Whether or not you agree that there are "no new stories," there are certainly stories that beg to be retold again and again. Fairy tale retellings are a testament to how much we love updating timeless tales in innovative, exciting ways.
Children, in particular, need fairy tales, and it's safe to say we never grow out of them. So why not indulge in these creative spins on favorite fairy tales? The target audience may be kids ages 8-14, but adults, both young and old can enjoy them, too.
Although certain elements of fairy tales cross cultural boundaries, this book list primarily features retellings of European fairy tales, although not all the settings are identifiably western.
Choose a Tale:
- Hansel and Gretel
- The Pied Piper of Hamlin
- East of the Sun, West of the Moon
- Jack and the Beanstalk
- The Snow Queen
- Baba Yaga
- Little Red Riding Hood
- Peter Pan
- Snow White and Rose Red
- Beauty and the Beast
- The Wild Swans
- The Frog Prince
- The Twelve Dancing Princesses
- Maid Maleen
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
- Puss in Boots
- The Goose Girl
- The Brave Little Tailor
- Fairy Tale Group Effort
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Hansel and Gretel
THE SINISTER SWEETNESS OF SPLENDID ACADEMY by Nikki Loftin
This is a rather creepy but humorous take on the "Hansel and Gretel" story. When Lorelei and her brother start attending the new school, they find a permissive principal, a ready supply of dessert and the only rule seems to be that everyone must keep eating. Of course the reader will see where this is headed, but who will believe Lorelei's suspicions? A great book for kids who like a little spine tingling read. Ages 9 and up.
A TALE DARK AND GRIMM (series) by Adam Gidwitz
There is definitely some dark imagery in this subversive re-imagining of "Hansel and Gretel." A sly and snarky narrator offers warnings, observations and opinions on the action. The story, in which the siblings journey on to try and find a set of decent parents, somehow manages to merge eight different Grimm fairy tales into one cohesive tale. An engaging story, but not for the faint of heart. Ages 9 and up
RUMP: THE (FAIRLY) TRUE TALE OF RUMPELSTILTSKIN by Liesl Shurtliff
Instead of being the villain, Rump has always felt like half a person because he doesn't even know his full name! He and his grandma scrape by on the meager rations provided by the miller in exchange for the gold he finds in the mine. One day Rump discovers that he can spin straw into gold, but it turns out not to be the blessing that he thought it might be. He goes on a journey to find out who he is and how he can get control over his magic. I thought Rump was a wonderfully drawn character. He had many, many flaws and quite a bit of self-doubt but as a reader I found him relatable. The author does a great job of making a character whom we normally loathe into a sympathetic creature. Ages 8 and up.
MORE: Mermaid Books for Tweens, including retellings of Hans Christian Anderson's "The Little Mermaind"
THE RUMPELSTILTSKIN PROBLEM by Vivian Vande Velde
Although the reader may be tempted to skip over the introductory author's note, they do so at their own peril! In it, the author explains why "Rumpelstiltskin" is such a problematic tale, filled with people who make horrendously bad choices. The rest of this short book is dedicated to six reimaginings of the tale. What makes this collection so enjoyable is Vande Velde's sharp wit and humorous voice. This book will make a great read aloud for middle school children; read one tale each day! Ages 10 and up.
The Pied Piper of Hamlin
THE BRIXEN WITCH by Stacy DeKeyser
Before I picked up this book I would not have thought "The Pied Piper of Hamlin" would be good material for a fairy tale retelling. I suppose that is because as a kid I found the story of children being taken away by a piper quite disturbing! I had a Kate Greenway illustrated copy of the tale and even her pastoral drawings couldn't reconcile me to the tale! Anyhoo.... enough of my childhood fears. Rudi finds a coin on the mountain but it turns out to belong to the witch. He tries to return it so that the witch will not bring down a curse on the village, but he loses it in the snow. Then the RATS show up, followed by a strange man who promises to get rid of them for a price -- Rudi's gold coin. There's some bits about RAT catching. There was a surprising amount of both humor and depth in this tale (you'd need it to balance out the RATS - did I mention their are RATS?) and if you have a son who has succumbed to the "fairy tales are for girls" disease, this will be a good book to start his healing process. Ages 8 and up.
