Bob, a cobbler, and Joan, a laundress, live a quiet and predictable life in their small town. When they open their door to a lost, young boy one night, their lives change dramatically. The boy claims he was once a rat and shows no knowledge of normal human manners or eating habits. As Bob and Joan try to teach the boy they name Roger, they come to love him and think of him as their own little boy. Unfortunately, less charitable people want to exploit Roger for his differences. Soon, prejudice clouds the city, and the people cry for Roger, ‘the sewer monster’ to be exterminated. Will love or prejudice prevail?
With a fairy tale feel and simple story telling, Philip Pullman tells a powerful story about the dangers of judging others. He includes elements of well-known fairy tales, but manages to create an entirely new story. I originally picked this to read to my young boys, but while it is a light story, Pullman includes some of his trademark darkness. It is a perfect story for fantasy and fairy tale lovers of 8 years or older, but a little scary for younger readers. A quick read with some illustrations, it still teaches important lessons and makes young readers think.
Recommended for ages 8 and up.
Although the writing isn’t stellar and some of the characters are a little weak, Cinder has to win for the most original representation of the Cinderella fairy tale. Cinder is a talented mechanic and cyborg living in the city of New Beijing following the conclusion of the fourth World War. Forced to work to support her begrudging stepmother, Cinder is exposed to the plague currently threatening lives in the city. Although Cinder remains well, she is blamed for her stepsister’s illness.
In the midst of turmoil at home, Cinder meets and develops a friendship with Prince Kai. Kai has turmoil of his own as he strives to find a cure for the plague and stop the mind-controlling Lunar Queen from starting another war. Somehow, in the midst of all this classic science fiction conflict, Meyer manages to include a ball and her own version of a glass slipper. I’m not usually a science fiction fan, but this fairy tale retelling was creatively done. Be warned though, it is another victim of the ‘series conspiracy’ and ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. No happily ever after for this intergalactic fairy tale—yet.
Recommended for ages—12 and up
For as long as she can remember, Cecelia has been told she is the true princess being raised in hiding. Her parents were murdered when she was a baby and she was sent to a remote village to be kept safe. All her life she has been a village girl by day studying politics and royal subjects in secret at night. However, when strange things start happening around her little cottage, it appears her identity has been revealed and she is no longer safe.
Cecelia travels to the palace with her best friend Harper in an attempt to take her place as the true princess and right the wrongs she sees in the kingdom. When she arrives at the palace, the current princess has a different perspective. Both girls learn that things aren’t always as they appear and finding who to trust is a constant battle.
A Palace of Mirrors is a mystery, fairy tale, and coming of age story rolled into one. Readers will be kept in suspense, but also learn valuable lessons about trusting yourself and learning to recognize and appreciate your abilities. It is a good story to teach young girls about self-worth and the ability to see the world from different perspectives. One warning, it is a companion novel to Just Ella. You will follow the story fine without reading the other book, but it might give away some plot surprises from Just Ella.
Recommended for ages 10 and up.
As a family, we listened to The Secret History of Tom Trueheart on a long road trip. Usually we need breaks from our audio books, but this story entertained all ages from four to thirty-seven so well that we listened to the last four hours straight through. It is a good family book, either for listening or reading out loud. (We listened to the recording performed by John Curless. Apparently there is another audio book out there).
Tom’s six older brothers are all adventurers in the Land of Stories. They go on exciting missions and return home to share their tales with the world, but Tom stays home with his mother. When his brothers fail to come home in time for Tom’s twelfth birthday, both Tom and his mother fear that something has gone terribly wrong. Soon, Tom receives his own mission from the Story Bureau. He must enter the Land of Stories and discover the fate of his older brothers. As he journeys on his mission, Tom creates his own story and finds that he is an adventurer with as much courage and determination as his brothers.
The Secret History of Tom Trueheart is an entertaining story of magic and adventure. With elements of multiple well-known fairy tales, it contains familiarity with some wonderful twists. The excitement and action keeps older readers interested, but nothing is too dark and frightening for younger readers.
