Friday Fifteen

Holy cow, this week got away from me. Another Friday Fifteen already! Here are this week’s book reviews in fifteen words or fewer.

1. Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody
Read in a high school class about the 60s; powerful in any history class.

2. Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins by Emma Donoghue
Short story adaptations of fairy tales. Mostly I remember the fairy tale-crossover transitions.

3. The Ersatz Elevator (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #6) by Lemony Snicket
First time I remember encountering the word ‘ersatz.’ Enjoyed the depiction of the elevator shaft.

4. Ask the Passengers by A.S. King
Quieter than I expected, but in a good way. Touching story, beautiful writing.

5. The Doorbell Rang by Pat Hutchins
Everyone wants to come over when you’re making cookies.

Links Galore

A few links for today:

Links Galore

A few more links for today:

Law School, Cannibalism, and Heath Ledger: What You May Not Know About the Brothers Grimm

You may know the stories, but do you know the Brothers Grimm? Check out the fun trivia in this video from AbeBooks:

I was curious to hear about the editing to stories like Rapunzel. We tend to think Disney tones down classic fairy tales for family audiences, but apparently the Grimms felt that some versions were a bit too scandalous as well.

Links Galore

A few more cool links for today:

Adaptations and What We Bring to Them

I love adaptations of classic tales. Fairy tale adaptations like Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl, or takes on Shakespear ala Something Rotten by Alan Gratz always gets my attention. But what makes a good adaptation? On her blog today, Mary Kole looks at that exact issue and why an adaptation has to be its own story as well. I love this description of making an old story new:

“She didn’t just tinker with the original, she took the entire thing apart, repainted it, and put it back together her own way. An adaptation in today’s market takes nothing less.”

The adaptation in question is Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, which I haven’t read yet (I know, I know), but even from the description it sounds like a really fun, unique, compelling take on the Cinderella story. Another one I love is Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. Even that’s a little more on the “traditional” site (there are fairy godmothers and princes), but it takes the Cinderella story to the next level by giving Ella a physical and emotional journey.

It’s always good to ask yourself “Why does this story need to be told? And why does it need to be told this way?” But it’s especially important when dealing with adaptations. Shakespeare already told us about Hamlet. Why do we need another Hamlet story? And is your Hamlet story going to be different than Something Rotten or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead? It adds another layer of pressure onto the author, but it can lead to some rich and engaging new takes on old tales. I find it exciting to be told the same story from another point of view or with another layer added to it. Just make sure you’re still writing your own story.

Darkness and Hope: the History of Fairy Tales

Very interesting article about fairy tales by Joan Acocella over at the New Yorker. One part I found especially interesting:

“The main reason that Zipes likes fairy tales, it seems, is that they provide hope: they tell us that we can create a more just world. The reason that most people value fairy tales, I would say, is that they do not detain us with hope but simply validate what is. Even people who have never known hunger, let alone a murderous stepmother, still have a sense—from dreams, from books, from news broadcasts—of utter blackness, the erasure of safety and comfort and trust. Fairy tales tell us that such knowledge, or fear, is not fantastic but realistic.

I wonder if fairy tales have to be hopeful or realistic. Many tales end with the villain defeated (even if it’s a violent manner, ala The Goose Girl), which suggests hope. Maybe it’s not as bright as Zipes would like, but I think it balances with the realism and darkness Acocella mentions. Cruelty and violence are real. We need to confront the world and its violence. But I think folktales also reference how goodness can prevail, even if death is inevitable.

Make sure to check out the whole article through the link. Lots of engaging history and literary criticism.

(image: Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. Mrs. Edgar Lucas, translator. Arthur Rackham, illustrator. London: Constable & Company Ltd, 1909, via SurLaLune Fairy Tales)

Old Stories, New Books

Every year at my high school we had an awards assembly, at which students would be recognized for particular talents. The awards were usually based off academic departments or sports teams. When I was a senior, I won the Art award. I’m actually not that great an artist (would you like your stick figure drawing?) but I made a lot of projects that involved found objects. I made a purse out of my dad’s old neckties; a sculpture out of old lipstick tubes; a recycled paper book. So it’s probably not surprising that I really enjoy novels that are reworked versions of other stories.

Flavorwire has a great roundup of ten contemporary novels based on classic books. Two of these–His Dark Materials and The Hours–are favorites.

Another reason I like YA is that it’s a genre that tends to have a lot of fun with established material. Obviously fairy tale retellings are huge, but so are takes on other classics. A few years ago I read The Dead Fathers Club by Matt Haig. When I was in high school, I hated Hamlet (why couldn’t he just kill people like Macbeth?!), but The Dead Father’s Club opened me up to a much greater sympathy for the character.

What are you favorite contemporary retellings of classic stories?

Royal Role Models in YA/MG Literature

In response to Disney Princess week, Bailey Shoemaker Richards at SPARK counters with her own list of awesome princesses from MG/YA literature. As Bailey says: “The main characters in these books are, become or interact with princesses, and all of them have to deal with the implications of femininity in their own worlds.”

I have to admit: I was crazy about Ariel, Belle, and the other Disney princesses when I was little, and I think these characters still have a lot to offer girls. But when the princess line is marketed as just focusing on the fact that these ladies are princesses and wear pretty dresses, that’s a problem.

Bailey’s list includes three of my favorite MG fantasy heroines: Ella from Ella Enchanted, Cimorene from The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and Alanna from The Song of the Lioness. All such awesome choices and complex characters outside of being royalty or near royalty. Bailey talks about each character and what makes her compelling, so click through to read more.

A couple of other suggestions I’d add:

Ani (aka Isi) from The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
This is one of my favorite fairy tale adaptations. Ani has a hard time being a princess and manages to find her own strength when her position is challenged. I love seeing Ani’s progression from awkward and uncertain to a confident, sensitive leader. (Shannon Hale has a bunch of other strong female characters in fairy tale adaptations, so Ani stands in for them as well.)

Beauty from Beauty by Robin McKinley
I especially like Beauty’s relationship with her family in McKinley’s retelling. In the original tale, Beauty’s sisters are selfish and spoiled, but here the family gets along well. Leaving them behind means a lot for Beauty, and I like how McKinley reinforces Beauty’s quiet bravery.

Who are your favorite women from MG/YA fantasty?