The other night, my 7 year old asked me to read her a few books that we had on our shelf that we hadn’t read yet. For those who don’t know, I’m an Independent Consultant with Usborne Books & More, so whenever new books come out, I purchase them, but I don’t always find the time to actually read them. One of the books that she chose was Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles. I really didn’t know much about this book other than it was about a little girl who didn’t want to wear her glasses. That’s true enough, but so much more!
Every year as the winter holidays roll around I’m always on the lookout for new Hanukkah books. We of course have our long-time favorites, but finding new books is always a great adventure. Since Hanukkah begins tonight at sundown, I wanted to finally get my collection up.
While not a new book, Stephanie Spinner’s It’s a Miracle! A Hanukkah Storybook, is new to us. We found this one at our school’s book fair and it is a great little gem. This book manages to tell a little bit about the story of Hanukkah while also showing how it really is about spending time with and appreciating your family. Young Owen is getting to light the Hanukkah candles himself for the first time. Each night, after the candles are lit, his grandmother tucks him into bed and tells him a story about someone in their family, without actually saying who the story is about. Owen is learning about family history while also spending quality time with his grandmother. The book ends with a simplified telling of the Hanukkah legend. This is a great book for younger elementary aged children to listen to around the holidays.
This year’s book from the PJ Library was Little Red Ruthie: A Hanukkah Tale, by Gloria Koster. This super fun story takes the beloved story of Little Red Riding Hood and joins it with the story of Hanukkah. Little Ruthie is on the way to her grandmother’s house to make latkes when a wolf steps into her path. Ruthie couldn’t let on that she was scared, she needed to “be as brave as the Maccabees.” Smart girl convinces the wolf to let her be because she will be much more delicious after 8 days of latkes. But he still goes off to grandma’s house, though she is out. He occupies himself by putting on her clothing. When Ruthie gets there, she still manages to stall him by making him latkes and telling him the story of the Maccabees. Her resourcefulness saves both herself and her grandmother and listeners get a wonderful telling of the Hanukkah story. A super fun book and one that I plan to use when I go into classrooms to share Hanukkah! Continue reading →
A few years ago I wrote a post called “The Various Tales of Little Red Riding Hood” about retellings of the well known story. It actually gets the most hits of any blog post that I’ve written. While I’m not on the hunt for more stories about the crimson clad kid, if a great story comes out, I do pay attention. One such story is Alex T. Smith’s Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion.
Right off the bat there are a few noticeable differences in this story versus the traditional version. Little Red is a spunky, intelligent, African girl. The lion is, well, a lion and not a wolf, but more importantly, he doesn’t manage to trick Little Red. Smith uses some creative illustrations to move this story along and capture a completely different tone. The best part, in my opinion, is when Little Red walks into her Auntie’s house, notices the lion, and decides to teach him a lesson. Continue reading →
Fractured fairy tales are so much fun. They take an old story that you know quite well and change the characters, setting, points of view, or plot. Sometimes a story needs a little bit of modernizing and sometimes you are just getting a completely different spin on the story. One of the newest in this genre is Twelve Terribly Active Princesses Who Were Not Exactly Dancing, by Michael Ann Dobbs.
This story is a retake of the classic Twelve Dancing Princesses. In the classic Grimm’s Brothers fairy tale, Twelve princesses, each more beautiful than the last, sleep in twelve beds in the same room. Every night, their doors are securely locked. But in the morning, their dancing shoes are found to be worn through as if they had been dancing all night. The king, perplexed, promises his kingdom and each daughter to any man who can discover the princesses’ midnight secret within three days and three nights, but those who fail within the set time limit will be put to death. An old soldier heeds the king’s call and discovers that the princesses are secretly going into another realm where they dance the night away with twelve princes. He shares his findings with the king, is given the hand of one in marriage, and all of the princesses are put under a curse for as many nights as they had danced with the princes.
In his new book, Michael Ann Dobbs imagines the twelve princesses going to a magical world to play baseball instead of dancing with princes. In this story, the king gets frustrated when his 12 daughters fall asleep all over the castle – at breakfast, at their lessons, even while practicing their musical instruments. He also is annoyed that every morning their beautiful satin slippers are covered in mud and worn to shreds and that their bloomers have tears in the knees. But when one falls asleep in her soup at a state dinner he has had enough. He starts by trying to move them to less lush living quarters, but that doesn’t seem to make a difference. He decides to take more drastic measures.
