella) on her palace balcony. Here readers first see the hilarious and unexpected interplay between some beloved fairytales that will no doubt be a feature of Funk’s future fractured fairy tales and a most welcomed one. Inside the giant’s house, an enormous shadow on the wall and “a booming voice” signal just what’s in store for Jack. Then, quite unexpectedly and most certainly not in the original version, our hero gets a bit sassy about the giant’s poor rhyming skills. This does not bode well for Jack and before too long it’s looking like he’s going to be the main ingredient of Giant Stew. Once again interrupting the narrator who’s so desperate to continue the story, Jack casually but oh so cleverly mentions something to the giant that he’s hoping will change his fate and positively influence an alternative ending. Funk’s flair for terrific twists promises to satisfy all readers eager to see the pieces of this fractured fairy tale come together seamlessly.
It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk is a very visual book that instantly invites readers to study all the details on every page of Taylor’s appealing artwork. On the back of the book’s jacket cover, readers are told to “Look for the gingerbread man, the three blind mice, and other fairy tale friends hidden though out the book!” I quite enjoyed leafing back through the pages to see what characters I might have overlooked on the first read and so will your youngsters. Get a copy today to get in on the jokes. It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk will make fairy tale devotees of a whole new generation of young readers while sprouting a whole new crop of Funk fans along the way.
HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP
Written by Robin Newman
Illustrated by Chris Ewald
(Creston Books; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
When I enjoy a book as much as I enjoyed Hildie Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep, I have to read every last page, including the copyright page! There I might even discover a clever dedication or some other surprise. So imagine my delight upon finding the following treat after finishing Robin Newman’s latest picture book:
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarities to real persons, witches, giants, or rats, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
What’s a witch in want of a good night’s sleep supposed to do when her noisy neighbors make it impossible? Is any shut-eye even possible when the very loud Jack and the Beanstalk giant moves in next door and his miles high elevator makes a clangety clank commotion all night long? To make matters worse, The Old Lady (who happens to live in a crowded shoe) with her boisterous brood takes up residence on the other side of Hildie’s home. Then, after yet another disrupted night’s sleep, a Big, Bad Wolf blows off Hildie’s roof instead of the one on another new home belonging to the new pig in town, one Little Pig. In despair, Hildie turns to a realtor rat, Monty, to find her and her cat pal Clawdia new accommodations, only nothing is just right.
In this entertaining and unique story filled with familiar fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters, no spells are cast or potions brewed. But pages will be turned quickly to find out how Hildie solves her sleep dilemma. Young readers will rejoice when Hildie, using a lot of creativity mixed with self-advocacy and cooperation, finally figures out how to have a silent and satisfying night’s sleep.
Chris Ewald’s vibrant artwork will dazzle youngsters who’ll adore his interpretations of an assortment of characters. Remember also to study the illustrations carefully as there are some surprise visitors in this story that are certain to elicit laughter. Between Newman’s humorous and original take on a witch’s quest for quiet and Ewald’s inventive artwork, Hildie Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep makes a great addition to your bedtime story collection and is definitely not just for Halloween.
Sometimes the very thing we are searching for is right before our eyes. And sometimes, if we’re fortunate, we get the opportunity to discover this truth through beautiful picture book stories like The Most Wonderful Thing in the World.
A retelling of illustrator Angela Barrett’s favorite childhood story, The Most Wonderful Thing in the World starts with a royal problem. An over-protective king and queen of a picturesque kingdom with “sky-blue water and golden bridges” must find a proper husband for their only child, Lucia. Unsure of how to find the right man, they write to “Wise Old Angelo” for advice on what to do. In response, Angelo advises them to find the man who can show them the most wonderful thing in the world. And, alas, the parade of suitors who visits the king and queen bring one bizarre item after another: “mysterious magical beasts and a piece of frozen sky,” a “mammoth tusk” and “wind machine”—“even [a] mermaid in a tank.”
In the meantime, clever Lucia finds a way to avoid the madness. Her quiet defiance enriches the storyline as do the illustrations of the city, done in soft colors and lush detail. Lucia’s parents intend on sheltering their daughter. Ironically, their decision to send her away while they choose her future husband provides Lucia the independence she needs to choose for herself.
Away from her parents’ watchful eyes, she befriends Angelo’s grandson, Salvatore, who gladly fulfills her request to show her the city, ancient and romantic—like Venice with an Edwardian twist. Through piazzas, busy markets, and “marble arches” they visit the central spaces but also the hidden gems of the city “where the grand never [think] to go.”
