Category Archives: Fairy Tales

Review of Jerry Pinkney’s “The Ugly Duckling” Adaptation


This version of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale sticks to the original story enough to be heartfelt in the same way as the original, retaining the themes of finding one’s inner beauty and place in the world. Besides cutting unnecessary details from the original story (of which there are many), the only things that are changed in this version include the ugly duckling’s mother never saying anything negative about him. and the children who take in the ugly duckling never being mean. I appreciate Pinkney changing these two details, because the idea of a character who was never treated nicely by anyone in his  life is pretty rough for children. I think having most, but not all, of the characters be unkind to the ugly duckling is adequate.

I’m glad the children in this version were always kind to the ugly duckling, especially since, according to Maria Tatar’s The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen, the meanness of these children came not from Andersen’s wish to have the duckling mistreated until the end, but from Andersen’s own dislike of children. This is one example of modern authors changing classic stories for the better, I think.   However, I wish the part with these children trying to play with the duckling had been illustrated. It would have been very interesting to see a picture of the children trying to play with the duckling but him running away, thinking they were being mean.

The illustrations do show, however, that the same children see the duckling after he becomes a beautiful swan, but don’t recognize him. According to a commentator’s analysis of this story, referenced by Maria Tatar in The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen, the bread they throw to the duckling is meant to be thought of as a symbolic result of the milk, butter, and flour he jumps into when trying to get away from the children. In that case, even though the part about him jumping into these food items isn’t in Pinkney’s retelling, maybe when I retell the story, I’ll make it clear that the children admiring the swans are the same children who tried to play with the duckling, and that the bread they throw to him is made from the very same milk, butter, and sugar he jumped into. I would have him jump into these food items when the kids are trying to play with him and be nice, but he is afraid.

Another thing the illustrations don’t show that I wish they did is the other ducklings right after they hatched, when their down was still wet and ruffled. They show the ugly duckling right after he hatched, but they don’t show his brothers and sisters until after they’re dry, fluffy, and cute. This is not fair. They should have shown his brothers and sister right after hatching, too, to show that all birds are ugly right after they hatch. This would have helped the illustrations show that the duckling wasn’t really ugly; just different from the others.

The only other part I would have liked to see illustrated that wasn’t was the autumn after the duckling went back to the pond. I think Pinkney chose not to illustrate it because it is not an important part of the story, but if I retold and illustrated my own version, I would try to fit the autumn in, because autumn is my favorite season.

All in all, I think this is a pretty good retelling of “The Ugly Duckling.” The text is beautiful, and the illustrations are beautiful, too, showing lots of details in both the story and the background.  The retelling also strikes a nice balance between sticking to the original story and improving it in parts. I think it could have improved it further while still maintaining the essence of the story, but it is not at all bad the way it is.






Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Rena. Rena lived in a beautiful, perfect world with her mom and dad. This world was full of beautiful, fragrant flowers. Rena’s parents would feed her delicious nectar from the flowers and dress her in beautiful dresses made from their petals. This world had trees to climb, good clean water to swim in, and lots of bunnies, kittens, and puppy-dogs to pet.

Rena lived happily in her perfect world until one day, an evil witch discovered this beautiful place. Now, she hated bunnies, kittens, puppy-dogs, and especially flowers, for she hated all things fragrant and beautiful. She also hated any good, loving person who liked these things. So this witch decided to create a storm that would destroy this beautiful place. She cast an evil spell that made it storm in Rena’s perfect world, and the storm destroyed everything except Rena.

Poor Rena was all alone in her ruined home. Here parents were gone, and so were all her animal friends. Worse still, all the flowers had turned to slime; so walking in this place was terrible. She kept slipping and falling in that horrible slime, and soon the slime was all over her. Rena felt so awful she found herself wishing she would die like her parents. But even when she felt like quitting, Rena kept going.

