Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

A classic fairy tale with modern-day sensibilities: The White Snake

The White Snake, by Ben Nadler (based on a fairy tale by the Grimm Brothers), (May 2019, TOON Graphics), $16.95, ISBN: 9781943145379

Ages 8-12

Ben Nadler revisits The Grimm Brothers’ tale, The White Snake, with modern-day emphasis on themes including kindness to animals and pushing back against classicism, and sexism. Randall is a young servant for King Arnold, an indecisive monarch who seems confounded by the mere act of hanging a picture. He is an autocratic father, too, shouting down his daughter and refusing to consider letting her rule; choosing instead to find a suitor for her. King Arnold sends Randall to the neighboring kingdom of Borisylvania to spy and report back on why King Boris is beloved. In Borisylvania, Randall discovers Boris’ secret: he is able to communicate with animals by eating a meal of white snake. With this knowledge, Randall heads back home, showing kindness to animals along the way. This kindness pays off when Randall needs help to complete quests set by King Arnold in order to win his daughter’s hand – and save his own life.

Ben Nadler weaves themes of sexism and racism throughout the story. King Arnold is a brutish overlord who refuses to listen to his own daughter, and throws Randall in prison when he refuses to divulge King Boris’ secret. Princess Tilda come to his rescue by offering herself as bait; she tells her father to offer her hand in marriage as a contest prize. When Randall completes each quest the king sets before him, he refuses to let a servant marry his daughter and adds additional perilous tasks. When Randall finally helps King Arnold see the light, the story takes an upbeat turn and the message is loud and clear: “the animals talked to me. All I had to do is listen”.

Back matter includes an essay by graphic novelist educator Paul Karasik on retelling folk tales, and a bibliography of print and online resources. TOON has a free, downloadable educator’s guide available. The endpapers feature artwork of key figures in the story: birds, fish, horses, crowns, and apples, all arranged into a lovely design with a vintage feel. The artwork dives into surrealist territory in points, which will make you wonder just what is in that food. Randall is fair-skinned; King Arnold and Princess Tilda are brown-skinned.

A great add to your graphic novel and fairy tale collections. TOON has copies available in both hardcover and softcover. Check out the interview Smash Pages did with Ben Nadler!

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Josh Funk’s latest fractured fairy tale takes on Hansel and Gretel! Plus, a Giveaway!

It’s Not Hansel & Gretel, by Josh Funk/Illustrated by Edwardian Taylor, (March 2019, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 9781503902947

Ages 4-8

One of my favorite picture book people, Josh Funk – seriously, have you followed him on Twitter? – has another entry into his fractured fairy tales “It’s Not…” series. This time, he’s setting his sights on Hansel and Gretel, who just can’t believe their loving parents would hatch an evil plot to leave them in a dark forest all alone, or that a sweet old lady who’s doling out candy could possibly be an evil witch!

Set up as a back and forth between our omniscient narrator and the characters, the story is set in motion. The narrator has a lot more information about the story handy than do our characters, and the back and forth between them is laugh out loud funny. Gretel chastises the narrator for making Hansel cry at the very insinuation that their parents have an evil plot to get rid of them; the narrator is exasperated when the kids go to town on all the candy that the witch puts out for them. Gretel adds a smart, feminist slant to the story, asking why it’s always “Hansel and Gretel”, when Gretel clearly comes first alphabetically; she also points out that Hansel gets to sit around and gorge himself while she, the girl, has to cook and clean, exclaiming, “Get with the times-this is the fifteenth century!” There’s a wink, nudge nod to jokes about food allergies, a fabulous unicorn makes a guest appearance, and a Happily Ever After that will satisfy and amuse readers.

Sharp-eyed readers will spot some great fairy tale cameos (was that a flying monkey I saw), and the endpapers are loaded with enough candy and treats to tempt any reader into sampling what lies inside. Josh Funk’s got a gift for snappy, fun dialogue, and Edwardian Taylor’s bright, digital art is fun and explodes with the energy Josh Funk loads his story with. I read this with my 6 year old; he voiced the characters, I voiced the narrator, and we had a blast together. A perfect add to your fractured fairy tales shelves!

 

Want a shot at winning your own copy of It’s Not Hansel and Gretel? Try this Rafflecopter giveaway!

