What if you're not on board with the publishing industry's newly dismissive attitude toward picture book fairy tales for 5- to 8-year-olds? What if you—and your kids—are still in love with fairy tales and their happily-ever-afters? Fortunately, there's a lot of good stuff already in print and still more at your local library.
Picture Book Fairy Tales and Folktales
Since many folk- and fairy tales have been around for a few centuries, illustrators are the place to start, most notably illustrator Trina Schart Hyman, whose romantic renderings continue to appeal to girls wanting a good princess fix. For that matter, her Caldecott Honor book Little Red Riding Hood has never been beat. Neither has her Sleeping Beauty. Or her Snow White. Besides which, her dragon in Caldecott winner St. George and the Dragon is pretty much the coolest one I've ever seen.
Kinuko Craft is the new go-to illustrator for classic fairy tales, though some have argued that her artwork has more adult appeal than child appeal. My favorite story she has illustrated is Marianna Mayer's retelling of Baba Yaga and Vaselisa the Brave—featuring the scariest witch of all time! Gennady Spirin is another fairy tale illustrator whose work, I feel, has a real adult sensibility. Then again, one reason to collect the literary fairy tale is because the art can be so sumptuous.
Paul Galdone brilliantly illustrated many folktales. The Three Billy Goats Gruff is a good example of his robust, loose-line style.
Look for Errol Le Cain's illustrations, as well, with their art deco feel. I especially like his Cinderella.
Or find books illustrated by Margot Zemach, particularly The Funny Little Woman and The Three Wishes. Also track down Duffy and the Devil, retold by Harve Zemach. As The New York Times Book Review said of this Caldecott-winning book, "Margot Zemach draws like an intoxicated angel" (qtd on Amazon).
James Marshall created some of the best—and funniest—versions of fairy tales and folktales ever, e.g., his Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, and The Three Little Pigs.
Other folk- and fairy tale illustrators of note include Susan Jeffers, Ruth Sanderson, and Caldecott winners Gerald McDermott and Paul O. Zelinsky. Not to mention Anita Lobel—look for her illustrations for Princess Furball, as retold by Charlotte Huck.
As for authors, four big names in folktale retelling are Robert D. San Souci, Rafe Martin, Eric A. Kimmel, and Aaron Shepard. I'll recommend The Talking Eggs for San Souci (a Caldecott Honor book), The Rough-Face Girl for Martin, Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock for Kimmel, and One Eye! Two Eyes! Three Eyes! for Shepard. These and other writers will introduce your child to world folktales, a great way to look beyond the European tradition.
A publisher called Barefoot Books is well known for its collections and single titles of world folktales, so watch for their stuff and check out their catalog.
Or try Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters, a Caldecott Honor variation of the Cinderella story set in Africa. And illustrator Rachel Isadora is single-handedly rewriting the Disney canon, producing well-told versions of well-known tales, all set in Africa—most recently The Twelve Dancing Princesses, The Princess and the Pea, Rapunzel, and Hansel and Gretel.
A few other favorites of mine are Mr. Semolina-Semolinus by Anthony L. Manna and Christodoula Mitakidou, illustrated by Giselle Potter; The Language of Birds by Rafe Martin, illustrated by Susan Gaber; and East of the Sun, West of the Moon, whether illustrated by P.J. Lynch or Mercer Mayer.
For a gritty, funny American backcountry tale, try The Old Woman and the Willy Nilly Man by jill Wright, illustrated by Glen Rounds.
Of course, we must also acknowledge the greatness that is The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith! And the equally wonderful The True Story of the Three Little Pigs.
Some more standouts, in my opinion:
--Bearskin, by Howard Pyle, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman (look for the multicultural families!)
--Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like, by Jay Williams, illustrated by Mercer Mayer
--The Fearsome Inn, a Newbery Honor book by Isaac Bashevis Singer, illustrated by Nonny Hogrogian
--The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship, a Caldecott winner retold by Arthur Ransome and illustrated by Uri Shulevitz
--The Frog Prince, translated by Naomi Lewis, illustrated by Binette Schroeder
--The Gunniwolf, retold by Wilhelmina Harper, illustrated by William Wiesner (not the newer version, please no!)
