Fairytale Revolution

I was lucky enough to request and receive copies of these free from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

There are, let’s be honest, a plethora of fairytale retelling, reimaginings and reworks out and coming out at the moment.

But I was instantly drawn to these thanks to their gorgeous artwork and design. All but one – Cinderella Liberator (which uses carefully selected classic Arthur Rackham images) – are illustrated beautifully by Laura Barrett.

They all use a minimal colour palette and silhouette style to great effect. It really gives them that classic fairytale feel, even when depicting more modern scenes and activities, as in Blackman’s Blueblood.

They really complement the stories well, bringing a rustic charm to Duckling, humour and environmental contrast to Hansel and Greta and a fresh, contemporary feel to Blueblood.

The use of the silhouette style also ties them in beautifully with the traditional illustrations used in Cinderella Liberator, which I adore.

I really loved reading about how the illustrations used were carefully selected from Rackham’s originals too to reflect the inclusive, empowering messages of this retelling.

All have a polished finish and stylish design that give them that special quality you want in books to gift or treasure.

The tales are all twists in the originsls to greater or lesser degrees. I was intrigued to see what these authors more used to writing for adults (with the exception of Blackman) would do as they turned their hand to children’s tales.

Interestingly, it was Malorie Blackman’s Blueblood that felt the ‘oldest’ of the collection; a take on the dark take of Blackbeard and his locked room of dead wives, here we see Nia taking vengeance on known bullies, abusers and misogynists by marrying them and forbidding them access to her study. Of course, their controlling natures mean it’s only a matter of time before they venture down there…

This definitely has the darkest themes of the four, being more suited to older children who will better grasp its message and ideas.

It cleverly addresses some complex, important and challenging subjects – domestic violence, misogyny and murder and questions. The moral dilemma it poses of the victim taking revenge becoming the wrongdoer, for example – can this be excused? Where are the lines drawn?

I certainly loved this aspect of it, though I have to be honest Blackman’s writing is rarely my cup of tea (I know! I’m in the minority!) and this is quintessentially her, so if you’re a fan of her books you’ll love it and as a take on fairytales that teens can also get their teeth into this is perfect.

Jeanette Winterson’s take on Hansel and Gretel by contrast probably felt the youngest of the four, with much pantomime caricaturing, silliness and word play. With its fast-pace, humour and bordering-on-the-ridiculous, almost spoof-like baddies, I can see this going down a treat with young fans of Pamela Butchart or similar big, bold early chapter books.

Gretel here is Greta, with more than a nod to Greta Thunberg as the tale takes us on an environmental tour de force looking at deforestation, plastic waste, consumerism and our love of processed/fast/sugary foods over the planet.

The witch is, of course, not the villain we expect and there’s a dose of Helen Oyeyemi’s Gingerbread in her tale, which I enjoyed.

Overall, while I liked elements of this and the idea behind it, I didn’t love it. However, I suspect a younger reader would!

Kamila Shamsie’s Duckling is probably the tale that stays truest to its original form. Rather than huge changes, twists and reworking, this is all about emphasis and viewpoint.

While the original Ugly Duckling focuses on fitting it (or not), on ‘finding your crowd’ as it were, Shamsie’s take on it is instead about being different, being proud of it, accepting it – and accepting others who are. It is less about being around those who accept you for looking the same (or vice versa) but finding a place among those who accept you as you are, for you.

The stork, the Grand Old Duck and the Mother Duck are excellent, thought-provoking characters bringing depth and subtly raising themes of being an outsider, peer pressure and standing up for what’s right even when that’s hard to do.

I love that this story does not shy away from how gruelling and difficult Duckling’s life is made because of her difference and her unwillingness to bend; she is kind, she she is helpful, she is friendly, but she is not a push over. She is herself and stays true to this even when deserted, bullied and alone.

This is a story of hope and ultimately of togetherness, and a retelling I felt worked really well.

Rebecca Solnit’s take on Cinderella – Cinderella Liberator – was definitely my favourite of the series. I loved it.

It keeps the essence of the original brilliantly but brings it up to date – getting rid of the outdated royal marriage and focusing instead on finding friendship, creative outlets and ways to be our best or truest selves.

The writing style is wonderful and there were SO many passages I loved, that felt important and moving and poignant and empowering for any reader – on love, on self, on beauty, on help, on kindness…on dresses with big pockets.

And it’s this realism and humour that prevents it being preachy, saccharine or twee. There’s a lightness of touch and a perfect blend of magic, the familiar and observant humour that all comes together to create a thoroughly enjoyable tale.

At the end of the book (indeed at the end of all the books) is a piece by each author on their inspiration, on how and why they wrote these tales the way they did and I found Rebecca’s fascinating, giving a weight and context to the tale that made me love it even more.

Overall, this is a great new series of beautiful books, each of which will appeal to different readers in different ways. My favourite was undoubtedly Cinderella Liberator, but the beauty of this range is that each author brings something different so there really is something for everyone!

The Restless Girls

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When I was younger, Twelve Dancing Princesses was one of my favourite stories. Something about the midnight trips out, the worn out shoes, the boats to magical forests and dancing maybe.

As a huge fan of Jessie Burton’s adult novels ‘The Miniaturist’ and ‘The Muse’, I was very excited to hear she was writing a modern version of this.

Especially since I revisited it myself last year as part of some artwork, and was struck by how little autonomy the Princesses have.

Twelve Dancing Princesses

And it is this lack of autonomy, and the sexism that dominates traditional fairytale kingdoms, that is put right in The Restless Girls.