 

Like Hansel and Gretel, Josh Funk doesn’t like being told how stories should go—so he writes his own. He is the author of a bunch of picture books, including the popular Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series, illustrated by Brendan Kearney, and recently, How to Code a Sandcastle, illustrated by Sara Palacios, and Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience & Fortitude, illustrated by Stevie Lewis. He lives in New England with his wife and children. Learn more about him at www.joshfunkbooks.com and follow him on Twitter @joshfunkbooks.

 

Edwardian Taylor has worked as a visual development artist and character designer in the game and animation industry. He illustrated the picture book Race!, written by Sue Fliess and the chapter book Toy Academy: Some Assembly Required, written by Brian Lynch. He lives in Texas with his partner and their four dogs. Learn more about him at www.edwardiantaylor.com and follow him on Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter @edwardiantaylor.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Bethan Woollvin’s Hansel & Gretel serves up just desserts

Hansel & Gretel, by Bethan Woollvin, (Oct. 2018, Peachtree Publishers), $16.95, ISBN: 9781682630730

Ages 4-7

Bethan Woollvin’s back with another fractured fairy tale; this time, taking on brother-sister duo, Hansel and Gretel. We meet Willow, who, as Ms. Woollvin asserts multiple times, “is a good witch”. She only uses good magic, she takes care of her neck of the forest, she’s a nice witch. So when she sees Hansel and Gretel leaving breadcrumbs all over her forest floor, she politely asks them to help clean up their mess. They’re rude, and they blow her off. Then she catches them eating her home! But she figures they’re hungry, so she invites them in and cooks for them. Because Willow is a nice witch. After a few more indignities at these bratty children’s hands, Willow’s house collapses, and then Willow gets mad. And what happens when you push a nice witch too far?

Bethan Woollvin gives readers an uproariously funny tale of comeuppance in this latest fairy tale installment, flipping the whole Hansel & Gretel story on its head. Her trademark three-color art – in this case, orange, black, and gray – is bold and loaded with mischievous fun. Hansel and Gretel sport impish smiles and shifty eyes as they take over Willow’s home. There are loads of details to spot in the artwork, including a little mouse that stays around to watch the action unfold. The endpapers extend the story, as Willow watches the two careless siblings toss breadcrumbs in the opening papers and stands next to a very large black cat (read the story) and a candy castle – her home, rebuilt? – at the end.

I love Bethan Woollvin’s fairy tales. Give her more Grimm, please! Make your own Hansel & Gretel puppets by printing out these free activity sheets.

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Fables and Fairy Tales from Henry Herz

I fell in love with author Henry Herz’s book, Mabel and the Queen of Dreams, back in 2016. It was a wonderful way to introduce some magic to bedtime, and a nod to The Bard himself. Mr. Herz has two more books coming out this September; one is a fun fable about a selfish squid, and the other, another nod to magic, this time, courtesy of a little girl named Alice.

How the Squid Got Two Long Arms, by Henry Herz/Illustrated by Luke Graber, (Sept. 2018, Pelican Publishing), $16.99, ISBN: 9781455623884

Ages 3-7

Once upon a time, a squid had a splendid silvery scarf knitted for him by his mother, but he was still cold. Rather than go home and bundle up, our little cephalopod decides to steal an octopus’ sweater and a fiddler crab’s mitten; when he tries to snatch an eel’s hat, though, he discovers that taking things without asking can only end one way: trouble! The eel grabbed one of the squid’s 10 arms, and the octopus and crab catch up to get hold of his other arm and get their clothes back! When all is said and done, the squid is still cold, and now he has two really long arms: and a sneaky fish sneaking up to steal his scarf! The straightforward story is a gentle way to reinforce that taking things that aren’t yours is wrong; a nice morality tale set in the friendly ocean. The artwork brings a dose of fun to the story, with wide-eyed marine life and exaggerated expressions (and an eel in a hunter’s cap is pretty fantastic). An author’s note provides a photo and a little bit of background on squid.

My little guy thoroughly enjoyed this story; he had a big-eyed laugh when the squid got his comeuppance, and pointed out all the animals we’d seen at the aquarium a couple of weeks before. It’s a nice add to your shelves, and a fun add to fables, stories about empathy, and books with marine life.  And here are some squid coloring sheets, to enhance the storytime!