East of the Sun, West of the Moon
SUN AND MOON, ICE AND SNOW by Jessica Day George
I've always liked the fairy tale "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" and I've read a couple of novel-length versions of the tale. (I recommend Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer). This one is my favorite. In an effort to save her family, Lass accompanies a polar bear to the North Pole. If she can survive one year and a day, her family will be rewarded with wealth. What she doesn't know, however, is the polar bear is hiding a secret. Ages 9 and up.
Jack and the Beanstalk
JACK: THE (FAIRLY) TRUE STORY OF JACK AND THE BEANSTALK by Liesl Shurtliff
The story draws upon both "Jack and the Beanstalk" and "Jack the Giant Killer." Jack climbs up the titular plant to rescue his Papa, who has been stolen by the giants in the midst of a famine and ruled over by a greedy, gold-hoarding king with a chicken that lays golden eggs. Shurtliff's inventive twists and the way she weaves in references to popular fairy tales and nursery rhymes is ingenious. Ages 9 and up.
MIGHTY JACK (series) by Ben Hatke
In this wonderful adventure graphic novel series, the titular hero lives with his mother and autistic sister, Maddy. At a flea market he trades his mother's car for a box of seeds and thus the adventure begins. Fans of Hatke's popular Zita the Spacegirl series will particularly enjoy this trilogy and spotting the crossover characters. Ages 8 and up.
The Snow Queen
BREADCRUMBS by Anne Ursu
Breadcrumbs is inspired by Hans Christian Andersson's The Snow Queen." Families will love to spot the literary references and will also be reminded of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Hazel and Jack are friends, but one day when Jack gets a piece of glass in his eye he is whisked away by a strange, evil woman to a land of snow. Hazel sets out on a journey to find her friend and return home. Ages 8 and up.
OPHELIA AND THE MARVELOUS BOY by Karen Foxlee
This "Snow Queen" adaptation is quite different from Breadcrumbs. I listened to the audiobook while my then-6 year old kept interrupting with lots of questions about Miss Kaminski, who was clearly the evil queen. Most of the action takes place in a museum, where Ophelia's father works and the marvelous boy has been locked away by the queen. Ophelia must find a way to rescue him before the Snow Queen unleashes her wrath upon the world. She faces trials in the museum rooms and corridors and must overcome bizarre obstacles like a Spanish conquistador, the misery bird and even child ghosts. Ophelia begins the book with a healthy dose of skepticism towards magic, but learns to overcome her mistrust of things she cannot understand. Ages 9 and up.
THE HOUSE WITH CHICKEN LEGS by Sophie Anderson
Marinka is coming up on her 13th birthday and although she knows she is destined to become the next Yaga, she is resentful and wants the freedom to chose her own destiny. She doesn't like the solitary, nomadic life she lives with her grandmother, helping to usher the dead through The Gate into the afterlife. When she wanders too far away from her house one day she learns a life-changing secret about her existence. However, when her grandmother travels through The Gate to help a soul and doesn't return, Marinka must figure out how to both control and fill her own destiny. I adored this inventive new and uplifting interpretation of the Slavic "Baba Yaga" folktale, which breaks the mold of Yaga as villain. Ages 9 and up.
THE DOOR IN THE STAIRCASE by Katherine Marsh
This is a fascinating novelization of Baba Yaga, a Russian folk tale. The suspense will keep your child turning the pages long into the night. (Try to encourage them to get a little sleep, though.) 12-year-old Mary is taken away from her orphanage by the mysterious Madame Z. Madame Z is full of secrets and lives in a curious house. In town, Mary befriends Jacob, a magician's assistant. When they learn the true identity of Madame Z they must work together to escape her power. Ages 9 and up.
Little Red Riding Hood
HAMRA AND THE JUNGLE OF MEMORIES by Hanna Alkaf
Set in Malaysia during pandemic lockdown, Alkaf's engaging story follows the fortunes of 13-year-old Hamra. Hamra is at home, looking after her grandparents while her father works for an aid organization. Her grandmother has been starting to wander and have trouble with her memory and Hamra hopes a special fruit from the Langkawi jungle will help. When she picks the fruit, she angers the weretiger and must enter into a bargain that takes her on a difficult physical and emotional journey. Ages 9 and up.
RED: THE (FAIRLY) TRUE TALE OF RED RIDING HOOD by Liesl Shurtliff
In Red, readers will also spot elements of "Snow White and Rose Red" and cross-over characters from Shurtliff's other fairy tale retellings. Red's Granny is ill so Red sets out with her friend, Goldie (yes, the one of three bears fame) to find the magic that grants eternal life. Readers will also meet Wolf, who might not be such a villain after all. Ages 9 and up.
