Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Sorta Fairy Tale (Fairy Tale Comics Review)

Fairy tales are part of our DNA. They tell us we can be brave; great evil can be defeated; and sometimes things work out in unexpected ways. They are the stories we tell – and retell – in every generation. From campfire storytelling to bards to Disney, fairy tales have shifted in response to time and circumstance, becoming the stories that need to be told - or retold. Oral storytelling is intricately linked with tradition of using images to tell stories, whether through cave drawings, tapestries, or picture books. And when you combine fairy tales with visual storytelling, you get magic. A new understanding of the tales emerges by playing with form and medium. Fairy Tale Comics is the result of the natural partnership between story and form. In this follow up to the widely successful Nursery Rhyme Comics, editor Chris Duffy delves deeper in the possibilities of retelling classic stories by putting them in the hands of talented and innovative artists. (You can see a full list of contributors here.) The incredible range of both stories and artists breathes new life in these stories of old. Ramona Fradon and Chris Duffy’s “The Prince and the Tortoise” plays homage to the Classic Illustrated-style that feels reminiscent of Prince Valiant and other epics. Brett Helquist’s “Rumpelstiltskin” is set in the traditional fairy tale world, with a distinct Brett Helquist style. I absolutely loved his portrayal of the dastardly villain Rumpelstiltskin. And this is his first comic ever! Bobby London’s “Sweet Porridge” is a madcap adventure full of pratfalls and subtle humor like the best Sunday cartoon. Raina Telgemeier’s version of "Rapunzel" puts a delightful new spin on the “damsel in distress” trope. Her Rapunzel is no shrinking violet, but a fierce and brave heroine, who (spoiler alert) saves herself. I loved Emily Carroll’s version of “The 12 Dancing Princesses,” one of my favorite childhood stories thanks to Shelly Duvall’s Fairy Tale Theatre. Carroll fleshes out the character of the young hero by showing an interaction with him and an old woman, who gifts him with his invisibility cloak for his kindness. Unlike the original story where a princess is given to him in marriage as a reward for saving them, in Carroll’s version, the youngest princess chooses him. The range of artists and stories guarantees that readers will find stories that they connect with, whether they are in the mood for a humorous, scary, or magical story. Fairy Tale Comics is truly kids’ comics at its best. 

When I read this collection, my mind spun with ways that it could be used in a classroom or a library. I’ve shared my list of ideas below for using Fairy Tale Comics. Feel free to share your ideas in the comments. I’d love to know how people are using this amazing collection in the wild.

Reader’s Theater
It was perfect timing when I received a copy of Fairy Tale Comics from Netgalley as I was preparing my unit about drama. I taught Oral Interpretation of Literature class this past spring at the college and sought out moments to use comics to teach visual storytelling. These comics were perfect for teaching about reader’s theater, which included setting, characterization, tone, pitch, and more. I gave my students scripts that I created from the text of the comics. I used "Sweet Porridge!" by Bobby London, "Rumpelstiltskin" by Brett Helquist, "Rapunzel" by Raina Telgemeier, "The 12 Dancing Princesses" by Emily Carroll.  I gave my students 15-20 minutes to prepare their story with some basic props, but how they preformed it was up to them. I then projected the stories on a screen beside the performers. I could see how the visual medium affected their dramatic interpretation – and the audience’s interaction with it. Drama itself is very visual so this seemed like a perfect pairing. Using these stories added dimension to their performances and engaged my students in new ways. Graphic novelists often use reader’s theater to share their work, so it’s wonderful when we can use it to celebrate them.

Get your Aarne-Thompson on!
Until I took a storytelling class at GSLIS with the beyond fabulous Kate McDowell, I had no idea what the Aarne-Thompson classification system was and now it illuminates every fairy tale reading experience. In short, it is an index that organizes folktales according to plot points and motifs. Actually, it’s now called the Aarne-Thompson-Uther classification system so it can continue to expand. The bottom line is that there are different types of tales – from Persecuted Heroine (type 501) to Animals in Exile (type 130) with many variations from around the world. Yes, this is an opportunity for a “Cinderella project” kind of unit, but you can ditch Ella for one of the tales in Fairy Tale Comics. Your students can research variations on the tale and have a chance to return to the world of fairy tale picture books, where some of the best retellings are found. They can compare them with the Fairy Tale Comics version and critically think about the ways stories are told and retold.