 

Alice’s Magic Garden, by Henry Herz/Illustrated by Natalie Hoopes, (Sept. 2018, Familius), $16.99, ISBN: 9781641700320

Ages 5+

Alice in Wonderland fans, get ready: the subtitle here, “Before the rabbit hole”, lets you know what’s going on. Once upon a time, there was a young girl named Alice, who went to the dreariest school in all of England. While escaping her awful headmistress and cruel classmates, Alice happens upon a small, walled garden, and begins tending it, caring for a few of the inhabitants: a caterpillar and a lory bird; she even chases a smiling cat away from a rabbit. Her kindness is paid back at school, when her benefactors leave her tasty treats and take care of those bullies, telling Alice that they are friends “now and forever”. There are wonderful references to the classic tale throughout the story, and readers will fall in love with the magical realism of the garden. The artwork is colorful and calming, delightful for fairy tale fans, and the story itself is all about the power of paying it forward. This one is great storytime reading, and may nudge Mabel aside as my favorite Henry Herz book. Print out some Alice in Wonderland coloring sheets, have a mad tea party, and read this one to your littles.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Vivian French creates fun fairy tales!

The Cherry Pie Princess, by Vivian French/Illustrated by Marta Kissi, (March 2018, Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 9781610677332

Recommended for readers 7-11

Peony is the youngest of her princess sisters. She’s also the one with manners, and who loves to read. When a baby brother is born, her parents are thrilled and demand a huge celebration, but Peony’s father – who may be a tyrant – only wants people who will give good gifts and who are the “right” kind of people at the party, which leaves out The Hag, a powerful witch who doesn’t take kindly to being ignored. It’s up to Peony to use her brains to save the town librarian and an aspiring court jester that her father locked in the dungeon, her baby brother, and the entire kingdom. No pressure!

Vivian French’s fairy tales are so much fun to read. They’ve got wonderful heroines and heroes, and a dramatis personae of dramatic foils that are generally (comically) awful people. In this case, Peony, who loves the library, borrows a cookbook and learns how to bake while her father has the librarian thrown in the dungeon for daring to speak directly to Peony. Who discovers this years later, when her own father locks her up for daring to talk back to him. It’s Peony’s book smarts and sense of decency that combine to help her take charge of the situation when The Hag shows up to cause trouble, and save the day. There’s humor, fun and diverse characters – the three good fairy godmothers appear to be African-American – and Marta Kissi’s entertaining black and white artwork make this a fun read for fantasy fans, princess fans, and readers who love a book with a message. Plus, there’s a talking cat and a librarian. So, bonus.

Props to Marta Kissi for nailing a picture of me at the end of a day at the library, without even knowing me:

 

The Adventures of Alfie Onion, by Vivian French/Illustrated by Marta Kissi, (March 2018, Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 9781610677325

Recommended for readers 7-11

Alfie Onion could really have had a chip on his shoulder, and no one would blame him. He’s the eighth son of a seventh son, an inconvenience to his mother, who lavishes all her attentions on her seventh son of a seventh son, Magnifico. You see, his mother grew up obsessed with fairy tales, and was convinced that the seventh son of a seventh son was destined for greatness; Magnifico is his mother’s long-tail get-rich scheme. The thing is, Magnifico is a spoiled brat who pretty much knows how to eat. And that’s that. So when his mother pushes him off to start his great adventures, Magnifico takes Alfie (and his dog, Bowser) along to carry his luggage. Guess who the real hero is going to be?

I am so happy to read that these two books are the beginning of a new stand-alone series; they are so much fun to read and address modern-day problems in a fairy tale setting. Like The Cherry Pie Princess, Alfie Onion has a positive hero with overwrought, melodramatic antagonist foils. Alfie is always respectful and kind, where Magnifico is selfish and rude; when danger lurks, Magnifico expects Alfie to protect him: some hero! The humor is light and fun, with all the fantasy dressing: forests, trolls, talking birds and mice, a lovelorn ogress, a faithful dog, and a hero’s quest. Marta Kissi’s illustrations just add to the fun here, especially when the adventure takes a turn into an ogrish rubbish pit.

