Casting the Spell: Fairy Tales in Novel Form

Book Links July 2008 (vol. 17, no. 6)

By Terrell A. Young and Barbara A. Ward

These enchanting novels based on fairy tales will have teens and tweens asking for more.

Upper elementary school through high school

Fairy tales have long enchanted listeners and readers. Today’s tweens and teens are able to savor fairy-tale novels that are much more complicated than the original stories. Novelized fairy tales allow authors to draw from familiar stories and create complex plots featuring multidimensional characters. These well-rounded characters and intricate story lines offer the same satisfactions as the original tales, but at a deeper level. As authors Gail Carson Levine, Donna Jo Napoli, Shannon Hale, Robin McKinley, and others provide a fresh take on old tales, they maintain a sense of the original story but with new twists. Below is a recommended list of recent novelized versions of classic fairy tales.

Beauty and the Beast

Besides the titles below, other adaptations of Beauty and the Beast include Robin McKinley’s Rose Daughter (Greenwillow, 1997) and Beauty (Harper & Row, 1978).

Beast. By Donna Jo Napoli. 2000. 272p. Simon Pulse, paper, $6.99 (9780689870057). Also available in an audio edition from Recorded Books.

Gr. 7–10. This first-person retelling begins in Persia and moves to India and eventually France, where the beast, a proud prince named Orasmy, settles in a deserted, supposedly haunted castle. Napoli infuses her tale with flavors of ancient Islamic culture and religion.

Beastly. By Alex Flinn. 2007. 320p. HarperTeen, $16.99 (9780060874162); paper, $6.99 (9780060874186).

Gr. 7–10. Among the ruling class at his New York high school, Kyle is far from beastly when viewed from without, but his attitude is an entirely different matter. Kyle gets his comeuppance from a goth girl after he humiliates her at the school dance and earns her curses. This delicious tale with its modern urban setting will have appeal for boys as well as girls.


Fans of the Cinderella retellings below will also enjoy Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Just Ella (Simon & Schuster, 1999), Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted (HarperCollins, 1997), and Gregory Maguire’s Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (Morrow, 1999).

Bella at Midnight. By Diane Stanley. 2006. 288p. HarperCollins, $15.99 (9780060775735); HarperTrophy, paper, $6.99 (9780060775759).

Gr. 5–8. In this intriguing take on the Cinderella story, Bella grows up in a peasant’s village not knowing she is of high-born blood. As a child she is close to Prince Julian, but as time passes, their vastly different life stations cause them to draw apart. When a plot comes to light that threatens Julian’s life, Bella must try to save him.

Bound. By Donna Jo Napoli. 2004. 192p. Atheneum, $16.95 (9780689861758); Simon Pulse, paper, $6.99 (9780689861789).

Gr. 6–12. Drawing from traditional Chinese Cinderella stories, Napoli sets this tale in a small village during China’s Ming period. Since her beloved father’s death, Xing Xing has become “hardly more than a slave,” serving her acrimonious stepmother and stepsister, Wei Ping, whose botched foot binding has left her perilously unwell. A dangerous trip in search of medicine for Wei Ping brings Xing Xing into the wider world, but she returns to find home more treacherous than before.

Cinderella (As if You Didn’t Already Know the Story). By Barbara Ensor. 2006. 128p. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $12.95 (9780375836206).

Gr. 3–6. A modern-day Cinderella writes letters about her miserable living situation to her deceased mother in this lighthearted account of the familiar tale. Plagued by her cruel stepmother and stepsisters, she spends her days doing menial labor and dreams of a happier time. The twist to this version is that the author follows Cinderella and her prince to see just how happy their happily ever after is.

I Was a Rat! By Philip Pullman. 2000. 176p. Knopf, $15.95 (9780375801761); Yearling, paper, $5.99 (9780440416616).

Gr. 4–6. In this twist on the Cinderella story, a little boy appears at an elderly couple’s door in a page’s uniform. “I was a rat,” he announces. The elderly couple gives the boy a home and a name, Roger. Pullman turns fairy tale convention on its head in this fractured story, and the result is nonstop fun for readers.

If I Have a Wicked Stepmother, Where’s My Prince? By Melissa Kantor. 2005. 288p. Hyperion, $15.99 (9780786809608); paper, $8.99 (9780786809615).

Gr. 7–12. New kid Lucy doesn’t feel as though she fits in her new life, either at home or at school. Her father’s new marriage forces her to move from San Francisco to Long Island, where she is assigned a room in the unfinished basement. Romance is in the air for this princess, though, and she ends up torn between a jock and an artist.

