Enchanted Stories

I’m guilty of having a very, very long list of books that I’d like to read. Most of the great middle-grade books that I write about are books I did not read as a kid. I found them first as an adult. I missed so many great books as a kid that I’m forever trying to catch up now. Ella Enchanted has been on my list for years, but for varying reasons, I’ve just never gotten to it. But this week I knew I had to read it.

The reason? In the process of choosing books to present in What’s New In Children’s Literature, I discovered that Gail Carson Levine is releasing a new book, a prequel to Ella Enchanted.

Ella Enchanted is about Ella, a young teen who has lived her life cursed to be obedient. Ella must do what she is ordered, but being spirited, she finds ways to outwit the curse without breaking it. Her curse was a gift from a meddling fairy named Lucinda. Lucinda likes to give these gifts at proposals, weddings, births and funerals.

Ella Enchanted is actually a retelling of Cinderella, though how I missed this escapes me. (If ever there was a moment to slap my forehead and say “duh!”, it’s now.) Ella’s enchantment has been a secret all of her life, but because of her father’s greed, she must face life with evil stepsisters and an awful stepmother.

Ella is a fabulous character. She has strength, resilience and courage that allow her to befriend Prince Char. Her adventures teach her how much she is capable of, and the question comes to her: is she strong enough to break her own curse?

Ogre Enchanted is a prequel, taking place one generation before Ella’s story. In this story, we meet Evie, a teenaged healer who says “no” to her best friend Wormy’s marriage proposal. Unfortunately, Lucinda is present and decides to turn Evie into an ogress unless she can find love and accept a proposal within 62 days.

This is a monumental task, ogres eat people. Ogres stink. Ogres are not accepted in human company. Sounds a lot like a Beauty and the Beast retelling to me! Evie realizes that while she only wants to heal others, she can’t help people without learning how to be an ogre first.

Her adventures take her to the marshy Fens to live among the ogres. While there she meets a young man that she is sure loves her. Master Peter is perfect! But he disappears on a day that she chooses to stop the other ogres from killing a giantess. While looking for Peter, Evie finds friends at a manor house and eventually within the capital city where she saves the king and his subjects from a killer plague.

I don’t want to give too much away, because I want you to read the book! What I can tell you is that Evie’s true friends stand by her despite her outer appearance and we learn a lot from this generation. (If you hated Ella’s father in Ella Enchanted, you’ll know why when you read this!)

I am not quite finished with the series though. Goodreads lists another book in the set:

I’m going to read it (or listen as I crochet, like I did with Ella Enchanted) and I’ll let you know. I’m betting it’s a Snow White retelling.


Shelly Duvall’s video series

I am so excited because I have found the perfect video series to supplement the Fairytales and Tall Tales I read with the kids! You may remember (if you’re old like me), an early cable tv series called Shelly Duvall’s Faerie Tale Classics.


This series was a gem! It’s packed with big-name celebrities and covers all of the basic stories we know and love, plus a few extra.  The episodes include:

The Frog Princess
The Nightengale
Sleeping Beauty
Jack & the Beanstalk
Little Red Riding Hood
Hansel and Gretel
Goldilocks & the Three Bears
The Princess and the Pea
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Beauty and the Beast
The Boy Who Left Home To Find Out About the Shivers
The Three Little Pigs
The Snow Queen
The Pied Piper of Hamlin
Puss In Boots
The Emperor’s New Clothes
Aladdin and the Magic Lamp
The Princess Who Never Laughed
Rip Van Winkle
The Little Mermaid
The Dancing Princesses

That’s a huge list! I’m not familiar with all of them, but for $28, I’ll buy the set and use it in class.  There were some spin-off series and I picked up the Tall Tales & Legends as well.


This series didn’t come all as a set (the picture from Google did though.) I was able to get all but the last episode. Here’s the list:

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Annie Oakley
Pecos Bill

Casey at Bat
Darlin’ Clementine
Johnny Appleseed
Ponce de Leon
John Henry
Davy Crockett

I couldn’t find the Davy Crockett episode for a reasonable price, but I was happy to grab all of the others! There was one other spin-off series that I didn’t buy for school, but I’d love to own myself. Nightmare Classics featured some of the greatest short horror stories from literature cast with amazing actors.

The Turn of the Screw

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
The Eyes of the Panther

If I can find them on Youtube, I’m going to watch them, I love the first three stories and I’m dying to learn the story of The Eyes of the Panther.