--Heckedy Peg, by Audrey and Don Wood
--Henny-Penny, retold and illustrated by Jane Wattenberg (with photos)
--Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, retold by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
--Iron John, retold by Marianna Mayor, illustrated by Winslow Pels
--King Bidgood's in the Bathtub, by Audrey and Don Wood
--King Grisly-Beard, by the Brothers Grimm and Maurice Sendak
--The Lady and the Lion, retold by Laurel Long and Jacqueline K. Ogburn, illustrated by Laurel Long
--The Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza, retold by Philemon Sturges, illustrated by Amy Walrod
--Lon Po Po: A Red Riding Hood Story from China, a Caldecott winner retold and illustrated by Ed Young
--The Magic Nesting Doll, by Jacqueline K. Ogburn, illustrated by Laurel Long
--Mirandy and Brother Wind, a Caldecott Honor book by Patrician C. McKissack, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
--O'Sullivan Stew, by Hudson Talbott
--Ouch! retold by the wonderful Natalie Babbitt, illustrated by Fred Marcellino
--Puss in Boots, translated by Malcolm Arthur, illustrated by Fred Marcellino
--Snow White, retold by talented middle grade author Josephine Poole, illustrated by Angela Barrett
--Snow White, illustrated by Charles Santore
--Sugar Cane, A Caribbean Rapunzel, by Patricia Storace, illustrated by Raul Colón
--Tam Lin, retold by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Charles Mikolaycak
--The 3 Bears and Goldilocks, retold by Margaret Willey, illustrated by Heather M. Solomon
--The Three Billy Goats Gruff, illustrated by Janet Stevens (note the biggest goat in shades and a black leather motorcycle jacket)
--Three Sacks of Truth, retold by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Robert Rayevsky
--The Tinderbox by Hans Christian Andersen, retold by Stephen Mitchell, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
--Tom Thumb, retold and illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson
--Tops and Bottoms, a Caldecott Honor book illustrated by Janet Stevens
--The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Marianna Mayer, illustrated by Kinuko Craft
--The Twelve Dancing Princesses, illustrated by Jane Ray
--A Weave of Words, retold by Robert D. San Souci, illustrated by Raul Colón
--The Well at the End of the World, retold by Robert D. San Souci, illustrated by Rebecca Walsh
--The Wild Swans, translated by Naomi Lewis, illustrated by Anne Yvonne Gilbert
There are many more, but I'll stop there! For Cinderella variations, see my annotated list in this post: "How Cinderella Got Twittered."
Original Folktales, a Contradiction in Terms
These would be stories by writers who love fairy tales and folktales and have written their own—I've done one myself. Hans Christian Andersen is the most famous such author, with his The Little Mermaid (the original is very sad), The Emperor's New Clothes, and The Snow Queen, among others. I also really like James Thurber's delightful tongue-in-cheek tale, Many Moons, whether illustrated by Louis Slobodkin or Marc Simont. And Jane Yolen has written some books I treasure, most notably Good Griselle and Dove Isabeau.
And then there's Eleanor Farjeon's long and lovely story, Elsie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep, illustrated by Charlotte Voake. Did you know, too, that Ursula K. LeGuin wrote an original picture book folktale? It's got trolls in it! Look for A Ride on the Red Mare's Back, illustrated by Julie Downing. Or perhaps you'd prefer a fairy godmother story by Charles Dickins: The Magic Fish-Bone, illustrated by Robert Florczak.
Collections, Adapted or Academic
Basically, fairy tale collections fall into two categories: adapted collections for children, often used as read-alouds, and lengthy collections of tales for scholars or serious fairy tale fanatics (um, like me!). Just note that a lot of the collections really are for grown-ups, so the stories can be fairly mature, especially when it comes to violence. The Brothers Grimm are famous for that.
Since most of the adapted collections for young readers I own are out of print, let me just recommend that when you choose a collection, you should read some sample stories first to make sure the reteller has a way with words and hasn't completely slaughtered the plots in doing the adapting. The most poetic reteller I've come across is Geraldine McCaughrean, who's done collections of the Greek and Roman myths, for instance. If you want a highly simplified collection, I will suggest DK's A First Book of Fairy Tales, edited by Mary Hoffman and Anne Millard, illustrated by Julie Downing.
Look, too, for collections of stories from different countries. As a child, I loved my collection of Japanese fairy tales, also the selections from the tales of the Arabian Nights that my grandma gave me for Christmas one year. Now you can get stories from every continent and many individual cultures, as well. For instance, being from Los Angeles, I'm quite fond of Jane Curry's collection of California Indian stories, Back in the Beforetime.