She covered her eyes, for the witch had made everything as ugly and frightening as herself, and she held her nose, for everything stank of the witch, too. But soon little Rena smelled something familiar. She unplugged her nose, opened her eyes, and sure enough, she had grown two beautiful wings made of flower petals. The wings were so beautiful they made her forget about the slime covering her body, and their fragrance blocked out the terrible smell. Soon Rena found herself flapping her wings, and she flew high above her ruined home. While she flew, most of the slime fell off her body, but not all of it. Rena flew through the air, happy to have escaped from the witch and her terrible deeds, until she came to another world. This world had bunnies, kittens, and puppy-dogs just like her old world, but it also had snakes, wasps, and slugs. There were flowers in this world, and they were beautiful, but their petals could not be worn, and their nectar was poisonous for humans. But they could be picked!

Rena soon learned that there were people in this world too, but they were not like the beautiful people she knew from her perfect world. They all had flaws, such as ugly noses or stupid laughs. But none of them were as awful as the witch. As Rena got to know these people, she came to like them, especially this one man and woman. As time went on, Rena discovered new things in this world she had never experienced in her perfect world. For instance, these people could make her laugh in ways she had never laughed before. Back in her perfect world, all the humor was light-hearted and cheerful, but here there was also dry and sarcastic humor, which Rena learned to love. Back in the perfect world, there was nothing to be dry or sarcastic about.

As Rena came to love this new world, the man and woman told her a special secret: they were her parents.  The three of them had been separated during the storm, but they all survived, and they all found each other again in this new world.

As time went on, Rena learned to love her new home flaws and all. She could no longer wear dresses made of flower petals, but the new materials they had in this world also made lovely clothes. Her parents dressed her and fixed her up, and even though they could not get rid of that last bit of slime, her lovely features shone even more beautifully because of it. And her parents’ new imperfections made her love their good qualities all the more. Even though life was no longer perfect, Rena and her parents lived happily ever after.

Sleeping Beauty Discussion


I will start our fairy tale discussions with one of my all-time favorites, “Sleeping Beauty.”  This is one fairy tale I enjoyed as a child in both its Disney form and its original form, though I didn’t find the original form nearly as interesting as the movie when I was a child.   As an adult,  I really don’t like the original version at all, and though I like the movie, I can see both versions have major flaws.  Looking back on it, those flaws interfered with my enjoyment of the story even when I was a child.

The Disney version sparked my imagination in many ways, but never fully satisfied it.  That’s why when I wasn’t watching “Sleeping Beauty,” I was running around in circles expanding upon concepts in the movie that I found interesting.  The fairies’ raising the princess in the woods was probably the main concept I did that with.   I often came up with my own ideas on what happened when Briar Rose was a pre-pubescent child and even still an infant with the fairies.  Some of these ideas included the fairies finding a kitten for her to play with and drawing pictures of what she would be like when she grew up.

In addition to expanding on existent concepts in “Sleeping Beauty,” there was one non-existent concept that, as a kid, I thought would be interesting if present in the movie.  This was Briar Rose’s finding out about the missing Princess Aurora, and not discovering until later that she is this person.  I had this thought while watching the part of the movie where Briar Rose is out picking berries and looks unknowingly at her father’s castle.

When I read the original Brothers Grimm version as a child, I enjoyed it mostly because my love for the movie made it cozy and familiar.  Aside from that, I found it pretty boring. Most of the interesting concepts in the Disney version were absent from it.  Sure, there were the fairies giving her gifts as an infant, but nothing could make that scene as interesting as it was in the Disney version, not even there being twelve good fairies instead of just three.  Yeah, there was the evil fairy, but not only was she not nearly as cool as Maleficent in the Disney version, her reason for being upset about not being invited to the baby shower didn’t even make sense, regardless of the version I read.  In some versions she wasn’t invited because no one knew her whereabouts, and in others she wasn’t invited because there were only twelve golden plates for fairies.  At least in the Disney version, they didn’t invite her because they knew she was evil!