SISTERS OF THE NEVERSEA by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Lily and Wendy are stepsisters, but also friends. One night, during story time with their younger brother, Michael, Peter and the fairy Belle arrive and invite them to Neverland. One sister is eager to go. The other turns down the offer, but Peter's shadow convinces her to follow them. Cynthia Leitich Smith has crafted a truly marvelous re-envisioning of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan story centered around a blended Muskogee Creek and British family.
PETER AND THE STARCATCHERS (series) by Dave Berry and Ridley Pearson
My son's 5th grade teacher started reading this aloud to the class and we finished it up at home after school let out. It is a prequel to Barrie's Peter Pan books and stage play, although the world building is not meant to be exactly aligned with the original. Orphaned boys, pirates, treasure, an isolated island and a ship called Never Land set the scene for how Peter became Pan. Side note: the Broadway production of play was amazing. Ages 10 and up.
Snow White and Rose Red
SNOW & ROSE by Emily Winfield Martin
Savvy fairy tale fans know that "Snow White and Rose Red," and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" are completely different fairy tales. This gorgeously illustrated fairy tale chapter book is the story of two sisters, one timid and one a "wild tangle." After the disappearance of their father, their mother withdraws with grief. The girls venture into the woods, where they meet Ivo, a boy who tells them of the "Menace of the Woods" and a cranky old man who they must rescue from curious scrapes again and again. Ages 8 and up.
PRINCESS OF THE WILD SEA by Megan Frazer Blackmore
Princess Harbor Rose was cursed as a baby and lives on an isolated island with her mother and magical aunts. The curse predicted she would prick her finger and die, but as in the original tale, it was mitigated by magic so that she would fall asleep and a hero would arrive to save her and the kingdom. That premise is where the similarities with Disney's Sleeping Beauty end. What follows is an original and magical tale about learning to see the truth and what it means to be a hero. Ages 9 and up.
THORNWOOD (series) by Leah Cypess
I thoroughly enjoyed this reworking of "Sleeping Beauty." Free-spirited Briony is the younger sister of Princess Rosalin, her beautiful and cursed sister. When the curse unleashes its spell and everyone in the castle falls asleep, Briony is the first to awake–just in time to see the prince plant one on her sister. But things are not as they seem and Briony is determined to set things right. Ages 9 and up.
ELLA ENCHANTED by Gail Carson Levine
This is the most well known of Gail Carson Levine's novels. She has loads of fairy tale books, so if you like this one, plug her name into the library catalog and take home a stack of her books. Ella is given the "gift" of obedience, which gets her into all sorts of trouble, not least because she is strong willed. Determined to break the curse she sets out and has a much more exciting adventure than Charles Perrault's Cinderella ever had. Ages 9 and up.
ALLIANA GIRL OF DRAGONS by Julie Abe
This is a wonderful retelling of "Cinderella" with Japanese elements. After her father falls into the abyss, Alliana is forced to live with her stepmother and step-siblings, working in the family inn, run by her mean-spirited relatives. Alliana dreams of escaping and attending the Regional Ball where she might be chosen for the Royal Academy. She befriends a young witch, Nela Evergreen, and rescues a nightdragon hatchling. Together they take a risk that might help Alliana reach her dreams. Ages 9 and up.
Beauty and the Beast
OGRE ENCHANTED by Gail Carson Levine
Honestly, the more I read "Beauty and the Beast" retellings, the more I dislike the original fairy tale. However, I can get behind Ogre, Enchanted! The fairy Lucinda was watching when Evie rejects a marriage proposal and as a punishment curses the 15-year-old by transforming her into a hideous ogre. Moreover, Evie has only 62 days to accept a marriage proposal or she will have to stay an ogre forever. She infiltrates a band of ogres in the hopes of learning the art of persuasion so she can get someone else to propose to her. Things don't go smoothly as she must endure the prejudices of the villagers, despite her charitable healing ministrations towards them. The author also credits the fairy tale, "The False Prince and the True" for inspiration. Ages 9 and up.
