Folktales and Fairytales—for teens

This week we’re talking about folktales and fairytales. I wrote an article on the subject a year or so ago and heard that folktales and fairytales aren’t selling well as picture books. But fairytales have found a new home in novels for middle grade and young adult readers. You might say that fairytales have grown up.

Reka Simonsen, now executive editor for Harcourt, said in an interview, “Fairytales and folktales for younger kids are hard to publish successfully these days. That doesn’t seem to be true of novels for young adult readers, though. There are enough books, authors, and long-term fans to have turned the novel-length fairytale into a subgenre of its own, a particular type of fantasy that’s especially popular with adolescent girls.” Most popular are versions that give the classic tales a new twist–“a different setting or a stronger female lead character, for example.”

Heather Tomlinson, author of The Swan Maiden (Henry Holt, 2007) twisted a traditional story in Toads and Diamonds (Henry Holt, 2010). “In Charles Perrault’s original tale, a fairy rewards one girl with the gift of speaking jewels and flowers, while condemning her older sister to spew toads and snakes when she talks. I wondered what would happen if the two gifts were equally valuable–and equally dangerous.”

Toads and Diamonds cover

Tomlinson points to “many successful novels and series drawing on fairytale roots. But I think writers can increase their chances of success by retelling a lesser-known story, or finding a really fresh angle on a familiar one.”

Simonsen said, “Some people in publishing and bookselling are getting pretty tired of fantasy of all kinds, including fairytale novelizations. I think that response is mostly from the people who never liked these kinds of books anyway. Fantasy has been the bestselling genre for the past decade and it’s still going strong, so clearly kids are not sick of it. It’s a crowded market, so it can be hard to stand out, but there is definitely a big fan base for fairytale novelizations.”

A Curse Dark As Gold cover

Other fairytale-inspired books of recent years include:

Sisters Red, a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood by Jackson Pearce (Little, Brown, 2010)

Devoured, a retelling of Snow White by Amanda Marrone (Simon Pulse, 2009)

A Curse Dark As Gold, a historical retelling of Rumpelstiltskin by Elizabeth Bunce (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2008)

Beastly, a modern version of Beauty and the Beast (HarperTeen, 2007) and A Kiss in Time, a Sleeping Beauty retelling, (HarperTeen, 2009) by Alex Flinn

The Thirteenth Princess, based upon The Twelve Dancing Princesses story, by Diane Zahler (HarperCollins, 2009)

Beast, with Beauty and the Beast in ancient Persia, by Donna Jo Napoli (Atheneum, 2000)

Beast cover

Turning Old to New

So what if you want to write a fairytale based novel? Creative thinking can help writers break into the market.

Lise Lunge-Larsen, author of the picture book The Adventures of Thor the Thunder God (Houghton Mifflin, 2007) said, “The images and the plots of the old folktales are so compelling that they will never go out of style. Writers should feel like the storytellers of old, free to retell an old tale in their own voice and updated to suit our times.”

Natalie M. Rosinsky, author of Write Your Own Fairytale and Write Your Own Folk Tale, (Compass Point Books, 2008, 2009) advises, “Think globally. Examine every continent and the multiple cultures that may thrive within a country to find tales or ideas for tales that intrigue you.”

To update a traditional folk or fairytale, she suggests setting the story in a new location. You might also change the point of view, for example telling a princess story from the prince’s viewpoint. Humor is another bonus.

Ultimately, a story needs a unique concept, and something more. “Your characters have to sing,” author Maggie Stiefvater says. “We’ll read Sleeping Beauty one thousand times over if the characters are brilliant and different every time.”

Chris Eboch with the Haunted series

Chris adapted this material from her article Folktales and Fairytales: Old Stories with a New Twist, first printed in Book Markets for Children’s Writers 2010.

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6 responses to “Folktales and Fairytales—for teens

  1. This is a great list of fairy tale novels. One of my favorites is East by Edith Pattou. It’s a retelling of East of the Sun, West of the Moon — my favorite as a child. Sarah Beth Durst rewrote the same story with Ice, and Jessica Day George also tackled it with Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow. Funny how one under the radar fairy tale attracted three YA authors.

  2. This is timely for me since I’m half way into a WIP that’s a fairy tale from another POV and aimed at teens. I love what I’m doing so I hope it finds a home.
    Sherrie, I adore East of the Sun, too, and read East. I doubt I’d ever tire of a well-told fairy tale.

  3. Parker Peevyhouse

    I noticed a lot of authors were pulling from East of the Sun in recent years. It seems like Beauty and the Best is popping up a lot too.

    Toads and Diamonds sounds really cool–I want to read it.

  4. Natalie Aguirre

    Great list of books. I loved East, Curse Dark as Gold, and Toads and Diamonds. And of course Ella. Like you say, you’ve got to put a new spin on it to make it interesting.

  5. sandycarl

    Folk and Fairy Tales are my fav reads — old, new, long, short. Great post with good reads. (Natalie — I like Ella, too.) I’ve also heard editors (at conferences) stay teen novels and folk re-tells are selling well right now. I just published on Smashwords 3 twisted folktales with biker themes (motorcycles). As I wrote them, they reminded me of the Fractured Tales from Rocky and Bullwinkle days. Oh. My heros.

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