One of the things that I love about writing this blog is that occasionally I get prompted to look for something that I otherwise might no...

Little Feminist Book Club: Bethan Woollvin Fairy Tale Retellings

Sunday, June 24, 2018 BookBairn 6 Comments

One of the things that I love about writing this blog is that occasionally I get prompted to look for something that I otherwise might not have come across. And the Little Feminist Book Club has been great for that as it has encouraged me to seek out books that star wonderful mighty girl characters, tell stories of real life inspirational women and books that have a feminist message. And one of the gems (or three little gems) that I have discovered are the new fairy tale retellings by Bethan Woollvin.

It is believed that Einstein said:

"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales".

But have you ever really thought about the faiy tales we tell? They have changed so much over time from word of mouth story telling to the sanitisation of the stories to the disney-fication of them. (And thank goodness for that - the originals are still way too gruesome for me even as an adult!) But really it's time for another update. One that sees the female characters as strong, intelligent and able to care for themselves that reflect our society. Don't get me wrong there's a space for all of the versions and I'm not suggesting that we delete or get rid of older versions but I think it's time we thought about the messages in these stories and taught our girls (and boys) to question them.

And in fly the three wonderful retellings by Bethan Woollvin. 

'Little Red' tells the story of a new Little Red one who is sharp and clever and not stupid enough to mistake a wolf in old lady's clothing for her grandma. I've always wondered how naive you would have to be to make this mistake (and clearly so did Bethan!). So this Little Red is a feisty, smart and savvy little girl who isn't fooled easily. And there are many things in the woods that "might scare some little girls. But not this little girl." I love this Little Red so much that I treated myself to one of Bethan's pins from her online shop so that I can wear her with pride! The back cover describes it as "a darkly comic, boldly original Red Riding Hood" which sums it up wonderfully. Bethan Woollvin's incredible graphic illustration style, created using lino printing I believe is incredibly stylish and cool and uses primarily three colours: black, white and red, making Little Red stand out all the more for little readers to admire. The characterisation of Little Red is expertly executed through the positioning of her eyes and you can really tell what she is thinking. In fact one page focusses on her eyes alone and it is perfect. For children who read the story using the pictures this book is witty, wonderful and just the right amount of gruesome! 

As is her next book in the series, 'Rapunzel' is all about being your own hero. I mean why would you let some old lady witch come and brush your hair on a daily basis, figure out a way to escape and then need some prince to come and rescue you? I mean if you've escaped once why not do it again right? And so this Rapunzel explores the woodland around her, finds a book titles how to defeat witches (from her local library presumably) and then takes that witch down, escaping and becoming a wanted witch-slayer. Again using the bold illustrative style, this time focussing on black, white and yellow, this story is funny and inspiring read.

And her latest book, 'Hansel & Gretel', turns the tale of those two gingerbread-loving children on it's head. The witch, in fact, is not a nasty and manipulative woman who lures children with her gingerbread house but is actually a a good witch, who only ver uses good magic, and never gets angry. But when two children rock up at her home and start eating it, causing havoc and playing with her spells and potions, Willow's patience runs to it's limit. And when they try to shove her in the oven to keep her from stopping the chaos they have created, well that's the straw the broke the camel's back, or the deed that broke the witch's patience if you will. Again using a wicked sense of humour, and her signature bold illustrations (this time with orange!), Bethan has created a tale that will make you cheer for the witch when she turns those cheeky children into gingerbread men!

These are the sorts of fairy tale characters that I want BookBairn to read about. And by the number of times we have read these fairytales it seems that she wants to read about them too. If you are raising children to not see the world as absolutes, as black and white, these books will help you to inject a little colour into their thinking: be it red, yellow and orange (as well as many others because I hope there will be many more in this series). And they are a must have for a little feminist bookshelf.

If you'd like to see the awesome pins and patches that Bethan has created to go with these stories do check out her website   I'd like a Rapunzel pin to go with my Little Red.

In July we will be sharing a selection of picture books that incidentally have great female characters. Books where the character could have been male but instead the authors created characters that buck the trend of male characters dominating children's literature.* Picture books with mighty girl characters such as Odd Dog Out, Spyder, Unplugged, and Billy and the Beast. And I will be hosting a Twitter chat so that you can share all your awesome suggestions to add to the list on Sunday 22nd July at 8pm so please come along and share your favourites!

Happy Reading, 

The Little Feminist Book Club x

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DISCLAIMER: I was sent copies of Hansel & Gretel and Rapunzel free for review from the publisher after I requested them, knowing that they would be perfect for the Little Feminist Book Club and I bought a copy of Little Red (and the pin) myself.

*Male characters are twice as likely to take leading roles in children’s picture books according to recent research by the Observer newspaper. Not only that male characters were given more speaking parts, were portrayed in more masculine roles and, shockingly, in a fifth of books (of the top 100 sellers in 2017) there were no female characters at all.

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  1. Einstein also said “Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere”. BookBairn and the Wee Page Turner are going to develop great imaginations if they continue to be exposed to books like these and lots of others.

    1. That's a great quote! BookBairn certainly has a great imagination - have you met the three imaginary penguins yet?

  2. I need these for my girls, love a good fairytale, even better when there's a twist involved!! Thanks for sharing with #readwithme

    1. Your girls would adore these! As would you!

  3. As you know these are some of our favourites! We just love Bethan's feisty characters and her style of illustration :)