The Wild Swans
THE FLIGHT OF THE SWANS by Sarah McGuire
I read a lot of middle grade books and even when I love them, I don’t usually have a problem putting them down and walking away for a bit, but I could not do that with The Flight of the Swans! I was captivated by this retelling of the Grimm fairy tale, “Six Swans.” Princess Ryn’s new stepmother has bewitched the King and when she threatens to kill Ryn’s six brothers, Ryn bargains for their lives by agreeing to stay silent for six years. The evil queen then turns the brothers into swans and Ryn sets out on a six year quest to save them. Ages 9 and up.
PRINCESS OF THE WILD SWANS by Diane Zahler
Zahler fairy tale chapter book is an excellent choice for younger middle grade readers who will immediately recognize Hans Christian Anderson's "The Wild Swans," and the Brothers Grimm's "The Six Swans" (although here there are only five) in its pages. Princess Meriel's evil stepmother transforms Meriel's five brothers into swans. In order to break the spell, Meriel must sew five shirts from stinging nettles, while remaining silent. Fortunately, she also has the help of two new friends, one of whom is a half-witch. Ages 8 and up.
The Frog Prince
FROGGED by Vivian Vande Velde
Frogged, as you may have guessed, is a retelling of "The Frog Prince". Princess Imogene's mother is making her read a horrid book titled, The Art of Being a Princess. When she wanders down to a pond, a frog convinces her to kiss him. The frog, however, not only does not turn into a prince (he turns into smart-aleck peasant), but the spell reverses and Imogene turns into a frog! The only way to turn back into a princess is to dupe someone into kissing her, thus casting the frog spell on another unsuspecting person. But Imogen worries about the ethics of that! I loved the way Imogene the frog gets taken on a hilarious adventure with a theater troupe, and the memorable and not-a-little bit crazy characters will keep you reading to the end. Ages 8 and up.
FROGKISSER! by Garth Nix
This is a great book for fantasy fans who want an advanced fairy tale read by don't get want the story lines bogged down in romance. Princess Anya must go on a quest to find the ingredients to a Transmorgification Reversal Lip Balm as well as escape the devious plans of her stepfather, Duke Rikard. Her talking dog, Ardent, accompanies her on her adventure, which is full of twists, turns, curious and fascinating characters and lots of laughs. It is not a pure retelling of "The Frog Prince," and fairy tale fans will recognize many fairy tale elements. Ages 10 and up.
GROUNDED: THE ADVENTURES OF RAPUNZEL (Tyme series) by Megan Morrison
Rapunzel has been brainwashed into thinking that the witch is her kind, benevolent mother. When Jack appears at her window one day, desperate to complete a task that will save his sister, Rapunzel becomes confused. She no longer knows who to believe. She ends up leaving her tower of safety with Jack in order to help him and discovers not just her identity, but how strong and talented she truly is. Ages 9 and up.
THE LOST KINGDOM OF BAMARRE by Gail Carson Levine
Gail Carson Levine takes several key elements of "Rapunzel" and weaves them into a wholly original and captivating tale of a young woman who is discovering her identity and reevaluating all that she has learned to value growing up. Peregrine, taken from her family as a baby because her father took greens from a garden, is raised to believe she is Lakti. When her adopted father learns of her origin, he locks her, and her rapidly growing hair, in a tower. After escaping with the help of several magical objects she sets about on a plan to release the Bamarre from the oppressive grip of the ruling Lakti. Ages 9 and up.
The Twelve Dancing Princesses
THE PRINCESS CURSE by Merrie Haskell
The princesses of Sylvania are under a curse that forces them to spend their nights dancing. Reveka, an herbalist apprentice, seeks to find the key to breaking the curse so she can collect the large reward and open her own herbery. So far, everyone who has attempted to break the curse has either disappeared or fallen asleep. Reveka's journey to the "Sunless House" underground to solve the dancing princess mystery is dangerous, indeed. I enjoyed the combination of humor, suspense and magic! Ages 10 and up.
BOOK OF A THOUSAND DAYS by Shannon Hale
This is an adaptation of Grimms' fairy tale, "Maid Maleen." In the steppes region, a mucker, Dashti, volunteers to be shut up in a tower with Lady Saren. Lady Saren has refused to wed the man her father has chosen for her. In the tower, Dashti and Saren survive, but Saren's mental health deteriorates and Dashti plays her Lady's role. They finally escape the tower and Dashti's perseverance and cleverness save the girls. Ages 11 and up.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
FAIREST by Gail Carson Levine
You may have noticed there are a lot of Gail Carson Levine books on this list! In this remake of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," the Snow White figure, Aza, is not a princess, nor is she pretty. Instead, she has the most beautiful singing voice. At the castle, the king's beautiful new bride, Ivi, forces Aza into a Cyrano situation in which Aza must "throw" her voice so that everyone thinks that Ivi is melodic, as well as lovely. The opportunity to obtain a pretty face with the help of a magic mirror creates a dilemma for Aza who has to decide what her most valuable qualities actually are. Ages 8 and up.