Fairytale Basics: Bremen Town Musicians

I have to admit to being a bit ignorant of the fairytale The Bremen Town Musicians. Somehow I missed it as a kid, I guess. But it’s a funny story that appeals to both boys and girls, and so I introduced it to the first graders today.

We started with the version retold and illustrated by Brian Wildsmith. I don’t own this version, but it can be found on Epic! as a read-to-me title. I like those read-to-me books once in awhile for a few reasons. It is almost like having a guest reader, the recordings often do great voices and it gives me a break.

The kids weren’t sold at first, but by the time the animals – who have been cast aside for being old and useless – are all gathered and headed for fame in the Bremen Town Band, the kids were interested. Then when the animals “attack” and fool the robbers, the kids were all laughing. I like this version because it is a bit gentler than others. Some versions talk about the cat’s owner planning to drown her and the dog’s owner plans to shoot him. This one is much nicer.

I do own the Ruth Gross (pictures by Jack Kent) version, but it’s one with talk of killing the animals.

We followed the read-to-me original version of the story with Kevin O’Malley’s Animal Crackers Fly the Coop.

In this story, the animals (you’ll notice that the donkey is replaced with a cow) leave home planning to do stand up comedy in Bremen. It is literally packed with puns and what I would call uncle-jokes – they are so bad, they’re good. I got a few good-natured boos when I told the story.

The farmer who owned me was so dumb, he plowed his field with a steamroller…because he wanted mashed potatoes!

Why does a milking stool only have three legs?

Because the cow has the udder!

I have a couple of other books by O’Malley, but I think I also need to get this one:

I read online that it’s a fractured middle-eastern folktale.

Bremen Town Musicians is a fun book to Google. There’s a lot of versions with a variety of art styles. I found this groovy record from Russia (maybe?). Go look them up!

Fairytale Basics: Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Let’s face it: Goldilocks was a home invader. I’ve certainly never read a version of the story where she had any reason to think she was welcomed into the home of the Bears.

But this beloved children’s story is all about respecting the property and space of others. You’ve heard the story, I’m sure. Goldilocks is out walking unsupervised is the forest and find the home of three bears who have gone out for a morning walk. Unconcerned about leaving trace evidence, she enters the home and tastes their breakfasts. Alas, one is too hot, one is too cold and one is just right. The breakfast porridge makes her sleepy (was it perhaps drugged? Is it all an elaborate set-up??) she decides to try the living room chairs, but one is too hard, one is too soft and one is just right. Still feeling sleeping despite the littlest chair breaking under her weight, she wanders to the bedroom and tries out the beds. Again, not concerned about leaving DNA or fingerprints, she climbs into their beds. And you guessed it, one is too hard and one too soft. But there is one that is just right and she quickly falls asleep.

It takes some real hubris to invade a home, eat the food, break the chairs and then fall blissfully asleep without consideration if the consequences, but I digress.

There are varying accounts about what happens when the bears find her. Usually she escapes, having learned her lesson. I’m not sure that getting away without punishment constitutes learning your lesson, but maybe she was scared straight.

The kids enjoyed the James Marshall retelling, though the Jan Brett version would have been a good choice too.

I always try to follow up with a funny version when reading to first graders and they loved Goatilocks and the Three Bears.

The kids were busting out laughing when Goatilocks ate the porridge, the bowl and the spoon…and the just right chair…and the just right bed. There were lots of giggles when she brought an apology bouquet to the bears and since it was so thoughtful and so kind and just right…they ate it.

We have a lot if retellings and fractured versions of this story at school. I love Helen Lester’s version, which stars Tacky the Penguin:

And here are a few others:

Fairytale Basics: Snow White

Not to be confusing, but there are two stories that use the name Snow White.  There is the familiar one with the dwarfs and evil queen, and then there is the one where another girl named Snow White and her sister Rose Red star. We’re going to talk about the first one, Snow White (and the seven dwarfs.)

I am reading Snow White with my 3rd grade classes right now. It’s really not what they expected.  We are reading a traditional version by the Brothers Grimm, I have two copies in my library, and we chose the one with illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman for class.

The kids thought they knew the story, but it was very different from the Disney version.  Most of them had never heard that her mother, while sewing by a window, pricked her finger with a needle and dropped three drops of blood into the snow on the ebony windowsill.  She asked for a child as white as snow, red as blood and dark as ebony.

They were also surprised that the evil stepmother targets Snow White at such a young age, 7 or 8 years old! They had never heard the part where the queen asked for the girl’s lungs and liver to be brought to her as proof she was dead.  And they were very grossed out by the queen then cooking and eating the organs.

