When my boys were younger, I would tell them non-traditional versions of classic stories. In my version, after the prince helped Rapunzel out of the tower, the two of them rode their horses through several little towns that were in need of a doctor, and she decided to go to medical school and provide medical services for the townsfolk. She and the prince got married and their child ended up being the girl in Rumpelstiltskin, which featured a misunderstood disfigured little person who befriended the little girl who saw past his exterior.
Before the movie Hoodwinked even came out, in my version, Little Red Riding Hood was a bad ass and she didn’t need to wait for any lumberjack to come and save her from the wolf. She took care of that herself. By the time the lumberjack came along, Red and granny were enjoying the treats Red’s mother had made and the lumberjack hauled the body of the wolf away.
The Little Red Hen was less about the lazy farm animals and more about why the little red hen couldn’t earn a living wage and had to live with 3 other animals (okay, I never told that story, but now I kind of want to).
Granted, I might have told the stories the way I did partly because I couldn’t remember the original versions but also because I was sorely disappointed in the stories of my youth. In the stories I heard, females were helpless and waiting for their princes, or they were helpless and waiting for a lumberjack to come take care of the big scary wolf for them, or they were hens who couldn’t afford to live alone because they earned so much less than their rooster counterparts.
I heard these stories growing up, but my mom was far from one to tell me to wait for anybody or anything to save me. I vividly remember as a child watching a news report with my mom about a study that was done that said that during an attack women who did not struggle were more apt to get out of the attack unharmed. My mom looked at me and said “you fight. You fight like hell”.
Once the boys got tired of my willy-nilly style of story-telling, I made it my quest to find books that were intriguing, had good lessons, and characters, male or female, in non-traditional roles. Here are a few that I found that fulfilled that wish and are charming and appealed to the boys, and didn’t make me want to stab myself in the eye when reading them aloud.
Pirate Girl by Cornelia Funke – This is the story of plucky Molly, who is kidnapped by a not really very scary pirate, Captain Firebeard, while sailing to visit her grandmother. The pirates take her aboard their ship with high hopes of holding her for ransom. They try to convince her to tell them the name and address of her parents but Molly refuses. Molly waits until the pirates are all asleep every night and she puts notes into bottles (empty rum bottles, hence the pirates sleeping so soundly) and tosses them overboard hoping to signal for help. Help does come, in the form of Molly’s pirate queen mom, Barbarous Bertha.
The boys both really liked this story and the pirate voices are always fun to imitate when reading aloud.
I read an Amazon review that said that this book might be a little much for some kids, so I guess if your child has a fear of pirates or the ocean or ships or rum or frightens relatively easily then skip this one, or read it to them as kind of immersion therapy, it’ll put hair on their chest. I kid,of course. I suppose you won’t know what your child likes until you read it to them or they read it themselves, so your local library is a great place to try out books before you add them to your personal collection.
The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke - I don’t know if I knew before right this second that Cornelia Funke wrote both of these books. You go, Ms. Funke. Anyway, The Princess Knight is Violetta, the king’s daughter, who is told that she has to get married because that is what girls do. Violetta would much rather learn how to be a knight, like her 3 brothers. Her father, the king, tells her that she will marry whoever wins a contest he has set up for her. I don’t want to give away the ending but Violetta enters the contest herself and wins and makes her own decisions. DANG, I gave it away anyway.
Once again, the reviews on Amazon for this book are mixed, manly because the first page of the book states, without fanfare, that the queen, Violetta’s mom, dies when Violetta is born. This was never an issue for the boys and it actually gave me an opportunity to tell them a little about what it means when someone dies. But, again, if this is not something you are comfortable with or think they won’t be comfortable with then cross this one off the list.
Wink: The Ninja Who Wanted to be Noticed by J.C.Phillips - My youngest is fascinated with Asian culture and has been for many years. I found this book because of the whole Ninja aspect, but was delighted, yes delighted, when I discovered that it has a lot to do with individuality and being comfortable with following your own path as well. Wink is in ninja training but would really rather be a performer than a stealthy ninja. His grandmother helps him realize his dream and combine his love of ninja-ing and performing, and yes, ninja-ing is totally a word.
Amazon reviewers have nothing negative to say about this book. WHAT THE HELL, Amazon reviewers? Just for fun I read the three reviews that gave Wink a 4 out of 5 and their reviews are good too. I’m shocked that nobody could think of anything snarky to say, but unless your child is scared of ninjas, this book should be a good fit for them.
A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon – Camilla Cream is the little girl who develops a bad case of stripes and only when she stops worrying so much about what other people think of her do the stripes go away. This book is still a favorite in my house and I am even asked to read it aloud every now and then.
This book has all positive reviews except for one reader who gave it 1 star out of 5 because his kindergarten age child has had nightmares since the book was read in her kindergarten class, and apparently is so scarred by the book she mumbles “the girl with the stripes” in her sleep, so, take that into consideration, albeit, with a huge grain of salt.
I will say, you never know what is going to scare some kids. I was terrified by the movie Gremlins. I was less a “kid” than a “teenager” but still, that Spike creature scared the bejesus out of me.
Todd Parr – This one is only an author because anything this man has written is awesome, from the silliness of Zoo Do’s and Dont’s, that is still quoted by me and my ex-husband on occasion, to the lovely It’s Okay to be Different, because really, it IS okay to be different, to his books featuring his dog Otto, because who doesn’t love dogs? All of his books are super bright and the illustrations are simple but engaging and the stories are sweet and/or funny.
I refuse to read the Amazon reviews for any of his books because I would like to hope that nobody has anything bad to say about them, but I have given human beings the benefit of the doubt before only to be proven wrong. I prefer to live in my bubble of ignorance on this particular subject. Yay, bubbles!