[Saturday Reads] Four Clever Fractured Retellings of Fairy Tales

SaturdayReads

Myra here.

Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.


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Previously

Written by: Allan Ahlberg Illustrated by: Bruce Ingman
Published byWalker Books, 2007
Borrowed from the NIE Library. Book photos taken by me.

I learned about this title through one of the professional development texts that I was reading in connection with children’s responses to picturebooks, and I knew that I should find it before our reading theme ends. As the title suggests and in keeping with the nature of postmodern picturebooks, Previously turns several fairy tales over on its head by presenting them in a non-linear fashion, as it begins with the end – across seven familiar tales and nursery rhymes.

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The book opens with:

Goldilocks arrived home/ all bothered and hot.

Previously she had been/ running like mad in the dark woods.

Previously she had been/ climbing out of somebody else’s window.

Then it goes back further on to the time when Goldilocks bumped into an older boy in the dark woods named Jack who just climbed down the beanstalk “with a hen under his arm.”

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Hence, the reader catches all the characters towards the tail-end of their stories, backtracking in time to introduce other fairy tale characters who they just happen to meet somewhere along the way and with their own stories to tell.

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The linear progression of stories is questioned early on in the narrative with the reader attempting to see whether there is even such a thing as a beginning, middle, and end to the whole book. How the book creators cleverly weave everything together in the end, I shall leave for you to discover.


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Don’t Read This Book!

Written by: Jill Lewis Illustrated by: Deborah Allwright
Published byTiger Tales, 2010
Borrowed through inter-library loan. Book photos taken by me.

This book reminded me so much of Lauren Child’s Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Book with the design, typography (screaming fonts), the scrapbooky-torn vibe of the book’s packaging, and the story-within-a-story aspect that was exploited by the book creators from the very beginning of the story. In fact, the front jacketflap already contains the warning “Don’t Read this Book!” with the reader urged to move along and do something else instead.

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This is a very clear example of how everything within a picturebook is worthy of close investigation as all the elements contribute to the narrative – both visual and textual. The endpapers also deserve a bit of consideration – with the black swathe in the front endpapers belying this (see below) at the back endpapers.

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The King is the central piece in this story as he is the one insisting that he is being watched (ostensibly by the reader) and that whoever is watching him should STOP right this moment as his story is still unfolding. He imperiously demands that his story writer be brought to him immediately because he needs a new story, and fast!

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Not only does the main character try to engage and bring the reader into the story, the elements of intertextuality are very evident here, what with all the visual cues embedded throughout the pages – from the three blind mice, to the giant in the beanstalk, and my absolute favourite:

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Based on the objects that the story writer is demanding (mattresses, prince, a flying pea), the reader kind of figures out exactly what the King’s story is about. It has been awhile since I’ve read fractured fairy tales, and now I can see that I’m missing out on a number of good books that have been published over the past several years.


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The Three Bears (Sort Of)

Written by: Yvonne Morrison Illustrated by: Donovan Bixley
Published byScholastic, 2013
Borrowed from the NIE Library. Book photos taken by me. New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards for Children’s Choice (2014).

The story begins innocuously enough with the traditional “Once upon a time, there were three bears, and they lived…” but before the narrator can continue on with this tale as old as time, she gets interrupted by a question:

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The younger voice demands specific details and logic in the narrative. It is amazing how the narrator listens closely to the child’s interruptions and make amendments to the storyline based on the child’s prods and insightful questions (see below – still on the subject of what type of bears, exactly):

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There is no suspension of disbelief here, as the precocious child (who seems to know an enormous lot about bears) notices tiny details that an otherwise inattentive listener would not even think about. Does it really make sense for bears to eat porridge? Wouldn’t they prefer fish? And how exactly could “three bowls of porridge poured at exactly the same time can be too hot, too cold, and just right?” The narrator has to immediately come up with a fairly-acceptable theory about different-sized bowls allowing for big surface area, narrow and deep shapes, etc that would render such an unlikely occurrence to make sense somewhat. My favourite, though, is Little Bear’s chair, see below:

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This is a delightful tale that would resonate not only with smart young readers but also with parents who are looking for something clever to read aloud to their children. This would make for a good readers’ theatre as well.


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Hansel and Gretel

Written and Illustrated by: Anthony Browne
Published by: Walker Books, 2003
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

Among all the four books here, this one has the more straightforward retelling of the original fairy tale. What stands out in particular though, as per usual, is Browne’s haunting art that leaves a great deal of visual clues for discussion – not found in the text. The setting as deduced from the images is fairly contemporary – but the text-narrative follows the original quite closely (see image below):

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The sense of dejection, the dismal atmosphere are clearly evident in the image. The framing is also well worth noting with the stepmother sitting farther away, but also seeming to usurp the father’s role as the head of the family. What is constant is the defeated air of the Father and the two children. More details can be seen in the image below:

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I love how Browne is able to communicate so much with his visual details – the art definitely adds another layer to the storytelling here – especially as the reader is made to act like a voyeur with this highly intimate scene – with the stepmother’s private things exposed to the world to see: the expensive lipsticks, lotions, accoutrements, and undies.

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Somehow, this story was made even more creepy for me with Browne’s illustrations. In the image above, again you can see how incongruously-stylish and worldly the stepmother is in contrast to the Father and the two children who are wearing tired and presumably-old clothing patched at the seams.

What I especially liked is Browne’s use of framing to convey fear, dread, and just an overall sense of the eerie and the otherworldly that is grounded on cruelty and wickedness – which makes the redemption at the end even more satisfying, albeit a bit anticlimactic with the presence still of the ineffectual father. I wish that in the near future Anthony Browne would collect all his fractured retellings in one tome of a book – that would be a collection I’d be proud to display in my bookshelves.

1 Comment on [Saturday Reads] Four Clever Fractured Retellings of Fairy Tales

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