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Classic and Fractured Fairy Tails

published in The Mercury, July 29, 2012Puss in Boots by Jerry Pinkney

Fairy tales are woven into all our lives, as children and as adults, and they are alive and well in culture, as noted by the popularity of Disney’s Tangled and the adult film this summer, Snow White and the Huntsman.

Reading fairy tales aloud to my own children is an amazing experience. They are hearing these age-old stories for the very first time.  My four-year-old is fond of the three little pigs and the big bad wolf at bedtime, but he makes sure to tell me from the beginning that “the pigs get away and run to the brother’s house, and the wolf tries to go down the chimney, but he gets burnt.” He doesn’t want any surprise endings or alternate tellings where two of the three little pigs get gobbled up.  I always comply, unless we decide to read Jon Scieszka’s The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, because there are hamburgers pictured, and there’s just no way to get around that.

Children first have to hear the classic tale so they can find humor in so many jokes, plays on words, and silly stories that rearrange, twist, retell and “fracture” the classics, from Looney Toons to political cartoons.  Of course, there are as many versions of the “classic” tales as there are retellings, so you still have to pick and choose.  Whenever we get a new Little Red Riding Hood picture book at the library, I jump to the ending to see who gets eaten, or if the woodcutter comes with his axe, or maybe this time Little Red is a wise, feisty gal who tricks the wolf herself.

New editions of classic fairy tales are published constantly.  Some recent titles of note are a reissue of Jan Brett’s Beauty and the Beast, and Jerry Pinkney’s Puss in Boots, coming out this November.  Both Brett and Pinkney are masterful artists, making these perfect picture books to share a first, memorable reading of these tales. I also enjoyed Eric Carle’s Tom Thumb, done in his usual cheery bright colors, and Bernadette Watts’ The Three Little Pigs, which is full of interesting details in the illustrations.

Fractured fairy tales use the basic plot, characters or symbolism of a fairy tale to tell us something new.  Some have a cultural twist, like Senorita Gordita by Helen Ketterman, a new retelling of the gingerbread man with southwestern flavor.  The Emperor’s Cool Clothes by Lee Harper puts a silly spin on this Hans Christian Andersen tale with funny penguins and seals, platinum credit cards and North Pole humor, but the end result is the same – a naked emperor penguin marching down the street.

As seen in the popular Shrek movies, combining characters from several tales always riles things up.  Emile Bravo’s graphic novel for beginning readers, Beauty and the Squat Bears, has no less than seven bears, three pigs, Snow White, Cinderella, a fairy godmother, two princes, a beast and a pumpkin. It also has very funny dialogue, earning it a spot on the 2012 Eisner Awards nominees list.

This summer, six local teens have been working up a “Fractured Fairy Tales” performance, much of it written by themselves, in which they combine fairy tale plots and characters with new storylines and a little pinch of personality from each of them.  Kids can watch this live show on Wednesday at 5:00 in the library auditorium.

The show is framed by two short skits with talking frogs that have strong opinions about some traditional fairy tale phrases. The actors will perform an original tale titled “Fairytale Mash-Up,” which features some of the teens’ favorite characters (including Puss in Sneakers) in a mixed up story of wishes gone wrong.  Young adult librarian Janene Hill says the scenarios for the Mash-Up came strictly from the teenagers. “They had so much fun figuring out what role they wanted to play and deciding what that person would wish for. Kids of all ages will recognize the characters.” Using readers’ theatre techniques and some costuming and sets, the actors will bring their creations to life.  It’s a one-time only performance on August 1st at 5:00, so don’t miss it!

Posted in: Children's Dept, Mercury Column

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