Kids, Picture Books

Fairy tales and retold fables

I haven’t been totally inspired to write a post about children’s books in quite some time.  Sure, I’ve gotten my hands on new Linda Ashman books, but you guys already know how crazy I am about her books.  Since I’m already talking about the dear woman, have any of you read Samantha on a Roll yet?  Or No Dogs Allowed?  We’ve read them so many times that I probably have them memorized.  What was surprising is how much I loved No Dogs Allowed, considering that it’s a nearly wordless picture book and Ashman is a master of verse.  How could I love a book without all her witty rhymes?  But I do.  We also found an older book of hers at the library one day, Maxwell’s Magic Mix-Up and it was a hoot.  Really, all her books are good.  I haven’t yet read them all, but when a dozen or so of them are excellent, I start to feel safe to assume they all are.

This week’s trip to the library was pleasantly surprising.  The library system here isn’t as good as our one back in Colorado, but it is far better than some other libraries I’ve been to.  I would give it a rating of above average, but not excellent.  They don’t have children’s librarians, so when my kids are on the hunt for new titles, the librarians vary between slightly helpful and downright snotty to my kids.  While my bigger kids are on the prowl for more books, I take my littler ones to the picture book section and try to find a stack to enjoy.  I miss our old library’s highlighted sections, like books for Mo Willems lovers, that sort of thing.  There is nothing like that here and we end up with quite a few duds.  Sometimes we don’t check out anything at all since we have a decent collection of books at home to enjoy.  A few weeks ago I discovered a new books display in the children’s section and we picked it clean.  I read all of them to my kids before we checked them out and only liked one.  This week we did the same, cleaning out the new books display and found three that were excellent.  Jackpot!  This is our highest success rate so far!

I love retellings of fables and fairy tales.  The reason why those stories are classic and retold over and over again is because they ring true to each generation and become part of our cultural DNA.  My family had these hardback books that were compilations of fairy tales with illustrations.  I devoured them and read them so many times that between my reading and my siblings’, we wore the cover off and lost pages.  I especially loved stories of clever people getting out of trouble or finding their ways up the social ladders using their wits, like The Brave Little Tailor or Clever Gretel.  We have a copy of Andrew Lang’s The Blue Fairy Book that I’m picking through to find my favorites to read to my kids.  I own all of Lang’s fairy books on Kindle, but that’s years worth of reading, so I’m pacing myself.  So yes, my point is that I love fairy tales, tall tales and fables and I love when people do their own twists on them.  It’s fun.

The first book we found isn’t a retelling of a classic fairy tale, but it was so perfectly told in that same style, that I’m lumping it in with the other books.  The King Who Wouldn’t Sleep by Debbie Singleton is about a king who refuses to sleep until he finds the perfect prince for his daughter to marry.  Princes come and go, but none are satisfactory to the king and all their efforts to get the king to sleep so they can talk to the princess fail.  While all this goes on, there is a clever farmer who comes up with a way to get the king to sleep so he can woo the princess.  It was just super cute and clever and unexpected.  Those are pretty much the top three reasons why I like my favorite picture books.

The second book is a version of Jack and the Beanstalk that became more of a tall tale than a fairy tale.  Jack’s mother hasn’t made barbecue since his father died in Jack and the Giant Barbecue by Eric A. Kimmel.  His father’s barbecue was legendary, the best in West Texas, but when a giant stole his recipe book, his heart failed him.  Jack seeks out to find the giant and retrieve the cookbook, or else he vows to never eat barbecue again.  His trip up the mountain into the clouds leads him to the giant’s greasy barbecue shack where he meets a heartbroken jukebox.  When the giant shows up and does the Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum routine, Kimmel’s version had me snorting with laughter.  I was hooked.  I did my very best Texas accent as I read it to my kids, which only made it more awesome for them, I’m sure.  When I looked in the back cover and saw that Kimmel had written other southwestern takes on classic stories, I knew we had to try them out.  Oh, and I super duper loved John Manders’ illustrations.  Just such fun.

The last book was pretty much a straight-up telling of Aesop’s fable The Ant and the Grasshopper, but it was done in such a tender, compassionate way that I had to add it.  Luli Gray’s Ant and Grasshopper depicts a more complicated relationship between the two insects than just a hardworking ant and a careless and foolish grasshopper.  Ant is miserly, taking careful stock of his food and constantly counting what he has, ignoring Grasshopper’s pleas to enjoy the summer.  He angrily shuts Grasshopper out into the cold when winter comes and Grasshopper isn’t prepared.  But Ant has a terrible dream that leads him back out into the snow and saves Grasshopper’s life.  He comes to appreciate Grasshopper for his talents and the books ends on such a lovely note.  Sounds preachy doesn’t it?  It doesn’t feel that way when I read it to my kids.  What is funny is that my daughter kept railing against the lazy Grasshopper during the book, up until Ant has his change of heart.  Then I could see her softening too.

On a hopefully not-too-tangential note, I was going to see the new Spiderman movie with my husband a month or so ago and laughing over seeing yet another reboot of a not-very-old movie franchise.  I told my daughter to give it a decade and they’ll start to redo all her favorite movies too.  “Even Harry Potter?” she cried, incredulously.  “Why would anyone ever redo the Harry Potter movies?!”   “To make it their own, of course,” I told her.  I explained how some stories are so lasting and important to people that they can’t help but retell those stories over and over again, in whatever medium strikes their fancy.  These book selections remind me of that conversation and I’m glad that people are still retelling Aesop or the Brothers Grimm.  I like it that people are making those stories their own.  It makes me want to do the same.


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3 responses to "Fairy tales and retold fables". Comments are closed for this post.
  • Beth says:

    I like hearing about your library experiences. I agree our system here in CO is about the best there is. The best thing my library out in Illinois had going for it was that you could check out games and toys. But I hated that they only had, like, two storytimes a week and that you had to register for them in advance (hopefully you remembered to do that the day it opened or you’d be stuck on a waiting list ’til next time). And once your kid was three, they didn’t attend storytime with a parent anymore, which was weird … seems like the librarian was asking for it! Sure enough, the librarian made a point to tell me that *my* then-three-year-old didn’t seem to understand “storytime rules” like sitting down when stories were read. (I guess he was jumping with excitement.) (At seven, he’s still just as excited about reading, thankfully.)

    Thanks for the book recommendations. I love books with a Southwestern flavor (and I like food with a Southwestern flavor, mmm!) so I’m going to keep my eye out for those Eric Kimmel books.

  • Beth says:

    So I’m recommending The King Who Wouldn’t Sleep on my blog … it’s delightful! And I read Samantha on a Roll and it was really good — when I was at the library and ran into a friend there, I saw it on the shelf and made her check it out, too.

    Unfortunately my boys didn’t love these ones as much as I did, but they are boys, and they aren’t fans of princess-y books or books starring girls, generally speaking. (And my girl is so stuck on Fancy Nancy right now she won’t entertain anything else!) (At least I like Fancy Nancy pretty well.)

  • […] My boys didn’t like this one nearly as much as I did, but it’s so delightful that I couldn’t pass up sharing it with you.  It reminded me a bit of One More Sheep which we read last month — another book about counting sheep! — but it’s got the added bonus of princesses in the story and a different hook to it.  I really liked the pictures in this one.  Thanks, Jenny, for recommending this one over at Red Hot Eyebrows. […]