Posts tagged ‘Retold Fairy Tale’

The Sleeper and the Spindle

Each month for a previous job, I wrote a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ve expanded that idea to the blog in a feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Sleeper and the Spindle.jpgTitle: The Sleeper and the Spindle
Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrator: Chris Riddell
ISBN: 9780062398246
Pages: 69 pages
Publisher/Date: first published in Rag & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales, published in 2013 by Little, Brown. c2013, Illustrations c2014. Originally published in the U.K. in 2014 by Bloomsbury. Published in U.S. by HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, c2015.

The smallest dwarf tipped his head to one side. “So, there’s a sleeping woman in a castle, and perhaps a witch or fairy there with her. Why is there also a plague?”
“Over the last year,” said the fat-faced man. “It started in the north, beyond the capital. I heard about if first from travelers coming from Stede, which is near the Forest of Acaire.”
“People fall asleep in the towns,” said the pot-girl. […]
“They fall asleep whatever they are doing, and they do not wake up,” said the sot. “Look at us. We fled the towns to come here. We have brothers and sisters, wives and children, sleeping now in their houses or cowsheds, at their workbenches. All of us.”
“It is moving faster and faster,” […] “Now it covers a mile, perhaps two miles, each day.” (18)

Three dwarfs tunnel under the mountain range in search of a wedding gift for their queen, returning with news of a horrible sleeping sickness plaguing the neighboring lands and heading closer every day. The queen, having previously faced her own sleep spell, postpones the wedding and attempts to break the spell and save both kingdoms. Although this might sound familiar, Neil Gaiman’s twist ending flips the story, and you question who is really being held captive. The queen’s confidence is obvious in both narration and illustration, and is the most welcome adaptation to the traditional tale. Two illustrations specifically catch my eye, the first has the queen standing with the dwarfs ready to embark, and the second is the full-spread gorgeously rendered drawing of the kiss. It doesn’t seem enough though to warrant publishing a previous short story as its own book, but U.S. fans will enjoy Gaiman’s newest import.

West of the Moon

West of the MoonTitle: West of the Moon
Author: Margi Preus
ISBN: 9781419708961
Pages: 216 pages
Publisher/Date: Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams, c2014.

<blockquote>”Astri!” Aunt yells up the stairs. “Don’t dawdle!”
I kiss the top of Greta’s head and place my hand on her face for just a moment—all I dare, or risk a broken heart.
Down the ladder I go to stand by the door, my bundle under my arm. I can’t help but notice there are now two shiny coins glinting on the table, along with a large, lumpy package. My cousins are eyeing the coins with the same intensity that the dog is sniffing the package. Now I know how much I’m worth: not as much as Jesus, who I’m told was sold for thirty pieces of silver. I am worth two silver coins and a haunch of goat.
Uncle comes and tucks a wisp of hair behind my ear, almost tenderly. “I’m sorry Astri,” he says. “It can’t be helped.”
That’s all there is for a good-bye, and then out the door I go. (6-7) </blockquote>

Thirteen-year-old Astri is sold by her aunt to the humped-back, filthy, ill-mannered and equally ill-tempered goat herder. Astri is intent on getting back to her aunt’s house, not out of kindness or love of her aunt, but concern for her little sister Greta who is still there. Her escape plan involves getting on a ship bound for America and meeting up with her father, who left some time ago and she hasn’t heard from since. In their escape attempt over the Norwegian mountains, they pick up among other things a book of dark magic and a silent Spinning Girl, blurring the lines of reality and fairy tale in the process.

Inspired by an entry in an ancestor’s diary, Margi Preus builds an entire story around farmer girl Astri. Karen Cushman said it best in her back cover blurb when she describes it as “an astounding blend of fiction and folklore that celebrates the important things in life—loyalty, devotion, courage, and the magic of stories.” Elizabeth Bird’s review is also extremely coherent and cohesive, probably much more so than mine ever could be.

