B&N Reads, Guest Posts

Why I Love Messing with Classic Stories: James Riley on Once Upon Another Time

Once Upon Another Time

Once Upon Another Time

Paperback $8.99

Once Upon Another Time

James Riley

In Stock Online

Paperback $8.99

This fairytale mashup has it all—giants and genies and knights, oh my! Young fans of series like Story Thieves and The Land of Stories won’t want to miss this rollicking new adventure from James Riley. Keep reading to find out why James Riley loves messing with classic stories and his favorite fairy tale retellings!

This fairytale mashup has it all—giants and genies and knights, oh my! Young fans of series like Story Thieves and The Land of Stories won’t want to miss this rollicking new adventure from James Riley. Keep reading to find out why James Riley loves messing with classic stories and his favorite fairy tale retellings!

Fairy Tales! The stories we all first heard as kids that taught us incredibly practical morals, like ‘don’t break into the home of a family of bears and eat their porridge before napping” and “if your grandmother’s teeth are so big you have to comment on it, she’s probably a wolf” or, my personal favorite, “definitely trade your cow to some random stranger on the side of the road for their magical beans, because what could go wrong?” 

I’ve loved fairy tales my whole life, from the gruesome original folktales to the Disney animated movies, and everything in between. After all, in fairy tales, not only are the good rewarded and the evil punished, but there are mermaids, fairy godmothers, and giants! What more could you want from a story? (Well, maybe a giant mermaid fairy godmother, which now seems like a huge missed opportunity for my own fairy tale series.) 

Wait, I wrote a fairy tale series? Why yes I did, thank you so much for asking, random person who’s definitely not me! While many readers know me from my girl-who-can-jump-into-books series Story Thieves, my very first series was a fractured fairy tale retelling called Half Upon a Time, where I smashed together as many classic stories as I could, but kept each character’s story origins a mystery, letting readers figure out which fairy tale they came from as the series progressed. 

And did it have a moral, like all good fairy tales should? Of course! Jack, the main character, gets pulled into an adventure he neither wants nor is ready for when a girl drops out of a fiery circle in the sky wearing a Punk Princess T-shirt. And given that this girl, May, is obviously a princess, Jack figures that to help her, he’ll need to play the part of a fairy tale hero, just like he’d learned in school. But May doesn’t want or need rescuing, and over the course of the series, Jack realizes that it’s okay to be who he is, not who others might expect him to be—a moral I’m still trying to learn to this day. 

That series came out over a decade ago, but readers still ask when I might write more books in that world. For years, I didn’t think I ever would, because the Half Upon a Time trilogy told the full story of our heroes, Jack and May, and it just seemed cruel to take their happy ending away from them. 

But then I remembered I love being cruel! 

And that’s where Once Upon Another Time comes in. Don’t worry if you haven’t read the first series, as you can definitely start with the new books and go back later if you want to see how things began.* All you really need to know is that Half Upon a Time features quite a few giants, and they’re not the nicest characters. But why? Maybe it’s about time to see things from their perspective! 

Unfortunately, I’m not a big fan of heights, so I decided to keep that perspective much closer to the ground. That worked out well though, as one of the fairy tales I hadn’t had a chance to write about yet was Thumbelina. 

And that brings us to Lena, the five-and-a-half-foot-tall giant. Lena’s had to hide her true size from the other, sixty-foot-tall giants her whole life, as giants look down on humans in literally every possible way. More than anything, Lena wishes she could live out in the open at her true height, because no one should have to hide who they are due to other people’s prejudices. 

Once Upon Another Time also stars a young genie who’s tired of granting wishes, a Golden King determined to take over the world, and a giant talking cat in boots, among other fairy tale characters. But at its heart, this is a series about how we all deserve the freedom to be who we are, no matter what anyone else might think. Sure, it’s not a “don’t eat a witch’s candy house” kind of moral, but which witches can even afford a candy house these days? 

And speaking of lessons, another one I learned early on is that when readers like a book, they want the next one NOW. So don’t worry, Once Upon Another Time: Tall Tales will be out this September, with a visit to the Shadowlands, which just sound like a delightful vacation spot, if I do say so myself. 

*And if you’re a fan of the original Half Upon a Time series, don’t worry, you’ll see what those characters have been up to over the last decade. Spoiler alert: Um, I hope you didn’t like that happy ending I mentioned!  

My Top Five Favorite Fairy Tale Retellings  

Most people believe fairy tails aren’t real, as your average fairy is born without any tail. But imagine what it might be like for a fairy who just loved dressing up in a long tuxedo dress coat with tails, causing chaos and smacking those tails against everyone around her. 

And that right there is a fairy tail retelling! 