East of the Sun and West of the Moon

East. By Edith Pattou. 2003. 512p. Harcourt, $18 (9780152045630); paper, $8.95 (9780152052218). Also available in an audio edition from Listening Library.

Gr. 6–10. Blending elements of fantasy and mythology, this compelling tale follows Rose as she leaves home with a mysterious white bear. She later finds that he has been enchanted by an evil Troll Queen. To save him, Rose must endure an arduous journey, traveling east of the sun and west of the moon.

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow. By Jessica Day George. 2008. 336p. Bloomsbury, $16.95 (9781599901091).

Gr. 7–12. A young woman affectionately called “the lass” by her woodcutter father and brother leaves home to live with an ice bear. If she stays with him for a year, her family will be richly rewarded. Overwhelmed by the rich dishes and elaborate clothing offered to her, the girl wonders about the strange man who silently sleeps by her side each night. Infused with Norse mythology, this vivid fantasy features mystery, adventure, the supernatural, and a touch of love.

The Goose Girl

Goose Chase. By Patrice Kindl. 2001. 224p. Houghton, $16 (9780618033775); Puffin, paper, $5.99 (9780142302088).

Gr. 5–8. Trapped in a tower until she chooses between two suitors—an evil king or an insipid prince—Goose Girl needs a quick miracle. Enter her faithful, magical geese, which transport her away from the wedding dilemma and set in motion a classic adventure-chase that turns into a fairy-tale spoof.

The Goose Girl. By Shannon Hale. 2003. 388p. Bloomsbury, $17.95 (9781582348438); paper, $8.95 (9781582349909). Also available in an audio edition from Full Cast Audio.

Gr. 6–10. Able to communicate with animals and the wind, Anidori is not a typical princess. She finds strength within after her lady-in-­waiting steals her identity and her guards betray her. Collecting allies in the most unlikely of places, Ani becomes a goose girl while she searches for a way to reclaim her name and prove her worth. For an interview with Shannon Hale, see the July 2008 Book Links.


Interested readers will want to add Adele Geras’ The Tower Room (Harcourt, 1992) and Donna Jo Napoli’s Zel (Dutton, 1996) to their collection of Rapunzel stories. Also not to be missed is Shannon and Dean Hale’s upcoming graphic novel Rapunzel’s Revenge (Bloomsbury, August 2008).

Letters from Rapunzel. By Sara Lewis Holmes. 2007. 192p. HarperCollins, $15.99 (9780060780739).

Gr. 5–7. In this thoroughly modern spin on the familiar tale, teen Rapunzel is trapped in an after-school homework club where she sits and worries about her father, who seems to have had a spell cast on him. The spell turns out to be ­depression, and when Rapunzel finds a letter addressed to a post office box, she decides to write back in search of her own happily ever after. The story’s epistolary format gives it immediacy.

Out of the Wild. By Sarah Beth Durst. 2008. 272p. Razorbill, $15.99 (9781595141590).

Gr. 4–8. In this sequel to Into the Wild (Razorbill, 2007), Julie’s mother happens to be Rapunzel, and when Julie’s dad—Rapunzel’s prince—is released from the Wild, he finds that the world is not at all like the one he once knew. Together, he and Julie must rescue Sleeping Beauty from a wicked fairy godmother while

keeping their fairy-tale identities secret.

Sleeping Beauty

In addition to McKinley’s book below, other retellings of Sleeping Beauty include Orson Scott Card’s Enchantment (Ballantine, 1999), Robert Coover’s Briar Rose (Grove, 1996), Gail Carson Levine’s Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep (HarperCollins, 1999), and Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose (Tor, 1992).

Spindle’s End. By Robin McKinley. 2000. 432p. Puffin, paper, $6.99 (9780698119505).

Gr. 7–12. Full of humor and romance as well as magic and adventure, McKinley’s spin on Sleeping Beauty follows the traditional tale, with a wicked fairy cursing the infant princess Rosie at her name-day ceremony: when she turns 21, Rosie will prick her finger on a spindle’s needle and fall into a poisoned sleep. Here, Rosie’s close friendship with an orphan girl, Peony, plays a major role in the frenetic denouement.

Snow White

Fairest. By Gail Carson Levine. 2006. 336p. HarperCollins, $16.99 (9780060734084).

Gr. 3–7. Aza is bulky and awkward, but she has a glorious voice, and she can throw the sound of it. When a beautiful queen discovers those gifts, she enlists Aza’s help to impress her new king and his courtiers. Eventually Aza grows tired of the charade and leaves, having gained self-confidence in a world that seems utterly obsessed by appearances.

Mira, Mirror. By Mette Ivie Harrison. 2004. 320p. Puffin, paper, $6.99 (9780142406434).