At the same time a soldier, who wasn’t very good at soldiering, is looking for work. He hears of the decree from the king and, with help from an old lady he meets, decides to try to solve the mystery. He discovers that the princesses are going through a magic mirror to play baseball, a sport he has never seen before and doesn’t understand. After a brief explanation of the game and a few delicious hot dogs, he sits back and enjoys the show. When the princesses win their game, he also sees the sheer happiness on their faces.
The soldier wants to tell the king what he has discovered, but he also doesn’t want to take baseball away from the princesses – a very interesting twist on the original. He figures out a way to make everyone happy and avoids having his head cut off for not solving the mystery. He also chooses not to marry one of the princesses, allowing them to be saved from a rather ridiculous concept.
The story was a fun read and my 6 year old really enjoyed it. As the reader, there were some parts that I found incredibly repetitive, such as listing all twelve princesses names over and over as well as some of the parts when the king keeps moving the princesses from room to room thinking it will get them to sleep more. I really liked the fact that the princesses weren’t sneaking out to dance with princes, but rather had found a sport that they loved to play as a team. It was also nice to have the soldier work hard to find the princesses, and himself, a happy ending. He realized how much pleasure the girls got out of playing baseball and he knew that it shouldn’t be taken away from them. An additional fun twist was the little old lady who helped the soldier turned out to be the girls’ grandmother and quite the little manipulator herself.
The book reads like an extra long picture book which makes it especially nice for the older child who still likes to listen to stories, but wants more plot. For the middle grader reader who is looking for an interesting take on this classic tale, I would recommend The Princess Curse, by Merrie Haskell.
*Note – I received a digital copy from netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
I love taking a look at different versions of well known fairy tales. While the originals are a force to be reckoned with, there is such a wealth of creativity when authors dream up alternate versions of stories that we know by heart. Recently, we decided to take a look at a wide variety of Goldilocks options.
James Marshall’s version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears is a classic retelling that has been slightly modernized with Marshall’s whimsical illustrations. Goldilocks is a naughty little girl who often ignores her mother’s rules. At the bears’ house, baby bear’s porridge is too hot to eat, so the family goes out for a bike ride and Goldi enters and does her usual damage.
Jan Brett takes the classic story and moves it to Alaska. In Three Snow Bears, Goldilocks is a little Inuit girl who wanders into the bears’ igloo when they go out to let their breakfast cool. She drinks his soup, finds his fur lined boots super comfortable, and gets cozy under his furry blanket. Like most Goldilocks heroines, she runs away when the bears come home, but these bears don’t seem to mind that she visited and wave good-bye to her as she leaves.
For those looking for a non-traditional, non-blonde version of Goldilocks, Yolanda King has written Curlilocks and the Three Pink Pandas. In this story Curlilocks gets sidetracked by butterflies while picking blueberries and gets lost. She finds the pink pandas’ house and goes in. She eats their oatmeal with ghee, untangles her curls with their brushes, then falls asleep in the youngest panda’s bed. When she runs home, she tells her parents what happened. They take her back to the panda’s house so that she can apologize for breaking Pumpkin’s comb and messing things up. Then both families enjoy a lovely meal together. A nice update to the story, especially with her going back to their house and making things right.
Diane Stanley put a great spin on the traditional Goldilocks story by modernizing it and making it less about a nosy girl and instead about a little girl who was looking for a friend. In Goldie and the Three Bears, Goldie knows what she likes and what she doesn’t, but she can’t seem to find a friend who gets her and likes to do similar things. One day she accidentally gets off the school bus at the wrong stop and looks for help. She goes into the house of the three bears and has her usual misadventures. When baby bear finds Goldie in her bed, she is m-a-d mad. But when the little bear takes a running leap into the bed to pounce on Goldie, the two girls wind up using the bed like a trampoline. Rather than running away, Goldie explains what happened and she and Baby Bear become good friends.
