Category Archives: Fairy tales

Hilary McKay’s Fairy Tales

Hilary McKay has re-written ten well-known fairy tales with her usual charm and warmth. I love them!

There is just one thing though; if you start a child off with these as their first fairy tales, I honestly don’t see how you can then give them a more ordinary version of the same tales later.

Sarah Gibb, Hilary McKay's Fairy Tales

I have read countless varieties of most of these stories, and they are much the same. Some are older and more traditional, while others might have been modernised and are easier to read aloud. But none are like Hilary’s, and I would love to read them to a child. And if it was a child who already knew the basic tales, I rather imagine they would experience the same warm glow from Hilary’s version as I did. That in itself could be a discussion point.

Let’s see, I especially loved Chickenpox and Crystal (that’s Snow White, to you), and The Prince and the Problem (The Princess and the Pea). And The Roses Round the Palace (Cinderella) and Over the Hills and Far Away (Red Riding Hood and the Piper’s Son).

And if I mention any more, it will look as if the whole collection was my favourite. I ‘quite liked’ all of them…

There is a flavour of the Casson family over these royal family tales. It’s nice to find that queens can be sensible in the Hilary McKay way. And to have a story featuring a noddle-offer is quite something. (I believe it’s what Kings use to remove the heads of Princes who have an interest in the King’s daughters.)

I absolutely refuse to tell you more about these tales. It would mean spoilers, and you don’t want that. You want to read this collection, and you want to come to it fresh, to see what Hilary has done with our old favourites. How she has made them into new favourites.

This is really something.


The illustrations by Sarah Gibb almost require a post of their own. They are the most glorious, traditional style, black and white pictures that you need for fairy tales.

And the cover! It incorporates all or nearly all the tales. You see Red Riding Hood, but you don’t yet know what Hilary has done to her.

Sarah Gibb, Hilary McKay's Fairy Tales

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The ones not yet chosen

Is it silly to review a book you, my readers, can’t read? I’ve got so caught up with Maria Turtschaninoff that I’m not only working my way through her books, but I want to tell everyone else about them too.

Maria Turtschaninoff, De ännu inte valda

So to begin with, I’m simply glad I’ve managed to source her un-translated books, especially after my rant a couple of weeks ago. Of six novels, two have been translated into English. The other four don’t even make it into Swedish bookshops, despite being written in Swedish, because Maria is from Finland.

De ännu inte valda (The ones not yet chosen) is her first published book. It’s fairly short, and aimed at younger readers than Maresi or Naondel. While fantasy, it is half set in the real world, and half in some other place. We meet step-siblings Martin and Emmi, who really don’t get on. Each of them would prefer to be left alone; he with his mum and she with her dad.

But now the parents are going off, leaving the two with Emmi’s aunt. And as so often happens under these circumstances, a fairytale muse pops through the window one evening and the two children accidentally-on-purpose leave with her, and discover a whole new world.

It’s a story world, where the muses are charged with catching every inspirational thought authors have, and help them fill their stories with the right characters. It’s an important task, as it wouldn’t do to put the wrong characters into a story.

No sooner have Emmi and Martin arrived, than it becomes clear this world is under threat, and they realise that they are the only ones who can fix it. But they are still fighting each other, so first have to learn to cooperate, and that both of them can be right. And wrong.

This is a lovely story and it’s such an obvious plot in a way, that I’m surprised I’ve not encountered it before. It makes sense, because how can you leave characterisation to a mere writer? You want a specialist.

And needless to say, this is also a plot that urgently requires a translator.

Ash Boy

In Ash Boy for Barrington Stoke, Lucy Coats introduces us to Cinders the fella. She turns most of the traditional Cinderella story upside-down, in what turns out to be a really enjoyable tale. I mean, I object to the bad treatment of anyone, just about, but it’s quite satisfying to have someone other than a girl do some of the cleaning…

Lucy Coats, Ash Boy

Not only is Cinderella a boy, but I suspect an Asian boy, which brings another welcome aspect to this well known story. I can’t quite place it in time, as it appears both thoroughly modern and also several hundred years old. It borrows ideas from the fairy tale and the Disney film as well as the traditional panto. (Swedes have no Buttons, for instance.)

I digress. This is great fun, while obviously being rather sad, what with the demise of Cinder’s mum and the hardship he suffers, bullied by his step-brothers Rock and Boulder and their mother Mrs Karim.

And then comes the invitation from the Royal family, where the winner of the Grand Quintain Contest will be granted a favour of their choice by Princess Betony on her 14th birthday.

You can guess how it goes.

Did I mention that this is really fun?

Reckless and Swedish

Those Swedes are fortunate. Cornelia Funke has such a good relationship with her Swedish publishers that she wrote a short Reckless story, exclusively for them.

This does mean that most of you won’t be able to read it, but who cares? Strömkarlens fiol, en Stockholmsnovell, is sheer magic, and I enjoyed it a lot.

Set in the Stockholm of Mirrorworld we meet a new city. Old, obviously, but new to me. I think that’s the thing. Stories set in old Sweden usually don’t have this magical feel to them. This was as though Stockholm has grown up, and become a proper fairy setting like many others, all over the world.

Jakob and Fox travel to Sweden to try and retrieve a violin. It’s not just any old violin, but a real Strömkarl violin. A Strömkarl is that man who stands in a river/waterfall, playing and mesmerising those who hear him. And now one such instrument has been stolen, and a young girl’s life depends on it being found.