It’s the blending that of fiction and folklore that Cushman mentions that is done so seamlessly and that captures the imagination, making you wonder if the collection of coins is really a troll’s stolen treasure, or if the hairbrush really is magic or just a clever con. I’m reminded of the movie Big Fish or Oh Brother Where Art Thou, to give a comparison of how effortless the stories within the story, featuring giant bears and magic and hope, meld and shift within the book’s central plot of Astri’s more realistic and painfully brutal world of childhood brides (and all that implies/entails), running away to an unknown country, and discovering that money doesn’t ever buy as much as you need or want. Do the spells and prayers work to keep the rain and Death away, or was it just time that was finally allowed to work a magic of its own? The world Astri lives in is interchangeable with the fairy tales, just as the beliefs are interchangeable between the “old ways” of keeping a rowan twig in your pocket for protection and quoting the Bible. Maybe that fluidity between customs and beliefs makes the fantastical elements of the story all the more believable, even if they can be easily explained as unremarkable. Readers will recognize at least some of the mixed-up fairy tales Astri mentions and makes her own, like Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin, the Three Billy Goats Gruff, and the seven-league boots, and may be intrigued by mentions of the lesser known ones to seek out the rest, which Preus helpfully provides in her Author’s Note.

Overall, Astri and Greta’s journey is somewhat fantastical, when you think of all they are able to accomplish, especially by themselves. Readers find themselves just as conflicted as the two girls when they are forced to steal their way to their destination. There is no ambiguity that what they are doing is wrong, as Astri identifies herself as a thief and a liar and a host of other things. However, there is some ambiguity in if these acts are ever justified, and what punishment will befall upon you if you are the only one who knows how much of your “sinning nature” you are responsible for. When she makes a slightly fantastical promise, she wholeheartedly believes that if she finishes her part of the deal, the other half will follow. (I don’t want to give too much away by saying what or who the deal involved, because it happens towards the end of the novel.)

It all ends happily for the girls, but just like in fairy tales you are left wondering about the minor characters briefly mentioned but never seen again after the “happily ever after”. Hopefully neither girl will lose that ability to see the magic in the world while keeping the street smarts they seemed to have gained through their Cinderella-like upbringing.

Interstellar Cinderella

Interstellar CinderellaTitle: Interstellar Cinderella
Author: Deborah Underwood
Illustrator: Meg Hunt
ISBN: 9781452125329
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Chronicle Books, c2015.

Once upon a planetoid,
amid her tools and sprockets,
a girl named Cinderella dreamed
of fixing fancy rockets. (unpaged)

This space themed spin on the Cinderella tale has all the components of the classic, including the step-family, the helpful mouse, and a fairy godmother (although in robotic form). Promoting STEM based feminism and diversity without a single overt mention of racism, feminism, or prejudices, everyone following the “We Need Diverse Books” publicity should take note: this is how it should be done. In perhaps a subtle nod to the importance of education, pink-haired, freckled, and fresh-faced Cinderella spends her evenings studying ship repair. She would be self-sufficient, except her step-family steals the tools, forcing her to rely on the help of a fairy godrobot. The robot doesn’t fix the ship for her though, but instead produces the tools Cinderella needs to do the job herself. Her obscured identity is explained by a helmeted spacesuit and goggles, and she doesn’t accept a marriage proposal from the dark-skinned prince but instead negotiates a job offer to become his chief mechanic.

The primarily humanoid looking bodies of the alien species are probably the only stereotypical thing about the story, but there is some variety in the number of limbs, heads, and eyes, with some resembling species of Earth animals. I also would have fixed the Prince’s hair, which streams behind him in a cross between a mohawk and a mullet, but that is a very minor personal quibble, especially considering Cinderella’s beautifully and realistically portrayed practical bun, which I love with the fly-away wisps. The sing-song verse reads well (just make sure “family’s” three syllables, not two when reading aloud), and Cinderella shines like the star she is in every scene. Where can I get my own robotic mouse? Better yet, when can we get a sequel?