Another complaint I have about the bad fairy in the Brothers Grimm “Sleeping Beauty” is that after giving the princess her terrible gift, she disappears and is never seen again. According to Sheldon Cashdan in The Witch Must Die: How Fairy Tales Shape Our Lives, she doesn’t even constitute as an actual witch because of that: “”Once she [the evil thirteenth fairy] arrives at the ball celebrating the infant Rosamond’s birth and delivers her pronouncement, she is never heard from again. There is consequently no enduring malevolent presence in the story, and no penultimate struggle between the forces of good and evil” (Cashdan, 25). Needless to say, this story would have been much more interesting if there was a “penultimate struggle between the forces of good and evil,” which is part of the reason I like the Disney version much better. As we will later explore, this “penultimate struggle” (Cashdan, 25) has highly symbolic value.

There is also absolutely nothing interesting between the baby shower and the princess falling asleep in the original version.  There’s no princess being raised in the forest by fairies, none of the evil fairy’s wrath, no falling in love with a supposed stranger, no fairies making funny mistakes while making a cake and gown for the princess’ birthday, no kings arguing over whether it’s a good idea for their children to get married when they’ve never met, and no prince defeating a fire-breathing dragon with the help of three fairies who are much spunkier than the princess.  Even though those concepts weren’t expanded on enough in the Disney version, at least they were there.  They weren’t even present in the original version!  For that reason, I saw the original version as a very boring story when I was a child, just a I do as an adult.

I still like the Disney version now, though, and after recently re-watching it a couple of times, I had some other thoughts on which concepts in the movie would have contributed more had they been expanded.  One was the fairies wishing Briar Rose didn’t have to go back to being a princess so they could keep her in the forest and, similarly, Briar Rose being unhappy upon hearing she’s a princess instead of a peasant girl.

The main reason she was unhappy about this was that she thought she loved someone other than her betrothed.  This concept would have obviously added more to the story if the young man she met really was someone other than the prince she was betrothed to.  It also would have been much more interesting, much less creepy, and made much more sense if the handsome “stranger” she met hadn’t fallen for her just because of her voice.  The creepiest parts of this exchange, though, were his excuse of meeting her “once upon a dream” for not being a stranger and her falling for both him and the excuse at first glance, before they even knew each others’ names!  As an adult, that’s the main concept in the Disney version that bothers me, and it’s why I think the songs “I Wonder” and “Once Upon a Dream” are stupid.  Though “Sleeping Beauty” is one of my favorite Disney movies, I’ll be the first to say others have much better songs, including my other favorite, “Beauty and the Beast.”  Even as a child, I tried to make sense of that love at first sight garbage, but I couldn’t.  Now I know this was because there is no sense to be made.  There is no real “love at first sight.”  Real romantic love comes from spending time getting to know someone you really like and want to be close to.  Remember this, kids, for when you get old enough for romance.  Real love is nothing like how they depict it in fairy tales.

Anyway, if the concepts I named about her falling in love with someone she met in the forest were both different and expanded upon, they would have contributed much more to the story.  There are two more concepts I feel that way about as an adult.  One is the princess’ father questioning whether it’s a good idea to marry her to someone she’s never met.  As people of the 21st century, we know that’s a really stupid, archaic thing to do, so it would have made much more sense to us if he had continued to feel that way and actually done something about it, instead of relenting right away and deciding his daughter and his best friend’s son were “bound to fall in love with each other.”  After all, that practice wasn’t at all archaic in medieval times, and so if someone thought it was a bad idea then, that would have been a revolutionary thought.  It would have been very interesting to see how it plays out in a medieval setting.

Another concept, or in this case character, I think would have contributed more to the story if expanded on was Merry Weather.   She is quite the tough and cool fairy, with much more of an attitude than her two sisters.  There are, in fact, at least two occurrences where she tries to confront Maleficent but the others stop her.  They should have let this strong, brave fairy confront her, and then helped her defeat this evil witch!  That would have made these fairies even spunkier heroines than they were to begin with!  And the fact that I have always believed something like this is clear, because when I was eight, I would fantasize about the three good fairies dueling with Maleficent.  Why not?