Reading Beauty (Deborah Underwood)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Reading Beauty, written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Meg Hunt, another futuristic fairy tale from the pair behind Interstellar Cinderella.

Princess Lex loves reading more than almost anything in the world. Any book of any size, any subject, any length – she’ll devour its contents eagerly before picking up the next title. So when she wakes the morning of her 15th birthday to find every book in the kingdom being packed away, she is aghast! Demanding an explanation from her parents, they tell her the story of the celebration of her birth, an evil fairy who was incensed about being uninvited, and a treacherous curse that will be brought on by a paper cut in her fifteenth year. Bereft in a world without books – and seeing how their disappearance has negatively impacted her kingdom as well – Lex decides to fight the curse herself, using the most powerful weapon at her disposal: knowledge.

Marvelous! Once again, Underwood and Hunt have taken a familiar fairy tale and infused it with both futuristic pizzaz and a strong feminist message. Clever tweaks made to the story both pay homage to the original while giving it a much-needed update; Lex’s “prince”, for instance, is her loyal and trusty dog, Prince. The art is phenomenal, and Hunt’s Afro-futurist environments and details make this an even more inclusive treat (a particularly lovely visual in which Lex’s father does her hair to comfort her as her mother explains the curse was my favorite). The length was perfect, and rhyming text was clever and fun to read aloud, and JJ loved it. A wonderful girl-power story for any young book-lover, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

It’s Not Hansel and Gretel (Josh Funk)

Hello, friends! Our book today is It’s Not Hansel and Gretel, written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Edwardian Taylor, a hilariously fractured twist on the original fairy tale.

As the narrator of Hansel and Gretel’s tale opens the scene, he is immediately distracted by the presence of Jack (of “and the Beanstalk”, and the protagonist of the book’s prequel). Shooing Jack back to his own story, the narrator begins the familiar tale: in a time of great famine, Hansel and Gretel’s parents plot to abandon them in the woods – except Gretel immediately interrupts to disagree with this notion, adamant that their parents would never do such a thing. This becomes the running theme, as the siblings push back against the increasingly frustrated narrator, refusing to follow the story laid out for them. Gretel is particularly fed up with the traditional gender roles, questioning why it can’t be “Gretel and Hansel”, and why her brother gets to eat treats in the candy cage while she has to do chores in the witch’s gingerbread house. Even when the narrator proves to be right – the siblings eventually concede that maybe the witch WASN’T just a nice old lady – their refusal to follow direction spurs the exasperated narrator to give up control of the story… and that’s when the real fun begins.

Delightfully goofy. The effect will work best on kids who are familiar with the original fairy tale, but this rollicking tale is chock full of so much snappy dialogue, colorful visuals, and wonderfully kid-friendly humor that it’s worth it to brush up on the Grimms’s version. The layout of the different texts for character speech, traditional narration, and the narrator’s outbursts is a nice touch – reading this one aloud is a challenge but an entertaining one (brush up on your character voices, this one is rife with opportunities). The cameos from other fairy tale notables are also a fun feature for eagle-eyed bookworms, the length is perfect, and JJ and I had a blast reading it. Perfect for lovers of silly humor, and emphatically Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by a representative of the author in exchange for an honest review.)

Sophie And Little Star (Amber Hendricks)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Sophie And Little Star, written by Amber Hendricks and illustrated by Raissa Figueroa, a gorgeous fairy tale of friendship.

Little Star lives up in the clouds, anxious for the day she will find her shine and be able to bring her own light to the sky. Once night, she is so restless that she tumbles out of her cloud bed and to the earth, taking the form of a little girl in a pale nightgown. Scared and alone, she is comforted by human Sophie, who promises that they will find a way for Little Star to go home. They ask various nature spirits for their assistance, and while some try, no one has the strength or reach to put Little Star back. At last, a kindly cloud agrees to bring her home, and Little Star suddenly glows brightly with happiness – only to immediately dim when she realizes that she must leave her new friend behind. But once again, Sophie assures her: she will look for the brightest star in the sky each night, and know that it is Little Star.