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There’s a real energy and spark to both the girls and the story – with some fantastically impossible events (a dance hosted by a lioness and a peacock with a wild animal band for starters) alongside some fantastically important ones – namely the girls being in charge of their own choices and futures, and being a force for change in those around them too.

Rather than just stumbling across the party in the woods, the girls use their skills, talents and knowledge to find it – each demonstrating their unique personality and strengths, from science to languages to sports.

There is an inspiring sense of determination and loyalty in the sisters and their relationship with each other is portrayed with warmth and understanding; youngest sister Agnes is described affectionately as “their little walking popcorn” which I loved!

It is little phrases and details like this which I really enjoyed in the book – adding depth at times (“The dark was simply the beginning of new things. The dark was necessary.”) and humour at others (the excuses they found for the holes in their shoes are brilliant and there’s a perfectly placed “It’s bloody freezing!” which made me smile too.)

Truly a fairytale for modern times, this keeps all the magic of the original, with midnight feasting and dancing in glittering forests, but throws in a large helping of adventure, independence and resourcefulness too.

Wonderfully detailed illustrations from Angela Barrett complete the package and make this a stunning book to give, gift and keep!

Poetry Thursdays: Fierce Fairytales

So, a couple of weeks ago, on National Poetry Day, I posted about how much I enjoy poetry, but rarely choose to read it. This evolved into the idea of making my Thursday posts (weekly when I can, fortnightly when life takes over!) poetry posts.

In strangely serendipitous timing, I had just started reading ‘Fierce Fairytales’ by Nikita Gill, which I was sent by Trapeze in exchange for an honest review.

Drawn in by the fairytale theme (anything linked to a fairytale gets me!) and that gorgeous cover by Tomas Almeida, I hadn’t realised when I requested it was that the majority of the book is poetry (though some ‘chapters’ do take the form of prose).

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Step into this world of empowering, reimagined fairytales where the stereotypes of obliging lovers, violent men and girls that need rescuing are transformed.

Opening it to find poetry inside was a lovely surprise – what an original way to examine these characters and tales. And ‘examine’ I think is the key word there: for that is what this feels like – rather than a reimagining (although there are reimagined versions of tales in there), it’s more analysis, speculation and possibility: why did the characters act like they did? What if this had happened instead? Could it be possible that the way we were told it was not quite how it was? What lessons can we learn from them?

The book features everyone from from Jack and his magic beans to Cinderella to Peter Pan to Red Riding Hood – each with a new angle or twist; but standing alongside them are the villains cast against them – each giving their side to the story, their reasons and their own misfortunes.

Tradition and perception are challenged with humour, defiance and reason. There is rage in these words, but there is also hope. There is caution, but also inspiration.

If I was being harsh my only minor issue was that I felt some of the later poems in the book were rather repetitive or contrived in their links to the fairytale themes. Personally, I’d have rather had a slimmed down collection with a strong, specific fairytale link, as many of these had, and seen some of the others that linked more broadly to the feminist/mental health/societal themes in a separate collection.

But that’s just me, and I still loved it overall.

However, whether grouped here or separated, within these poems you will find one that speaks to you (most likely more than one) – maybe, like Baba Yaga, you are ageing ungracefully and proud; maybe you’ve encountered your own Prince Charming (spoiler: this is no Disney romance); maybe, like so many of the characters here, you know the power of words to build or destroy:

“They used to burn witches because of stories. A story is no small thing.”

(Belladonna)

Personal favourites included Cry Wolf, The Hatter, The Woods Reincarnated and The Miller’s Daughter. But the one I love best of all, so much so I’d like it printed and framed is the opening poem, Once Upon a Time:

Are you a fairytale fan?

Have you read this – what did you think?

What do you think of the poem I’ve shared here from it?

WWW Wednesday 10/10/18

Hosted by ‘Taking on a World of Words’, every Wednesday we ask and answer the 3 W’s:

It’ll be a short one this week as I’ve not managed much reading at all. I don’t know where this week has gone!

What are you currently reading?

I pre ordered this, having been ridiculously excited about it since it was announced. I picked it up early, at the end of September. And up until today, I still hadn’t started it! I think I’d built it up so much I haven’t quite been able to bring myself to begin! So, I’m taking the plunge today…

What have you just finished reading?

I didn’t know what to expect from this and hadn’t realised at all when I requested it that it was predominantly poetry, but it was a pleasant surprise – especially in light of my recent decision to read more poetry and dedicate Thursdays’ posts to it.

I enjoyed it, though it felt a bit like a book of two halves and I definitely preferred the first half. The latter part of the book did feel a bit ‘filler’, but on the whole it was a really creative and interesting take on the fairytale-retelling that seem very popular at the moment.

Full review to follow.

What are you planning on reading next?

I’m probably going to go on an MG spree, but as I’ve only just opened The Way Past Winter, I’m not sure yet, so instead of what I’ll read next, I’m asking/answering

What books were added to your TBR this week?

I received an absolutely bumper bookpost parcel from OUP this week and am very excited to dive into these, especially the Michael Morpurgo Myths and Legends.

I also received these gems from Harper Collins – I’m especially looking forward to Hubert Horatio.

I ordered both of these after seeing them on Read It Daddy and they both look fab!

And this is a treat to myself! I absolutely love it when a book has a map in it, so I just couldn’t resist!

Did you get any exciting book deliveries/purchases this week?

Have you read any of the books here? What are you reading at the moment?