Favorite editions/versions of fairy tales
January 18, 2017 12:16 PM   Subscribe

What are some of your favorite editions, versions, or retellings of fairy tales or folk tales or other stories in adjacent genres? I'm interested in beautiful illustrations, or well-written prose, or any other reasons that you love that specific version. If you have one preference for younger kids and a different for older kids, tell me that too!

I'm starting to read some classic fairy tales to the kids, and in particular we're ready for some of the less baby-ish (more complex and less sanitized) versions. When I went to the library, I found quite a lot of different versions of Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast, and excerpts from 1001 Arabian Nights, and so on.

That got me thinking: I'd love to know - partly out of curiosity and partly so I can seek out these "best" versions - what your favorites are and why you like them. Is there a particularly well-illustrated edition of $story? For older kids, an edition that isn't so illustrated, but is really well-written and engaging?

Please don't limit yourself to stories well-known in the US! We are reasonably well-versed in Japanese stories, but would love to read classic stories and folk tales from all over the world. Especially for stories that have been translated, the quality of the translation matters too.

The kids in question are 6 and 3, but I'm happy for a list of recommendations that can grow with them (or that I mighteven enjoy reading!)
posted by telepanda to Media & Arts (26 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Prince Cinders. Cinderella, but with a guy, and the fairy's spells all go wrong but he doesn't realise.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 12:29 PM on January 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

My favourite site: Folklore and Mythology. Electronic Texts edited and/or translated by D. L. Ashliman, University of Pittsburgh. Arranged by type, and also have links to the alternate versions (eg. Little Red Cap (Grimm) aka Little Red Riding Hood (Perrault): one she lives, the other she dies.) And there's a LOT of them there, too.
posted by Zack_Replica at 12:30 PM on January 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure if you'd consider this a classic, but I love this illustrated version of Oscar Wilde's fairy tale "The Happy Prince." The illustrations are really beautiful (I note that Amazon's "look inside" shows text only from a different edition).
posted by FencingGal at 12:31 PM on January 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology will be out on Feb 7 – I have an advance reader's copy and it's wonderful. Probably for older kids and adults though.
posted by nicwolff at 12:33 PM on January 18, 2017

I've always loved Robin McKinley's chapter book version of Beauty and the Beast.
posted by JanetLand at 12:53 PM on January 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

SurLaLune has a raft of (re)interpretations for tales included on the site.

More for you than the kids: Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber, Cat Valente's Orphan's Tales duology, Speak Easy, Six-Gun Snow White. Firmly feminist and adult as all get-out.
posted by xenization at 12:58 PM on January 18, 2017

This was my favorite book of fairy tales as a kid, so much so that I totally destroyed it. I bought another copy for my own children and it is already on its way to being loved to death; my daughter pours over the pages like I did as a kid. I loved the illustrations and the variety of stories in it, some I'd never seen in any other anthology: The White Cat and Ole Lukoie and the Darning Needle and Blockhead Hans.

Do know that it's from 1977 and out of print and almost astonishingly... white.
posted by lilnublet at 1:28 PM on January 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

Ursula Vernon (writing as T. Kingfisher) (previously, previouslier, even more previously than that, and previously still) does the fairy tale retelling thing like nobody else. Here is a representative sampling to get you started.
posted by sourcequench at 1:36 PM on January 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you want beautiful illustrations (with interesting additional details in the margins) Look for anything illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. My son absolutely loved Water of Life - it is one of the few books from his childhood that made it from his childhood bedroom to his adult apartment.
posted by metahawk at 1:56 PM on January 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Andrew Lang's Coloured Fairy Books, especially with illustrations by HJ Ford are gorgeous. Oscar Wildes fairy takes illustrated by Heath Robinson. The Hodder And Stoughton World Mythology series, especially the Chinese one.
posted by smoke at 2:05 PM on January 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

From the point of view of illustration rather than text:
Mervyn Peake of Gormenghast fame illustrated an edition of Grimm's Tales, my copy was a Paladin edition tho I don't know if they're still going.
Erroll Le Caine (sp?) illustrated a lot of fairy tales in the 80s-90s I think, they are stylised, intricate and beautiful.
David Hockney did a series of etchings illustrating Grimm's Tales, I'm not sure if it's available as a book except as a catalogue and mini catalogue, but it's an interesting example of illustration.
Dover publications has a facsimile edition of Perrault 's fairy tales with engravings by Gustave Dore.
There were Russian reprints of the folktales illustrated by Ivan Bilibin with really beautiful lithographs sometime in the 80s.
For anyone interested in illustration all these were easily available quite recently, it's easy to find the pictures online and probably the books themselves on sites like a-libris and abe books.

