The Rumpelstiltskin Problem

Vivian Vande Velde gives a nonsensical story several backbones.

Have you ever been miffed by the Rumpelstiltskin tale? Sure, it’s a fairy tale—but why would a weird little man who makes gold want a baby (surely he could buy one with all of the gold he spins)? And why would an idiot miller claim his daughter could spin straw into gold in the first place—and to a king, no less? Vivian Vande Velde, one of my new favorite authors, pointed out these fallacies and more in her short but fun book The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, then gave the story several new updates that better explain what happened.

Although it wasn’t very long ago when I considered myself a “purist” who couldn’t stand the idea of, say, The Wizard of Oz being “updated” or changed, I now realize not only that everything we create is pretty much an updated version of something else—I also love twists on traditional fairy tales and classic stories! There’s also the fact that most of the “originals” we hold dear are not even originals, but either glorified Disney animated Hallmark cards dummied down for kids or even simply retellings passed down over generations, continually changing. We may never know the “originals” at all.

With all of this in mind, I have to encourage you to check out Vande Velde’s collection here. You’ll find a monstrous Rumpelstiltskin as well as a couple of very kind ones. He will be various creatures or none, and the miller’s daughter will either be kind, cunning, or downright daft. So will the miller himself. One story doesn’t even have him in it, but a story about him concocted in order to free the miller’s daughter instead. The element of humor is present in most of the tales, but there’s also a little bit of love, a little bit of horror and a whole lot of magic.

Having run across other versions of this tale in anthologies edited by Terri Winding and Ellen Datlow (which is where I ran across Vivian Vande Velde for the first time, actually!), I know that there is a wealth of other versions of stories like these out there—Vande Velde’s own collections included—that will delight readers if they can keep their minds open, too. Children and teens, particularly those who are familiar with the story, will really love this book—but so will adults who can’t get enough of fairy tales (like yours truly).

Edmund and the White Witch

Narnia has been adapted for the younger crowd…

…And quite honestly, I’m not sure if it was necessary at all. Sure, this adaptation from The World of Narnia is cute with its paintings and classical borders, but it’s rather, well, boring. Edmund and the White Witch: Adapted From The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis tells a very abridged tale of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, introducing the young audience to this vibrant and magical world. However, the subtleties and gorgeous descriptions within the novel are absent, and instead readers are rushed through not only the introduction to Narnia—including the lovely Mr. Tumnus, who was reduced to half a sentence, and the dreadful fear of the White Witch—but the entire novel.

Instead, this installment focuses on Edmund’s encounter with the witch—hence, the title—and his lust for power and sweets. The witch makes him many promises that she claims she will keep upon his return, as we all know, and that’s pretty much where this book ends.Aside from the lovely illustrations, I’m not sure why this adaptation was even made. Children have become lost in the world of Narnia when read the book aloud by adults for many years, so why adapt it with so much summarizing and boring lack of action and development? My daughter chose this book from the library and I thought it would be a fun read; instead, we both found ourselves bored, and I regretted that this was her first experience with the story. I should have started with the actual novel.

The only reason I could see this book being made was to make more money off the series. It is completely unnecessary and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone based on anything other than the pictures—and even those I would recommend leaving to your imagination rather than seeing them before reading and dreaming up the characters yourself. Why steal that wonderful experience from your children?

If you think your children are too young for the series, I would certainly suggest simply waiting until they are older before delving into it rather than starting with a picture book. And for goodness sake, don’t begin with the movie, either! That is a surefire way to ensure that the love of the movie surpasses the love of the book—indeed, even prevent the love of the book from growing in the first place. In fact, making it a regular rule to read the book first with any children’s novel—and with many adult novels—would be a good idea anyway.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter

Dispatches From the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture

Finally, a book published about the the whole princess obsession in our culture! I just landed a copy of Peggy Orenstein’s New York Times Bestselling book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, and I have already devoured quite a bit of it. Orenstein’s well-known presence as a journalist helps make this book such an important resource for both parents as well as media analysts; I found myself finding so many talking points while reading the book that I wished that I was back on my college debate team, taking notes and making evidence cards for a tournament. It is really that good.

Orenstein leads us on a journey through this wacky, weird culture of princess gowns and tiaras that seemed to suddenly spring up within the past ten years—indeed, it did; Orenstein explains just how, too. It was a very flippant marketing decision on behalf of Disney, led by a former Nike executive (go figure) who noticed that there were plenty of little girls wearing princess dresses that were homemade. He saw a cash cow immediately and the princess line was born—a tactic with no marketing plan, Orenstein reports, that turned a quick $4 billion profit. She also points out the creepy fact that on all of the merchandise, the princesses do not look at each other as friends—we still, after all, have yet to see a Disney film in which a female character has another female friend.

The book goes on to discuss the gender coding of toys, digital media, interviews with mothers about why they purchase such items for their daughters in the first place, and of course, why girls like the princess stuff. Links between the whole pretty in pink, princess world and the early sexualization of girls are drawn, with some scary research presented—such as the fact that when women see ads featuring stereotypes of themselves, they tend to be less interested in things like education, and may even score lower on math tests!

The book also ends with a couple of good recommendations for reading and watching media with positive female roles, such as the Miyazaki films we all adore so much, as well as certain fairy tales and biblical stories. I wish there were more recommendations, but the reality is that there are very few films with positive female roles, or even female relationships other than love interests, featured in them.

I heartily recommend this book to everyone—particularly parents—and hope that we can all continue pushing for better media and representation of our daughters across the board. I look forward to finishing it this weekend and will pass on my copy to the first mother who wants to borrow it!