Costa Reading

One girl with too many books.


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A Fractured Fairy Tales Reading Ladder

A fractured fairy tale takes a traditional fairy tale and changes the plot, setting, characters, and/or message to create a whole new kind of story. It is usually obvious which fairy tales these fractured stories are based on and it can be easy to pick out the points the author chose to change.

Lately it seems as though authors are using these usually misogynistic traditional tales and changing them to promote a different way of thinking about everyone’s role in society.

There are no longer helpless damsels in distress with a knight on a white horse coming to rescue her. And if she does need help, she doesn’t sit passively by and do nothing; she actively participates in her rescue.

On the other hand, all men are not the strong dashing type, they also need to be rescued sometimes and this isn’t emasculating in any way.

It’s important that children and teens understand that it’s okay to be strong, weak, happy, sad, angry, intelligent, and (sometimes) ignorant. Nobody is perfect and our literature needs to reflect this. Kids need to be taught that it’s okay for them to make mistakes and it’s what they do after they’ve made them that is important.

I think that these fractured fairy tales I’ve listed in my reading ladder do this very well. They are in leveling order, beginning with the upper elementary age/lower middle school and progressing to upper high school.

Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

For grades 4-6

As next door neighbors Hazel and Jack have been best friends since they were six. They’ve been there for each other through each of their family’s difficulties. However, now that they’re eleven, others have started to question their friendship, thinking it’s abnormal for a boy and a girl to be friends. Hazel and Jack stay true to their friendship, not caring what other people think. Until one day when Jack’s whole personality seems to change. He freezes Hazel out of his life and then disappears. Hazel knows in her heart that something is desperately wrong and sets out to rescue him. She travels through a frozen forest to find the Snow Queen who has bewitched Jack. Will she be able to break through the enchantment to reach Jack’s heart and bring him home?

 

Tale Dark and GrimmA Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

For grades 5-7

This story of Hansel and Gretel is more true to the traditional Grimm Brother’s fairy tales. However, Gidwitz has the brother and sister traveling through the tales much as a reader would read through the stories in a book. He changes the tales in ways to make the story flow but keeps the original intention and feeling. Most importantly, the original gore of the Grimm’s tales is retained. Gidwitz doesn’t sugar coat any of the more sinister bits and this is what has appealed to all of the kids I’ve recommended the book to. However, this is the main reason I would say it’s for 5th-7th graders.

As brother and sister, Hansel and Gretel must help each other navigate their way through the many evils that surround them. They take turns being the logical rescuer of the other. I love the way this book makes the sibling’s relationship so very important. This is something we don’t see too much of. A lot of books for this age group are about being the sole hero.

 

Far Far AwayFar Far Away by Tom McNeal

For grades 6-8

Jeremy Johnson Johnson has been friends with the ghost of Jacob Grimm for the last few years. The ghost is a voice of reason for Jeremy until he becomes friends with Ginger, a spunky girl who challenges him to break out of his shell. Then they become involved in a series of dangerous events and their lives are put in danger.
This book felt very much like a fairy tale but I couldn’t pinpoint any one specific tale.
Far Far Away is definitely a coming of age tale for boys. Jeremy is trying to figure out how to save his house because his father is frozen into inaction by depression. He is also discovering who he is and how he can become the person he wants to be. Jacob is that external voice that would usually be the protagonist’s inner voice.
sisters redSisters Red by Jackson Pearce

For grades 8-10

Scarlett and Rosie march are the contemporary Little Red Riding Hoods. Their grandmother had been killed in their house by a Fenris, a werewolf like creature who attack young girls. The sisters aren’t helpless little girls anymore. Rather they take the fight to the Fenris by acting like victims and then killing as many Fenris as they possibly can. They don’t do this alone however, they are joined by a long family friend who also happens to be a huntsman. Things can’t stay the same however, they start to change as Rosie and Silas begin to have feelings for each other.
The question of the strength of a sister’s bonds are questioned and whether or not they’ll be able to survive the next challenges the three are going to face.


