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So many great retellings lately … I’m going to modify the topic to include legends and myths in addition to fairytales because there are SO many great books out there.
Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
“Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.”
A retelling of Beauty and the Beast, with dashes of Bluebeard and Cupid & Psyche thrown in? Absolutely! Be warned – this is no Disney retelling, and the storyline can be a little violent and emotional at times, but once you get into it, you’ll never look at it the same way again.
Splintered by A.G. Howard
“Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.”
Alyssa has always worried that she would succumb to the family curse, going mad and talking nonsense about Wonderland, just like her mother – until the day she realizes that Wonderland is a very real – and very dark – place. In order to save her family, she must visit Wonderland under the guidance of the mysterious Morpheus and complete the tasks to break the hold this place has on her family and her history.
A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston
“Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next.”
I’ve always been troubled by the Scheherazade story, simply because no one ever seemed too concerned that the wife was under a penalty of death each night, and only escaped because she knew how to tell a great story. Why had no one ever thought of telling stories before – had none of the women ever wanted to save themselves? I love this version, because it’s not about the stories that are told, but rather the people behind the stories and how they give us strength.
Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen
“Will Scarlet is good at two things: stealing from the rich and keeping secrets – skills that are in high demand in Robin Hood’s band of thieves, who protect the people of Nottingham from the evil sheriff. Scarlet’s biggest secret of all is one only Robin and his men know…that she is posing as a thief; that the slip of a boy who is fast with sharp knives is really a girl.”
Gender-bending retelling of the Robin Hood legend? Female protagonist who doesn’t want to wait for someone to save her? I’m all in – why have I not read this before? I’m going to advocate for this one to be on the next Brunch Book Club list!
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
“Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the centre of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction.”
I’ll confess that I resisted reading this series for a really long time .. and then I was gifted the audio book and I fell into this world, listening to the first three books in quick succession. There’s so much to love about the Lunar Chronicles, and each book takes a different spin on a familiar tale. If you haven’t read them, add them to your TBR list now.
Sweetly by Jackson Pearce
“As a child, Gretchen’s twin sister was taken by a witch in the woods. Ever since, Gretchen and her brother, Ansel, have felt the long branches of the witch’s forest threatening to make them disappear, too.”
Another book that has sat on my TBR list for far too long – I love the way Pearce writes, and that she’s taken the Hansel & Gretel story to anther level makes it doubly intriguing. From what I’ve heard, you don’t have to have read the first book in her retellings series in order to enjoy this one, so that’s even better.
The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton
“Seventeen-year-old Soren Bearskin is trying to escape the past. His father, a famed warrior, lost himself to the battle-frenzy and killed thirteen innocent people. Soren cannot deny that berserking is in his blood …so he tries to remain calm and detached from everyone at Sanctus Sigurd’s Academy. But that’s hard to do when a popular, beautiful girl like Astrid Glyn tells Soren she dreams of him. When Baldur, son of Odin and one of the most popular gods in the country, goes missing, Astrid sees where he is and convinces Soren to join her on a road trip that will take them to find not only a lost god, but also who they are beyond the legacy of their parents and everything they’ve been told they have to be.”
Okay, this one is a little bigger than one legend retold – it’s a whole mythology. However, when you factor in the gorgeous writing, the beautiful world building and the well-developed characters, this has to be on the list. This is book one in the series, and the other two are equally as good if not even better. Oh, and her Fenrir/Fenris Wolf? One of my favourite characters EVER.
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire
“We have all heard the story of Cinderella, the beautiful child cast out to slave among the ashes. But what of her stepsisters, the homely pair exiled into ignominy by the fame of their lovely sibling? What fate befell those untouched by beauty … and what curses accompanied Cinderella’s looks?”
Now, I know most people will automatically select Wicked, the first in his OZ retellings as their pick for this list, and it’s a great story. There’s something about this story, set in 17th century Holland that grabbed me even more, and I’ll boldly list it as one of my favourites (the beautiful Egg & Spoon and the upcoming After Alice are on that list too!). I really liked how he tied things in with the tulip craze, giving context for ridiculous decision-making and some heartbreaking choices.
The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde
“It’s Easter in Reading – a bad time for eggs – and the shattered, tuxedo-clad corpse of local businessman Humpty Stuyvesant Van Dumpty III has been found lying beneath a wall in a shabby part of town. Humpty was one of life’s good guys – so who would want him knocked off? And is it a coincidence that his ex-wife has just met with a sticky end down at the local biscuit factory?”
My love of Fforde’s work is legendary – after all, this blog is named in homage to one of my favourite Thursday Next books – but I also love his Nursery Crimes series. This kicks off the series and introduces us to DI Jack Spratt and his partner Mary Mary. There’s more than one nursery rhyme references in this book, so be up on your Mother Goose before you dive in!
Fables (Vol 1) by Bill Willingham, Lan Medina, Steve Leialoha, Craig Hamilton, James Jean
“When a savage creature known only as the Adversary conquered the fabled lands of legends and fairy tales, all of the infamous inhabitants of folklore were forced into exile. Disguised among the normal citizens of modern-day New York, these magical characters have created their own peaceful and secret society within an exclusive luxury apartment building called Fabletown. But when Snow White’s party-girl sister, Rose Red, is apparently murdered, it is up to Fabletown’s sheriff, a reformed and pardoned Big Bad Wolf (Bigby Wolf), to determine if the killer is Bluebeard, Rose’s ex-lover and notorious wife killer, or Jack, her current live-in boyfriend and former beanstalk-climber.”
I’m throwing this graphic novel into the mix because it’s completely STELLAR and it blew my mind the first time I read it. Definitely NSFW, and not something for anything younger than a high school library, it manages to bring these classic fairy tale figures firmly into the adult realm and present day, Be warned: once you read the first volume, you’ll need the rest.
There are literally hundreds of wonderful picture books that could have had places on this list, but I’m going to include a couple of my favourites. No matter what grade you teach, picture books are an excellent teaching tool and should never be too far from your desk.
Did I leave out any books that need to be mentioned? Anything I may not have read yet? Leave your suggestions and/or links to your lists in the comments!