Credit where credit is due, there’s no way I could keep up this 31 Days, 31 Lists series if I hadn’t put in my time with New York Public Library. It was there that I learned how to read, track, remember, and call forth the books I read in a single year. The 100 Books List the library puts out every year proved to be my training grounds. I loved working on that list committee. I also loved how that list was separated. One section was always dedicated to Fairy Tales and Folktales, and I’ve maintained the tradition here.
A generation ago, fairy tales and folktales were ubiquitous. Because libraries made up a significant share of the book buying market, they could set the terms. And what they liked were fairy and folktales. The publishing industry complied and life was good. The rise of big box stores, to say nothing of the internet, heralded the end of the fairy/folktale era. With libraries only a fraction of the buying force, the picture book became king and the fairy and folktales almost disappeared entirely. It’s only in the last few years that small publishers have picked up the slack. While The Big Six become The Big Five, soon to be The Big Four, small independent publishers are daring to do what the big guys won’t. Publishing these books has become a kind of rebellion with kids reaping the benefits.
Here are the good books of 2016!
2016 Fairy Tales / Folktales
Babushka: A Christmas Tale by Dawn Casey, ill. Amanda Hall
I wouldn’t be surprised if I learned that there was a small running debate as to whether the story of the kind-hearted Babushka was strictly considered to be a folktale. I think it is, and I think it’s great. And the perfect book to read before the holiday season as well!
Beauty and the Beast retold by Mahlon F. Craft, ill. Kinuko Y. Craft
Hooray! A new Craft!! How long has it been? Whatever the case, Craft was always the illustrator I’d turn to when I got small patron insisting on “Pretty fairytales”. Which, as I soon learned, was a desire that could easily be satisfied by just handing the kid one of Craft’s books. No one was quite as consistently appealing as Craft.
The Blue Jackal by Shobha Viswanath, ill. Dileep Joshi
The traditional art of the Warli people is invoked in this tale of a jackal that falls into a tub of blue paint (ala a Pepe le Pew cartoon) and is declared a king. It doesn’t last. Indian folktales don’t walk into your library every day. Extra Bonus: Unlike some telling, the jackal gets to live after he’s discovered. NOT always the case, I assure you.
Caterpillar Woman by Nadia Sammurtok, ill. Carolyn Gan
Inhabit Media is a small publisher that consistently puts out remarkable Inuit stories. There were quite a few in 2016 but this one stood out as my favorite. I like folktales where I honestly cannot figure out where the tale is going. After an act of kindness a girl is transformed into a beast (see, right there that’s unusual). At it’s heart it’s about seeing beyond appearances, but you can also read it as marrying for an emotional connection rather than looks. Very cool.
Dwarf Nose by Wilhelm Hauff, ill. Elizabeth Zwerger
Technically this book is a reprint. Technically I don’t care. I love the disjointed nature of their story. I love that the villain Herbwise. And, naturally, I like the unexpected ending. Give this one to your budding chefs.
Farmer Falgu Goes on a Trip by Chitra Soundar, ill. Kanika Nair
Consider it a version of Zemach’s It Could Always Be Worse. It also reads aloud rather well. I probably should have included it on the readaloud picture book list.
First Light, First Life: A Worldwide Creation Story by Paul Fleischman, ill. Julie Paschkis.
Fleischman and Paschkis paired once before to collect worldwide stories of the Cinderella story (Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella). Now they’re back with creation stories. Honestly lovely.
Hare and Tortoise by Alison Murray
We don’t have a lot on this list for kids that are below the ages of 6. Here’s one they’ll ask for again and again. Am I the only that reads tortoise and hare stories in fear that the tortoise won’t win? Maybe that’s just me.
I Am Pan! by Mordicai Gerstein
A little Greek mythology never hurt anyone. And who knew that Gerstein had this much energy in his pen? This thing writes, pops, jumps, and does a tapdance on your head, if you let it. A collection that can honestly be called joyous. Pair with Jitterbug Perfume (I’m only half-kidding about that).
Little Red by Bethan Woollvin
Everyone appears to be just GAGA about this work! The red, black, and white and near wordless plotting works perfectly with the story. Plus there’s an unexpectedly dark ending rendered beautifully. I’d actually pair it with Lucy Cousins’ Yummy. A lovely retelling.
The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Thomas Baas
A Word of Warning: If you don’t care for rats, this may not be the book for you. But just look at those colors! Gorgeous. It does appear to sort of be set in the 1930s, but who cares? Love it.
Prince of Fire: The Story of Diwali retold by Fatinder Verma, ill. Nilesh Mistry
Insofar as I can tell there hasn’t been a definitive Diwali origin story published in at least 10 years. This book is for your early chapter readers. Very fun, and super exciting.
The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes by Duncan Tonatiuh
How often does a straight up warrior get a princess in stories? Knights supposedly do, but can you actually name any where that’s the case? This retelling of a Mexican legend is as engrossing as it is stunning.
The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan
Snippets of Grimm stories are paired with Tan’s remarkable models and photography. Creepy beautiful, if that’s a thing.
The Steadfast Tin Soldier by Hans Christian Andersen, retold and illustrated by Joohee Yoon
It’s the original story, which is to say it’s just as depressing as you remembered. Still, the typography, design and colors are superb. I love the red and the black. It’s so good it may bring me around to the original story.
Tales from the Arabian Nights: Stories of Adventure, Magic, Love, and Betrayal by Donna Jo Napoli, ill. Christina Balit
That would be the winner of the Best Tagline award of 2016. Well done. I would actually get parents in my library asking for Arabian tales, but all our collections were older. This fills a need.
Thumbelina by Xanthe Gresham Knight, ill. Charlotte Gastaut
Oh, it’s so good! I’ve always been very concerned about the emotional well-being of the mother that Thumbelina abandons in this story. This book, for the very first time in my experience, tackles that loose end head-on. Woohoo!
Vasilisa the Beautiful: A Russian Folktale by Anna Morgunova
There’s a bit of Klimpt to the art here, I’ll admit it, but otherwise I’d say that the book is an original. Love the retelling, adore the art, and I hope the kids appreciate it.
Interested in the other lists of the month? Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:
December 1 – Board Books
December 2 – Board Book Adaptations
December 3 – Nursery Rhymes
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Alphabet Books
December 7 – Funny Picture Books
December 8 – Calde-Nots
December 9 – Picture Book Reprints
December 10 – Math Picture Books
December 11 – Bilingual Books
December 12 – International Imports
December 13 – Books with a Message
December 14 – Fabulous Photography
December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales
December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year
December 17 – Older Picture Books
December 18 – Easy Books
December 19 – Early Chapter Books
December 20 – Graphic Novels
December 21 – Poetry
December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction
December 23 – American History
December 24 – Science & Nature Books
December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books
December 29 – Novel Reprints
December 30 – Novels
December 31 – Picture Books