These delightful departures from the old tales open the door to so many classroom activities that we need to take the time to examine some of the best and see where they lead.
First of all, no matter what grade level you're dealing with, do not assume that the kids know the basic tales. They may be familiar with the versions of them as seen on TV or in some of the very books we're dealing with here, but, unless you've dealt with the original stories in the classroom, the kids don't know those basics. So, as you get to each group of stories, take the time to work out the tale from which they have sprung. This can be done through storytelling by you or by various members of the class, by reading together a basic version or by building the tale together as a group. At least then, you've got a starting point for each tale.
As always when you're analyzing literature together, keep the touch light or you'll ruin the whole thing. Remember that most of these books are meant to be funny. Don't destroy the humor by making too big a chore out of it.
Our next suggestion is that you sample one of two of the selections below. Enjoy it together. Notice what the illustrator has done to enhance the tale. Then look at the choices the author has made. Think back to the basic tale and list the things he or she could have dealt with and then look at what the author did tackle. Speculate on the author's purpose. Was he or she just looking to amuse us? Was the author making a political or literary statement? Use these points of speculation as a starting point as you examine other volumes.
This might also be the point where you'll want to develop a working vocabulary for describing the books, depending on the age and sophistication of the students. Such terms as satire, irony, pastiche, bowdlerization, take-off, parody, and tongue-in-cheek can be defined and applied as appropriate.
You may suggest that they categorize these tales by the method the author used: telling the tale from a different character's point of view, putting the tale in a modern setting, looking at the inconsistencies in the story, trying to make the story more realistic, or changing roles, for instance.
Okay, on to the tales.
Jack and the Beanstalk:
* * Cole, Brock. The Giant's Toe. Farrar, 1966. ISBN 0374325596. Grades 2 - 7. Order Info.
Be prepared to be just a bit put off when the giant accidentally hacks off his toe which becomes a very clever albeit tiny boy. The giant is outwitted at every turn by this tiny one and so is Jack when he shows up very near the end of the book. That's when it becomes apparent that it's a Jack and the Beanstalk prequel. More Info.
* Briggs, Raymond. Jim & the Beanstalk. Paperstar, 1997. ISBN 0698115775. Grades 1 - 7. Order Info.
Jack's son revisits the giant at the top of the beanstalk to find that he has aged considerably and needs lots of help.
* Kellogg, Steven. Jack and the Beanstalk. Morrow, 1991. ISBN 0688102506. Grades 1 - 7. Order Info.
The story line is pretty much standard -- Jack sells the cow for beans, a beanstalk grows from them. It's an ogre instead of the usual giant in this version but the real difference comes from the illustrations and the details and subplots they hold. There's a cat quartet and the ogre is deliciously evil.
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The Frog Prince:
See also Helen Griffith's Emily and the Enchanted Frog listed below under Combinations of Tales.
* * Scieszka, Jon. The Frog Prince Continued. Illustrated by Steve Johnson. Puffin, 1994. ISBN 014054285X. Grades 2 - 8. Order Info.
This is a true fairy tale extension in that we find out what happens after the princess marries the frog she kissed and turned into a prince. They didn't live happily ever after. He kept too many of his froggy ways to suit the fastidious princess. He thinks she nags too much. There is a solution, however.
* * * Buehner, Caralyn & Mark. Fanny's Dream. Dial, 1996. ISBN 0803714963. Grades 2 - 8. Order Info.
Fanny, a big, capable young woman, dreams of going to the ball and meeting her prince. Enduring the ridicule of her family, she waits in the garden for her fairy godmother. She doesn't appear but Heber Jensen does. A neighboring farmer, he can't offer her riches, but he offers her love and she accepts. Years later, after becoming a mom three times over Fanny rests for a moment in the garden. This time the fairy godmother does appear with apologies for being late, but this time Fanny refuses the offer. More Info.
* Minters, Frances. Cinder-Elly. Illustrated by,G. Brian Karas. Puffin, 1997. ISBN 0140561269. Grades 2 - 7. Order Info.
Here's an updated Cinderella who goes, not to a ball, but to a basketball game. She wears glass sneakers (among other things) to the game and gets there by bike. The rhyming text is better than average and there's good humor here.
