The first updated ‘classic’ I can remember is Marlo Thomas’ re-telling of the Greek legend of Atalanta in Free to Be.. You and Me. In the legend her father, Iasus, says that any man who is able to outrun his daughter in a footrace has the right to marry her and, after being tricked, she marries Poseidon’s son. Marlo Thomas wrote a thrilling tale with Atalanta winning the race and telling her father that she cannot possibly marry until she “goes off to see the world” and that “perhaps she will marry and perhaps… she will not.”
In recent years stories we would have considered ‘classics’ have been further improved through the talents of authors like Daniel Haack who wrote of a prince falling in love with a brave knight and Rebecca Solnit changing Cinderella into a princess who opens a bake shop where she cares for refugee children (with no love story at the end, Prince Charming chooses to become a farmer).
A re-worked fairy tale written for young adults has so much time to allow the characters to develop with many of those characters experiencing some of those important ‘firsts’ in their lives whether the character is a prince, an ogre or a cyborg. Everything seems fresh, exciting, and terrifying and is a thrill to read about, especially when it is wrapped around the bones of a familiar story with forests, witches and evil kings.
Jen Wang created a gorgeous world in her graphic novel about a kind French prince, named Sebastien, who occasionally borrows his mother’s glorious dresses to wear. He hires a talented seamstress to make his dress dreams come true and their friendship builds into love as she creates the most beautiful gowns. Sebastien and the dressmaker, Frances, collaborate on the creations and it is the perfect story for an illustrated tale with Wang using panels of different sizes to highlight some of the most beautiful ensembles anyone could ever imagine – you will read this book more than once. The Prince and the Dressmaker is a colourful, spectacular story that shakes up the traditional fairy tale in the best way possible.
Ashley Poston didn’t stray very far from the classic Cinderella story in her 2017 novel, Geekerella, which featured a sweet girl named Elle who has to scrimp to make her way to a Sci-Fi convention centred around a TV show called ‘Starfield’. She does have a mean stepmother and unpleasant stepsisters but the carriage is replaced by a vegan food truck called the “Magic Pumpkin” and her humour works to make it all come together. Most of the story takes place at the convention with Elle falling in love with the actor who has the starring role of Prince Carmindor in the series but she finds her way there with the help of a best friend/fairy godmother character and a missing slipper, the only thing missing is little mice turned into horses.
When Poston returned in 2019 to the site of the same convention with her book, The Princess and the Fangirl, it felt like a little gift to see those characters again but this time through the eyes of an actor who wasn’t enjoying her role in the Starfield fandom very much. Playing the role of Princess Amara doesn’t feel like a pleasure for Jessica and she is experiencing many of the negative elements of being in the public eye. When she meets her doppelganger in a convention centre washroom a scheme is born. The character she swaps with is Imogen Lovelace, a ‘Starfield’ superfan who is charmed and terrified by the idea of pretending to be Princess Amara. Both young women find love in this novel – Imogen with Jessica’s bodyguard and Jessica with a woman named Harper. It’s a wonderful take on “The Prince and the Pauper”. The friendships built in the first two novels overlaps with the characters in her third novel following the plot of “The Beauty and the Beast”, called Bookish and the Beast, published earlier this month. There is so much to love in this series that combines updated fairy tales and pop culture fun.
A recently published young adult novel is the much darker Cinderella is Dead. In this debut from author Kalynn Bayron, the story begins 200 years after Cinderella’s death but women in the kingdom are still forced to read and memorize the story. The Cinderella in the tale that they are forced to emulate is beautiful and subservient, sacrificing everything so that she can go to the ball to meet her ‘prince’. In this kingdom the reality is that girls are chosen to leave their families, marry and lose their independence as soon as they turn sixteen. If they are not chosen, they are given to the king as ‘forfeit’ and never seen again. Sophia has no thoughts of marriage, unless it is to her girlfriend Erin, and resists every effort made to prepare her for the ball. On the night that she is meant to be chosen she escapes, meets a brave descendant of Cinderella named Constance, and learns the real story of what happened to the family. Together they travel into the forest to ask a witch for help, develop a truly frightening plan, and try to stop the king.
Kalynn Bayron has created a version of the Cinderella legend where a young teen risks her life to save her kingdom, facing down a villain that wouldn’t normally feature in the story. She has added layers to the original story and built Sophia into a warrior who decides to destroy the monarchy in her kingdom, even though she will lose her family, her friends and her promising relationship with Constance. The romantic storyline takes a backseat to the action but the resolution to Sophia’s story is more than satisfying.
With characters like Sophia and Constance, Frances and Prince Sebastien, it feels like the future for these updated tales, and for the kids who read them, is improving. We are just starting to receive deliveries of the fall titles and I’m sure that there will be some gems in there with stories and images that will be even more delightful. Should you be looking for mixed up fairy tale-style musical accompaniment while you search our catalogue, I’ll suggest the Sondheim and Lapine soundtrack from 1980s (or the outstanding original cast on video through Overdrive). Oh yes, I can hear those words already, ” Once upon a time, in a far-off kingdom, there lay a small village at the edge of the woods.”
— Penny M.