Corey Rosen Schwartz and Beth Coulton change things up by bringing in a musical aspect in Goldi Rocks and the Three Bears. In this story, the three bears are in a rock band but are in need of a soprano to take their group to the next level. While they go out to hold auditions, Goldi finds their house/studio. Rather than the traditional porridge, chair and bed, Goldi tries out their microphones, headphones and instruments. When the bears return unsuccessful, Goldi hits a perfect high C in fright when they wake her up. Once she gets over her shock, they ask her to join the band and they all live happily ever after.
Goldie goes Western in Sunny Lowell’s Dusty Locks and the Three Bears. In this version, Dusty was a dirty little girl who hadn’t bathed in a month. When she runs away from her mother one day, she finds herself at the home of the three bears and barges in. Comically, we are told that if she had just waited, the bears probably would have offered her some of their beans with Western hospitality, but she couldn’t wait. When the bears do come home, they are shocked and amazed by her smell thinking perhaps that she is a skunk. Unlike most Goldilocks stories, this one shows what happens when she gets home – she is scolded for running away and immediately bathed. If she ever ran into the bears again, they wouldn’t recognize her.
One of my all time favorites is Mo Willems’ Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs. In this laugh out loud version, there are three dinosaurs who set up chocolate pudding and then, for no particular reason, they went “Someplace Else and were definitely not hiding in the woods waiting for an unsuspecting kid to come by.” The dinosaurs are trying to make a tasty meal of the nosy child, but she fortunately figures it out and high tales it out of their house before doom befalls her. I actually did a complete review with pictures a few years ago which you can read here.
Marilyn Tolhurst wrote Somebody and the Three Blaires for her son “who used to be outraged at the way Goldilocks treated the baby bear.” As you may recall, Goldilocks destroys everything that belongs to Baby Bear and then runs away screaming. In this book, the Blaires decide to go for a walk and a bear called Somebody comes into their house. She messes up all sorts of stuff because, as a bear, she doesn’t know any better. Baby Blair thinks each thing is rather comical, especially when he finds Somebody in his crib and says, “Issa big teddy bear.” Somebody escapes down the drainpipe and Baby Blaire invites her to come back to play.
A fun twist on the story comes when we hear the story from a very modern Baby Bear’s perspective. In Believe Me, Goldilocks Rocks!, Nancy Loewen has taken the story that we all know so well and completely turned it on its head. In this story, Sam (aka Baby Bear) can’t stand porridge so his parents make him go for a walk, because if you’re hungry enough, you’ll eat anything. He sneaks back home and finds Goldilocks in his house taking selfies of herself eating porridge and sitting in various chairs – she’s been dared by Red Riding Hood. When Goldi starts jumping on the beds, Sam asks to be let in so they can play together. Sam pretends to chase Goldi out of the house, but while they are running they trade phone numbers. A great addition to the truly fractured fairy tale grouping.
In a similar vein, Beware of the Bear, by Alan McDonald, shows the bears attempting to get back at Goldilocks for the havoc she wrecked on their house. The bears enter what they believe is Goldi’s house and mess it up – they have a cereal food fight, dance on her furniture, use her bathroom supplies, and have a pillow fight. When Goldi enters the house, the bears jump out to tell her that they decided to pay her a visit. The extra twist happens when we learn that this was just another of the many houses she randomly sneaks into and that it belongs to the big bad wolf!
It is really amazing how many different versions of the same story are out there. Plus, we also enjoy what Chris Colfer does mashing all of the fairy tales together in The Land of Stories series. Do you have a favorite version of a fairy tale?
We read a lot of princess stories. I’ve been surrounded by princesses and fairies for years. But we have always done a pretty good job of bringing non-traditional princesses into our mix. I always enjoy reading other people’s lists of books, so I try to create them myself (when time allows). I’ve been putting this grouping together for a few weeks.
The Princess and the Pizza – This fractured fairy tale takes the traditional Princess and the Pea and turns it on it’s head. Here Princess Pauline’s father decides to give up his thrown in order to follow his own dreams, but Pauline misses her princess days. When a local Queen announces that she is searching for a true princess to marry her son, Princess Pauline finds her tiara and heads out.
