Today we have a menu of fairy tales for children served up three different ways. For the readers that like their fairy tales meaty with a fair bit of gore, then Yummy by Lucy Cousins is just what they are craving. For young readers seeking short and sweet, then You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You: Very Short Fairy Tales to Read Together by Mary Ann Hoberman and Michael Emberly (illustrator) might be the right flavor. Finally, jaded palates looking for something completely unfamiliar, might be woken up a bit by The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith (illustrator).
Yummy looks like the most conventional of the three, at least at first glance. It is written and illustrated by Lucy Cousins, the author of the delightful Maisy the mouse series. The illustrations are simple and colorful. Yet a few pages into “Little Red Riding Hood” you discover this isn’t your watered-down fairy tale. Instead of sending Granny off to the closet, the wolf eats her right down with a big, hearty “Gulp!” Turn the page and the wolf’s head goes flying. Now your imagination is put to the test as out pops Granny and Little Red Riding Hood.
One of the reasons that these fairy tales have survived for generations is that they appeal to the emotions. If they were too bland, then they wouldn’t be memorable. Lucy Cousins has made sure that her version is robust, full of zest and humor. This version is the only one of the three to follow the folktales closely enough to be filed in the non-fiction section.
For the youngsters ready to read aloud, You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You: Very Short Fairy Tales to Read Together is a perfect choice. Written for two voices, the poems are not simply fairy tales retold, but are fresh, clever versions. The two parts can be read by two children or an adult and a child.
One of the charms of this book is that the characters in conflict finish up reading together in the end of each fairy tale. For example, although the wolf does eat Little Red Riding Hood’s grandma, he soon coughs her up again and they all end up going out to lunch. The princess has a fine argument with the pea, but in the end they work it out. A few people may grumble this is political correctness gone awry, but the author has actually realized that when two people are reading together, they assume the parts they are reading. Children, in particular, need to be brought back together as readers so they leave the book on a congenial note. Brilliant!
The fresh illustrations by Michael Emberley are also appealing. The children look quite modern and are easy to identify with. The look compliments the light fun of the text perfectly.
As the title suggests, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, is a different course altogether. This Caldecott Honor book takes all your expectations about what a book of fairy tales should be like, and turns them upside down (sometimes literally). Characters wander about, conventions are ignored, it is truly a crazy, wildly funny and extremely creative book.
Adding to the oddities, are Lane Smith’s dark and wacky illustrations. Part collage, partly from another planet, it is hard to imagine such a riot of a book with any more traditional illustrations. This book will surely appeal to the toughest readers to engage.
If you are teaching a language arts class, then comparing these three books of common fairy tales is an enlightening exercise in how each author has an unique voice. Using the same basic ingredients, these three seasoned writers have produced three very different “meals.”
For more information:
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 128 pages
Publisher: Candlewick (August 11, 2009)
You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You: Very Short Fairy Tales to Read Together
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (May 1, 2004)
The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 56 pages
Publisher: Viking Juvenile; 1st ed edition (October 1, 1992)
All three of these books were either personal copies or from the library.