…Oh, fairy tale retellings? I love those too! That might be pretty obvious, considering I’ve written two series in a world of fractured fairy tales, Half Upon a Time and now Once Upon Another Time, the latter starring a five-and-a-half-foot-tall giant named Lena who’s been forced to hide her far-less-than-average-giant height from disapproving giants. But I’m not here to talk about my books. 

Instead, here are my five favorite fairy tale retellings for kids, in no particular order: 

A Tale Dark & Grimm: Complete Trilogy Box Set

A Tale Dark & Grimm: Complete Trilogy Box Set

Paperback $26.97

A Tale Dark & Grimm: Complete Trilogy Box Set

Adam Gidwitz

In Stock Online

Paperback $26.97

Disney’s done pretty well for themselves retelling all kinds of fairy tales in nice, sweet ways, which I love. But the original tales were often gruesome and horrific, something fans really love about them. A Tale Dark & Grimm bringsback the danger and frights of the originals in the most delightful manner possible. Just a pure joy to read. 

Disney’s done pretty well for themselves retelling all kinds of fairy tales in nice, sweet ways, which I love. But the original tales were often gruesome and horrific, something fans really love about them. A Tale Dark & Grimm bringsback the danger and frights of the originals in the most delightful manner possible. Just a pure joy to read. 

Misfits (Royal Academy Rebels Series #1)

Misfits (Royal Academy Rebels Series #1)

Jen Calonita

Paperback $7.99

What if fairy tale villains ran a reform school for kids heading down the wrong forest path? What if a royal academy run by a fairy godmother isn’t as good and noble as it seems? I absolutely adore both the Fairy Tale Reform School series and the Royal Academy Rebels series for how they turn everything we think we know about fairy tales upside down in both funny and dramatic ways. 

Red: The (Fairly) True Tale of Red Riding Hood

Red: The (Fairly) True Tale of Red Riding Hood

Paperback $8.99

Red: The (Fairly) True Tale of Red Riding Hood

Liesl Shurtliff

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Speaking of turning fairy tales upside down, Liesl Shurtliff’s series reveals how we never really knew the true stories of Rumpelstiltskin, Jack (of climbing beanstalks fame), Red Riding Hood, and Grump, one of the seven dwarfs. They’re both hilarious and heartwarming, and highly recommended!  

Speaking of turning fairy tales upside down, Liesl Shurtliff’s series reveals how we never really knew the true stories of Rumpelstiltskin, Jack (of climbing beanstalks fame), Red Riding Hood, and Grump, one of the seven dwarfs. They’re both hilarious and heartwarming, and highly recommended!  

Frogkisser!

Frogkisser!

Paperback $10.99

Frogkisser!

Garth Nix

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Paperback $10.99

Speaking of hilarious, Garth Nix’s take on The Frog Prince gives us a princess who’d prefer to sit at home reading her books but is horribly inconvenienced by having to save the kingdom from her evil stepfather while also searching for some magical lip balm to turn her sister’s frog prince into a human again. Could any story be more relatable? 

Speaking of hilarious, Garth Nix’s take on The Frog Prince gives us a princess who’d prefer to sit at home reading her books but is horribly inconvenienced by having to save the kingdom from her evil stepfather while also searching for some magical lip balm to turn her sister’s frog prince into a human again. Could any story be more relatable? 

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs

Paperback $7.99

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs

Jon Scieszka , Lane Smith

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Paperback $7.99

An all-time classic retelling, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs asks us, who should we really believe—an innocent wolf who’s clearly been framed, or the three pigs who set him up?  Cleverly illustrated and insightfully told, this story is just pure magic for any age. 

An all-time classic retelling, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs asks us, who should we really believe—an innocent wolf who’s clearly been framed, or the three pigs who set him up?  Cleverly illustrated and insightfully told, this story is just pure magic for any age. 

Honorable Mention:

The Chronicles of Prydain Boxed Set

The Chronicles of Prydain Boxed Set

Paperback $33.95 $39.95

The Chronicles of Prydain Boxed Set

Lloyd Alexander

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Paperback $33.95 $39.95

Maybe my favorite kids’ series of all time, Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain books are more an homage to Welsh fairy tales than a true retelling. The series stars Taran, an assistant pig-keeper to Hen Wen, a pig who can tell the future, and the amazing Eilonwy, a stubborn and fiery princess who has no trouble telling everyone exactly what she thinks of them. Start with The Book of Three and thank me later.  

Maybe my favorite kids’ series of all time, Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain books are more an homage to Welsh fairy tales than a true retelling. The series stars Taran, an assistant pig-keeper to Hen Wen, a pig who can tell the future, and the amazing Eilonwy, a stubborn and fiery princess who has no trouble telling everyone exactly what she thinks of them. Start with The Book of Three and thank me later.