Pauline passes the “old princess-and-the-pea trick” and is able to wear the glass slipper, but each time a challenge is placed on the group she has some sort of smart response that begins with “for Pete’s sake…” The final test is to cook a feast fit for a king, but before she can even get ingredients, Rapunzel trips her and the seven dwarfs grab nearly everything available. All she is left with is “some flour, yeast, water, three overripe tomatoes, and a hunk of stale cheese.” Then she finds that she has to cook in her room without pots and pans. Of course, in true story form, in a last desperate attempt she manages to make pizza and wins. What makes this even better is that she decides that she doesn’t want to marry the prince after all and would rather make a fortune on pizza.
The Princess and the Pony – This story focuses on a little girl in a warrior kingdom. All she wants is a strong warrior horse, instead of the cozy sweaters her parents keep giving her. When her birthday rolls around, she begs her parents for a warrior horse and instead they give her a squishy pony. To lift her spirits, she enters a battle for warriors. Her pony is not exactly up to the battle, but on the day of the event she tells him to just do his best.
When the battle begins, it is like a crazed skirmish and the reader can’t imagine this little princess going up against all of the big warriors. Princess Pinecone gears up to throw her first spit ball and the fierce warrior that is running towards her comes to a stop to admire her pony. Then all of the other gruff warriors do the same. “This is not how a battle usually goes,” she said. “You’re right,” said Otto, “but we warriors don’t often get to show our cuddly sides.”
Princess Pinecone, and a slew of her cozy sweaters, helps the warriors do just that. This flips the big tough warrior concept on its head when Princess Pinecone wins “most valuable warrior of the day.”
Princesses are Not Quitters – In this unusual tale, three princesses suddenly decided that their days were too dull and that servants seemed to have all of the fun – “out in the fresh air, doing interesting things.” So they decided to swap places for the day.
Soon their backs, hands, and feet were sore, but they didn’t want anyone to say that princesses were quitters, so they kept on working. They missed lunch and dinner because they couldn’t get their chores done fast enough, but they stuck with it and finished everything on their lists.
The next day the princesses slept until noon and limped down to breakfast where they realized that they had had a hand in the food that they were eating. They also had learned just how hard their staff worked. So that day the princesses made a royal proclamation to make the lives of their servants easier. Now if you visit their kingdom, chances are that the princesses are still helping out.
This is an important story about realizing the work that goes on behind the scenes, the importance of helping out, the importance of rest and most of all, perseverance.
Princess Pigsty – Isabella is the youngest of three princesses. The girls have everything they could ever wish for and servants to do their bidding. But Isabella was sick of being a princess. “It’s boring, boring, boring!” She doesn’t want to sit around and look pretty. She wants to have fun – wear pants, climb trees, even pick her nose if she so chooses.
Her father banishes her to the kitchens as punishment. He figures that doing dishes and peeling onions will make her come to her senses. After three days her father sends for her, but she was having a blast. When she still wouldn’t fetch her crown from the fishpond she had thrown it in, he sent her to the pigsty. There she helped feed and clean them, but also played with them. She still refused to get her crown. Her father finally realized that his little girl was finally happy and that she should be allowed to do what she wanted to do.
This is a wonderful story of being true to yourself and also that not all little girls want to be traditionally “girly.” Isabella had an inquisitive mind and learned things by getting her hands dirty and actually working. She had a better knowledge of where her food came from and how the world worked then even her father, the king, did. A great way to encourage young girls to be what they want to be.
The Princess and the Giant – I’m not sure where I first heard about this story, but I am so glad that I did. From the very first page, it challenges traditional gender roles by saying “Her father made the porridge, and her mother chopped the wood, while Princess Sophie rode her bike, as every princess should.”
Sophie and her family were plagued by a giant who stomped around every night and made it impossible for anyone in the kingdom to get any sleep. No one seemed to be able to do anything about it, so Sophie took matters into her own hands. She climbed up to the giant and tried giving him a midnight snack. When that failed she tried loaning him some stuffed animals. She kept trying, but nothing seemed to work. The queen finally sent in the army, but she ran up ahead of them to give it one last valiant try and it worked.
I loved reading about Sophie’s pluck and determination. There was no fear of the giant, who wasn’t mean, just cranky. From a parent’s perspective, there is also the issue of trying to put your kids to bed and finally finding the one thing that works. A great story with a smart little princess.
