I recently read Liesl Shurtliff’s series of fairytale retellings for children. The books retell, in order, Rumpelstiltskin (Rump), Jack and the Beanstalk (Jack), Red Riding Hood (Red), and Snow White (Grump). However, they bring in elements of multiple other fairytales. So for instance, Red Riding Hood’s grandmother is Rose Red from the less-retold tale of “Snow White and Rose Red.” All four books take place in the same fantasy world, with interconnected characters.
My personal favorites were Red – particularly the friendship between Red and Goldilocks - and Grump, with its worldbuilding of a dwarf society. Another interesting element was how we see the point of view swap of Rumpelstiltskin – first in Rump from the title character in Rump, then in Jack from the queen who bargained with him, who is rather foolish but also manages to be sympathetic.
I was also delighted by just how many stories Shurtliff combined to create Jack, and how creatively and seamlessly it came together. It borrows from “Tom Thumb” and “Thumbelina,” and maybe I'm reading into it but I even recognized a touch of “Thumbling the Giant” with the Tom Thumb character being kidnapped by a giant.
Shurtliff is great at setting up endearing characters and readable stories. I felt the character of Jack was hardest to get invested in. Shurtliff was clearly going for a depiction of a troublesome young boy, but he was a little too obnoxious and dumb for me to really enjoy his point of view.
Also, this is more personal, but one of my pet peeves is when fairytale retellings focus on the Disney renditions. Grump has several nods to Disney's 1937 animated film – most notably including Grumpy the dwarf. However, Shurtliff shows off plenty of knowledge of the original tales, such as the apple being half red and half white as in the Grimm story. And I liked the story enough to forgive the Disney references.
Overall, these books are simple, quick reads that I found to be enjoyable and creative adaptations. A great series for middle-grade readers.
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Researching folktales and fairies, with a focus on common tale types.