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Early/Young Readers, Fairy/Folk/Tall Tale, Middle Grade Readers

STRAW INTO GOLD FAIRY TALES RE-SPUN by Hilary McKay

I was excited to come across Straw Into Gold on the library shelves. I have loved fairytales since I was a little girl. By the time I was six years old I had read through the huge volume The Complete Fairytales of the Brothers Grimm multiple times.  I am thrilled to find clever new retellings of classic (and lesser-known) fairy tales; I absolutely delight in smart, funny parodies or fractured fairytale versions. Unfortunately, Straw Into Gold was disappointing for me.

McKay retells several familiar fairytales: Rapunzel, Snow White, Cinderella, The Pied Piper, etc. but the stories and characters are actually changed very little.  Fairy tales are usually populated by broad characters that have specifically defined traits. One reason adults are sometimes critical of fairy tales is that they often employ archetypes, stories and characters on either end of a dialectic:  good or evil, lazy or hardworking, clever or stupid, etc. Thoughts and ideas tend to be very concrete with little to no room for abstract thinking. I think that’s probably one of the reasons I personally enjoy the genre; I struggle with black-and-white thinking in much of my daily life and am relieved to read something where that particular obstacle has been removed for me.

This is probably the root of why I didn’t enjoy Straw Into Gold. The new tales felt watered down to me. In stories where characters were added (Snow White) they were uninteresting and added nothing to the story, which became a morality lesson used by a parent to effect a change in her child’s behavior rather than a story of its own. Some of the new versions altered the original story in a way that made it into a sad recounting (Rumpelstiltskin) with no consequence for malicious behavior. This is absolutely true in real life, but–for me–defeats the purpose and structure of the fairy tale itself.

My mother would have preferred Straw Into Gold to the actual Grimm’s Fairy Tales–as she often refused to read some of the more violent parts of the stories, feeling they were inappropriate for young children. If your goal is to read aloud to your children from a book of fairy tales that does not contain the bite of the original stories, Straw Into Gold is a good option. The stories are softer and more palatable. (In my opinion they are also more boring.)

If, however, you revel in the elements of the original fairy tale genre, I highly recommend instead: Marisa Meyers’ Lunar Chronicles series beginning with Cinder (Middle grade/YA/Adult read), The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales & Dangerous Magic by Leigh Bardugo (YA), The League of Princes series by Christopher Healy beginning with The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom (middle grade) or Adam Gidwitz’s A Tale Dark and Grimm trilogy(middle grade–but warning that this one is hilarious but more in the original vein of Grimm’s Brothers when it comes to violent consequences for bad behavior).

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