I’ve been thinking a lot about fairy tales, particularly of the fractured kind. In December, when I blogged about writing dark humour, I promised a special post about one of the genre’s most popular offshoots – fractured fairy tales. If we remember that dark humour breaks with traditional narrative structure, engages parents on a secondary level with irony, and often uses animal characters to soften any moral dubiousness, you will start to see a pattern emerging in some of your favourite picture books.
Popular American Fractured Fairy Tales You May Have Read
I can’t think of a dark comedy picture book I’ve enjoyed reading more than That is Not a Good Idea, written and illustrated by the great Mo Willems. It’s got enticing repetition and a delightful subversive twist on the persuasive powers of the Big Bad Wolf. As the story unravels, the reader begins to realise that there is a dual power play between Wolf and the Duck (his potential victim) and we begin to question who is hunting who. This is where the book’s brilliance lies. Even the youngest readers will come with preconceptions of this devious villain and will be genuinely surprised when he is duped by a worthy adversary. A victory for the little guy (or gal)!
We all know The Hat Trilogy by master black humourist Jon Klassen but have you read The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse by Mac Barnett and illustrated by his partner in crime, Klassen? It has all the visual hallmarks of this clever illustrator, with its dark colour palette, so it is a joy to find that Barnett’s narrative lives up to the reader’s expectations of what a Klassen book should be. Another brilliant twist on the Big Bad Wolf tale, this story reveals why the wolf howls to the moon, with a clever and unlikely scenario about a duck and a mouse. These characters utterly subvert the wolf’s power and happily live inside his stomach, causing endless intestinal issues for their hapless host. This one had my son glued and I was well-rewarded to find that he got the joke and understood the final twist, though it is far from spelled out for the reader. Dark humour is the antithesis of moralistic and patronising and I love that it doesn’t underestimate the intelligence or maturity of children.
Australian Fractured Fairy Tales You Might Also Like
I’ll be the first to admit that I found it harder to find good examples of this genre from writers of Australian children's books. Fractured nursery rhymes are massively popular in the Aussie market as I mentioned in my last blog but satirical fairy tales are somewhat rarer. Having said this, I’d highly recommend both the following books, though the latter is a little out of the picture book age group and is a junior fiction. It is clearly written on two levels for smart middle grade and young adult readers and adults, who are naturally more cynical. Still, I’ve included it because it’s an intelligent example of satirical humour and it helps to read a genre widely, if you are going to attempt to write it.
The Little Bad Wolf by Sam Bowring (author) and Lachlan Creagh (illustrator) is again celebrating the legend of the Big Bad Wolf by immersing it in rich, busy comic book illustrative style. Big Bad’s grand son is seemingly desperate to follow in his famous elder’s footsteps and embarks on a campaign of naughtiness, focussing on his kind neighbour Mrs Pig. Telling the story from the point of view of the Little Bad Wolf is a master stroke for building empathy with the little reader. Bowring doesn’t shy away from presenting morally dubious behaviour, with the junior wolf rejoicing in building his prowess for naughtiness but the twist restores moral order without preaching. It teaches the aspiring villain a lesson that he won’t forget. Crime doesn’t necessarily pay; it might just back fire.
And for real fans of the Grimm Brother origins of folklore classics, treat yourself to Australian satirist Shaun Micallef’s new book Tales From a Tall Forest. It is gloriously illustrated by Jonathan Bentley in the traditional fairy tale style – darkness mixed with fantasy. Micallef’s narrative is subversive at every turn. It's written with modern-day cynicism to satisfy the adult reader, yet a sound adherence to the philosophy of outsmarting the ‘baddies’ for less jaded junior readers. It’s funny and clever and offers a brilliant take on the Big Bad Wolf legend by questioning some obvious holes in the original Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs’ plots.
Have any of these recommendations sparked your interest in giving this genre a try? Can you find a fresh take on an old fairy tale that hasn’t already been done? I’d love to hear your favourite picture books that fracture the old legends. I’m keen to read as many as I can, so please feel free to leave a comment.
Brydie Wright Bio
Graduate, Craft & Business of Children’s Picture Book Writing Course
Chief Editor, Sydney Mums Group and Reviewer, WeekendNotes
Author of Daddy and the World's Longest Poo, IAN Awards 2017 Finalist, & Magic Beans from the Creative Kids Tales Story Collection
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