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[Monday Reading] Modern Retellings of Classics in Children’s Literature: The Butterfly Ball, Arabian Nights, and Alice in Wonderland


Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (brainchild of Sheila at BookJourney). This week Vicki from I’d Rather be at the Beach has volunteered to host in behalf of Sheila from Bookjourney.

Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.

Last Week’s Review and Miscellany Posts

Here are a few of the reviews we have done last week. We are also inviting everyone to join our Award-Winning-Books Reading Challenge. We hosted the AWB Challenge last year and we are thrilled to be able to host it again. Do sign up if you are looking for exciting reading challenges with monthly book prizes. Click on the titles/images below to be taken to our blog posts.

Congratulations Fats Suela! Your review of Varjak Paw is the October winner for the AWB Reading Challenge.

I have also written a post about my thoughts on the Accelerated Reader Program.

Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 9.19.37 AM

I am inviting fellow teachers, teacher educators, writers, librarians, authors, artists, parents, fellow book enthusiasts to share their own experiences and ideas about the AR program.

Does the Accelerated Reader Program help develop Lifelong Readers?


I have been avidly preparing for a new course module that I will be teaching in January 2014 for our graduate students in the university. The title of the course is: Using Multicultural Children’s Books to Promote Socio-Emotional Learning. As I read through quite a number of texts related to the history of children’s literature, these three books have been mentioned frequently in practically all of the books that I have been reading, and so I am glad to find them in our library.

I also believe that these three books fit our bimonthly theme as they also make reference to classical beasts and unusual creatures. Not really tinged with darkness, but with a touch of the surreal, the absurd, the fantastical – a fabulous bestiary indeed. And since this is the last week that we are featuring beasts and chimeras, these modern retellings of classics in children’s literature seem like a fitting tribute.

We are also joining Nonfiction Monday today. Our host this week is the beautiful Tammy Flanders from Apples with Many Seeds.


IMG_9334The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast

Illustrated By: Alan Aldridge; Verses By: William Plomer; Nature Notes By: Richard Fitter
Published by: Templar Publishing, 2008. First published in the UK in 1973 by Jonathan Cape Ltd.
Borrowed from the library. Book photos taken by me.

This book is our Nonfiction Monday contribution. While it may seem strange for a nonfiction feature, this retelling of a children’s classic comes with detailed nature notes written by Richard Fitter found at the end of the book. All of the creatures who are invited (or were not invited for that matter, there would always be outsiders, those who don’t fit in) all found their way into the back of the book, complete with detailed descriptions, painstakingly-drawn actual illustrations in black and white, and with information as to whether they are still found in the British wilds.


This book is actually inspired by an 1807 classic written by the poet William Roscoe and illustrated by William Mulready. In the books that I’ve read, The Butterfly’s Ball is depicted as one of the most famous picture books for children of the early 19th century – a refreshing tale that has no moralistic overtones or didactic message meant for children’s instruction. I actually found a copy of this 1807 classic from our wonderful public libraries here in Singapore as you can see below:

William Roscoe's "The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast" illustrated by William Mulready published in 1807 in our online library archive. Produced using hand-colored copper-plate engravings.
William Roscoe’s “The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast” illustrated by William Mulready published in 1807 found in our online library archive in Singapore. Original illustrations were produced using hand-colored copper-plate engravings.

I was so excited to find out that Alan Aldridge has redesigned this children’s classic, published it in 1973, and ultimately won the Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year Award. This is the ultimate bestiary filled with real creatures all dolled up in the most fantastical way imaginable.

Essentially, the story revolves around a summer’s day in England – where there was to be a Ball and Feast among all creatures of air and land. It is a magical evening of festivities where everyone is expected to appear in their finest raiment, complete with a “wasp in a wig.”


In the essay found at the end of the book, Oliver Craske described what makes this beautiful book, reminiscent of the golden era of Dulac and Rackham, a timeless classic:

The appeal of The Butterfly Ball illustrations is partly rooted in the sense of mystery and darkness that coexists alongside sheer fantastic exuberance. They are mad, magical and surreal, qualities that children have long embraced in their reading, and that appeal to many adults too.

“I would never condescend to children,” Alan said in a 1985 interview. “I just tried to bring out the best of my abilities within the confines of what I’d chosen to illustrate. The passion and the madness I brought to the pictures came through honesty.” – p. 93.

I was simply awed by the rich illustrations, the exuberance of colours, the lack of boundaries in the artwork that simply beg to be touched and examined in great detail. It is also worthwhile to compare the fantastical illustration of say, the death’s head hawkmoth (described in beautiful verse as a magician moth with clairvoyant powers), with the nature notes written by wildlife expert Richard Fitter.