* * Ketteman, Helen. Bubba the Cowboy Prince. Illustrated by James Warhola. Scholastic, 1997. ISBN 0590255061. Grades 2 - 8. Order Info.
Here's a Texas version of Cinderella. It's the youngest of three sons who is taunted and made to do all the work by his stepbrothers and stepfather and it's a fairy godcow who supplies the magic. The lovely single woman who owns the big spread nearby conducts the dance, and it's the missing cowboy boot that matches. The best line in the book is uttered by that woman after she's danced with most of the possible suitors: "There goes another ten dollar Stetson on a five cent head."
* * * Levine, Gail Carson. Ella Enchanted. HarperCollins, 1998. ISBN 0064407055. Grades 4 - 7. Order Info.
It doesn't usually work to build a novel around a fairy tale. We like our two dimensional characters to stay that way. Making full bodied characters necessitates explaining or making logical the events and, in a fairy tale, that way lies confusion or hilarity. Ella Enchanted is, therefore, a delightful surprise. It works from the first sentence to the last. Levine's inspired plot has Ella cursed at birth by a well-meaning fairy who declares that she shall be obedient. This allows her, later, to become subservient to her stepsisters and stepmother. The absent or ineffective father in this novel becomes a selfish, profit hungry man whose only use for his daughter is to marry her off. Most children, hearing or reading the book, may not become aware of the Cinderella plot until well into it.
* French, Fiona. Snow White in New York. Oxford, 1990. ISBN 0192722107. Grades 2 - 7. Order Info.
This is a tongue in cheek version of Snow White done with Art Deco illustrations. The setting is 1920s New York and Snow White is a flapper guarded by seven jazzmen.
The Three Bears:
* Ross, Tony. Goldilocks & the Three Bears. Overlook, 1992. ISBN 0879514531. Grades 1 - 7. Order Info.
Ross' tale proceeds according to the usual outline but the setting is modern. His bears are white and live in luxury -- even color television. Their walls are adorned with paintings, even a Modigliani. But their reaction to the unwanted visitor, albeit jeans-clad, is fierce and typically satisfying.
The Princess and the Pea:
* * Johnston, Tony. The Cowboy & the Black-eyed Pea. Illustrated by Warren Ludwig. Paperstar, 1996. ISBN 069811356X. Grades 2 - 7. Order Info.
In this delightful switch it's the bodacious and wealthy Farethee Well who is looking for a sensitive mate. Knowing that a true cowboy is known for his sensitivity, she places a black-eyed pea beneath the saddle blanket of each suitor and sends him off to ride the range. Most don't notice the discomfort, but one cowboy, arriving in a rainstorm, asks for more and more padding but is still uncomfortable.
The Three Little Pigs:
* * Scieszka, Jon. The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by A. Wolf. Illustrated by Lane Smith. Puffin, 1996. ISBN 0140544518. Grades 1 - 7. Order Info.
He was only trying to borrow a cup of sugar from his neighbors who happened to have built very flimsy houses. Not his fault! And all that huffing and puffing business? He had a cold. Could he help it that he sneezed too hard? Once the pigs were just lying there defenseless he'd be a poor excuse for a wolf for not taking advantage of the situation. As he points out, it's wolves bad luck that they keep to a diet of things we find cute such as lambs and pigs. If, he adds, hamburgers were cute, we'd suffer the same bad rap.
* Lowell, Susan. Three Little Javelinas, Illustrator Jim Harris. Rising Moon, 1992. ISBN 0873585429. Grades 1 - 7. Order Info.
This southwestern version of the Three Little Pigs features a coyote villain and hairy javelinas. Nestled in the plot is some information about desert flora and fauna and the tale becomes a pourquois tale when it explains why the coyote howls.
* * Ross, Tony. Stone Soup. Dial, 1992. ISBN 0140547088. Grades 1- 7. Order Info.
Ross grabs characters from other tales and gives new life and a wild humor to an old folk tale. His soup maker is the Little Red Hen. His villain is The Big Bad Wolf. The one joke text is turned into a two joke twist. The story has always been that of a con game. In this version, the wolf threatens to eat the hen and grab all her goodies. She tells him that he should have a nice bowl of soup first and gets him to do a series of exhausting chores as she adds more and more ingredients to the soup which she starts with a stone. The finished product is delicious and when the exhausted and now satiated wolf has eaten it all, she says he can eat her up, he says he's too full.