Interstellar Cinderella – Given my penchant for finding all of the various versions of a specific fairy tale and the fact that we have read a TON of Cinderella stories, I couldn’t help myself when I heard that this book was coming out.
Interstellar Cinderella is about a little girl who dreamed of fixing fancy rockets. When the Prince holds a Royal Space Parade and invites her family she is very excited, but her step-mother tricks her and strands her at their home. Her fairy godrobot brings her a special set of tools and she manages to make the parade. When the prince’s spaceship starts to burn, Interstellar Cinderella knows just how to fix it and together they go to the Gravity-Free Ball. As with all Cinderella stories, she has to run out at midnight, but she leaves her socket wrench behind. The prince searches high and low for the girl who knew so much about fixing rockets and manages to finally find Cinderella. When he asks her to be his bride, she thinks about it, but says “I’m far too young for marriage, but I’ll be your chief mechanic!”
Dreams can come true for this bright little Cinderella. She lives a happy existence fixing ships and hanging out with her friend the prince. A great lesson to follow your own dreams and be whatever you want to be. It is also nice to see Cinderella not marry the prince in the end. A true 21st century take on a classic story.
We love finding books that are different from the norm. What non-traditional princess stories have you read?
A few years ago I started hearing about the book The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer. The book sounded perfect for me – fairy tales, adventure, and strong young characters. I was quickly sucked into the story and when J heard me listening to the audiobook version of book 2, she heard the names of some princesses that she recognized and got curious. Since then, she has been sucked into the stories herself and has read and listened to them all. We also just received our copy of the 4th book in the series which came out this week, but she is rereading the first three before jumping into book 4.
Kids have a tendency to read books more than once and watch movies over and over. There is something comforting in repetition. I asked J about this once and here is what she said: “A good story never gets old, but the first time you read it is always the best. Why? Because when you read it for the first time it is so new. So many interesting facts pop up that you’ve never heard of before. Books should be interesting. BUT…a good story never gets old. I go back to some because they are so good.”
For us, The Land of Stories series is one of those series that we can read over and over again. Harry Potter is definitely another. For the Land of Stories it has to do with taking something that we are so familiar with (fairy tales) and looking at them in a different light, as if the fairy tale world was simply another dimension that keeps going on even after the stories that we know are over. I will admit that the writing isn’t perfect, but the stories are fun and it is entertaining to have adventures with characters you think you knew re-imagined. J and I think that the first two books have been the most compelling because the characters were on a quest, but book 3 being a bit slower hasn’t stopped us from being super excited about book 4.
Book 1 The Wishing Spell is a quest through the world of fairy tales. Twins Alex and Connor Bailey had lost their father about a year before the story starts. On their 12th birthday their grandmother gives them a treasured fairy-tale book. Soon they discover that the book is not your average book as it brings them into the realm of fairy tales. Alex and Conner soon discover that the stories they know so well haven’t ended in this magical land—Goldilocks is now a wanted fugitive, Red Riding Hood has her own kingdom, and Queen Cinderella is about to become a mother! To get home they have to complete the wishing spell which requires them to solve riddles to find objects in order to make a spell that will allow them to leave the Land of Stories. They meet favorite characters and have quite the adventure.
In the following books, they continue to have adventures in and out of the fairy tale world, but I don’t want to give away any of the fun details. Book four will apparently lead us through Oz, Neverland, Camelot, Wonderland and Sherwood Forrest.
While these are not the most wonderfully written books, they are wonderfully enchanting and they have definitely captured our attention. J and I were talking about these books in the car the other morning and she said “the reason you love the Land of Stories books is because Chris Colfer comes up with reasons why everything in fairy tales that we know happens.” They are just possible explanations, but they start your mind thinking that there are more to these stories and characters then what we have been shown by Disney.
The books have a lexile level at around 720 and run over 400 pages a piece.
What happens when you take Mo Willems and give him free reign on Goldilocks? The awesome book Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs.
“Once upon a time there were three hungry Dinosaurs. One day – for no particular reason, the three Dinosaurs made up their beds, positioned their chairs just so, and cooked up three bowls of delicious chocolate pudding at varying temperatures.” And then, for no particular reason, they went “Someplace Else and were definitely not hiding in the woods waiting for an unsuspecting kid to come by.”
