"Once upon a time." This opening line will conjure up myriad fairy tales in your mind I am sure, as readily as "...and they all lived happily ever after." How many times, though, have you considered these same fairy tales as attractive reading material for teens, both boys and girls? If you haven't, you may be surprised.
My teen book review group at the Mesa Public Library, called the Young Adult Advisory Council, or YAAC for short, keeps me on my toes about what is hot and what is not for teen reading. As Ella Peterson, one of YAAC's members, says, "I think that modern retellings of classic fairy tales are wonderful. They retell the traditional tales in a way that relates the colorful plots and loveable characters of the past to today's much different world. Whether the fairy tale has a moral or is just a great story, the retelling of a childhood favorite in a modern day context definitely helps us to imagine old familiar stories in a whole new way."
In the last few years, teen interest in books based on fairy tales has bloomed. When Robin McKinley's new book, Spindle's End was recently published, teens were excited, and a library reserve list formed. Spindle's End is a wildly imaginative and surprising retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story. Teens seem to like the variations and surprises in retellings, which sets the books apart from traditional fairy tales.
When one book becomes popular, another by that author usually follows suit, and that has been the case with McKinley's titles. Teens here have shown renewed interest in her book, Deerskin , a frank and expansive version of the original controversial tale, Donkeyskin .
Perpetually a top choice is McKinley's Beauty . As one teen put it, " Beauty is really good. I have read it about twenty times!" Another McKinley fan, Rosie Servis, loves Rose Daughter . She said, "Whenever I think of the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, think of Rose Daughter. It is a beautiful story that shows appearances aren't everything."
Do you have teens who enjoy the Cinderella story? Two remakes are quite popular. Ella Enchanted , by Gail Carson Levine, provides a unique twist in that Ella has been given a gift at birth-to obey any command addressed to her. Just Ella , by Margaret Peterson Haddix, picks up where Cinderella left off, at the point where she marries the prince but then finds palace life is not what she bargained for.
Another author who has found favor with our teen readers is Donna Jo Napoli. A frequent teen reading choice is her book, Magic Circle , which retells Hansel and Gretel - from the startling perspective of the witch-in a very unique fashion. Zel , based on Rapunzel , is retold from the points of view of various characters in that story, while it examines their psychological motivations. Spinners recounts Rumpelstiltskin . YAAC member Andrea Alonge said, " Spinners was one of the best books I have ever read. I think Donna Jo Napoli should be nominated for Author of the Year."
Napoli's latest titles are Crazy Jack and Beast . Crazy Jack is a retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk in which Jack seeks his father, falls in love, and learns what real treasure is. Beast showcases Napoli's linguistic knowledge, as French, Latin, Arabic and Persian words pepper her version of Beauty and the Beast . This story is of a prince who is the victim of a curse and who has been transformed into a very non-elegant lion. In this form, he seeks a French woman with a love of roses who can free him from the curse.
Teens also love fractured fairy tales. In Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird , by Vivian Vande Velde, the thirteen twisted versions of such well known tales as Jack and the Beanstal, Red Riding Hood , and Three Billy Goats Gruff are hilarious. Pricilla Galloway's Truly Grim Tales and Emma Donoghue's Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins are titles frequently in demand. Kissing the Witch takes a unique perspective in that the stories are interconnected. Each fairy tale starts with a poem by a character from the previous story.
Fairy tale remakes from the darker side, such as those found in Red As Blood" and Tales from the Sisters Grimmer by Tanith Lee, are often selected by teens who enjoy that slant. Also in demand is Briar Rose , Jane Yolen's version of Sleeping Beauty , in which the author entwines the terror of the Holocaust with the tale. As teen book reviewer Beth Dormady said, " Briar Rose was very interesting! It showed a whole new side to Sleeping Beauty ."
Francesca Lia Block is a favorite of teen readers, and she has recently taken the plunge into the sub-genre of retold fairy tales. Her book, The Rose and the Beast: Fairy Tales Retold , is a collection of stories with short and snappy titles such as " Snow, " "Rose, " "Ice " and "Charm . " Some take on a contemporary slant while others are more traditional. Block brings perceptiveness to the original elements of the fairy tales, often in a disturbing and mature manner. Older teens, especially Block fans, will enjoy this thought-provoking, quirky offering.
Some titles are based on retellings of unusual fairy tales. YAAC member Ella Peterson greatly enjoyed Juliet Marillier's Daughter of the Forest . Ella said, "Based on a little known fairy tale called Six Swans , this book is one of the prime examples of fairy tale retellings today. The old fairy tale is taken and remolded into an entirely new story that is wonderfully entertaining and engaging. The writing style flows beautifully and makes the book smooth and enjoyable to read. Marillier did an extraordinary job on her first novel and promises that this is just the first in a brand new upcoming trilogy."
A traditionally fun title that has had teens reveling in its humor for years is Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes . Another popular and very silly yet catchy collection is Fractured Fairy Tales by A.J. Jacobs, based on the stories featured on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show . Plus, who could forget Jon Scieszka's extremely funny The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales? Teens still clamor for that one. YAAC member Jasmine Williamson said, "I like The Stinky Cheese Man because of the hilarious way the author tells the stories. When my teacher got it I made sure I was the first one to read it because I liked it so much." David LaHaie quipped, "I have to say that The Stinky Cheese Man is one of my literary favorites. It is a hysterical take on old fairy tales, which you can't put down." Elizabeth Steimle stated simply, "Lots of retellings are very funny (such as The Stinky Cheese Man ) and they keep your attention."
