For the Reluctant Reader: The Ravenous Gown and 14 More Tales About Real Beauty by Steffani Raff

Last week I talked about the sources of reluctance in reluctant readers. Today I offer one of the ways in which to, if not remove, then challenge this reluctance. Sometimes, a book can be overwhelming, especially if the reader is still learning the language or is not especially good at paying attention for long periods of time. Words can be intimidating in large quantities and even I, a seasoned reader, sometimes feel overwhelmed by books that are more than a certain number of pages (say 500, I’m looking at Libba Bray, though I love her books).

In those cases, I recommend short stories. Short story collections do not demand extended attention and it is easier to take a break from a short story collection/anthology and still feel productive about reading. Reading shorter stories can also introduce the reader to the pleasure of reading much more easily than a full length novel can. As in, short stories end quicker and the payoff comes faster. They require less commitment and as such are probably less intimidating.

The reason I recommend The Ravenous Gown, well, let’s have a picture and its synopsis first, eh?


Paperback, 200 pages
Published March 24th 2015 by Familius
Source: Raincoast Books

In a day when princesses have been boiled down to beautiful ball gowns comes a new kind of fairy tale.

Fall under the spell of a Once upon a time… where beauty is bigger than a reflection, where wisdom makes girls extraordinary, and where curses are broken through the strength and character of unlikely heroines.

A magnificent collection of short stories written in fairy tale prose The Ravenous Gown captures the essence of a stronger, smarter princesses, the kind that actually lives happily ever after.

The titular tale of the collection is pithy (8 pages), in fact, none of the tales in the collection are more than 8 pages at the most. This does not at all mean that the content of the story suffers from the brevity of the tale. That could not be further from the truth. Like the fairytale genre the stories are anchored in, the tales, though succinct, pack greater punch than stories with twice the word length.

All stories revolve around the central theme of beauty though beauty in this case is not defined simply as the aesthetics of a place or a person, but include also the emotional, moral, and intellectual composition of a person. All stories are infused with a cheeky humour that subverts gender tropes and often calls into question societal expectations of superficial beauty. The collection is in no way limited to, or aimed at, a particular gender; the stories will be enjoyed by children of all ages. In fact, I dare say that adults, too, will find great pleasure in unwrapping different aspects of the stories–I know I did.

The stories include several fairytale retellings such as of “The Crane’s Wife” and “The Princess and the Pea.” All retold fairytales have a modern twist that sometimes changes them in a drastic manner while retaining the playful tone characteristic to fairytales. Raff removes the senseless tragedy from many of the tales but is careful to leave the profundity of these tales untouched.

One of my favourite stories is about a prince whose nose is as big as a banana. His parents, in order to spare him humiliation, change all pictures etc. so that the standard of beauty in his country is a big nose (thus pointing to the fact that beauty is a societal/human construct and is, as such, changeable). It is only when he is of marriageable age and sees  pictures of eligible suitors  does he, after a while, gain some self-awareness. I love how this story continues and concludes and I dare say you, and your reluctant reader, will too. The hints of absurd save the stories from being didactic in tone. Also included in this collection are discussion questions which come with author notes about individual stories that will be invaluable in a classroom setting.

This is Steffani Raff’s debut work (to my knowledge) and considering the strength of these tales, I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next. I enjoyed this collection immensely (a rare 5-star from me) and recommend it heartily to you no matter what your age is.