The Alan Review
Wendy Glenn, Senior Editor
Ricki Ginsberg, Assistant Editor
Danielle King, Assistant Editor
Volume 30, Number 2
Winter 2003

DLA Ejournal Home | ALAN Home | Table of Contents for this issue | Search ALAN and other ejournals

Familiar Fairy Tale Picture Books Transformed into Teen Novels

Rosemary Chance

Once upon a time in faraway places, stories were told around campfires and hearths among family and friends. Eventually these oral stories were written down and some were illustrated. Two of the best-known names in written folk literature are the Frenchman Charles Perrault and the Grimm Brothers of Germany. In 1697 Perrault published a collection entitled Tales of Mother Goose, and from 1812 to 1815 Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm published a collection of tales they had recorded from many storytellers ( Darton 1999 ).

Folk literature from the oral tradition to the printed word encompasses four major types: legends, myths, fables, and fairy tales ( Norton 1999 ). The most popular type of folk literature published today for children is the fairy tale, sometimes referred to as "magic" or "wonder tales" because of the presence of magic in the stories. Fairy godmothers and evil witches abound in fairy tales. Library shelves are full of illustrated versions of fairy tales, and in the last few years, familiar fairy tales have been expanded by skillful authors into novels for teens.

Characteristics of Fairy Tales

Fairy tales from the oral tradition share certain literary characteristics. The plot is simple and to the point. Within this direct plot are special features. Repetition was used to give the storyteller a break, such as this question from the Snow White story: "Mirror, mirror on the wall,/Who is fairest of us all?" In fairy tales, time passes quickly. In Paul Zelinsky's retelling of the story of Rapunzel, for example, twelve years pass in one paragraph: Rapunzel is a baby, then one sentence later she is twelve years old. Action happens quickly as well. There are no long, detailed descriptions of scenes to slow the plot. For instance, in the story of Rumpelstiltskin, we know only that the miller's daughter is locked in a room filled with straw. In Paul Zelinsky's retelling of the tale, elegant illustrations present visual knowledge of the room in the absence of descriptive text.

Sparsely described settings are also common in fairy tales. A nonspecific, open setting makes the tale every person's story. "Once upon a time," and "Once in a land faraway" create an open setting accessible and inviting to everyone. However, clues in the text and illustrations let the reader speculate about the setting. In Little Red Riding Hood , retold and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, the story clearly takes place in a forest.

Characters in folk tales are also flatter, less well-developed than they are in well-written modern stories and novels. Fairy tale characters are either "good" and have no flaws, or they are "evil" with no redeeming features. Good characters, like Snow White and Cinderella, are models of how to behave. Bruno Bettleheim in his book, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales , maintains that black and white morality shown by fairy tale characters is clear to children. For instance, children understand that murder is wrong. The stepmother in the Snow White tale was evil, and she was wrong to try to deceive and kill Snow White.

Fairy tales not only have certain literary elements in common; they also contain a basic pattern that is repeated over and over. Kernels of the Cinderella story are found in Tattercoats, The Brocade Slipper, The Talking Eggs, and in modern movies such as Pretty Woman . Recently, several authors have turned familiar fairy tales into complex stories suitable for teens, such as Cinderella 2000 , by Mavis Jukes, and Ella Enchanted , by Gail Carson Levine. Each of these original novels has at its core the kernel of a single fairy tale. In these novels, the kernel is there, but details and literary elements have changed and expanded.

Fairy Tales and Novels for Teens and for the Classroom

Once a familiar fairy tale is changed into a novel for teenagers, it becomes a more complex story. Characters become more fully realized in these retellings. Readers learn the weaknesses and strengths of main characters, such as Orasmyn and Belle in Donna Jo Napoli's Beast . The author adds subplots and complications to the stories that were not present in the fairy tales. Rather than a simple fairy tale, some young adult novels are transformed into realistic fiction; others retain their fantasy elements. Gillian Cross's Wolf is a marvel of pieces from "Little Red Riding Hood" but is devoid of talking wolves or other happenings typical of fantasy. On the other hand, Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted maintains the cruel magic of a curse on a young maiden.

Consider the possibilities for pairing stories for middle school and high school students. Challenge students to compare an illustrated fairy tale with a novel clearly based on a familiar tale.

For example, read Lisbeth Zwerger's Hansel and Gretel to a class and discuss the kernel of the story: The mother dies, the father remarries, and the stepmother wants to get rid of her two stepchildren. Hansel and Gretel become hopelessly lost in the woods, but they find a candy house. The witch who lives there captures them, intending to eat them. The children manage to push the witch into the oven, and they are saved. Then have students read The Magic Circle by Donna Jo Napoli and search for the kernel of the Hansel and Gretel story, looking for similarities and differences. Several features of the novel will intrigue readers. For instance, the narrator is the witch who was a healer until she was tricked by demons. She isolates herself so that she will not be tempted to eat children. By the time Hansel and Gretel appear at her house, she has carefully arranged her life to avoid evil. But the children tempt her and she knows that she will not be able to resist eating them. She sacrifices herself in her own oven rather than live with the knowledge that she has eaten children.

Offering students the opportunity to compare a picture book with a teen novel allows us to review familiar tales with students. Some teens may not know traditional fairy tales. Here is a chance to acquaint them with an aspect of cultural literacy they may have missed in their childhood. For teens who loved fairy tales when they were younger, reading and discussing familiar tales will feel comfortable or even nostalgic. This feeling may entice reluctant readers to explore novels with the kernel elements of a fairy tale.

The titles of picture books and teen novels that follow are grouped by nine popular tales, for easy comparison. The picture books are traditional versions, beautifully illustrated. No parodies or other cultural variations are included. This is a selected list of titles based upon my fondness and admiration for particular illustrators. Certainly there are still more titles available. The teen novels recommended are suitable for middle school and high school students with some variation in age levels, as noted in the commentary. Through comparing picture books and teen novels, we have one last chance to introduce fairy tales to older readers, to introduce readers to the beauty of book illustration, to encourage critical thinking, and to expand cultural literacy. Beauty, Beast, Cinderella, Hansel, Gretel, Jack, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White can make all of that possible.










Rosemary Chance is an Assistant Professor in the School of Library and Information Science at The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. She teaches children's and young adult literature, and directs an annual children's book festival, now in its 35 th year, and is the chair of the 2003 Margaret A. Edwards Award Committee of the American Library Association.

Works Cited

Bettleheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment : The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. New York: Knopf, 1976.

Darton, F. J. Harvey. Children's Books in England: Five Centuries of Social Life, 3 rd edition. Revised by Brian Alderson. London: British Library, 1999.

Norton, Donna E. Through the Eyes of a Child: An Introduction to Children's Literature, 5 th edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1999.

DLA Ejournal Home | ALAN Home | Table of Contents for this issue | Search ALAN and other ejournals