This middle section is my favorite part for the tone feels modern and old at the same time. The story comes alive, as if what we are reading may have actually taken place. In pictures, we see the classic architecture of the buildings juxtaposed with the fairly modern attire of the characters. While Lucia and Salvatore roam the city, the items the suitors bring, too, showcase modern technology. As a side note, I like how some of the illustrations are done in a film reel kind of lay out which may help younger readers follow along more easily.
In words, Vivian French also balances this magical space of old and new. Most powerful for me is the opening line, “Once, in the time of your grandmother’s grandmother.” While fairy tales tend to take place in a time and place centuries old, often foreign and unreal, French’s language gives readers the feeling this tale might be true—or at least the possibility of being real, like it’s just within our reach. After all, as French reminds us, “[Our] grandmother’s grandmother would remember it.”
In the end, it’s Salvatore who reveals the most wonderful thing in the world to the king and queen who realize the answer they’ve been searching for has been in plain view all along. Married, Salvatore and Lucia gracefully rule their kingdom with a deep love for their people. And while the historical details of the story are debatable, one fact is certain: love is the most wonderful thing in the world.
Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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The Snow Queen Retold by Sarah Lowes and illustrated by Miss Clara
Barefoot Books; $9.99; Chapter book for ages 8 and up
The Snow Queen Translated by Anthea Bell and illustrated by Yana Sedova
Minedition; $19.99; Picture book for ages 5 and up
To those in the USA who are busy surviving snow storms and blizzards, winter might seem like a curse. For those who are stifling under drought conditions, snow must seem like a fleeting, magical element. The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen combines the danger and wonder of snow in an imaginative tale. When a shard of an evil mirror pierces his eye, Kay sees only the bad in the world. This makes him easy prey for the Snow Queen, who kidnaps him. Kay’s best friend Gerda decides to rescue him. To do so, she must set out on a long and arduous journey where she encounters talking birds and animals, magical flowers, an enchantress, a robber girl, and a princess. Gerda’s love for her friend is her greatest help, and she battles the bitter cold to reach the Snow Queen’s icy palace. There, Gerda frees Kay from his frozen heart and the Snow Queen’s grasp.
It’s little wonder that this fantastical story continues to be retold, even 171 years after its original publication. Here are two retellings of this tale of friendship and courage.
The Snow Queen Retold by Sarah Lowes and illustrated by Miss Clara
Barefoot Books: Step Inside A Story; $9.99
With “accelerated vocabulary and complex sentence structure for the confident reader,” Barefoot Books presents its adapted version as a chapter book for ages eight and up. At 64 pages within seven chapters, the book is a good length for that age group. Here’s a taste of this exciting story:
The bags of provisions were taken and Gerda was dragged from the saddle. Her arms were pinned behind her, and a bony robber with bristling eyebrows and a hairy chin prodded and poked at her new clothes. “Quite the little lady…” he murmured as he drew his sharp dagger and held it to her throat.
“No!” shouted a clear, commanding young voice.
What I greatly enjoyed about this version was the evocative art by French artist, Miss Clara. Whimsical illustrations produce an ethereal sense of people and places. The jacket description states that Miss Clara first creates maquettes (scale models of unfinished sculptures), which she then photographs. Next, she works on those images digitally. The results are simply beautiful and captivating. I also enjoyed the tangible feel of the book. The cover is made of thicker paper than most chapter books, as are the pages. This made the book in its own way feel more appropriate for chapter book readers, as if they are being recognized as older and entrusted with weightier books. In addition, Barefoot Books states that “we source paper from sustainably managed forests,” which adds to the appeal.
The Snow Queen Translated by Anthea Bell and illustrated by Yana Sedova
Minedition presents its version of The Snow Queen as a picture book for ages 5 and up. Also 64 pages, this edition features large print for easy reading. Here’s the same sample as above:
They seized the horses, killed the coachman, footman and outriders, and dragged Gerda out of the carriage. “Oh, doesn’t she look tender and plump,” said the old robber woman who had a beard and bristly eyebrows. “This little girl will taste good!” And she brought out a sharp, shiny knife. But then she screamed, “Ouch!”… “Oh no, you don’t,” said the little robber girl.
Again, the art work is a huge draw for the book. The icy tones of the multiple shades of blue, silver, and green capture the feel of the cold and the iciness of the Snow Queen’s heart. The illustrations seem delicate and powerful at the same time.