Do you have readers who love Whatever After? Grimmtastic Girls? Hand them these, and tell them to enjoy. Have boys who think fairy tales are for girls? First, tell them they’re clearly not reading the right fairy tales, and hand them these, too.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

YA Fairy Tale creepiness: The Hazel Wood

The Hazel Wood, by Melissa Albert, (Jan. 2018, Flatiron Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250147905

Recommended for readers 13+

In this wonderfully dark fantasy, 17-year-old Alice and her mother have lived on the run from the bad luck that always seems to follow them. Her grandmother, Althea Proserpine, author of Tales from the Hinterland, a book of dark fairy tales that achieved cult status, has passed away, allowing Alice’s mother, Ella, to believe they’re finally free. Not likely. Ella is kidnapped and Alice turns to her friend, Finch, a Proserpine fan, to help her find her way into the very real Hinterland, to save her. But the Hinterland has plans for Alice, too; she’s yearned to know her grandmother for her whole life, but what she may find out will change her life and the lives of everyone around her forever.

This is an unputdownable book from the get-go. Alice lives in the shadow of her mythic grandmother, who she’s never had a relationship with; her mother, Ella, is her only attachment in life, as they run from the misfortune that dogs them. Ella will never talk about her mother, and information about Althea is scarce; her book is even more difficult to track down. Alice is a conflicted protagonist, with anger issues and a general disdain for the wealthy, vapid people around her at war with the desire for a stable family life and a relationship with her famous grandmother. As Alice starts unraveling secrets kept by her mother, shadowy figures start making their way into her world: our world. Melissa Albert brings two worlds together and has readers keeping a white-knuckled grip on her book as we try to hold them apart. Rich with world building and main character development, The Hazel Wood left me thoroughly unsettled and wishing that we’d get some more Stories wandering out of the Hinterland. Fantastic for anyone bulking up their summer reading collections, and perfect for anyone looking for a good, creeptastic read.

The Hazel Wood has SEVEN starred reviews: Kirkus; School Library Journal; Shelf Awareness; Publisher’s Weekly; Booklist; VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates), and the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

Posted in Uncategorized

Wild Swans is a colorful, empowered adaptation of the Grimm fairy tale

Wild Swans, retold by Xanthe Gresham Knight/Illustrated by Charlotte Gastaut, (March 2018, Barefoot Books), $9.99, ISBN: 9781782853626

Recommended for readers 7-11

The latest adaptation of Grimm’s Wild Swans is a beautifully illustrated, empowering retelling where a young woman breaks a spell to save her brothers, and assumes her place as queen of her kingdom. Young Eliza and her eleven brothers live with their father, the king, and their stepmother, the queen, who also has a gift with magic. When a plague devastates the land, Eliza’s stepmother turns the 11 brother sinto swans, so they can fly away from the plague, and sends Eliza to a remote village, untouched by the disease. Years later, Eliza receives word that the queen was able to discover a cure, but it was too late to save herself or the king. The kingdom is in chaos, and it’s up to Eliza to cure the plague and assume the throne, bringing peace back to the land. Throughout her adventure, she’ll befriend a young king, work her fingers raw to knit special shirts for her brothers to break the spell, and hold her own against a mob of villagers who think she’s a witch. All in a day’s work for a fairy tale heroine!

The artwork is stunning. There’s vibrant and angular artwork throughout the book, with gold and black drawings pacing the text between color panels. Eliza is a brave and focused heroine who doesn’t rely on a prince or king to marry her to gain her throne – she and the young king are dear friends, committed to one another as companions. She even declines an offer to serve as his new advisor, because she’s got a kingdom of her own to run. This is a nice addition to fairy tale collections, and great for a nice, empowering read.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Legend of Jack Riddle begins!

The Legend of Jack Riddle, by H. Easson, (January 2018, Stone Arch Books), $26.65, ISBN: 9781496554086/(March. 2018, Capstone), $12.95, ISBN: 9781623709075

Recommended for ages 9-13

Twelve year-old Jack has to go visit his creepy great-great-great-whatever-aunt. She wears Doc Martens, a black ballgown, and wears a creepy top hat, calls him Jackie-poo, and sneaks out to play bingo. In the forest. Jack follows her, and discovers that Aunt Gee Gee may have some secrets. When the cookie jar she sends him back home brings forth a goblin that attacks the principal for a candy bar, Jack definitely gets the feeling that something’s up. The thing is, Jack’s in the middle of a very dangerous fairy tale: he’s the descendant of Gretel, and she’s nothing like the lost little girl in the fairy tale. She’s an awful witch that has Jack and his absent-minded teacher, Professor Ambrosius Footnote, racing to find a way to stop Gretel before there are very, very bad consequences for Jack and for future kids!