Magical. While the story itself lacks a overt central message, it beautifully explores themes of friendship, empathy, loyalty, and hope. Sophie’s kindness, especially in the face of supernatural forces and a rather daunting task to achieve, is a wonderful example for little ones in how to care for others in need, even if it’s just providing support. The real standout here is the artwork, which was absolutely ASTOUNDING. Figueroa’s sweeping fantasy scenes and creatures are breathtaking in their originality and creativity, and she has an impeccable eye for angles, composition, color, and tone. Readers will easily be swept away by illustrations of towering sentient oak trees, graceful breeze-entities, and sassy talking birds. The length was great, and JJ and I loved it. A strikingly gorgeous fairy tale of sisterhood, and Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the author in exchange for an honest review.)

Prince & Knight (Daniel Haack)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Prince & Knight, written by Daniel Haack and illustrated Stevie Lewis, a fairy tale with a refreshingly inclusive love story.

Once upon a time there was a beautiful kingdom, where lived and handsome and sincere prince. The prince was ready to take over rule for the King and Queen, but he would need to be married first. The royal family leaves on a journey to find a princess for a bride. But while he meets many lovely princesses, none of them ignite that special spark of love for the prince. Then the royals receive word: in their absence, a fearsome dragon has lain waste to the land! The prince bravely races home to defend his kingdom and, upon facing the fearsome beast, finds he is not alone. An armor-clad knight has arrived as well, and the two work together to subdue the dragon, saving each other’s lives in the process. Taking a moment to exchange thanks, the knight removes his helmet, and the men feel an instantaneous bond – the spark they had been seeking.

YES, we are starting this year off RIGHT! I had an idea of what the plot of this story would be based on the cover, but the delivery was just splendid. From the thrilling action sequence (which nimbly sidesteps any violence or death, rest assured), the cheerful and sweet rhyming text, and of course, the heartwarming love story. The specific focus on marriage (the prince’s parents feel that he needs a spouse to rule) rather than on yearning for love is not ideal, but easily forgotten when the two leads find that love at first sight. The illustrations are phenomenal, evoking classic fairytale themes through a modern, almost cinematic lens. The length was great, and JJ and I both loved it. A marvelous love story for all little ones to enjoy, and especially for little boys who dream of their own handsome prince someday. Baby Bookworm approved!

Beauty And The Beast (Cynthia Rylant)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Beauty And The Beast, retold by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Meg Park, a new twist on the classic love story.

In the countryside lived a man and his three daughters. The youngest daughter, Beauty, was kind and lovin. One winter, as their father was returning home from the port, he became trapped in a blizzard, and found food and shelter in a castle deep in the woods. As he leaves the next day, he finds a single red rose and, hoping to give it to Beauty, plucks it. This enrages his heretofore unseen host, the Beast, who demands that the man remain as his servant until death as punishment for his ingratitude. Upon learning this, Beauty insists on taking his place instead, and begins to find that the Beast is not as monstrous as he appears.

This was an interesting take on the classic story that had both positives and negatives for me. On the plus side, the art was just gorgeous, mixing a modern animation-inspired style with a soothing winter palette to create some very lovely illustrations, including some clever visual nods to the seminal Disney version. The story had some bright spots as well: I loved that Beauty initially rejects Beast because she is not in love with him, and he accepts it – there is less rage and spite in this Beast. However, from a feminist perspective, this is a story that has always been problematic, and even this earnest version has issues. I wasn’t wild about Beauty’s needlessly nasty sisters, who promptly disappear from the story after the first act with no resolution to their behavior. And while the length was good, the story felt a bit rushed, and the ending abrupt. I would have liked to see more of Beauty and Beast and less of the family’s financial struggles. Still, this was a commendable take on a beloved classic with some lovely art, and JJ enjoyed it, so it’s Baby Bookworm approved!