One of my favorite things about YA fiction is its unabashed obsession with fairy tales. On the happiness scale, retellings fall somewhere between drinking vanilla lattes and wearing comfy socks—so familiar and comforting, you can enjoy the author’s writing and creativity without worrying where the story is headed. But even though people are still managing to squeeze interesting new ideas out of tales as well-worn as “Cinderella” (I’m 100% in love with Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles), it’s time to throw some new tales into the mix. Here are my top recommendations for fairy tales that need the YA treatment.
The Little Match Girl
This is probably one of the most depressing stories ever (I will use this exact description for any story that ends with a little girl freezing to death). But what if, instead of a little girl experiencing cold-induced hallucinations, this was a story about a homeless teenager discovering she can see visions of the future when she stares into flames? And what if, instead of dying, she gets inducted into a secret society of magicians/psychics/spies who work to save the British government from some big, bad villain? Someone please fix this fairy tale for me.
The Ash Lad and the Lying Princess
The Ash Lad (also, for some reason, called Boots) is a popular Norwegian fairy-tale hero who reads pretty much like your typical mysterious bad boy. He’s the youngest of three brothers, and he’s usually considered pretty useless—his brothers are practical or strong or whatever, while the Ash Lad just sits around being witty and skinny. In this tale, he’s confronted with a princess who’s a pathological liar and tasked with getting her to admit she has a problem. It’s not hard to imagine this story set in some modern-day psych ward or wacky summer camp, with Boots’ dumb brothers thrown in as successful jocks for fun.
I sincerely hope we’ve all seen the excellence that is Disney’s Mulan, and of course Cameron Dokey already did an adaptation of the original Chinese legend, but I’m hoping for a retelling more along the lines of She’s the Man. A modern-day Mulan proving girls can be just as butt-kicking as boys in whatever field they choose? And that love is love, no matter what gender everybody thinks they are when they fall head over heels? Come on. This is exactly the story we need.
The Firebird and Princess Vasilisa
I admit, part of the reason I love this fairy tale is because Vasilisa is a pretty awesome name. Unfortunately for Vasilisa, she’s doomed to marry an obnoxious king. Fortunately for Vasilisa, the royal huntsman (and his hyper-intelligent horse) is on her side—at least in the retelling, anyway. With the help of her friends, our royal heroine creates a series of traps to trick her evil fiancé into relieving himself of the throne, and their marriage contract. Fairy tale where the princess is a MENSA-level mastermind? Yes, please.
The Flower Queen’s Daughter
In this tale, a handsome prince sets out to rescue a beautiful princess from a kingdom full of dragons, ending with a dramatic chase scene—pretty fun story, right? What would be even more fun? If the dragons were actually the Russian mob, the chase scene included fast cars and maybe a helicopter, and the princess turned out to be a spy for Interpol, setting up room for an equally action-packed sequel. You’re welcome.
The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship
This one’s a little bizarre: a not-so-bright guy sets out to win the princess’s hand in marriage by completing a series of tasks for her father, including creating a flying ship. He manages to outsmart the murderous king by befriending a lot of other people along the way, and they help him out. There’s so much room in the story for a Steampunk retelling featuring zeppelins, a princess who’s secretly leading a massive rebellion against her corrupt family, and loads of mad scientists that the possibilities are overwhelming.
The Light Princess
For a rom-com–style fairy tale, please consider forcing someone into rewriting this hilarious story. The princess has lost her gravity—both physically and metaphorically. She doesn’t take anything seriously, and even more problematically, she’s always in danger of floating away. It takes almost losing her true love to finally make her serious. If you can’t imagine this one retold as the tales of a wild, prank-pulling rich girl finding love, only to be betrayed when she realizes her parents hired her boyfriend to try to tame her, then we can’t be friends.
What fairy tale would you like to see as a YA book?