Tag Archives: fairy tale retellings

Review Of Barbara Wyn Klunder’s “Other Goose: Recycled Rhymes For Our Fragile Times…”

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I really liked “Other Goose: Recycled Rhymes For Our Fragile Times” by Barbara Wyn Klunder. Its poems are clever, and they all address important social issues. They’re funny, but in a very dry and sarcastic way. I also love how they’re all retellings of nursery rhymes. I’m a big fan of rewriting classic poems and stories with modern twists, and these poems remind me of the attempts I’ve made at retelling fairy tales in a way that addresses modern social issues. Maybe someday I’ll post my modern, almost futuristic, retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk.”
While I like all the poems in this book, an issue I have with some of them is that they do not maintain the essence of the original nursery rhymes. I think any kind of retelling, whether it’s a parody or something more serious, should maintain the essence of what it’s retelling. This is one of the issues I have with my least favorite poem, “Blow, Blow, Blow Your Nose.” This is a retelling of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” but it has nothing to do with the lyrics of that song. In addition, the social issue it’s about (seasonal allergies) is not very serious compared to the other issues addressed in this book. This makes it seem kind of out of place in this book.
I have a similar complaint about “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep.” Sure, it’s about an environmental issue (running out of natural resources like oil and gas), and I like most poems in this book (and elsewhere) about environmental issues.  For this issue, though, Klunder should have based it on a nursery rhyme about running out of something or not having enough, like “Old Mother Hubbard.” The retelling of “Old Mother Hubbard” in this book is good, though. It’s about poverty and relying on food banks. I understand Kunder’s decision to have her “Old Mother Hubbard” retelling be about poverty, since there are already lots of environmental poems in this collection, and since she made the decision to have only one retelling of each well-known nursery rhyme.
If she had decided to write multiple retellings of the same nursery rhyme for this book, though, there should have been one “Mother Hubbard” retelling about poverty and one about dwindling natural resources. It doesn’t make sense to have the poem about dwindling natural resources be a “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” retelling, because that poem is about the opposite; the black sheep has plenty of wool. A retelling of “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” should be about an issue related to excess, like a child having lots of toys but not enough time with his or her parents, or a rich person having plenty of money while everyone else is starving. In fact, maybe I’ll try rewriting “Baa, Baa Black Sheep” in a way that deals with one of those issues.
“Jack and Jill” is a nice example of an environmental poem (this one deals with urban water pollution) that does a good job of maintaining the essence of the original nursery rhyme. Another is “Humpty Dumpty,” which also deals with water pollution, except for this poem, it is the illustration that draws the connection between the original rhyme and its retelling. It shows Humpty falling into the polluted lake.
Some of these poems, like “Old King Cole,” “There Was An Old Woman,” and “Hey, Diddle, Diddle” are positive. I like how Klunder was able to include these poems alongside all the grim ones dealing with serious social problems. I especially like “Hey, Diddle, Diddle,” because it’s based on the nursery rhyme of the same name, one of my childhood favorites. The last poem in the book is also one of my favorites, because it’s based on one of my favorite nursery rhymes and it’s about a social problem I am very passionate about solving. The nursery rhyme is “Starlight, Star Bright” (also the name of the retelling), and the social problem is air pollution.
“Little Bo Peep” is one of the few poems in the collection that addresses an issue specifically about the teens and tweens reading this book: dressing to be clones of one another, always following someone’s lead like sheep instead of making one’s own decisions. Even the poems that aren’t directly about them, though, will most likely get teens and preteens thinking about important social issues. They might even do the same for adults.  That is the main reason I think this book is great.  For those who are interested, here is a link to it on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Other-Goose-Recycled-Rhymes-Fragile/dp/0888998295

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

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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.