Old Tales Told Afresh

As the old year makes way for the new, let’s take a look through some fresh retellings of old stories. Some of these stories are rooted in folklore; others have been recrafted from literary works of bygone centuries. All offer new ways of seeing and understanding the roots from which they grow, just as insights from the past year inform us as we step into the new.

Olive, a wordless delight by artist Jed Alexander in his “Fairy-Tale Color Collection” and published by Creston Books, reimagines the tale of the child, the beanstalk, and the giant so that readers need take the actual trip up the magical plant, leaving the landscape orientation with which we–and the child–begin by turning the book 90 degrees and looking up that enormous plant. The titular heroine’s tale is told in…what else? Olive green, of course!

Olive cover on left and interior spread turned from landscape to portrait orientation on right

Folktales figure into several graphic novels from Toon Books, including a stunningly presented Hansel & Gretel, originally credited to the Brothers Grimm, and here retold by Neil Gaiman with the essentially ominous artwork of Lorenzo Mattotti. This one has just been released anew in paperback. Also from Toon Books, the Latin American folktale Blancaflor, retold by Nadja Spiegelman with full color art by Sergio Garcia Sánchez, is available in four editions: both English and Spanish in both hardcover and paperback. Bilingual children’s author and language education scholar F. Isabel Campoy’s introduction provides further context for any readers unfamiliar with this tale of girl power.

From girl power we move to kid power with The Three Hunters, published by Inhabit Media. This wholly original and Inuit-forward tale was written by the Grade 4 class at Leo Ussak School, in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, under the tutelage of Raymond Gianfrancesco. They created it in the wake of reading “The Three Little Pigs” and other fairytales, and studying a variety of facts during their social studies. Illustrated by Brazilian artist Thamires Paredes, the imagery reflects Arctic life in expressive colors.

The Three Hunters cover on left and interior illustration on right

From the centuries-old world of fairytales and folklore, we move up in literary time to Shakespearean re-imaginings. Manga Classics regularly supplies contemporary readers with access to the Elizabethan era playwright’s work recast in the style of Japan’s comics traditions. These manga-style interpretations come in two flavors: in traditional Shakespearean English and in modern English. And what makes these plays, including Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, reformulated as manga by Crystal S. Chan and artist Julien Choy, even more of a twist of from-old-to-new is that William Shakespeare himself borrowed some of his storylines from 15th century Italian prose novels.

Swiss publisher Helvetiq has just introduced North American readers to a picture book treatment of the Swiss classic, Heidi, written by the 19th century children’s author Johanna Spyri. This minimalist interpretation presents very 21st century illustrations by Swiss artist Carole Aufranc. While the complexities of the original novel’s plot and characters are much abbreviated here, the digital collage suggesting cut paper art captures the various relationships—between Heidi and her grandfather, between Heidi and other characters (both child and adult), and between Heidi and the Swiss Alps.

Heidi cover on left and interior of Heidi and her Grandfather on right

And that brings us to a retelling of a tale originally written in the early 20th century by I.L. Peretz who is credited with helping to bring Yiddish literature into modern literary and theater circles. Kalaniot Books has published Shoham Smith’s picture book retelling of Peretz’s Seven Good Years, with illustrations by Eitan Eloa and translated from Smith’s Hebrew to English by Ilana Kurshan. Here is a moral tale with an inspired and inspiring twist: satisfied with their simplicity, a family uses only the part of the wealth provided by a magician that is needed to get their children educated–and then they offer to return the rest. Their lack of greed has a reward, of course….

Seven Good Years cover and interior page spread of characters

The new year is a good time to consider our own capacity for generosity, ingenuity, and flexibility as we consider how a story might look from another viewpoint or from a different set of life circumstances. These retold tales offer guidance in honoring that new year’s resolution to develop fresh outlooks and recognize the power of stories to give our present a boost from the past.

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