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Picture Books that Provide a Twist on a Traditional Fairy Tale

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Lucas Maxwell

Contributor

Lucas Maxwell has been working with youth in libraries for over fifteen years. Originally from Nova Scotia, Canada, he's been a high school librarian in London, UK for over a decade. In 2017 he won the UK's School Librarian of the Year award and in 2022 he was named the UK Literacy Association's Reading For Pleasure Teacher Champion. He loves Dungeons & Dragons and is the author of Let's Roll: A Guide for Setting up Tabletop Roleplaying Games in Your School or Public Library. You can follow him on Twitter and on his blog.

I am very lucky that I’ve recently been asked to help build the collection of a local Primary (Elementary) school’s library space. This has not been an easy task but it has been one that I’ve really enjoyed working on. When starting out with this endeavour, I tried to ask myself what kinds of books would be most effective when trying to engage with ages 5 to 10.

Two things kept coming back to me time and time again. They will want to laugh and they will want to see themselves in the books that they read. These are two things that I think about a lot as a school librarian. It can be hard, especially in the UK, to find diverse books, particularly when it comes to picture books. When children see their cultures, their families, their religions, and their backgrounds written in genuinely and not as some throwaway tick-box exercise, they can have a real connection with the story.

More importantly, it tells them that their lives and their stories matter. I have really loved gathering books under this premise for the library, and I hope to share a small collection of them with you below, I hope you enjoy reading about them, I highly recommend them all!

Limerick Fairytale by Grainne O'Brien Cover

A Limerick Fairytale by Gráinne O’Brien & Illustrated by Lena Stawowy

A beautiful story about a young prince looking for a princess so he can live out a traditional fairy tale life. There’s just one problem, Limerella isn’t your traditional princess! She has ideas, goals, and aspirations of her own and these may or may not involve the prince. We’ve talked before about funny picture books, and this one needs to be added to your collection of hilarious and heartfelt tales. This is a fantastic twist on Cinderella, a love letter to the city of Limerick, Ireland, and an excellent debut from a wonderful new voice in fiction, do not miss it.

Once Upon a Wild Wood book cover

Once Upon a Wild Wood by Chris Riddell

You’ve heard of Little Red Riding Hood, how about Little Green Rain Cape? No? This is her story as she sets off through a magical forest on the way to meet up with her friend Rapunzel to celebrate Rapunzel’s birthday. Beautifully illustrated by Chris Riddell, it’s a weird and wonderful romp through tales like the Three Little Pigs, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and more. It’s a book that all ages can love because there is a lot of humour and a lot of heart within, a great picture book.

Fearless Fairy Tales cover

Fearless Fairy Tales by Konnie Huq and Illustrated by James Kay

A hilarious new take on a slew of traditional fairy tales. What’s great about all of these tales is that they have a message that can be related to today’s world and the experiences of many people. We have Sleepy Brainy, Robin Hoodlum (who takes from the poor), and we can’t forget Trumplestiltskin, an angry, angry orange little man that wreaks havoc across the land. Taking on misinformation, crime, and much more to ages 5 and up, it’s a great new fairy tale addition to your shelves.

Princess and the Peas book cover

Princess and the Peas by Rachel Himes

This a great new retelling of the traditional Princess and the Pea fairy tale. When Ma Sally’s son starts seeking a wife, she decides to get the potential candidates to the cooking test. Can these three women cook as good as his mother? Not likely! Then, when a surprise guest appears with her own ideas on marriage and the competition, things get even more complicated. The new guest just might want some time to get to know the son before committing to anything as serious as marriage. It’s a superb tale for all ages.

Too Many Pigs and One Big Bad Wolf Cover

Too Many Pigs and One Big Bad Wolf by Davide Cali Illustrated by Marianna Balducci

Greatest opener for a picture book ever? The pigs get eaten right away, story over, right? Wrong, the readers demand another telling of this story! An amazing way to teach kids counting skills while having them doubled over in laughter. As the stories get more and more ridiculous, and the pigs kept getting eaten, this book combines the best of both worlds. Simple, effective, and wonderful storytelling, this is a book that if you have young children, you’ll be coming back to time and time again.

Twelve Dancing Princesses cover

The Twelve Dancing Princesses by Rachel Isadora

This classic Brothers’ Grimm fairy tale has been given a big upgrade in Isadora’s version set in Africa. Every night the 12 princesses wear out their shoes. What is this mystery all about? What is happening, who can solve it? By changing the narrative and especially the setting, it creates a fresh take on this story that new and old readers will really love. Beautifully illustrated, it helps young children empathise with others and is a mirror for those who deserve to see themselves in the books they read.

Hansel and Gretel Cover

Hansel & Gretel by Beth Woollvin

This is awesome, no bones about it. Hansel and Gretel are little terrors who demolish the poor “witch’s” house. The witch, named Willow is actually a very good witch. Hansel and Gretel eat all of her amazing food, destroy her precious magical flasks, turn the cat into a giant meowing monster, and much, much more. It’s pure chaotic joy from a picture book great. It’s all up to Willow to end the madness and restore things to the way they used to be, hilarious fairy tale that needs to be read ASAP.

Ninja Red Riding Hood Cover

Ninja Red Riding Hood by Corey Rosen Schwartz, Illustrated by Dan Santat

In this new take on a mix of great fairy tales, the three little pigs have been busy. No, they haven’t been building houses out of various construction materials. They’ve been spreading their ninja skills across the land, teaching everyone how to be punching, kicking machines. Wolf feels a little paranoid about this, so he takes it upon himself to learn some ninja skills himself. Who should be his first victim? He decides it would be wise to test his stuff out on Little Red Riding Hood and her defenseless grandmother. Piece of cake, right?

Beauty and the Beast Cover

Beauty and the Beast by H. Chuku Lee, Illustrated by Pat Cummings

Set in West Africa, this is a stunning new take on the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale. Using beautiful imagery, architecture, clothing, and natural wonders, it is a feast for the eyes. This is what makes the story stand out, it follows the traditional storyline of Beauty and the Beast but the setting is truly unique, making it something that exists beyond the regular story. Another fairy tale that is essential in helping youth see themselves in the stories that they read and an important addition to the world of fairy tales and folklore.


I hope you have enjoyed seeing these amazing picture books! There are loads out there that you can discover, it’s always great to see all the different takes on these fairy tales!