City of Light, City of Dark

City of Light, City of DarkTitle: City of Light, City of Dark
Author: Avi
Illustrator: Brian Floca
ISBN: 97805311068007
Pages: 192 pages
Publisher/Date: Orchard Books, c1993.

People! The land you wish to build on belongs to us, the Kurbs. Still, we are willing to lend you this island as well as our power so you may have the light and warmth you humans require. But there is a price. Each year you must enact a ritual to show you acknowledge that this island remains ours and is governed by our rules. If you fail to perform this ritual-be warned!-the consequences for you will be dire! (8)

Before people had arrived in New York, the Kurbs controlled the lightness and darkness. When people landed on the island, the Kurbs agreed to hide the power somewhere on the island and give the people six months to find it as the land progressively got colder and darker. If it wasn’t returned noon on December 21st, it would be plunged into darkness, but if it was returned it would gradually get lighter and warmer until it was hidden again on June 21st. One woman needs to find the power and return it to the Kurbs, but a greedy blind man, his reluctant assistant, and a young girl and her friend are all searching for it too for very different reasons. Who will find it first?

This is Avi’s version of the Persephone myth, adapted for modern-day New York. I liked the concept, but with my love of Avi’s stories, I was surprised at the narration, which seemed rush and disjointed. The book starts as a mixture of text and graphic novel panels, and then eventually transitions to only graphic novel format. There is too much plot time between the background setting flashback in the beginning and then the bulk of the story. It took him that long to track down the token… Really? Maybe other reviewers are right and it would have been better as a textual novel, as large amounts of the plot are layer out in stilted, expository dialogue.

With Floca’s recent Caldecott Award win, and repeated recognition by the Sibert committee, I was surprised by this first effort at illustrating a novel. Maybe he should stick with the picture book format and continue to color his drawings. I expected more of the sweeping skyline that we see on the cover of the original publication, but the black and white renderings found in the interior seemed rushed, vague, and not detailed. On page 35, he actually draws arrows to guide readers from panel to panel, which seemed unnecessary and awkward. All told, it would be a nice thing to provide readers who are interested in stories influenced by mythology, but it is not the best work of either the author or illustrator.

Tiger Lily

Tiger LilyTitle: Tiger Lily
Author: Jodi Lynn Anderson
ISBN: 9780062003256
Pages: 292 pages
Publisher/Date: HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2012.
Publication Date: July 3, 2012

Tiger Lily shimmied her wrists. It was the twitching that gave her away.
Peter’s face grew grim and perplexed. He reached for her wrists. It was the wrong thing to do.
For all the time I had watched over Tiger Lily, I still underestimated her. She must have been free for some time, because as he leaned in, she flung all her rage against him with her weight, held him against a tree, her fingers around his neck. Panting, her heart racing, she squeezed until he choked for breath and sank slowly down the tree, half conscious.
She left him dazed and lying in the dirt, and ran.
It wasn’t until the next day that Tiger Lily realized she’d left her necklace behind, hanging around his neck. (56)

Tiger Lily, found and adopted by the shaman when she was just a baby, has never really been accepted by the tribe due to her tomboyish ways. She excels at hunting, running, and swimming, quite often better than the boys. So when she encounters both the despised pirates and the infamous and feared Peter Pan in the same day, any other person would be scared. But Tiger Lily’s demeanor intrigues both of them, and she receives a challenge from Peter to find the Lost Boys hide-out, all the while being watched by the pirates who are hoping she leads them to their sworn enemies. So begins a unique friendship, which might be more except that Tiger Lily is promised to a oafish older man in her own tribe. With the arrival of Englishmen and a blonde-haired girl named Wendy who is everything girly that Tiger Lily is not, her father’s position in the tribe and her alliance with the Lost Boys is challenged. Will the pirate’s persistent fight against the Lost Boys lead to a solution to all of Tiger Lily’s problems, or lead her down a path that no one sees coming?