* * Blundell, Tony. Beware of Boys. Greenwillow, 1992. ISBN 0688109241. Grades 2 - 6. Order Info.
This time it's a wolf who is intent on making soup -- little boy soup. However, the resourceful boy has other ideas. He has better recipes, he says, but the wolf must run to get the desired ingredients. Each time there's a missing ingredient to prevent them from making that dish. The boy also has plans for some of those inedible ingredients he's had the wolf gather. More Info.
* * Kellogg, Steven. Chicken Little. Morrow, 1987. ISBN 0688070450. Grades 1 - 6. Order Info.
Although the text of this folk tale sticks fairly close to the typical version, Kellogg loads his crowded illustrations with a subplot and many humorous asides and details.
Little Red Riding Hood:
* * * Marshall, James. Red Riding Hood. Puffin, 1993. ISBN 0140546936. Grades 2 - 7. Order Info.
Marshall's touches are everywhere. In the dialogue: Gramma's not ill, she's "not feeling up to snuff today". The wolf's first approach is, "Care to stop for a little chat? " Red Riding Hood herself is not the sweet little thing to whom we've grown accustomed. She's a bit tubby with stringy brown hair, but she lives life with gusto up until the wolf gets her. Encouraged by him to gather some flowers for Gramma, she tackles a field of sunflowers far taller than she. Gramma becomes one of my favorite characters of all tales when her only remark on being rescued from the depths of wolf is, "It was so dark in there I couldn't read a word."
* * Lowell, Susan. Little Red Cowboy Hat. Illustrated by Randy Cecil. Holt, 2000. ISBN 0805064834. Grades 2 - 7. Order Info.
Little Red Cowboy Hat is not as gullible as the more familiar Little Red Riding Hood and Grandma is certainly not the helpless bed ridden one. Little Red Cowboy Hat rides her pony to Grandma's to deliver a jar of cactus jelly. Together they best the wolf and end up sitting on the fence eating sandwiches after their victory which needs no passing huntsman.
* * Artell, Mike. Petite Rouge. Illustrated by Jim Harris. Dial, 2001. ISBN 0803725140. Grades 2 - 8. Order Info.
The tale is told in short, jaunty rhyme and the argot is Cajun, of course. A helpful, very brief history of the Cajun people starts the book followed by a very clear and useful glossary. Those facts in our heads, we can proceed to enjoy Petite Rouge's encounter with Claude, an old gator who frequents the swamp. He first accosts the young goose and her cat as they traverse the swamp in her pirogue and demands the food she is taking to Grandmere's. When that attempt fails, old Claude is off to Grandmere's to try again. The slight variations on the "What big eyes you have." routine add to the fun and the use of hot sauce for the gator's comeuppance is a nice touch.
* * Stanley, Diane. Rumpelstiltskin's Daughter. HarperTrophy, 2002. ISBN 0064410951. Grades 2 - 7. Order Info.
Rumpelstiltskin's pleas for the child include a promise that he'll read to it and even coach Little League. He and the Queen run away and are married. Now it's sixteen years later and their daughter Hope runs afoul of the greedy king and he sets her to spinning gold. This time Hope escapes with no hero to rescue her.
* Yolen, Jane. Sleeping Ugly. Illustrated by Diane Stanley. Paper Star, 1997. ISBN 0698115600. Grades 2 - 7. Order Info.
This turn-about version of Sleeping Beauty gives us word play as well as a feminist twist. We have the Princess Miserella as the selfish but beautiful princess and Plain Jane as her opposite. There's the prerequisite Good Fairy and a prince, of course. The moral is clear and punful.
Three Billy Goats Gruff:
* Wolff, Patricia R. Toll-Bridge Troll. Illustrated by Kimberley Root. Voyager, 2000. ISBN 0152021051. Grades 2 - 7. Order Info.
Trigg, a young boy in jeans and sneakers, must pass over a bridge on his way to school each day. Under the bridge lives the standard troll who demands a toll. Trigg outwits him by using riddles many kids will be able to answer.
* Emberley, Rebecca. Three Cool Kids. Little Brown, 1998. ISBN 0316235199. Grades 2 - 7. Order Info.