This is a fun take on fairy tale history, with cameos from some old favorites and a new point of view. Narrated from Jack’s point of view, there’s an interesting subplot about communication breakdown between parents and kids, and he tackles some fairy tale tropes (why can’t anyone just give a straight answer? What’s with all the riddles?) with laughs. The ending leaves the possibility of a sequel open. If you have fractured fairy tale readers, this is a good bet for their shelves and yours.

Posted in Preschool Reads

Bethan Wollvin’s Girl-Power Fairy Tales: Rapunzel

Rapunzel, by Bethan Woollvin, (Oct. 2017, Peachtree Publishers), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-68263-003-7

Recommended for readers 3-8

Last year, Bethan Woollvin gave readers Little Red; her spin on Little Red Riding Hood. Little Red didn’t need a huntsman to help her out; she had things handled. Woollvin’s newest tale, Rapunzel, gives us another heroine who can take care of herself.

The story starts out the same: kidnapped by a witch, living in a tower, the witch climbs up her hair, snips it to sell, and threatens her. But Rapunzel isn’t worried – she’s too smart for that. She starts figuring out that if the witch can use her hair to get in, Rapunzel can use her own hair to get out. We see her exploring the forest, reading a book called, “How to Defeat Witches”, and we just know this isn’t a princess that needs saving. Heck, no prince even shows up in this story. When the witch confronts Rapunzel after discovering she’s been out, the girl takes matters into her own hands. Literally. And that, my friends, is that: Rapunzel is free and becomes the bane of witches everywhere.

I  love Woollvin’s flipped fairy tales! The two-color art stands out; it’s dramatic and bright. Where Little Red was black and red, Rapunzel is, naturally, yellow and red. The endpapers give readers the short version of the story: the opening endpapers show a witch pursuing Rapunzel through the forest, and the closing endpapers show her masked, on a horse, with two witches hiding from her this time. The art is simple, fun, and gets to the point. Readers can make their own Rapunzels and witches (or Little Reds) with printables aplenty – hold a flipped fairy tale/girl power storytime and let your readers transform!

A great add to storytime collections and fairy tale bookshelves everywhere!

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Sleeping Beauty, reimagined: Spindle Fire

Spindle Fire (Spindle Fire #1), by Lexa Hillyer, (Apr. 2017, HarperTeen), $17.99, ISBN: 9780062440877

Recommended for ages 14+

This Sleeping Beauty reimagining gives us parallel narratives of two sisters: Aurora and Isabella, the princess and her bastard sister, and Belcoeur and Malfleur, fairies whose longstanding feud may bring down the kingdom. It starts like the familiar tale of Sleeping Beauty, with a twist: in this world, fairies may bestow gifts upon you, but it’s a tithe – ain’t nothing for free. Aurora’s parents, the king and queen, give up Aurora’s sense of touch and ability to speak in order to receive her gifts. Malfleur, like the fabulous Maleficent, storms in and puts the spinning needle curse on Aurora, but this time around, a fairy offers to mitigate the curse not out of the goodness and kindness of her heart, but for another tithe: sight. The queen offers up Isabella – called Isbe – bastard daughter of the king, as tithe. So we’ve got one sister who can’t speak or feel, another who can’t see, but they communicate with a language all their own.

There is a lot of story here: there’s turmoil in the kingdom; Isbe runs off while the Aurora falls victim to the spindle. Malfleur is getting an army ready to march and take over the kingdom as Isbe tries to wake her sister; Aurora wakes up in an enchanted world, meeting a woodsman that she eventually falls in love with. There are moments where Spindle Fire is really good storytelling, but there are moments where there’s almost too many threads; too much going on to get the proper gist of the story. I liked the interactions between Aurora and Isbe, and I really loved reading the backstory between the two faerie queens: more of that, please! The ending leaves readers with no question: there will be a sequel (and GoodReads has this listed as Book One).

If you have reimagined fairy tale readers, this is a good add; romance readers will enjoy the chemistry between each of the sisters and their paramours.