This is a unique telling of the Peter Pan story from primarily Tinker Bell’s perspective, which seeing as how the book is named after Tiger Lily I did not expect. I found myself enjoying it anyway, and Tinker Bell’s unique perspective and ability to read people’s hearts allowed us to see everyone through an objective (although still opinionated) filtered lens, and get swept away by the story more than the emotional turmoil of one character. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t love what Anderson did with the characters, because she did a great job of making them her own. Stripped of almost every fantastical element, she still brings the mystery and magic of the story we all know to life without changing the major plot points or characters. Granted, I’ve never read the original and have only seen the Disney version, but the more retellings I read the more I want to read the original by J.M. Barrie. We still have the one-handed Hook, still have Peter Pan and the Lost Boys and Tinker Bell. But Smee was a serial murderer before enlisting in Hook’s crew, Wendy arrives by much more conventional means, and Tiger Lily’s adoptive father, Tick-Tock (named after the infamous clock) is a cross dresser, which I did not see coming but adds another layer to this peculiar tale and contrasts nicely against Tiger Lily’s tomboy tendencies. It’s bare-bones, realistic magic more reminiscent of Tuck Everlasting than flying boys and pixie dust.

The setting is also lush and vibrant. At one point Anderson mentions Tiger Lily swimming with someone (I won’t reveal who, because that would spoil it) and describes her holding on to his neck and wrapping her legs around him, and I could visualize it perfectly with just the few words she uses. The hostility between the groups is palatable, and the climax and the conclusion keep readers engaged until the very end. I could picture so much of the story while reading, it was almost like a movie playing in my head, and I couldn’t stop until I finished the story several hours later.

There are so many points of discussion with this book, as Tiger Lily has a few hard decisions to make and she doesn’t always act the way readers expect her to act. In fact, I like this strong, powerful, and fierce warrior version so much more than the meek, tame, Pocahontas like character I expected. I think this is really the key to reading this book, is that you don’t get what you expected. You expect a simple love story, and while it does end happily, it twists and turns in a way that leaves you guessing. Allow this book to pull you in and lead you to where it ends, because you will be satisfied by the journey and the eventual conclusion. Definitely recommended for fantasy fans who enjoy retellings or are tired of the love-triangle angle in fantasy, or older readers who enjoyed Barry and Pearson’s Peter and the Starcatchers series when it first came out.

Seven Daughters and Seven Sons

Title: Seven Daughters and Seven Sons
Author: Barbara Cohen and Bahija Lovejoy
ISBN: 0689308752
Pages: 220 pages
Publisher/Date: Atheneum, c1982.

My hands were shaking, but I clasped them so tightly no one could see that. I made my voice strong and firm. “I want to do what my cousins have done. I’ve always dreamed of it. I’m as smart as they are. Send me to one of the cities along the coast. With the money, I’ll set up shop. Those seaports are full of sailors. They sell their goods cheap, they’re so eager to get rid of them. And merchants come, on caravan, just as eager to buy. I’ll send what I make to you. You’ll be rich in a few months time. My uncle will be as nothing compared to you.”
At first my parents were so flabbergasted they couldn’t speak. That’s why I was able to say so much without being interrupted. My mother recovered her voice first. “Tomorrow I’ll send for that old woman who lives in the Muqtadiyya district. She makes a secret broth from a certain herb she finds in the desert. It’s said to cure madness.”
“Mother, I’m not mad.” (24-25)

Buran is one of seven sisters born to a merchant and his wife. Her uncle constantly berates her father’s bad luck, since her uncle has seven sons who he can send out into the world to increase the family’s fortune. When Buran’s father falls ill, Buran is finally able to convince him to assume a disguise and travel dressed as a man in a convoy and set up trade. But dressing as a man has its disadvantages, especially when Buran starts falling in love and is forced to choose between shedding her disguise or her independence.