Grimms' Fairy Tales are available in various editions, but a couple of classics are The Juniper Tree, selected and illustrated by Maurice Sendak, and Tales from Grimm and More Tales from Grimm, illustrated by Wanda Gág of Millions of Cats fame.
For those of you who worry that the fairy tales are all about guy heroes, with passive princesses around every corner, try these feisty feminist collections: Tatterhood and Other Tales and The Maid of the North, both edited by Ethel Johnston Phelps; Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters, edited by Kathleen Ragan; and Not One Damsel in Distress, collected and retold by Jane Yolen, with illustrations by Susan Guevara. (The Phelps books are for older children, the Ragan collection seems geared toward adults, and the Yolen collection is for kids in about 3rd-6th grades, I'd say.)
Of course, I can scarcely mention fairy tale collections without referring you to Andrew Lang's classic series, named by color: The Red Fairy Book, The Blue Fairy Book, The Yellow Fairy Book, etc. These are densely told, so are not necessarily appealing to all of today's younger readers, but you sure get a lot of stories. Older kids with a strong interest in fairy tales might go for these.
In addition, I would suggest you get your hands on Jane Yolen's comprehensive collection for grown-ups and older children: Favorite Folktales from Around the World.
The Rise of the Retelling
I am happy to report that when one door closes, another door opens. Or maybe a window. Sorry for the cliché, but it does apply in this case—the demise of the picture book fairy tale in contemporary publishing coincides rather uncoincidentally with another trend, the rise of fairy tale retellings for middle grade and young adult readers. It's like when you're watching Peter Pan and everyone yells, "I do believe in fairies!" I won't make a lengthy list here, but a few key titles are Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine and Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. See also Adam Gidwitz's new book, A Tale Dark and Grimm, which deliberately incorporates some of the Grimms' gorier tales into a single long story starring Hansel and Gretel, here re-imagined as a prince and princess.
The retelling trend is heartening, as is the knowledge that publishing decisions come in waves—and that our libraries already contain a treasure house of picture book folk- and fairy tales. Long live the fairy tale, in whatever shape it takes during the next century!
Note #1: On Monday, I'll be hosting a discussion of fairy tale retellings over at the Enchanted Inkpot.
Note #2: The definitions of the terms "fairy tale" and "folktale" overlap, but the latter refers specifically to stories collected from the oral tradition and more recently has been used, I think, to refer to stories about animals or those tales beloved of smaller children, such as Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Billy Goats Gruff, The Three Little Pigs, and Goldilocks and The Three Bears. In popular usage at least, fairy tales have come to mean mostly the princess tales, especially the classics coopted by Disney—Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Snow White. Fairy tales also tend to feature magical powers and spells, more than the simple inclusion of talking animals. It may interest you to know that in the original story, Rapunzel is not actually about a princess, despite the long golden hair and her depiction as a princess in the new Disney movie, Tangled. (On a historical note, the French nobility had such a craze for fairy tales during the 1600s that some of the aristocrats wrote their own, though these often ramble, tending to be more courtly than well plotted. Madame d'Aulnoy is the best known of these writers.)
Note #3: See also my annotated roundup of trickster tales from earlier this year.
Note for Worried Parents: Trina Schart Hyman's illustrations occasionally show semi-nude female figures, e.g., in the wood carvings. Jane Ray's folk art-style versions sometimes include breast-feeding women. And Grimms' tales, if not adapted, are pretty darn grim, with violence, child abandonment, betrayal, cannibalism, etc.
Update #1: At her blog, Seven Miles of Steel Thistles, YA fantasy writer Katherine Langrish has been asking guest authors to talk about their favorite fairy tales. This week's guest is the marvelous Megan Whalen Turner. And look back over the previous ten posts in the series! (Thanks to ccwtaylor of Sounis for the link.)
Update #2: Check out this article by Marjorie Ingall in the New York Times Review of Books, "When Stories Had Sharp Teeth," in which she talks about three recent children's books inspired by Grimms' fairy tales.
Update #3: When it comes to the demise of the fairy tale (in general, not in picture book publishing!), folk- and fairy tale expert Jack Zipes begs to differ. Thanks to Amy of Amy's Library of Rock for the link to this article.
Update #4: Bildungsroman has posted a terrific list of fairy tale retellings!