These three kids live on a city lot which is becoming barren. On the other side of the street is an empty lot with lots of green grass. However, a big fierce rat lives under the grate they must cross. From then on it's like the original tale with a "The grass is always greener on the other side" moral.
* * Hassett, John & Ann. The Three Silly Girls Grubb. Houghton, 2002. ISBN 0618141839. Grades 2 - 7. Order Info.
Three little girls, sizes small, medium and extra large, must cross a bridge each day to get the school bus. Under the bridge lives a bad boy -- the kind who throws stones at cats and never goes to school. He threatens each girl in turn and each refers him to the next one. We knew the extra large girl would get him, but she does so by threatening to kiss him. That does it: he's off to school.
The Little Red Hen:
* * Crummel, Susan. Cook-a-Doodle-Doo. Illustrated by Janet Stevens Harcourt, 1999. ISBN 0152019243. Grades 1 - 7. Order Info.
A descendant of The Little Red Hen, a fine rooster, finds her cookbook. It turns out she made much more than bread. Scorned by some of the animals, he is aided by three others, a pig, a turtle and an iguana, as the rooster attempts to make shortcake using The Little Red Hen's recipe. The process is funny and involves many Amelia Bedelia sorts of misunderstandings and misinterpretations and one outright disaster, but they end up with delicious shortcake.
The Emperor's New Clothes:
* * Lasky, Kathryn. The Emperor's Old Clothes. Illustrated by David Catrow. Voyager, 2002. ISBN 0152163484. Grades 2 - 7. Order Info.
I didn't know that the Emperor discarded each piece of clothing as he donned the invisible items created by his con-men tailors, but he must have. In this parallel tale, as each item is thrown from the coach bearing his royal majesty to the parade, it is found and put on by a very simple, happy farmer named Henry. Each time Henry first perceives the item to be something more familiar to him. The exclamations he utters with each find are delightful. At last he gets to the parade only to discover that the Emperor is stark naked. Returning home in all his finery, Henry finds his simple chores impossible and, when a small chick falls to the ground convulsed with laughter, Henry realizes how foolish he looks and joins in the hilarity.
Combinations of Tales:
* * Ahlberg, Janet & Allan. The Jolly Postman. Little Brown, 2001. ISBN 0316126446. Grades 1 - 7. Order Info.
A postman goes on his rounds delivering mail to the characters from fairy tales. The pages become envelopes or pockets in which the letters, junk mail and postcards can be found. Besides offering an amusing look at a large variety of mail, the book serves as a reminder of the tales from which the characters come.
* * *Griffith, Helen. Emily & the Enchanted Frog. Illustrated by Susan Lamb. Greenwillow, 1989. ISBN 0688084842. Grades 2 - 7. Order Info.
Emily is an imperturbable little girl who knows her fairly tales and discovers, in the first story, that kissing a frog really does turn him into a prince; the only trouble is, he doesn't like being a prince and greatly prefers his frog state. Now she must kiss every frog he brings her until she finds a princess. When they kiss each other, they become blissful frogs again. In the second story, an elf appears to grant Emily one wish. When she wishes to be invisible, her wish is granted. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but as she thinks on, she realizes that being invisible may not be so good after all; it would be fun in games, but the other kids won't know she's playing; at school the teacher won't know she's there and will mark her absent. She even imagines joining a support group of invisible people. Then the elf reappears to tell her he made a mistake. She was supposed to get three wishes. She uses the first to become visible again and wastes the last, of course. My favorite is the third in which she finds a little crab-like creature who insists he's a mermaid. Emily finally convinces him that, even though she has never actually seen a mermaid, she is sure he is not, but that causes a tremendous identity crisis. When a similar creature approaches them on the beach, both Emily and the first creature are sure that they'll find out what he is. And they're right. The second creature says he's a mermaid. More Info.
* * Scieszka, Jon. The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. Viking, 2002. ISBN 0670035696. Grades 2 - 7. Order Info.
This humorous book of revisionist fairy tales is perfect for a diverse group of elementary school boys and girls. The ten complete stories are clever, amusing and true to their name: really stupid. Although these versions do not attempt to be faithful to the original stories, these zany stories give children the opportunity to enjoy some modern tales taken from the familiar.