Old Story, New Storyteller

August 31, 2006 @ 6:07 am | Filed under: Books

I am midway through Susan Fletcher’s Shadow Spinner, a retelling of the Scheherazade story that provides the framework for the Arabian Nights tales. Thus far: thoroughly enjoyable, a suspenseful and nuanced look at desperation behind the scenes.  Sharahzad, as she is  called in the novel, has been spinning stories to postpone her own execution for over nine hundred nights, and she is running out of tales to tell. If she falters for a night, her husband the Sultan will have her killed the next morning—and her sister is next, most likely. They enlist the help of a crippled girl with a habit of collecting stories, and it is this girl, Marjan, who is spinning the story of her own life for us. I’m completely hooked.

Reading this book has reminded me how much I enjoy fresh renderings of old stories. Ella Enchanted, for example, and Gail Carson Levine’s other fairy-tales-turned-novel. I always think of the phrase coined by Gail Godwin in Father Melancholy’s Daughter: "respectful imagination." In that novel a professor applies the words to the main character’s knack of looking at a historical figure from that person’s point of view, putting herself in his shoes, envisioning the complex and subtle range of circumstances that push and pull on him. In Shadow Spinner, Susan Fletcher is applying that same respectful imagination to Sheherezade and the people around her. I’m dying to know what happens next.

With so many great lists floating around the kidlitosphere lately—Jen Robinson’s Cool Boys and Cool Girls of Children’s Literature lists and A Year of Reading’s list of Cool Teachers, to name a few—I thought the time was a ripe to start a list of good contemporary retellings of old tales. What are your favorites?


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Comments

9 Responses | | Comments Feed

  1. Hi Lissa. Thanks so much for that link to cool boys. I’ve started a Christmas list for my son from it.

    Have you read any of Gregory Maguire’s books? My favorite is Wicked (the Wizard of Oz from the Wicked Witch of the West’s POV), although Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister was pretty good too.

  2. My husband has been trying to get me to read “The Camulod Chronicles” by Jack Whyte. A retelling of the stories of Camelot. The first book is “The Skystone”. This series is historical fiction, which lays the groundwork for the Arthur stories, starting with Britain at the time of Roman occupation, pre-dating the invasion of the Picts, Celts and Saxons. Although these are great stories, they may not be appropriate for young readers.

  3. Great list idea! I will have to think about it and come back.

  4. Beauty by Robin McKinley (Beauty and the Beast)
    Till We have Faces by C.S. Lewis (for adults, not children–Cupid and Psyche)
    A King Must Die by Mary Renault (also for adults–Theseus)
    The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

  5. I would say that for adults the books by Gregory Maguire are great. I just finished re-reading “Wicked” – and still loved it. But my favorite of his is “Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister”. For younger readers I love Gail Carson Levine’s adaptations. She’s got a new one coming out that is the retelling of Snow White – and is set in the same world as Ella Enchanted.

  6. Thanks for linking to the cool girls and cool boys again, Lissa! I’m going to be posting some updates to those lists soon.

    And I think that your idea is a good one. I was just watching Disney’s Beauty and the Beast last night, and wondering, “are there any books that re-tell that story? And shouldn’t there be?”

    I second Sherry’s suggestion of The Goose Girl. But that’s all I can think of at the moment. I’ll keep an eye out.

  7. Obviously I’m way to late to be the first one to say, “GOOSE GIRL!!!”

    Thanks for the mention of the Cool Teachers list. Suggestions keep dribbling in. I need to see what my students think.

  8. Some picture books for you:

    The Principal’s New Clothes, by Stephanie Calmenson (Funny!)

    Leola and the Honeybears, by Melodye Rosales (based on The Three Bears)

    I’ll look at the bookshelves and see if I see any others.

  9. Hi– I followed a link over from Jen Robinson’s Book Page, and this is a topic near & dear to my heart! If you’re looking for depth, I’d suggest checking out http://www.surlalunefairytales.com — Heidi Anne Heimer has done a terrific job listing contemporary retellings for each annotated tale.

    Besides those already mentioned, a few quick faves:
    Bound, Donna Jo Napoli (Cinderella), also Beast (Beauty &)
    Fairest, Gail Carson Levine (Snow White)
    East, Edith Pattou (East of the Sun & West of the Moon)
    Briar Rose, Jane Yolen (Sleeping Beauty)
    Enchantment, Orson Scott Card (also Sleeping Beauty)

    and in the “teaser” department, the forthcoming Charlotte Miller by Elizabeth Bunce (Rumpletstiltskin)

    happy reading!