• Nina Clare

Straw into Gold: Fairy Tales Re-spun by Hilary Mckay (2018)

I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of ten short stories, each one beautifully written with a gentle twist or a fresh perspective on a well-known fairy tale.

In The Tower and the Bird, twin siblings strive to release a captive bird but the bird has been caged too long to easily take to freedom. A lovely short story that parallels that of Rapunzel, held captive in her tower, and her slow adjustment to freedom.

Straw into Gold is Rumpelstiltskin with a twist. A fae hob without a name lives on the edge of a village, tolerated because of his hard work until the day he is driven away to live in isolation and loneliness. Into the story comes a miller’s daughter with ambitions to be the bride of the king, and who discovers the strange little hob's secret gift of spinning straw into gold. In this tale it is the miller’s daughter who drives a hard bargain, and the story tells of what happens after the queen thwarts Rumpelstiltskin.

The Roses Round the Palace is a Cinderella story with a reluctant prince who doesn’t really want a royal wife, and would rather be tending to his prized roses; but a prince has to marry, and to find a wife there must be a ball…

The strange and dark tale of The Pied Piper of Hamelin is retold in The Fountain in the Market Square. The young people of the city of Hamelin are a picnicking, pleasure-loving generation whose partying in the village square attracts an influx of rats. When the Pied Piper offers to remove the rats by means of his magical piping, the city mayor agrees, but does not pay the piper his agreed fee—so when the Piper comes again, he comes to exact a dreadful recompense…

Snow White is retold as Chickenpox and Crystal, when a young girl finds a shard of a broken mirror, she becomes obsessed with becoming the prettiest of them all…

In The Prince and the Problem, a retelling of The Princess and the Pea, a young prince is not very charming, he’s thoroughly bad-tempered due to being cursed by his fairy godmother; the only thing that will break the curse is for him to marry a true princess, but where to find one, especially when the girl the prince really likes is but a housemaid…?

Over the Hills and Far Away is a Red Riding Hood story. Polly is a foundling, and considered a little strange, especially when she takes to visiting an old lady she calls Granny, who lives in the wild woods where a wolf is rumoured to roam. The only person in the village as odd as Polly is Tom Piper, but one day Tom disappears, and the footprints of a great wolf appear. This is a story of outlaws and outcasts, and of people not being quite what they seem.

In Things Were Different in Those Days an impoverished princess tries to unravel the mystery of her long-lost aunts and the princes they danced away the nights with in this funny retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses.

When a new teacher comes to the little school house in the forest she is puzzled and bemused by the stories of her new pupils. Little Miss Punzel is absent due to being stuck up a tower, one little girl with blonde hair cannot spell ‘porridge’, and a girl called Beauty has been taken away to live with a beast. In an essay on 'What I did in the holidays' Gretel tells a fanciful story of she and her brother Hansel on a gruesome misadventure and their escape from a cannibalistic witch…

Finally, the delightfully named Sweet William by Rushlight is a tale of seven brothers, one wicked witch for a stepmother, and a faithful sister who will gladly spend years gathering nettles to weave into seven coats to break the enchantment on her siblings. The story of The Swan Brothers is retold with a surprise at the end…

Lots of whimsical humour, delightful characters drawn vividly in just a few deft scenes, my only disappointment with this collection is that the stories came to an end—I wanted more! But least the endings were all happy-ever-after ones.

Suitable for all ages from 9+ and with some lovely black and white illustrations.

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