The story has an interesting part, when Snow White finds the home of the seven dwarfs. She eats a bit from each of their plates and tries each of their beds. When the dwarfs return home, there is a very Goldilocks-moment when they ask who has been eating from their plates and sleeping in their beds.

The kids were quite surprised to learn the evil queen attempts to take Snow White’s life three times, once by lacing her corset too tightly, once by placing a poisoned comb in her hair and ultimately with the poisoned apple.

I think the weirdest parts of the story come at the end.  First after many years of lying in her glass coffin, a prince comes along and asks to take the coffin with him.  What exactly is he going to do with a dead girl? I don’t think she’s a little girl though, I think she grew up over the years in her coffin. Then he doesn’t wake her with a kiss, it is the jostling of the coffin as the soldiers carry it that dislodges the piece of apple that had choked her. She agrees to marry this random stranger-prince and when her evil stepmother arrives at the wedding, they heat iron slippers in a fire and make her wear them until she dies.


I really don’t have a lot of fractured versions of this tale.  I do have:

I probably won’t read these to the kids in 3rd grade.  Instead, I’ll wait until we’ve read the traditional Rapunzel and read the Maynard Moose tale that mashes the two together.


There are quite a few retellings that I’d like to get, some are silly, some are not.  The multi-cultural ones really seem like something I need to buy.

There are quite a lot of young adult retellings and I’ve read a few adult ones.  Here are my favorites:

Red As Blood or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer by Tanith Lee is fabulous if you like dark fairytales.  The Snow White in this collection is a vampire.  Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother is a werewolf and Cinderella is a witch.  I LOVE THIS BOOK! Mirror Mirror by Gregory Maguire is a historical retelling of the classic tale featuring the Borgia family of medieval Italy.  I didn’t like it as much as Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister but it was still a good read.

My search for retellings led me to a treasure today!! I’m excited to see that Liesl Shurtliff is releasing another book in her fairytale retelling series.


I loved the first three in the series Rump, Jack Red. I cannot wait to read this one!!!!

And just for some fun, I found a video from one of my favorite cartoons of the late 80s, early 90s.  Garfield and Friends did a barnyard version they called Snow Wade and the 77 Dwarfs. You can watch the youtube video here.


Fairytale Basics: The Ugly Duckling

If ever there was a fairytale about bullying, The Ugly Duckling is it. Hans Christian Anderson penned his classic stories beginning in 1835 — about 183 years ago! I decided to read this story to third grade, starting with a traditional version:

I had not read the story in years, and I was shocked at how awful it truly is. Before he even hatched, the mother duck is urged to abandon the larger egg and care for the kids she has. It’s very callus to say the least. I don’t want to get into politics but it reminded me of the idea of flippantly ending an unwanted pregnancy.

Then once he hatches, the mother duck quickly says she thinks he’s ugly. I was glad she stood up for him (slightly) in the barnyard, but the other farm birds pick at him and even his siblings join in. Can you imagine announcing that a child is ugly and then, just because he looked in your direction, smacking him?!? No.

There is more to the story, but suffice to say he is miserable. No one really shows him any affection except maybe the man who rescues him from freezing, and that is short-lived in the man’s chaotic home. The duckling is so utterly cowed and broken emotionally by all of this mistreatment that his is willing to let the beautiful swans kill him. This, of course, is when he realizes that he was a swan all along, and finally feels he has some worth.

It’s about bullying, but I think the message is off. None of the characters truly sees him as worthwhile until he changes over the winter, but the kids and I all think his worth wasn’t in his appearance, or at least it wouldn’t have been if it had been written today.

There are a lot of versions available, I have the book by Cauley (above), and an old Weekly Reader version.

I’d like to get Jerry Pinkney’s version next year.

There are some weird ones out there too:

Yeah, not high on my wish list.

This story does have a great parody to offset the seriousness of the story:

I’ve told you about Willy Clafin and Maynard Moose before. If you buy this one, get the CD, you won’t regret it!

This is a story that would need softening before I’d read it to little kids. I know there are kinder versions out there, but I’m going to keep it in 3rd grade in my school.

Just as a fun aside, the ugly duckling is quite prevalent in our pop culture. I’ll bet you’ve seen a movie or two where the nerdy girl is asked to prom by the cute boy on a dare and when she takes off her thick glasses she magically becomes beautiful.

Disney even made a reference to the story in one of my all-time favorite movies, Lilo and Stitch.

To quote Maynard Moose:

We are all a beautiful something or other…especially you.