Happily Ever After series by Alex Field with guest illustrators
New Frontier Publishing RRP: $24.99 AUD
It’s Children’s Book Week in Australia right now and kids everywhere are celebrating literacy and storytelling in homes, classrooms and libraries. My Mr 5 went off this morning dressed as Jack, of beanstalk fame, for the annual book parade. His class is focusing on fairy tales this term, so we’ve been reintroducing some of the classics to our bedtime reading routine.
But in chatting to other parents I’ve realised that fairy tales are surprisingly divisive. Between princesses ruining our daughters’ self-esteem and nightmare-inducing wolves gobbling up grandmothers, it’s not all fun and games in fairy land! Some parents won’t even read these stories to their children as they find them either too scary or too dull for today’s young readers.
Enter Happily Ever After, a series of re-written classics with a new gen twist. These modernised fairy tales are created by accomplished Aussie author Alex Field with guest illustrators including Celeste Hulme and Annie White. All in a row, they look like a traditional compendium of fairy stories, but look a bit closer and you’ll notice some clever contemporary changes.
In this version of Little Red Riding Hood, for example, we’re privy to more of the backstory; we learn a bit about Red’s family and find out how she got her hood (and her name). The wolf is still big and bad, but Grandma ends up in a cupboard, not his belly. He also lives to scare another day as Red and her feisty grandmother chase him away rather than kill him.
I’m sure there are those who will see this as sanitising a perfectly good story, but in truth most of these ‘classic’ fairy tales have been retold and reinterpreted many times over the years.
What’s more, many of the ‘originals’ were never intended as children’s stories, but rather moral warnings to everyone about issues like stranger danger (Little Red), judging a book by its cover (The Ugly Duckling) or the folly of wishing your life away (almost all of them!).
The Happily Ever After series doesn’t shy away from the core messages of the tales it re-imagines, nor does it try to update them with uncomfortable contemporary references. It does make them a little more palatable for today’s readers – and for parents who don’t feel like dealing with death, misery or objectionable gender stereotypes at bedtime.
Importantly, there’s plenty of charm and magic in the delightful illustrations ensuring these modernised fairy tales still capture the imaginations of readers, just as they have for generations.