But to answer your question about things to read to young people, how about Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes, that's a retelling of sorts. Quentin Blake, Dahl's illustrator has a couple of books of magical tales of his own, of course with great pictures. I'll see if I can remember the titles in a minute.

The thing about Grimm's Tales is that the text is more or less fixed as a classic. Popular versions are more or less bowdlerised according to when they were published though.
posted by glasseyes at 2:15 PM on January 18, 2017

Definitely seconding anything illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. Oh man, so awesome.

This is a little off beat and may be hard to find, but one of my favorite books of folk tales as a child was Folktales of the Amur. The stories are great, but it's the illustrations by Gennady Pavlishin that are really amazing.
posted by darchildre at 2:20 PM on January 18, 2017

There's two Golden Books of primarily Greco-Roman mythology illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen that are really quite beautiful. The Golden Treasury of Myths and Legends and The Giant Golden Book of the Iliad and the Odyssey are both available on Amazon - though the latter is hard to find cheaply. The illustrations are top-notch, and the text of both is aimed at older children, and I would judge it to be a little more in depth than the D'aulaires' books.
posted by lousywiththespirit at 2:49 PM on January 18, 2017

Italo Calvino's "Italian Folktales" is a wonderful collection, with Calvino's notes on the versions of the tales he selected. When my kids were growing up this book took the place of the Grimm's collection I had been reading from.
posted by Agave at 3:52 PM on January 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Elijah's Violin and Other Jewish Fairytales, Howard Schwartz. there are several subsequent collected volumes and I don't know if he runs out of good stories and the quality falls off later in the series, or not. This one is great, though.

(The first four Andrew Lang Fairy Books are the best - Red, Green, Yellow, and Blue, in that order, which is not the publication order. I used to be very particular about this when I was a terrible child.)

& my favorite Grimm is the Randall Jarrell translation with the Maurice Sendak illustrations. but that is my taste as a timid adult, I didn't have it as a terrible child.
posted by queenofbithynia at 4:13 PM on January 18, 2017

The Junior Classics This set of ten books used to come with The Colliers Encyclopedias. However the set of books is wonderful beyond belief. It covers Poems, Hero Tales, Stories of Wonder and Magic, Folk Tales from around the world, Animal Stories, Stories About Boys and Girls, the list goes on in ten volumes. I first read The Light Princess in this collection, and I still have a set of these. There are sets that are larger books, so easier to read.
posted by Oyéah at 4:19 PM on January 18, 2017

A bit tangential to the illustrations/books issue and probably best for older children but for internet (and generally text based) reinterpretations, you can try Archive of Our Own's fairy tale tag and then filter further as needed. I think some of the "ever after" reimaginings are fantastic! These are generally done by "amateur" authors though some are very highly skilled and have gone on to publish mainstream works. And Todrick Hall on Youtube has some excellent elaborate short videos that are often Disney/Grimm/Wizard of Oz retold with LGBTQI casting and modern songs. He's done gender swapped versions as well as multiple versions of the same story. He's also had celebrity guest stars such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Pentatonix.
posted by beaning at 5:24 PM on January 18, 2017

The Juniper Tree, by Lore Segal with pictures by Maurice Sendak. This was my first encounter with Grimm stories and I think they're still my favorite. I encountered them at around 8, which I assume is too young because I encountered everything too young. They're pretty dark & violent. There are familiar tales (Hansel & Gretel, etc.) and ones I never saw elsewhere (Hans, My Hedgehog) that were weird but very similar to other fairy tales. Sendak's black & white drawings are beautiful -- they're very formal and static, which is how I think of those stories themselves.

Carl Sandburg's Rootabaga Stories (and Rootabaga Pigeons) are books that I loved at 5 for the silly names, at 15 for their rolling midwestern voice & oddball Americana, and now as a father for their sweet melancholy as well. They aren't stories from any tradition, Sandburg just made them up whole-cloth, but they have the feel of gentle folk tales set in a nonsensical 1920s midwest. Most editions I've seen have lousy new pictures on the cover but the great old illustrations by Maud & Miska Petersham inside.