Can you figure out where the death's-head hawk-moth is here?
Can you figure out where the death’s-head hawk-moth is here?


This is an amazing book that deserves to be found (MUST be found) in any avid collector’s bookshelf.

The Thousand Nights and One NightIMG_9313

Retold By: David Walser, Illustrations by: Jan Pieńkowski
Published by: Puffin Books, 2007
Borrowed from the library. Book photos taken by me.

Now this is another book that made me gasp aloud as I stared at the marvelous spread of artwork created by the unparalleled Pieńkowski. Unlike the glorious full-bodied illustrations found in Aldridge’s Butterfly Ball, this one makes use of what is described as a “commanding silhouette technique” which is the trademark of Pieńkowski.

There are only eight stories included in this condensed compilation retold by David Walser. Most of the tales are familiar to me such as Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Aladdin’s Lamp and Sinbad the Sailor. The others are lesser known to me such as The Tale of the Fox and the Cock, The Tale of the Birds, the Beasts, and the Carpenter and The Fisherman and the Genie. 

Isn’t this simply breathtaking?

In the Introduction, Walser shared how he was inspired to come up with his own retelling of such a formidable classic:

The idea that I might try retelling stories from The Thousand Nights and One Night first occurred to me whilst sitting on a rooftop terrace in Beirut. On my return to London, in a dusty bookshop off the Charing Cross road, I found a Victorian edition in twelve volumes of Sir Richard Burton’s legendary translation. It was exactly what I wanted: a learned, painstaking, literal translation from the Arabic, with wonderfully informative footnotes.

I knew that going inside dusty, out-of-the-way bookstores can be a dangerous dangerous adventure – you just don’t know what you’d find that would lead you to your next journey! While I generally enjoyed most everything in this book, I was a trifle upset that Scheherazade’s name has been shortened to the more accessible Shahrazade. I am not sure if this is more in keeping with the original text but the name Scheherazade has always been very magical for me.


There was no running thread that ties one story to the next as well. In the little that I’ve read of Arabian Nights (The Marvels and Wonders of The Thousand and One Nights), there is an ingenious way that Scheherazade was able to weave one story to the next. The labyrinthine aspect of the stories is so marvelously done, one is hard-pressed to unravel where one story begins and another tale woven into the second or third or fourth one ends – everything is simply interconnected in a hypnotic fashion of sorts. The stories here are depicted as stand-alone tales, which I felt missed out on a lot of the tale-within-a-tale (ala Russian doll) element of the original narrative.


But as you can see, I have little to really complain about as the shadow-like illustrations with its conscientious eye for shadowed lighting, multi-coloured hues that breathe out the Middle East, and the artist’s feel for the strangely magical would leave any reader captivated. While there are no obvious beasts here, there are a lot of monsters that dwell in men’s heart (greed, avarice) and women’s fickle spirits (betrayal, treachery) portrayed in grisly detail. There is of course, the ubiquitous genie and there also many monsters and beasts that Sinbad had to fight off in his sea adventures.


This edition is also a gold-edged hardbound copy with glossy pages. Truly a gorgeous book. As Pieńkowski noted in his Illustrator’s Note found at the beginning of the book:

This has been my dream job. As I travelled through these wonderful places I filled a score of sketchbooks with a thousand and one scribbles to jog my memory. As for the dappled, latticed light and shade, the brilliant  splendour of the colours of the East, these are imprinted on my mind. I hope I have conveyed hints of them to you.

Another valuable find. One truly finds treasures in books.

IMG_9320Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Story ByLewis Carroll
Illustrated byAnthony Browne
Published by: Julia MacRae Books, 1988. Borrowed from the library. Book photos taken by me.

When I found out that Anthony Browne illustrated Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, I immediately looked for it in our library and reserved it online. I am a huge fan of Browne and featured his Willy’s Pictures, Willy the Dreamer, Zoo, and Me and You during our Oddballs and Misfits, The Surreal and the Peculiar bimonthly theme.

This book has Lewis Carroll’s original text filled with Browne’s strange illustrations whose visual landscape parallel the greatest surreal artists the world over that most people are familiar with: Dali, Miró with a touch of the Kafkaesque; and Browne’s signature eye for the playful, the disturbing, and the aesthetically mysterious.


The story, beloved and familiar to me, has acquired a different dimension, a strange kind of depth, a never-before-considered perspective with Browne’s masterful illustrations and quirky interpretations. And where else can you find the most fascinating beasts and monsters but in Alice’s Wonderland.