Short but exciting, with plenty of charm. I could read more of this kind of thing. And nice illustrations by Cornelia.

In the Land of Broken Time

Maria and Max Evan, In the Land of Broken Time: The Incredible Journey

This was actually a rather sweet and fun little story. In the Land of Broken Time: The Incredible Journey, by Maria and Max Evan and translated from Russian by Helen Hagon, is a picture book. I think. I have read it on the Kindle as that is the only format so far, and generally I find ebooks and picture books don’t work so well.

Hence a certain reluctance on my part to read them. Except in this case I felt there was something there, so I gave it a go, and I’m glad I did, as I really enjoyed the book.

The story is about Christopher who is ten, and who sneaks out to see the circus even though he is unwell. Doing so he comes across another sneaky child, the lovely Sophie, and they end up having an adventure, in the company of a speaking dog. As you do.

There is an air balloon involved and somehow it travels in time, and the children land somewhere different, where there is a time mystery for them to solve.

Maria and Max Evan, In the Land of Broken Time: The Incredible Journey

It’s old-fashioned and modern all at once. It’s like a typical fairy tale, but one where the children have mobile phones and access to Skype. And a talking dog.

Cornelia and her Mount Everest

Cornelia Funke Blog Tour

And, bringing up the rear, here is Bookwitch interviewing Cornelia Funke on the last day of the blog tour for Reckless, The Golden Yarn. Good things come to those who wait, and I knew – somehow – that talking to Cornelia would be good, even if I had to chase her to Newcastle’s Seven Stories to do it.

I was right. Cornelia is the kind of woman I’d happily chat to some more. And aren’t languages – foreign ones, even – the best? Where would we have been if we’d not both of us paid attention in school? I’d not have got far in German, and for all her early reading of Astrid Lindgren, I guess Cornelia’s Swedish isn’t very fluent. If at all.

Here she is, on standing up to publishers, editing, languages and the beauty of Los Angeles, coyotes and all. And, well, the naked man who traditionally plays the violin, standing in some river or other. She knows about him too.

‘Fantasy readers are much better people’

I have to agree with Garth Nix there. Maybe. It’s not every day someone ushers a writer like Garth from the room, so I can have some peace and quiet, but this happened yesterday at Seven Stories in Newcastle. I was there to interview Cornelia Funke. Garth’s presence was an added bonus, and it was lovely to see him.

War Horse at Seven Stories

Newcastle wasn’t quite as complicated as it was when I was last there. The train was on time. The taxis behaved – sort of – normally. Seven Stories was just as nice, and they had several exhibitions on, including one about Michael Morpurgo, and as I waited for Cornelia, I visited all seven floors for a quick look. So did the woman with the pram, who was trying to locate her husband. I hope there was a happy ending for them.

Chris Riddell at Seven Stories

Cornelia arrived with her publicist Vicki, and along with Garth we were conveyed to a quiet room, with only one Tiger [who came to tea] in it. And then Garth was conveyed somewhere else. Cornelia and I had our chat, which I had ended up re-planning in the middle of the night when I came up with a more important question for her.

Cornelia Funke Blog Tour

Afterwards I climbed up to the seventh floor where I waited for Garth’s and Cornelia’s event to start, along with a few early fans, and I suffered only mild vertigo. In more than one direction, but I survived.

Cornelia Funke and Garth Nix at Seven Stories

I do love that room at the top, though! All those beams with fairy lights strung all over! And I reached the purple sofa first.

Garth talked about his premature idea of writing postapocalyptic dystopia, and he and Cornelia both agreed that writers write what they want to write. He works  towards the iceberg idea, where the story in the book is 10% with the other 90% existing in the writer’s mind. With fantasy you dig deeper, and it is more realistic than realism…

Cornelia Funke and Garth Nix at Seven Stories

A lot of fantasy is about boundaries; crossing them, or not crossing them. Cornelia who is now thinking six books for her Reckless series, is working on the fourth, which is exclusively Japanese fairy tales. Her plans for writing is to continue her three different series (which sounds like something her fans will approve of), taking them further.

There was some advice on what to do when meeting bears, but if it’s a grizzly I believe this will mostly mean the bears eating [you]. Garth grew up in Canberra where you are never far from the wilderness, and he had some tale about his father, who sounds as if he was the one who taught little Garth to lie so fluently.

Just as well, since he is monolingual, and quite jealous of Cornelia and her several languages. (She helpfully pointed out that speaking two languages protects you against Alzheimer’s.) In the US they believe Garth is English on account of how he speaks…

Cornelia Funke

After the Q&A session, Garth and Cornelia did a signing, and this was very much the kind of place where diehard fans had arrived carrying piles and piles of books, and much time was spent talking about whatever you talk about with your favourite author. Photos were taken, and even I had an offer of being photographed with Cornelia. But you know me; that’s not how I operate if I can help it.

Garth Nix

The first signing was followed by a second signing downstairs in the bookshop, where I carefully studied what they had for sale. A lot of good books.

Cornelia Funke

And then I went to check on my earlier booking for a taxi, joining other hopefuls on the pavement outside. Eventually I managed to persuade one driver that I probably was the Annie who had booked a taxi to the railway station.

(My apologies to any Annies left behind in Lime Street…)

Seven Stories