Fractured Fairy Tales
Children's books reviewed by Suzanne Holland
Every kid in America knows the basic fairy tales, unless they have been raised by wolves without the Disney Channel.
You know, the really famous stories like Cinderella, The Three Little Pigs, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves or Goldilocks and the Three Bears. They are classic, easy to retell, and let’s face it, getting to be a little dull.
That’s why a certain sub group of stories are so much fun. Loosely referred to as fractured fairy tales, these stories are contemporary retellings of a classic with a certain twist. The characters are a little flawed, the plot deviates from the expected, and humor is the mainstay. Children love them because of the intended ridiculousness; “that’s not what really happens!” is the laughing response.
I love to read them in the classroom because they lend themselves to many great discussions of comparing and contrasting characters or plots. We’ll read the classic version first, then the spoof. Which did we like better, or how could we have changed the story in other ways?
One perennial favorite is The Little Red Hen (Makes a Pizza) by Philemon Sturges and illustrated by Amy Walrod. Instead of planting and harvesting wheat to make a loaf of bread, this ambitious chicken hankers for pizza.
She has a shopping list full of funny and crazy ingredients like anchovies and pizza pans (and in a nod to the consumer who runs into a store “just to pick up a few things...” her cart is full of extras like maple syrup, a yardstick and even a kitchen sink!).
Naturally, she asks for help from her lazy friends Duck, Cat and Dog. As expected, they refuse to help her but come sniffing around when the pizza is finished. The rest of the story now deviates from the standard.
The illustrations are incredible! Walrod has created the funky look entirely from a variety of cut papers. The textures are so apparent; you can almost feel the corrugated brown paper or the rough embossed gray paper. Children love to examine this book close up and even run their fingers over the pages!
Another silly spoof is Alan MacDonald’s Beware of the Bears! illustrated by Gwyneth Williamson.
This fractured fairy tale picks up immediately after the Three Bears discover the havoc wrought by Goldilocks. Papa is furious and demands retaliation! They shadow Goldie to a little cottage and break in to give her a taste of her own medicine! They pour cereal all over the floor, experiment with toothpaste and shaving cream (“too creamy!” grumbles Papa, “too minty” complains Mama!) and have a huge pillow fight! When Goldilocks returns, the story takes another unexpected turn, and the ending is truly comical.
The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Eugene Trivias and drawings by Helen Oxenbury is another great example of a fractured fairy tale. Imagine the reaction from the children as you read that the wolves are soft and cuddly and timid and the pig “wasn’t called big and bad for nothing”!
The wolves are forced to build stronger and sturdier dwellings as the pig uses every demolition technique conceivable to break in (The piggy is very adept with a pneumatic drill!).
Eventually, they run out of building materials and are inspired to use flowers. Flowers??? This always gets a “are they crazy?” reaction from the kids, but they laugh at the ending when they note the persuasive powers of the fragrance as the pig dances the tarantella! Remember, the ending is never what you think it should be!!
The illustrations by Oxenbury are soft and detailed and the sight of the frightened wolves clutching each other is a riot!
One of my absolute favorite fractured fairy tales is a riff on the less known The Frog Prince. In the classic tale, a princess kisses the frog out of pity and he is freed from a spell and turns into a handsome prince. They live happily ever after, right?
Not so, according to The Frog Prince, Continued, by Jon Scieszka. You may recall Scieszka as the author of the popular The Stinky Cheese Man. He definitely has a unique and quirky voice that is so refreshing! Adults will howl at the close to home marital problems of Sir and Lady Frog!
The Prince wants to return to his bachelor days and decides to find a witch to help him. He meets up with various famous witches, who offer him poisoned apples, candy homes, etc. Children love to show off their fairy tale smarts and call out to correct the story!
Eventually, our frog sees the light and rushes back home to his wife, who in the ways of wives everywhere, berates him for worrying her half to death. He realizes he has a pretty good thing going on, and they reconcile and hop off into the sunset.
Steve Johnson’s pictures are an exaggerated delight, all googly eyes and skinny limbs.
There are many skewed stories out there and they are a blessing for all those who are tired of the same “once upon a time..” stories.
Fractured Fairy Tales, they’ll crack you up!!
Read more of Suzanne's reviews.
More fractured fairy tales reviewed on the site:
And hey: how about some fractured nursery rhymes?
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