CinderCinder
by Marissa Meyer
For grades 9-11
Cinder is a cyborg Cinderella who lives New Beijing. She is treated as a servant by her stepmother, Adri, and one of her stepsisters, Pearl, but she absolutely adores her stepsister, Peony. Cinder works as a mechanic to repair androids and this is how she meets Prince Kai. Of course she develops feelings for him (this is a Cinderella story after all) but she doesn’t become the damsel in distress. She fights for her freedoms and to improve her lot in life. She even makes it her mission to save Prince Kai for the evil Lunar Queen Levana.
This is definitely not the traditional Cinderella story and has many different levels of complexity. It takes on stereotypical gender roles while tweaking the traditional fairy tale. And as the series moves on to Scarlet, Cress, and Winter readers are introduced to many more versions of fractured fairy tales.

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The Verse Novel

Authors use poetry when prose isn’t adequate to convey emotional and heavy topics. Poetry can pack such an emotional punch into so few words that a reader is left breathless. The verse novel can be a perfect way to attract teens to literature for this very reason. Not only are verse novels usually quick and easy to read, they appeal to those who are thinking lyrically and symbolically. Teens are usually going through emotional and trying times and poetry tends to call to them. The verse novel can be read quickly and be taken at face value, or a reader can really delve into the meaning behind the imagery the poet decided to use. In reality, the verse novel can be much more detailed and challenging to read than a novel in prose. It can also be much more touching and beautiful. Teachers, parents, and librarians should be encouraging teens to close read these verse novels to truly connect with the story that is being told.

I chose to read Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate for the verse novel section of this class. I was surprised that I had already read all of the other choices: Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, Crank by Ellen Hopkins, and Sold by Patricia McCormick. The reason for my surprise is that I don’t view myself as a fan of poetry. However, I had picked all of these up at some point, either because I read a starred review (Inside Out and Back Again), saw it being checked out by a lot of teens (Crank), or liked the cover (Sold). And I loved all of them, even though I’m not a poetry enthusiast. I found they were beautifully written and appealed to my emotional state. Home of the Brave proved to be the same for me.

Home of the Brave is the story of Kek, a young refugee from Sudan. He has been brought to Minnesota to live with his aunt and cousin, Ganwar, who are also refugees. His brother and father had been killed in Sudan and he had been separated from his mother. Kek remains hopeful that his mother will join them in Minnesota but none of the other people in his life think he is being realistic. The story revolves around Kek and his experiences in America as well as his memories of his family in Sudan. His cousin, Ganwar, has had a difficult time adjusting to the American life but Kek seems to do better with his positive demeanor. His aunt says that “Kek finds sun when the sky is dark.” Kek ends up getting a job to share with Ganwar, helping a solitary woman taking care of a cow on a small farm. They find that this is one place that seems remotely similar to their lives as cattle herders in Sudan. The lonely cow, Gol, brings each of the boys comfort in their uncertain lives.

The beautiful simplicity of Kek’s story in verse evokes emotions a reader might not feel if reading it in prose. Here’s the beginning a poem called “Father” that exemplifies the benefits of writing in verse:

He had many cattle,

my father,

and the respect of our village,

but it was his voice that made him a rich man among men.

His voice was deep,

like a storm coming,

but gentle,

like the rain ending.

This verse creates an image of a responsible, respectable man who had a deep love of his family. The fact that this is spoken by his son demonstrates that his family loved and respected him in turn. Yet the imagery of a storm coming and rain ending brings a sense of doom even though it is being used to describe a loved father’s singing voice.

This story could have been about any struggling refugee child who is trying to make a home in a new country. I think that’s part of its appeal. Any teen that is struggling to find their place in the world will be able to connect with Kek. They will see how he had to search for something that would bring him comfort and they will respond to the lyrical way he does this. This is truly a novel that many teens will be able to relate to.

Additional Information:

Learn more about Home of the Brave here.

Find out about Sudanese refugees who have a happy ending here.

Find out more about verse novels here.

Find out about the reasons verse novels work well for kids and teens here.