So begins the re-imagined tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The dinosaurs laugh mischievously and place signs directing Goldilocks to their house, and try to not give away the fact that they are setting a trap for her. “Either way, Goldilocks was not the type of little girl who listened to anyone or anything” like not barging into other people’s houses. She sucks down three enormous bowls of chocolate pudding, who cares about the temperature, it was chocolate, and needs to take a rest. The dinosaurs watch her from outside their bedroom window, waiting for her to go into a chocolate pudding induced slumber, when she finally hears one of them mentioning that their chocolate-filled-little-girl-bonbon isn’t quite ready and will taste better when she’s rested. Little miss actually takes a moment to think about it and realizes that she is not in the three bears’ house but rather in the dinosaur’s house and high-tales it out of there leaving three very disappointed dinosaurs.
This book was uproariously funny. I loved the tongue in cheek aspect and the simple illustrations. There was a lot of subtle humor through both words and visual gags. I think I laughed even more because my daughter really enjoyed the book but didn’t realize that the dinosaurs were trying to fill her with chocolate so that they could eat her. Part of that was because she had never heard the term bonbon, but regardless, she just thought the story was fun. I have a feeling that if I returned to this book in a few months with her, she would respond differently.
This was a wonderfully funny fractured fairy tale that kept mom and kid smiling throughout.
Children are creatures of habit. They find something that they like and they stick with it. When J was really little, it was Dora everything. When she first found the Magic Treehouse and Rainbow Magic series, we went through them as if there were no other books out there. E, my 3 year old, is currently in love with Disney princesses, but she has less of the obsessive personality that J does. Each time either girl moves on to something else, I’m so excited. Lately, J has 2 big loves – Harry Potter and The Land of Stories.
I’ve mentioned HP before, but she keeps begging me to write more about it. In her words, “Harry Potter is so extremely magical that I felt that I could hold my breath for a million years.” She is part way through book 3, The Prisoner of Azkaban, but I think they are getting a bit darker so we do seem to be slowing down and she has been enjoying the lighter side of The Land of Stories.
Harry Potter is a great series. I held off having her read it for a long time because even though her reading level is high, I always have to keep in mind that she is only 6. Like a child her age, she finds herself falling into books. When I asked her why she liked HP so much she said that “I really did feel that I was a part of the story. The magic that they were using excited me and sometimes in the books there are clues” about things coming up. Even though she initially didn’t like Hermione and didn’t believe me that she was an awesome character, she now loves her and felt like “she was me and I was her.” There are already plans for her to be Hermione for Halloween, but who knows.
Then the other day she heard a little bit of the audiobook I was listening to – The Land of Stories: The Enchantress Returns. She must have heard one of the princesses names and started asking me questions. I filled her in a bit on what the story was about, explaining more about book 1, The Wishing Spell. That piqued her interest and she started begging me to check the audiobook or digital book from the library. Of course, nothing was available. A friend had recently been telling me about how she and her daughter were reading it together, but her daughter is in 3rd grade. Still, I had a feeling that this would be one of those books that she would really enjoy and one she would probably want to read over and over. I was right and I’m really glad that I decided to buy her the book so she can read it over and over again. Even though she found the beginning slow (it is), she is loving it and wanting to read it all the time.
The basic synopsis is as follows: The story itself is of two twins, Alex and Connor, who find themselves inside “the land of stories.” In order to get out, they attempt to find 8 objects necessary to complete the wishing spell. Those objects include things like a lock of Rapunzel’s hair, Cinderella’s glass slipper and a piece of Red Riding Hood’s original basket. While going through the land of fairy tales, they meet a wide cast of characters and see how their stories have played out. All didn’t turn out perfectly for Sleeping Beauty when her kingdom awoke from it’s 100 year sleep; the Wolves from Red Riding Hood are out for revenge; and the evil queen from Snow White has escaped from prison. The evil queen plays a large role in the story and by the end gets to tell her side of what happened. The point made with her story is that “a villain is just a victim whose story hasn’t been told.”
We still read picture books (look for a review of Greek mythology coming up), but she wants to spend all day reading The Land of Stories even going as far as taking it to the park the other day. Encouraging new picture books was always easy, getting her to be entranced by longer chapter books is definitely more of a challenge, but the response is well worth it.