In the course of our fairy tale unit last month, I stumbled across a shabby copy of A Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales at my local library. I tossed it in the library bag, thinking it might be a nice addition to our fairy tale options. It wasn’t until we were home and sorting through our library haul that I noticed it contains stories by Neil Gaiman, Jane Yolen, Garth Nix, Gregory Maguire and more. I may have mentioned before that don’t read many short story collections, but I was intrigued enough by the lineup to read this one cover to cover.
I wasn’t really surprised to find that some of the retellings were more appealing to me than others, but I was happy to enjoy so many of them. The internet can’t seem to agree on whether this is a YA or middle-grade collection (as if a book must fit into one or the other), but my library had it shelved with the middle-grade books. Although a few of the stories are complex and/or gruesome, I think that was the right choice. I’d say this is a good fit for 4th-8th graders, although individual stories would be perfect for much younger and much older students if you are looking to illustrate a particular concept.
My very favorite retelling in the collection was “The Seven Stage a Comeback” by Gregory Maguire, a long poem about the seven dwarves’ attempt to bring Snow White back home. Each dwarf speaks in each stanza, but their voices and opinions were different enough that we started to predict what the next lines would be. I love when an author can write a whole cast of characters as distinct individuals in a novel, let alone in the few words of a poem. It was really well done.
I laughed a bit at “A Wolf at the Door” by Tanith Lee, in which Glasina and her father take in a wolf they think must be an enchanted man. Glasina doesn’t relish the idea of releasing him from his spell and foregoing college to marry him (as one does when one is the fair maiden who breaks this sort of enchantment), but she can’t just let him live as a wolf forever either. I’ve read plenty of stories with princesses who are delighted by the enchanted prince and ones who reject him completely, but I hadn’t thought about the ones who might just be resigned to their fate.
The icing on the cake for me was the inclusion of Neil Gaiman’s “Instructions.” I love the illustrated version, but it has always seemed to be more for parents and older children who can understand the allusions to classic fairy tales anyway. It fits perfectly with the rest of this quirky collection.
I would recommend this to: a reader looking for some truly strange fairy tale retellings or anyone who has every wondered if Cinderella’s pet birds ever make a mess.