Favorite Fairy Tales and Not-So-Fair Maidens

I've been meaning
to get to fairy tales, about which people have such very strong
feelings. To get to fairy tales, and also to gifts. In this gift-ish season, I
find it's a tricky thing to try to buy kids books, partly because you
don't always know which ones they already have and have read, and you
don't know which ones they're really going to like.

My girls went through a heavy princess phase back when they were around
5, and I really struggled with ways to tame my own aversion ("You
really want to live in a monarchy? I'll show you a monarchy…") as
well as ways to get into it with them that worked for all of us:
princess, glam, and still interesting. By far the most successful (as
far as I was concerned, anyway)? This:


A quick warning. This book is excellent, and has truly
glorious illustrations, but they don't stint on the blood and the
violence. Cinderella's stepsisters cut off parts of their feet to try
to jam them into the slippers. I liked this aspect of it; I think it's
true to the real strange and magical feelings of what fairy-tales are
supposed to be, but I know some people are less enthusiastic, so
consider yourself forewarned. Also, for those of you who are troubled by the basic ideas of beauty winning all, and maidens being a sort of troubling center to a tale, if not the hero, these are in no way feminist rewritings.
But what do I love about them? First, I like my fairy-tales
old-fashioned, and well-written, and this really kept with the dark and
thrilling feelings I remember from reading them when I was younger.
Second, and it's hard for me to convey how forcibly this struck me when I first read them: not everyone is white. The prince, the princesses, everyone
here looks a lot more like the people I see on the subway (except much
better looking) than the tiny-waisted button-nosed army that Disney
presents us with. And what a relief that was! I hadn't quite realized
how much I'd missed that until we had it. These people look like the
world around us, and more like my own children, who while white, aren't
Disney-esque—and thank God for it.

Other fairy tales? I do still love the color-coded fairy books, with
the Red and the Blue fairy books being top contenders. And to my great
though sometimes wistful relief, we are far out of the princess phase
and heavily into the girl warrior one.

But knowing all the little girls
out there who are looking for something delightful to be read to them,
are there any you guys would recommend as well?

13 thoughts on “Favorite Fairy Tales and Not-So-Fair Maidens

  1. Oh, thank you! I have one major princess, and one who is on the edge of growing out of it, but only because she feels like she “should.” When her younger sister starts up she “gives in” awfully quick. I haven’t gone book shopping yet, or I should say, I am not DONE book shopping yet so I will put this one on the list 🙂


  2. Have you tried Tatterhood and the Hobgoblins, by Lauren Mills? It’s a Norwegian folktale, has got gorgeous illustrations, plus a wonderful story of, “two sisters, the daughters of a king and queen, who are different in every way. Isabella is beautiful, sweet, and mild, a perfect princess. Tatterhood is wild and strange, a most unlikely twin to Isabella….” Guess which one winds up saving the day, and proving that appearances can be deceiving…..I highly recommend it! (http://www.amazon.com/Tatterhood-Hobgoblins-Norwegian-Lauren-Mills/dp/0316574066/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1260400666&sr=8-1)


  3. I loved the Robin McKinley fairy tale retellings as a girl, particularly “Beauty” but all of them are lovely. There’s also a very nice warrior girl story, I think it’s the Hero and the Crown. Classics, and no pictures, but they still capture my imagination.


  4. This sounds great, except it’s probably not for my 4yo princess right now. Her sleep is easily perturbed by things we read or watch, so we are a bit hyper about it, maybe too much so. If anyone has any ideas, I would love something that would please her pink, fluffy dress, pretty princess desires without making me gag or scaring her into our bed for a month.


  5. “China’s Bravest Girl” by Charlie Chin is an adaptation of the epic poem that became “Mulan.” And, for older readers, the same story is given an excellent adaptation in “Wild Orchid” by Cameron Dokey.


  6. We LOVE Tatterhood. As for the pink girl who lives in fear, The Princess Book, by Ida Chittum, is the one (I believe) that has the princess and the big cheese, and other excellent tales of resourceful and feminist princesses (it’s 1974 and shows it) that will not make you ill. I think.


  7. There’s the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C Wrede. Four book series, first book is Dealing with Dragons. It’s great because the heroine is one precisely because she doesn’t fit the stereotypes of princesses. There’s a lot of gentle poking fun at the traditional tales (an offhand reference to someone’s grandmother getting married at 15 because “those hundred years she was sleeping really shouldn’t count,” etc)
    The Ordinary Princess is anther lovely non traditional princess story.
    The sisters grimm detective series is fantastic.


  8. I find the Wrede series a bit dull, though, because the characters don’t develop at all. (And it is character-driven fiction, not archetype-driven tales.)
    I don’t have any great suggestions about the princess problem–I too loved the Andrew Lang collections from a very young age, and those are not especially pink and frilly, in fact the reverse despite the great illustrations. What I would really like right now is a collection that’s written for preschool level, though.


  9. For readers or listeners on the Andrew Lang Colored Fairy Book level there are the Joseph Jacobs books English Fairy Tales, More English Fairy Tales, Celtic Fairy Tales, etc.
    Also I really loved Howard Pyle’s fairy tale books when I was a child (around age 6 – 9 perhaps). They are: Pepper and Salt, The Wonder Clock, and Twilight Land. His children’s fiction are still some of my favorite classics: Otto of the Silver Hand and Men of Iron.


  10. @Marya–I don’t have a colection to recommend, but an author. My two sensitive preschoolers have both enjoyed the Rachel Isadora versions of fairy tales. We’ve read her versions of The Ugly Ducking, Twelve Dancing Princesses, and Rapunzel. I think that these versions are good introductions to fairy tales; they are milder than the originals, but not completely rewritten. Also, the illustrations are cheerful, which helps keep the stories mild, I think. Best of luck.
    And, myself, I can’t wait til my kids feel interested, and brave, enough to let me read Lang’s Violet Book fairy tales to them.


  11. I am a devoted fan of the rainbow fairy books. I prefer fairy tales in their original state. Warts and all. The cleaned up Disney version is too sanitized for me. I am hoping if we have a daughter to insulate her from that.
    My favorite new fairy tale is The Paper Bag Princess, which I always give to parents of a new baby girl.


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