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!