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 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.