While I liked the story well enough, it lacks the action and tension that most readers seem to expect these days from a retold fairy tale. Written three decades ago, the age of the story might contribute to the slow pace of the novel. Most of the story covers either Buran’s travels to and from her home or the courtship between her and her love interest. The travels that take her away from home are relatively uneventful, and no real detail is given to her task master/teacher.

The book does give an insight into the culture, although some of the references again might be dated. I’m left wondering how likely it would be for Buran to assume this hidden identity when being raised in a “proper” household, revealing that her father has been the only male to see her since she became a woman. If Buran had been rebellious as a child I could understand a little better this change in clothing, but we don’t really get any sort of rebellious vibe, just the impression that her father is slightly indulgent in teaching her typically male activities and hobbies.


Title: Breadcrumbs
Author: Anne Ursu
Illustrator: Erin McGuire
ISBN: 9780062015051
Pages: 312 pages
Publisher/Date: Walden Pond Press, imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2011.

It snowed right before Jack stopped talking to Hazel, fluffy white flakes big enough to show their crystal architecture, like perfect geometric poems. It was the sort of snow that transforms the world around it into a different kind of place. You know what it’s like–when you wake up to find everything white and soft and quiet, when you run outside and your breath suddenly appears before you in a smoky poof, when you wonder for a moment if the world in which you woke up is not the same one that you went to bed in the night before. Things like that happen, at least in the stories you read. It was the sort of snowfall that, if there were any magic to be had in the world, would make it come out.
And magic did come out.
But not the kind you were expecting. (1-2)

Hazel and Jack have lived next to each other and been friends together since they were six, imagining worlds far different from their Minneapolis neighborhood. After her parents’ divorce though, Hazel starts attending Jack’s school and classmates there make it abundantly clear that boys and girls aren’t supposed to be friends. Hazel’s only friend suddenly begins to distance himself from her, and Hazel’s mother tries to convince her that these things happen. But Hazel is confident that something else is going on, and when Jack vanishes without a trace, Hazel seems to be the only one able to find him and bring him back to his old self.

Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Snow Queen”, Anne Ursu spends a lot of time crafting the relationship between Hazel and Jack. Fantasy fans will feel satisfaction when they recognize mentions of classic fantasy elements like Narnia, but also newer fantasy like Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me and Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass. I guess that’s what adds to readers’ enjoyment of the text, as it feels like you are in on an inside joke, and can relate to Hazel. I’m assuming that if you don’t recognize Hazel’s mentions of these works of fantasy, it just adds to your impression of her weirdness and outsider status.

The rest of the story if unrushed, which strikes me as odd considering the determination Hazel has in finding Jack. There is a foreboding menace in the forest that takes the shape of watchful wolves who you’re never quite sure which side they are on. Slight references to other fairy tales are interwoven into the story, with Hazel encountering the Little Match Girl, a girl turned into a bird, and a garden of talking flowers. The descriptions get a little tedious at times, since knowing readers can predict how the story ends, but the prose has an allusive and lyrical quality to it that reminds me of the movie Snow White and the Huntsman that I just saw in theaters.

She stood looking at the line of trees that demarcated the woods as clearly as any doorway. […]
Hazel had read enough books to know that a line like this one is the line down which your life breaks in two. And you have to think very carefully about whether you want to cross it, because once you do it’s very hard to get back to the world you left behind. And sometimes you break a barrier that no one knew existed, and then everything you knew before crossing the line is gone.
But sometimes you have a friend to rescue. And so you take a deep breath and then step over the line and into the darkness ahead. (151-152)

With about a dozen illustrations, I wonder why they even bothered to include illustrations. That’s not to say that Erin McGuire’s work is in any way deficient, because it’s not. They provide a nice break between the narration, but it’s so infrequent to find pictures in longer chapter books. Her pictures are drawn in a style that makes me think of graphic novels, with full-page “panels” creating scenes that could serve as a starting point for their own unique stories. The first and last pictures evoke each other, mimicking the placement of Hazel and Jack as they find themselves in a similar situation as before but in two totally different worlds. Overall, a nicely written modern-day fairy tale.


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