Recommended for ages 4 and up
A brilliant, modern rendering of Francis Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. Ellen Potter manages to capture nearly all the elements of the classic children’s story, but weaves her details so deftly that the story remains alive and new. Like the garden in the story, Potter breathes life into a wonderful tale of hope and healing.
After the death of her dysfunctional family, Roo Fanshaw is sent to live with a rich uncle she never knew existed. He lives in a strange island home which used to be a tuberculosis sanatorium. As Roo explores her new surroundings, she finds secrets about her family as well as her new home. Potter’s characters are mysterious and often mistrustful, but also very heartwarming. The Humming Room is intriguing for 8-10 year-old readers or good for a family read-aloud.
Another Pan is a much darker version of Peter Pan placed in a more modern age with hints of Egyptian mythology sprinkled throughout. Wendy and John Darling are students at Marlowe, an elitist New York high school, because their father is a member of the faculty. They are embarrassed by their father’s obsession with Egyptology until they begin working on a special exhibit arranged for the school. They meet Peter, a mysterious new RA, and his gang of boys who refer to themselves as the LBs. Soon Wendy and John are swept up in Peter’s quest to find ‘bone dust’, a dust in the bones of certain mummies and purported to bring eternal life. Strangely, these bones are found in a part of the Egyptian underworld that has relocated to beneath the Marlowe school.
For readers expecting a flying and light-hearted Peter with a harmless crush on sweet, motherly Wendy, this is quite a different story. The evil in Another Pan is much deeper than bumbling Captain Hook and Peter’s selfish desire for immortality is more cutting. In spite of the darker feel, the story is well constructed and exciting to read. I listened to the audio book excellently read by Katherine Kelgren. The story is clean and appropriate for teen readers, but a little too dark and suspenseful for younger children.
Silly fluff and light entertainment, but the plot was surprisingly well done in this fairy tale gone wrong. When Savannah’s boyfriend chooses her older sister Jane and she is left without a prom date, Savannah qualifies for help from a ‘fair’ godmother. Chrissy was a fair student in Fairy Godmother school and attempts to help Savannah for an extra credit project. As usual, Chrissy misinterprets wishes and sends Savannah first into a disaster of a Cinderella story. She next ends up as a Snow White, but the real disaster is when her friend Tristan is trapped in the Middle Ages until he becomes a prince. Savannah tries to help and the romantic comedy ensues.
This lighthearted fairy tale retelling is a fun read aimed toward older teens, but clean enough for tweens. There isn’t a lot of depth, but it is entertaining and appropriate for the age group.
This intriguing retelling of Snow White is a companion book to Ella Enchanted and takes place in the neighboring fantastical kingdom of Ayorthia. In this version, Aza is not the fairest in the land, but she is gifted with a magical voice. Her voice and a cursed mirror lead to adventures and new self-awareness for a variety of characters. Levine writes an entertaining story and manages to teach life lessons through interesting characters. A good read for teens who enjoy a magical, but real-to-life fairy tale.
In my opinion, a creative retelling of a fairy tale can cover a multitude of sins. This one combined elements of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” and “The Billy Goats Gruff” and was written in rock and roll type lyrics. The thing that truly caught my admiration was an inclusion of Dairy Princesses, mention of the Minnesota State Fair butter heads, and Lake Superior. My loyalty to Minnesota forced me to love this one. It is a light fairy tale retelling with a strong heroine and a fun story for tweens and above.
Princess of Glass is a sequel to Princess of the Midnight Ball, but enough back information is given that it can be read on its own. Having previously been cursed to dance each night since she was small, Princess Poppy recognizes an enchantment when she sees one. However, she struggles to help her friends recognize the evil that is trying to take over the kingdom of Breton. There is something sinister lurking behind the mysterious Lady Ella, who appears at all the balls and captivates all the men and infuriates all the women.
Jessica Day George presents an interesting version of the classic Cinderella where the ‘fairy godmother’ may be more nefarious than kindly. Her story is as magical as most fairy tales, but with a twist to the story we expect. In spite of the black magic, the story remains light and the characters entertaining. This new Cinderella is a fun and clean read for girls ages 10 and older.