SNOW WHITE by Matt Phelan
This utterly gorgeous graphic novel whisks readers away to Jazz Age and Depression Era New York. Samantha White's stepmother is the Queen of the Follies; her father the King of Wall Street; the mirror is a mysterious stock market ticker tape. Much of the story is told in wordless panels, inviting a closer look at the illustrations and drawing readers to contemplate themes of jealousy and power. Stunning. Ages 9 and up.
Puss in Boots
A TALE OF TWO CASTLES (series) by Gail Carson Levine
Lodie leaves her home island for the big city of Two Castles. Lodie's parents think she is to become a weaver, Lodie really wants to be an actor, but she ends up as the apprentice to the dragon, Masteress Meenore, who is also a detective. The pair begin to investigate mysterious goings-on at the ogre Count Jonty Um's castle. Great fun, humor and suspense! Ages 9 and up.
The Goose Girl
GOOSE CHASE by Patrice Kindl
Goose Chase, with elements of "Rapunzel," "Diamonds and Toads," "The Wild Swans," and other fairy stories, is more of a fairy tale mash-up than a simple retelling of Grimm's "The Goose Girl." However, it is so delightfully hilarious with the most charming heroine ever, I could not help but include it here. After she shows an old woman kindness, the woman bestows three gifts on the goose girl, Alexandria Aurora Fortunato. Those gifts, coupled with her beauty, make her the marriage target of royalty. Alexandria finds this all so annoying, but the reader will find her adventures hilarious. Ages 10 and up.
THE GOOSE GIRL (Books of Bayern series) by Shannon Hale
The four novels in the Bayern series starts with a fantastic reimagining of the fairy tale, "The Goose Girl." Ani is born with the gift of understanding and speaking with animals. She is send to the neighboring kingdom but along the way her servant abandons her and assumes her identity. Each book in the series focuses on a different protagonist tied to the country of Bayern who has a special power they must learn how to control and use effectively. Ages 11 and up.
The Brave Little Tailor
VALIANT by Sarah McGuire
After her father falls ill, it is up to Saville to support the family by continuing on as a tailor. She dresses as a boy in the hopes of getting work from the king. However, giants have been making trouble nearby and when they show up at the city gates, Saville manages to outwit them. Complications ensue when her identity is revealed but Saville is not daunted! Ages 10 and up.
Fairy Tale Group Effort
THE HERO'S GUIDE TO SAVING YOUR KINGDOM (series) by Christopher Healy
Fans of fairy tale adventures, who want to read books similar to The Land of Stories, will enjoy this cheeky and humorous story about the "Prince Charmings." The princes, who now have actual names, have been turned out by their princesses for various reasons of unsuitability. They band together in an effort to prove themselves worthy by defeating Rapunzel's witch. The feisty princesses also make an appearance and by the end of the book it is hard not to laugh out loud at the lovable foolishness of the princes' exploits. Great fun. Ages 8 and up.
HALF UPON A TIME (series) by James Riley
Riley's words might be the series most like The Land of Stories in conceit, but it deserves to be read on its own merits. This the first book in a clever trilogy staring Jack, the son of "Jack of the Beanstalk" fame. Jack, firmly rooted in fairy tale world is trying to restore his family's good name when suddenly May, a "punk princess" with a cell phone falls from the sky. It turns out May's grandmother is Snow White and the two pair up to rescue the kidnapped grandma. Riley brings in material from several familiar fairy tales to create a story that is more of a fractured fairy tale than a retelling per se. But all three books are tons of fun, with humor, and clever plot twists. Ages 8 and up.
THE FAIRY TALE DETECTIVES (The Sisters Grimm series) by Michael Buckley
This series could not be more fun! Sabrina and Daphne Grimm, descendants of the famous Brothers Grimm, live with their grandmother in Ferryport Landing. The entire series is filled with wonderful, reimagined fairy tale characters and madcap humor. In this first book, the sister must solve the mystery of why a giant is on the loose in the town. Ages 10 and up.