Of all the fairy tale themed chapter books written for young readers I think that Liesl Shurtliff's are my favorites. Let's face it, the majority of books in this genre are princess-themed stories aimed at girls. Not being a girly-girl myself, Shurtliff's hilarious and creative spins on the classic tales of Rumpelstiltskin and Jack and the Beanstalk are more up my alley. Both stories are teeming with interesting characters and giggle worthy moments. Who knew that Rumpelstiltskin wasn't some evil imp but just a hapless twelve year old struggling to find his true destiny while combating a magical curse? In her second book Shurtliff takes on Jack and the Beanstalk in a madcap adventure somewhat reminiscent of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
Check out the trailer for Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood which comes out this April. I cannot wait!
In the Hero's Guide series, Christopher Healy turns those antiquated princess fairy tales on their head by focusing on all of the Prince Charmings whom we know so little about. Now, some young readers may be intimidated by the thickness of these books, but give the Hero's Guide series a chance. I nearly peed my pants (more than once) as Prince Liam, Prince Frederic, Prince Gustav, and Prince Duncan bumbled through the various kingdoms trying to prove their heroism.
The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley brings all of those wonderful fairy tale characters into the modern world. After their parents disappear Daphne and Sabrina are sent to live in a small town with a grandmother that they thought was dead. Granny Relda informs the sisters that not only are they the descendants of the famous Brothers Grimm, but fairy tales and all of the monsters, princesses, witches, etc. from them are real and living in Ferryport Landing. As Grimms, it is up to Sabrina and Daphne to investigate any crimes or mischief perpetrated by Everafters (fairy tale characters). You can imagine the hijinks that occur in a town where Puss-in-Boots is the local exterminator, Prince Charming is the mayor, and Cinderella is a relationship counselor on the radio.
Adam Gidwitz, has written a trilogy revolving around the classic Grimm fairy tales that is, well, a bit more grim. The narrator even warns readers that small children should just go to bed before listening to the story. That is not to say that there is not plenty of wit and humor, but Gidwitz does not shy away from the gorier parts of traditional fairy tales. If you are the least bit squeamish when it comes to beheading, dismemberment, vomit, guts, blood etc. then you should probably avoid these books. Older readers with a penchant for horror, however, will delight in the carnage.
Each book revolves around a pair of children: Hansel and Gretel in A Tale Dark and Grimm, Jack and Jill in In a Glass Grimmly, and Jorinda and Joringel in The Grimm Conclusion. Horribly mistreated by the adults in their lives, the children are forced to make their way through the bloody landscape of a mishmash of well-known fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson. Yes, the books are somewhat gruesome, but there is also whimsy, humor, and hope. Not to mention a hilarious, snarky narrator who repeatedly breaks the fourth wall (acknowledges and speaks directly to the reader). Some readers do not like it when the author breaks the fourth wall, but I think that the way Gidwitz does it is hysterical. His frequent interjections also lighten the darkness of the books.
If you want more twisted fairy tales for young readers there is a more complete list here.
Keeping with the Grimms, Polly Shulman's tween/teen novel, The Grimm Legacy, is wonderfully imaginative and entertaining. Having an after-school job in a library may not seem that exciting. However, Elizabeth is working in an extraordinary library that lends out objects rather than books. When the powerful, magical items from the Grimm room begin to disappear, Elizabeth and her friends set out to find the thief.
If you enjoy The Grimm Legacy, you can read about more adventures involving the New York Circulating Repository in The Wells Bequest and The Poe Estate.
Who would think to toss Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, and Red Riding Hood together in a futuristic science fiction story line replete with cyborgs, genetic mutations, space travel, and androids? That is exactly what author, Marissa Meyer, does in The Lunar Chronicles and the results are ingenious and wildly fun. I will say that everything wraps up a bit too tidily in the end and some of the romance is a bit ridiculous. That is where you have to remind yourself that, hey, this is a series written for teenagers. Overall, The Lunar Chronicles are an entertaining ride from the earth to the moon and back again.
Alice in Wonderland and Wizard of Oz may not be traditional fairy tales but I have decided to include two young adult series inspired by them in this post.
I love how Beddor seamlessly combines historical figures and "reality" with the fantastical world of Wonderland. Although inspired by Lewis Carroll's classic children's book, Beddor's Looking Glass Wars stand on their own. The way Beddor re-conceives Carroll's characters is fascinating. I particularly love how the featherbrained Mad Hatter is transformed into Hatter Madigan, a powerful, intelligent warrior who is a cross between a Navy Seal and James Bond.
Hatter Madigan: The Ghost in the H.A.T.B.O.X. comes out in April 2016!
Amy Gumm is another ordinary girl from Kansas when a tornado whisks the decrepit trailer she lives in to Oz. This is not the same Oz from the books and movies, though. With an unquenchable lust for power and magic, Dorothy Gale and her villainous cohorts have enslaved the entire land and subjected the inhabitants to unbelievable atrocities. Now it is up to Amy, recruited and trained by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked, to kill Dorothy and free Oz.
Once again, there were moments while reading these books that I had to remind myself who the target audience was. The character of Amy Gumm is frequently a little too whiny and angst-ridden for my tastes and the romance definitely came across as silly. For the most part, though, I enjoyed the novels. Especially how deliciously loathsome Paige made the beloved characters from The Wizard of Oz.
I cannot talk about riffs on the Oz books without mentioning The Wicked Years by Gregory Maguire.
Most of us are at least somewhat familiar with Wicked, the first book in this series, that has since been adapted into a Tony winning Broadway play.Wicked tells the true story of Elphaba, the wicked witch of the west, who perhaps wasn't quite so wicked after all. The Wicked Years are a clever and cynical take on an Oz that is beset by political and social strife.
Although I have not read it yet, Gregory Maguire's lates novel After Alice is riff on the Lewis Carroll Classic.
Gregory Maquire has also written a couple of enthralling novels that are twists on classic fairy tales. As you can probably infer from the titles and cover art Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister is inspired by Cinderella and Mirror Mirror is a unique spin on Snow White. Both books have the scathing wit and dark cynicism that is characteristic of Maguire's writing. I thought that it was especially interesting that Mirror Mirror is set in 16th century Italy and the wicked stepmother is none other than Lucrezia Borgia.
I have not had a chance to read After Alice yet, but the reviews have been stellar.
“Continuing his tradition of rewriting fairy tales with an arch eye and offbeat point of view, Maguire turns his attention to Lewis Carroll and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. . . . A brilliant and nicely off-kilter reading of the children’s classic, retrofitted for grown-ups—and a lot of fun.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))
“[Maguire’s] playful vocabulary may be Carroll-esque, but his keen wit is closer to Monty Python, with a fine, unforced sense of play… his erudition is a joy, his sense of fun infectious.” (Joe Hill, New York Times Book Review)
“Stunningly clever in its conflation of fairy tales, the mix and match of characters, woven throughout with references to philosophical ideas, the social issues of the day, and attitudes of the time…Maguire impressively channels Carroll’s penchant for humorous wordplay, literary nonsense, and logic games.” (Boston Globe)
I will definitely have to pick up a copy soon to see if After Alice lives up to the hype.