Retelling: Twisted, Fractured, or Swapped
Let your students or patrons retell a fairy tale. Switching perspectives (like in The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith) or changing the gender of a character (like Gigi D. G. did in "Little Red Riding Hood," replacing the male lumberjack for the female one) can help writers think about stories in new ways. Pair this activity with a lesson on the fundamentals of comics creation and design (gutter, panels, bubbles, etc.). They can storyboard the fairy tale and retell it using an app like Comic Life, comic creator from ReadWriteThink, or ToonDoo. (Excellent resources for teaching how to create comics include the classic Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud and 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style by Matt Madden, thanks to Carol Tilley's excellent comics class.) Make sure it’s clear that anyone can create comics and use his or her own style to tell a story. Many of these fairy tales are based on Grimm tales, which were already interpretations of tales from the oral tradition so we’re already in the habit of shifting and changing stories. Bring in stories by Hans Christian Anderson, Andrew Lang, and other more obscure authors and let your students try retelling them.  

Spoiler Alert 
Chris Duffy reported that the next comics collection is going to be Fable Comics. I can't wait to see how the artists take on Aesop, Kipling, or other authors, but in the meantime, this is a great opportunity for your students or patrons to try their hand at their own fable comics.
Reader’s Advisory
This collection is a natural fit for pairing with the multitudes of fantastic fairy tale picture books found in the 398.2 section of your local public library. This collection is perfect for young people and adults alike, each getting something different out of it. So here are some my favorite fairy tale readalikes for both groups.

For young people
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Sciezka, illustrated by Lane Smith
The Stinky Cheese Man & Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Sciezka, illustrated by Lane Smith
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko
Little Lit: Once Upon a Time, Little Lit: Strange Stories for Strange Kids, and Little Lit: It Was a Dark and Silly Night from Toon Books
Nursery Rhyme Comics

For older young people 
A Tale Dark and Grimm Series by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hugh D’Andrade
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making Series by Catherynne M. Valente
Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale

For young adults and grownups
Fables by Bill Willingham
Ash by Malinda Lo
The Rose and the Beast by Francesca Lia Block
Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah
Birdwing by Rafe Martin
Beastly by Alex Flinn
A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce
East by Edith Pattou
Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier
Princess at the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George
Once Upon a Time television series
Second City’s Advice from a Cartoon Princess Series (for grownups)


Twice Upon a Time: A Guide to Fractured, Altered, and Retold Folk and Fairy Tales by
Catharine R. Bomhold and Terri E. Elder 

Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales, Children, and the Culture Industry by Jack Zipes

Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood by Maria Tatar

Fairy Tale Review

Journal of Fairy Tale Studies


A Mighty Girl's Fairy Tales and Folktales

Dave Roman's Reader's Theater Tips



An incredible blog tour is going on now for Fairy Tale Comics until October 1. Check out the list below to follow along and discover more about this amazing book and the artists who contributed to it. (As the days pass, I'll do my best to update the links so they go directly to the posts by these very lucky bloggers.)

Thursday 9/12 featuring Brett Helquist Bluestocking Thinking 

Friday 9/13 featuring Bobby London Charlotte’s Library

Saturday 9/14 featuring editor Chris Duffy SLJ Good Comics for Kids

Sunday 9/15 featuring Graham Annable Stumptown Trade Review

Monday 9/16 featuring Gigi D.G. Literary Grand Rapids

Tuesday 9/17 featuring Karl Kerschl Fleen

Wednesday 9/18 featuring Luke Pearson Raincoast

Thursday 9/19 featuring Joseph Lambert Schulz Library Blog 

Friday 9/20 featuring David Mazzucchelli Comics Bulletin

Saturday 9/21 featuring Vanessa Davis Supernatural Snark

Sunday 9/22 featuring Gilbert Hernandez Things to Do in LA 

Monday 9/23 featuring Raina Telgemeier Stacked

Tuesday 9/24 Featuring Ramona Fradon CBR

Wednesday 9/25 featuring Luke Pearson Casual Optimist

Thursday 9/26 featuring Emily Carroll Comics Alliance

Friday 9/27 featuring Charise Mericle Harper SLJ Good Comics for Kids 

Saturday 9/28 featuring Jillian Tamaki Geek Mom

Sunday 9/29 featuring Jaime Hernandez MTVGeek

Monday 9/30 featuring Craig Thompson LA Times Hero Complex

Tuesday 10/1 featuring Gigi D.G. Sare-endipity

Fairy Tale Comics will be released from First Second Books on Tuesday, September 24th.


  1. Thanks for the thoughtful and thorough review, Eti. I'd love to hear more about kids performing comics.
    --Chris Duffy

  2. Thank you so much for your incredibly thoughtful response, Chris. It means so much to me that you read - and enjoyed my review. I will be singing Fairy Tale Comics' praises for a very long time. I'll definitely keep you posted when I have future opportunities to share reader's theater comics. Thank you so much for this incredible collection of stories. -Eti