The Snow Queen is a classic, and both versions are excellent versions that will fascinate children.
We know the story of curious Goldilocks, the little girl who goes a bit overboard snooping around the bears’ house. But Goatilocks? Why not? In this picture book, Perl has fractured the beloved fairy tale in a way that parents may see coming, but is still sure to make (human) kids laugh.
This kid, Goatilocks, happens to live nearby three bears who happen to be setting off on a walk (check out Papa Bear’s camera). Not one to shy away from private property, Goatilocks decides to check the place out while the residents are gone. However, rather than following tradition by sampling all three bowls of porridge and ultimately consuming the baby’s portion, this kid not only enjoys the baby’s porridge, but proceeds to devour the entire bowl, and spoon! So you can just imagine what Goatilocks gets up to with the furniture she tries out. And when I say some stuffing’s involved I don’t mean Stovetop!
When at last the guilty goat is discovered, you may think you know what happens next. But remember this is a fractured fairy tale and anything goes! Suffice it to say that thankfully this little kid has a conscience …. and is not the only one in the neighborhood with a boundless appetite!
Howard’s simple, and sweet illustrations are perfect for this picture book. They’re funny, full of expression and don’t overwhelm the story. In other words, they’re just right
Very Little Red Riding Hood, the first in a series of three picture booksby Teresa Heapy with illustrations by Sue Heap, (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014, $16.99, Ages 4-8), is quite possibly the most adorable retelling of a classic fairytale.
Just as in the original fairy tale, Very Little Red Riding Hood is going to visit her Grandmama. In this version, Red, a wee toddler, is taking her suitcase and red teddy bear with her for a sleepover. Along the way, Red meets Wolf, but instead of being afraid, she’s excited and gives him a big hug. Heapy chooses her words wisely, and masters the voice and diction of a toddler. Heap’s illustrations show the wide-eyed innocence and playful antics of a child that age.
Red captures the wolf’s heart and wraps him around her very little finger. They pick flowers for Grandmama, but “Foxie” as she calls the wolf, doesn’t get it right.
“NOOO!” screamed Very Little Red Riding Hood.
“Not LELLO flowers. RED!” So they picked some red flowers.
Between carrying her suitcase and the flowers, and playing chasing games all the way to Grandmama’s, Wolf is tired out by the time they arrive. Red is still bubbling over with energy. Grandmama is reluctant to let the wolf into her house, but Red, like many toddlers, manages to get her way again. The wolf comes in for a cup of tea, and stays to play hide-and-seek, to dance, and to draw. Grandmama and Wolf are very tired and want Red to go to sleep. But, Red misses her Mummy, bursts into tears, and can’t be consoled by her Grandmama, who turns to the wolf for help. Wolf gives it a try, and just when you think he’s going to eat Red … well, that wouldn’t be a very good ending for a children’s book especially just before bedtime, now would it? Not as sweet an ending as a good tickle, a lot of laughter, a sleeping toddler, and a happily ever after.
Click here for a Very Little Red Riding Hood Activity Kit
NOTE: This is the first book in a must-have read-aloud series of three, followed by Very Little Cinderella, and Very Little Sleeping Beauty.
Those of you familiar with The Twelve Dancing Princesses by the brothers Grimm, will enjoy this enchanting adaptation of the popular fairy tale. For those of you who haven’t read Grimm’s fairy tales, TwelveDancing Unicorns, a stunning new picture book, easily stands on its own.
Despite being guarded by his finest men, the king finds his twelve prized unicorns mysteriously break free of their golden chains each night unseen by the watchmen. People come from all over the land to see the unicorns, but one young girl has grown particularly fond of the smallest one. She sees the creatures are unhappy being cooped up, and wants to help them.
When the king offers to grant a wish to anyone who can solve the mystery of the broken chains, the girl is the first to step up. Laughed at by the townspeople, and chided by the king for being too young to handle such a task, the girl remains undaunted. With the help of her mother, who gives her an invisibility cloak, and the bright moonlit sky, the girl discovers the unicorns’ secret, and has quite an adventure in the process.
I was reminded of Jan Brett’s illustrations, as I got lost in Gerard’s ability to capture otherworldly beauty in his work. His use of page and picture boarders provides a classic fairy tale feel to a modern book. I found Heyman’s lyrical story book style of writing very appealing; her words capturing the wonder and glory of the mystical world of unicorns.
Twelve Dancing Unicorns: a must read, must keep, and must pass down from generation to generation picture book.
– Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher
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