Even the Mad Hatter has been rediscovered here:


A must-have book.

Currently Reading…


Still reading these two books for my two book clubs. I have started on The Neverending Story. All fantasy creatures imaginable can be found here, I am awed. I haven’t started on Sherman Alexie’s novel as yet, since I am sure i would finish it very quickly.


I’ve finished reading Holly Black’s Doll Bones over the weekend. I could imagine a lot of middle-graders enjoying this book. It was able to capture that period of transition from being a tweener to a teenager quite distinctly – although the three children (Zach, Poppy and Alice) are evidently different from the usual kids. It was not as creepy as I would have hoped, but it has enough credible elements to the story that would make it a good beginner book for those who are dabbling with the supernatural and the strange. I was also pleasantly surprised to note that one of the main characters in the story, Alice Magnaye is a Filipino American. 🙂


Finally finished the fifth book in the song of ice and fire series. Raced through the last few chapters as if The Others were behind me. Or Drogon and his black wings. Tore my hair out, screamed and swore at george rr martin’s red god and that bloody wall with stealthy daggers, and even threw the book at the couch earlier only to scramble after it to read the next few pages avidly after mourning and crying out in exasperation like a woman possessed. Books 6 and 7, come soon.


Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Anthony Browne: highly commended for the Greenaway and winner of the Emil

Butterfly Ball: Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year Award

AWB Reading Challenge Update: 47, 48 (35)


Read-a-Latte Challenge Update: 220, 221, 222 (150)

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15 comments on “[Monday Reading] Modern Retellings of Classics in Children’s Literature: The Butterfly Ball, Arabian Nights, and Alice in Wonderland

  1. The cover of Doll Bones is certainly creepy enough!

    Have a great reading week


  2. Fats Suela

    Love the layout! Great job! And yay me! =)


  3. I’ve also heard that Doll Bones isn’t as creepy as the cover suggests, but that could be a good thing for readers who want scary stories, yet aren’t yet ready for stories that keep them up at night. Also good to know that there’s a Filipino-American character in the story–I’ll definitely add this one to my list.

    Your upcoming course sounds interesting. I’ll be on an author panel at the American Association of School Librarians’ national conference this month talking about a similar topic here Wish I could attend your class!


  4. Glad to see you here at It’s Monday! I’m not sure yet what challenges I’ll take on for next year.

    Here’s my Its Monday!


  5. Wow! These three books look incredibly compelling–I’ve got to get my hands on them. Will be filling out some interlibrary loan forms later today for sure. Thanks for the detailed post. Doll Bones has been sitting on my shelf for awhile now–I feel like I am very late to the party on that one! Just read my first Holly Black novel this past week–White Cat. Really liked it. So I’m wanting to read more by her.


  6. Tara Smith

    Doll Bones was definitely creepy – but that’s because I have always had a deep suspicion of antique dolls with those glassy, never shut eyes. The Pieńkowski book looks gorgeous – I can never get enough of those tales.


  7. You’re finishing up so many great books lately! I really enjoyed Doll Bones, haven’t let myself read beyond Game of Thrones book 1 because I know I’ll get lost in the series.


  8. Thanks for sharing your retelling of the classics titles. The illustrations in the Arabian Nights and Alice in Wonderland were quite lovely. I too agree that Holly Black capture that fine line between childhood and the teenage years.


  9. Hi Myra. Thanks for joining today’s Nonfiction Monday event. I’m totally unfamiliar with your pick. It does look really intriguing. You’ve also got many other books on the go, too. Where do you find the time?
    Again, thanks for your recommendation.
    Apples with Many Seeds


  10. Wonderful illustrations in them all, but that is amazing you found the older edition of The Butterfly’s Ball, Myra. I also love the look of the Anthony Browne’s Alice In Wonderland-what a grand thing to read it again with those pictures. And Pieńkowski’s shadows, wow, how beautiful they are. Thanks for all, again!


  11. I think Doll Bones is absolutely ideal for a MG read. In fact I want to do it with my student book club. Love the hints at being creepier which kind of keep you on the edge of your seat and the exploration of the edges of childhood.


  12. I enjoyed Doll Bones and was glad it wasn’t any creepier. Creepy is not my typical pick. Thanks for sharing the excellent illustrations from the other books.


  13. I like the idea of the Thousand Nights and One Night. The illustrations are marvelous – I like the silhouettes. 🙂


  14. Wow at the illustrations for The Thousand Nights and One Night! I like how you’re able to connect the books you read to themes.


  15. Pingback: End of Year Book Survey 2013: A Collaborative Blog Post from the GatheringBooks Ladies |

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