Mixed Up Fairy Tales a Discussion and Some Picturebooks

I remember the first story I wrote for children. I was in grade 3. It was an assignment – write a mixed up fairy tale. Consequentially, I smushed the Princess and the Pea with Sleeping Beauty (they matched!) and had a very tired tale which resulted in everyone happily sleeping in a castle full of mattresses.

The beauty of the mixed up fairy tale is that it doesn’t matter if it really makes sense. Because the tales are well-known and follow so many conventions it is easy to adapt to the mixed-up versions as they undermines what the reader expects. Mixed-up tales takes conventions and tear them to shreds and it is loads of fun to both read and write and, sometimes, watch.

Here is a selection of unique mixed up fairy tale picturebooks that I have come across:

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The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, Published by Viking Press

This is a skillful mish-mash of fairy tales. Published in 1992 it remains one of the most brilliant postmodern fairy tale books on the market. Everything from the CIP data to the endpapers to the gutters are incorporated into the tales. Scieszka and Smith play with page arrangement and manage to make the eclectic, frenetic mix of text and pictures into a coherent, whole and satisfying story. The story is told by Jack, from the popular tale, “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and tells the reader that no, no, these are not normal fairy tales… The individual tales, such as he Really Ugly Duckling, and Little Red Running Shorts, are just a few examples of the tales retold and mixed up in this collection. The book is a spoof on the art of book design and the art of the fairy tale, playing with not only the sanctity of each fairy tale but with the very format and formula of the picturebook. One could argue that this book is multimodal, demanding that the reader bring with them prior knowledge and experience in order to engage and play with the stories and images presented here. The book offers many points of discussion, a model for creating one’s own ‘mixed up fairy tale’ and, of course, a whole lot of laughs.

(CHECK OUT SCIESZKA’S OTHER RETELLINGS and STORIES)

7493149 Mirror Mirror, by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Josee Masse, published by

This is a fabulous book which showcases wordsmithing at it’s best! It is full of “reverso” poems all within the fairy tale realm. While most of the retellings stay within the realm of their own ‘tale’ each tale is reversed and mixed up with such cleverness and wonderful word-grace (that’s my new word). There is often a tremendous, hilarious and mischievous twist that always blows my mind. There are many wonderful things about this book, but first and foremost: it is poetry! The images are beautiful, the people are reminiscent of puppets which works wonderfully with the way the stories are told and then reversed.

(Check out Elizabeth Bird’s review for a closer examination!)

138069 The Three Pigs by David Wiesner, published by Clarion Books, Caldecott Medalist 2001

With David Wiesner telling the story, you can never assume too much. This is a wonderful visual experience. The pigs begin their tale as always, but then they escape their page (and their art style), Wiesner gives them wings, paper air plane wings, and they fly off into the realm of fairy tales. The story of the Three Pigs traverses new territory in this mixed up fairy tale (they meet a dragon!). More play with the format of the picturebook places this piece in the ‘postmodern’ category, two nearly blank pages, folded pages, several art styles and stories adorning any one page – it’s brilliant and clear and enjoyable for both children and adults.

This man is brilliant, check out his site: http://www.davidwiesner.com/

But mixed up fairy tales, or the postmodern fairy tale, is not only relegated to the land of picturebooks. There are many a story and novel that play with multiple fairy tales and I encourage you to peruse Goodreads or delve back in your mind to the many books that you have already read and realize just how many conventions were torn from the fairy tale tradition. Later this week I’ll be tackling some mixed up fairy tale movies and T.V. shows, and later this month we’ll be talking to Christopher Healy about his How To Save A Kingdom and Adam Gidwitz’s A Tale Dark and Grimm – mayhaps something new about mixing up fairy tales will be gleaned!

So stay tuned for more fun with fairy tales!