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?