So, what are you waiting for? Try some of these new versions with your teen readers and be surprised! As you can see, there is something for everyone in these old stories in new skins.
Haddix, Margaret Peterson. Just Ella . New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.
Levine, Gail Carson. Ella Enchanted . New York: HarperCollins, 1997.
McKinley, Robin. Beauty . New York: Harper & Row, 1978.
McKinley, Robin. Rose Daughter . New York: Greenwillow, 1997.
Napoli, Donna Jo. Beast . New York: Atheneum, 2000.
Card, Orson Scott. Enchantment . New York: Del Rey, 1999.
Coover, Robert. Briar Rose . New York: Grove, 1996.
Levine, Gail Carson. Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep . New York: HarperCollins, 1999.
McKinley, Robin. Spindle's End . New York: GP Putnain's Sons, 2000.
Yolen, Jane. Briar Rose . New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 1992.
Levine, Gail Carson. The Fairy's Mistake . New York: HarperCollins, 1999.
Levine, Gail Carson. The Princess Test . New York: HarperCollins, 1999.
McKinley, Robin. Deerskin . New York: Ace, 1993,
Mitchell, Stephen. The Frog Prince . New York: Hannony, 1996.
Morillier, Juliet. Daughter of the Forest . New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2000.
Napoli, Donna Jo. Crazy Jack . New York: Delacorte, 1999.
Napoli, Donna Jo. Magic Circle . New York: Dutton, 1993,
Napoli, Donna Jo. Spinners . New York: Dutton, 1999.
Napoli, Donna Jo. Zel New York: Dutton, 1996.
Block, Francesca Lia. Rose and the Beast. Fairy Tales Retold . New York: HarperCollins, 2000.
Brooke, William J. Teller of Tales . New York: HarperCollins, 1994.
Brooke, William J. A Telling of the Tales: Five Stories . New York, Harper & Row, 1990.
Brooke, William J. Untold Tales . New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
Datlow, Ellen and Terri Windling, editors. Black Swan, White Raven . New York: Avon, 1997.
Datlow, Ellen and Terri Windling, editors. Black Thorn, White Rose . New York: Morrow, 1994.
Datlow, Ellen and Terri Windling, editors. Silver Birch, Blood Moon . New York: Avon, 1999.
Datlow, Ellen and Terri Windling, editors. Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales . New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.
Donoghue, Emma. Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins . New York: HarperCollins, 1999.
Galloway, Pricilla. Truly Grim Tales . New York: Delacorte Press, 1995.
Lee, Tanith. Red as Blood.- or Tatesfrom the Sisters Grimmer . New York: Daw Books, 1983.
McKinley, Robin. The Door in the Hedge . New York: Greenwillow, 1981.
Zipes, Jack, editor. The Outspoken Princess and the Gentle Knight . New York: Bantam, 1994.
Dahl, Roald. Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes . New York: Knopf, 1982.
Fisher, David. Legally Correct Fairy Tales . New York: Warner, 1996.
Gamer, James Finn. Politically Correct Bedtime Stories . New York: Macmillan, 1994.
Gamer, James Finn. Once Upon a More Enlightened Time: More Politically Correct Bedtime Stories . New York: Macmillan USA, 1995.
Jacobs, A.J. Fractured Fairy Tales . New York: Bantam, 1997,
Scieszka, Jon. The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales . New York: Viking, 1992.
Vande Velde, Vivian. Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird . San Diego: Harcourt, 1995.
Diane Tuccillo has been Senior Librarian/YA Coordinator at the Mesa Public Library in Arizona for twenty years. Diane is on the ALAN Executive Board and has been a frequent presenter at ALAN Workshops. She has written articles for The ALAN Review, VOYA, Kliatt and other publications. She is also a book reviewer for School Library Journal and VOYA. One of Diane's favorite jobs is working with the teen members of YAAC.
Ella Peterson is 15 years old and attends Skyline High School. Ella loves to read and she has been an active member of YAAC for two years. She has had many reviews published in YAAC's teen book review newsletter, Open Shelf. Ella was instrumental in preparing the bibliography for this article.
YAAC is a group of teen book reviewers who meet twice a month on Saturday mornings, at the Mesa Public Library, to talk about books and write reviews. They serve as partner book reviewers with adult reviewers for VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates) journal and were one of two national groups working on the Teen Top Ten Books pilot project for the Young Adult Library Services Association of the American Library Association last year. They are also involved in YALSA's YA Galley Project, for which teens read newly published or about-to-be published books and share their impressions. Considered official library volunteers, YAAC has been an active part of Mesa Public Library since 1977. The group also helps out with special library programs and projects as needed, and a YAA C Representative serves on the Library Board.
Reference Citation: Tuccillo, Diane P. (2001) "Happily Ever After? Teens and Fairy Tales." The ALAN Review , Volume 28, Number 2, p. 66.