Boris Zvorykin's illustrations to The Firebird and Other Russian Fairy Tales (OP but not hard to find) are amazing & were another favorite when I was a kid. They're ornate and dreamy.

(Also: Not for kids but jawdroppingly good: The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. Grownup, feminist, erotic riffs on classic fairy tales.)
posted by miles per flower at 5:33 PM on January 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Calla Editions reprints beautiful editions of fairy tales from the Golden Age of Illustration.
posted by Hypatia at 6:56 PM on January 18, 2017

This book is definitely not for kids (teens maybe, but not kids), but I figured I'd add it in case you enjoyed the themes of what you were reading for the kids and wanted to find something for yourself.

I recently read a book called "Quite Contrary" in which a girl accidentally (though the narrative was, to be honest, a little forced at the beginning) wanders into a sort of fairy tale world and ends up taking on the "role" of Red Riding Hood, and is then pursued, sometimes into/through other fairy tales and sometimes not, by the Big Bad Wolf. I found it a pretty fun read; it definitely was not afraid of going in a much more mature-audiences-only direction than a lot of other fairy tale rewrites, which I found refreshing.
posted by Urban Winter at 8:48 PM on January 18, 2017

2nding The Juniper Tree, which I read as a child.

As an adult I've been exploring The Welsh Fairy Book. Don't know if it counts as a personal favorite yet, but it's refreshingly different from the German stories. For one, they are stories mostly actually about fairies. The German word Märchen which we translate as 'fairytale' actually just means something like 'little tale' or 'little saga'; nothing particularly to do with fairies. But the peculiar, elusive and mind-alteringly severe fairies are definitely important protagonists in the Welsh fairy tales. These have, perhaps as consequence, a more fully mythic vibe than the Grimm tales. The edition I link to has charming if somewhat conventional Edwardian illustrations.
posted by bertran at 9:25 PM on January 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Seconding Robin McKinley's Beauty. Its lovely.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 9:50 PM on January 18, 2017

Agree with the Lang's coloured fairy books, particularly if you get them with the Henry Ford illustrations. Also agree with recommendations for McKinley's Beauty and Trina Schart Hyman's illustrations (sadly, not the same work). The Serpent Slayer has longer stories with Hyman's full page illustrations, and features lots of women being bad-ass in cultures from all over the world.

Celtic Fairy Tales, as much for the beautiful illustrations by John D Batten as the stories themselves. It's probably worth trying to find a older secondhand edition even though it has been reprinted; the illustrations usually suffer with each reprint. Related, there are also English Fairy Tales, More English Fairy Tales and More Celtic Fairy tales with the same combination of Joseph Jacobs & John D Batten. But I only had the one I linked to when I was growing up.

Ruth Manning-Sanders did a whole series of fairy tale books with loose themes like giants, cats and creatures, sorcerers and spells, that kind of thing - gorgeous illustrations by Robin Jacques. Largely European in origin, but there is some diversity.

The Complete Book of Dragons by E Nesbit. The cover illo isn't terribly flash but Blegvad's illustrations inside are gorgeous and Nesbit has a lovely dry wit.

Tales from Silver Lands was another one that fascinated me as a child - the illustrations are really amazing woodcuts which I think I appreciate more as an adult but were still good. All South American stories.

Finally, Charles Vess's 4-part comic series The Book of Ballads and Sagas is also thoroughly gorgeous.
posted by Athanassiel at 10:57 PM on January 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh yes, and also this, based on the gorgeously sumptuous illustrations alone.
posted by Athanassiel at 11:10 PM on January 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Adjacent genre related: For when they're a leeeetle older (or if you like reading to them): the Dealing with Dragons series of books might be up the appropriate alley. It's not exactly a fairytale telling, but it takes all the usual tropes of fairytales and plays with them in a way that is very fun and satisfying. Similarly, Stardust by Neil Gaiman, does the same.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 11:33 PM on January 18, 2017

Another fairytale-adjacent book good for both 3 and 6: Anno’s Journey, by Mitsumasa Anno. Delightful, dense illustrations with no words, following a guy on horseback through increasingly busy towns & cities--European and vaguely medieval (mostly). There’s a sort of Where’s-Waldo aspect to it, and lots of hidden pictures with characters from other stories (Little Red Riding Hood, Don Quixote, The Enormous Turnip, Pied Piper of Hamelin, Sesame Street, etc.). Spent many happy hours poring over this with my kid at 3-4.
posted by miles per flower at 8:37 AM on January 19, 2017

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