Gr. 7–10. In this story inspired by Snow White, Mira is apprenticed to a witch and bonds with another beautiful young apprentice, whom she thinks of as a sister. But the girl betrays Mira and turns her into a mirror made of wood and glass. Mira’s sister eventually abandons her, but then a peasant girl discovers her, and a new relationship begins.

Blended Fairy Tales

Into the Woods. By Lyn Gardner. Illus. by Mini Grey. 2006. 428p. Random/David Fickling, $16.99 (9780385751155).

Gr. 4–7. When their mother dies and their Prince Charming father wanders off on a trip, it’s up to Aurora, Storm, and Any to stop evil Dr. DeWilde from stealing a special musical pipe. The three sisters flee into the woods, following the lead of Red Riding Hood, the Pied Piper, Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Jack and the Beanstalk, Sleeping Beauty, and the swan princess. Grey’s appealing black-and-white illustrations add humor and detail to the story.

The Key to Rondo. By Emily Rodda. 2008. 352p. Scholastic, $16.99 (9780545035354).

Gr. 5–8. When rule-conscious Leo inherits a music box along with directives for its use, he never dreams of breaking its rules. But when Leo’s willful cousin Mimi arrives for a visit, the pair experiment with the device and find themselves transported to Rondo, the magical kingdom depicted on the box. There they discover that in the world of Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, and the Snow Queen, their own world is a fairy tale.

The Witch’s Boy. By Michael Gruber. 2005. 384p. HarperCollins, $16.89 (9780060761653); HarperTeen, paper, $8.99 (97800607616770). Also available in an audio edition from HarperChildren’s Audio.

Gr. 6–9. Abandoned outside a witch’s dwelling, Lump grows up disfigured and unattractive, and although the well-meaning witch tries to mother him, Lump longs for human friends. Upon spying the beautiful Aude, he determines to make her his own, but she rejects him in favor of the king. Besides the Rumpelstiltskin story, Gruber spools Lump’s tale around several other familiar tales, including Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears, among others.

Story Collections

Black Pearls: A Faerie Strand. By Louise Hawes. Illus. by Rebecca Guay. 2008. 224p. Houghton, $16 (9780618747979).

Gr. 9–12. Seven beautifully written short stories based on traditional fairy tales feature Cinderella, who craves the deaths of her wicked stepmother and stepsisters; Rapunzel, the deceptive daughter of a kindly witch; and Erin, a dwarf who falls in love with Snow White. Guay’s fantastical pencil drawings (a few of which include modestly posed nudes) enhance the sense of character and magic.

The Rose and the Beast: Fairy Tales Retold. By Francesca Lia Block. 2000. 240p. HarperCollins/Joanna Cotler, paper, $7.99 (9780064407458).

Gr. 8–12. Taking inspiration from Cinderella, Rose Red and Rose White, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Thumbelina, and other familiar fairy-tale characters, Block places nine tales amid the seductive but often tawdry allure of modern-day Los Angeles. As always, Block’s writing is exquisite, leaving readers longing for the love and acceptance that is waiting just around the corner for her protagonists.

Series Connections

Once upon a Time. Simon Pulse. Individual books, 192–240p., paper, $5.99.

Gr. 7–10. This well-executed series of retold tales features several novels based on fairy tales, including Beauty Sleep: A Retelling of Sleeping Beauty (2006), Golden: A Retelling of Rapunzel (2006), and Before Midnight: A Retelling of Cinderella (2007), all by Cameron Dokey. Other titles include The Crimson Thread: A Retelling of Rumpelstiltskin (2008), Water Song: A Retelling of The Frog Prince (2006), and The Night Dance: A Retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses (2005), all by Suzanne Weyn.

Sisters Grimm. By Michael Buckley. Illus. by Peter Ferguson. Abrams/Amulet. Individual books, 288–304p., $14.95; paper, $5.95.

Gr. 4–6. In Tales from the Hood (2008), the sixth book in Buckley’s series, sisters Sabrina and Daphne must defend their family friend Mr. Canis, also known as the Big Bad Wolf, when he goes on trial for his crimes. The five other titles in this series, set in the New England town of Ferryport Landing, include The Fairy-Tale Detectives (2005), The Unusual Suspects (2005), The Problem Child (2006), Once upon a Crime (2007), and Magic and Other Misdemeanors (2007). Fans of Buckley’s series will also enjoy Vivian Vande Velde’s Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird (Harcourt/Magic Carpet, 1995).

Terrell A. Young and Barbara A. Ward are on the faculty at Washington State University. Young is the editor of Happily Ever After: Sharing Folk Literature with Elementary and Middle School Students (IRA, 2004).