Classic Tales Retold

Here at the Mixed-Up Files, we’re compiling lots and lots of book lists for you all to use at home or at school in many different genres and areas of focus that you might want or need. Here’s one below to get us started! (And if you have a need for a certain type of book list that you’d love to see, please tell us in the comments and our team of experts will get on it!)

Folk tales and fairy tales were originally short stories, but some creative authors have retold them as middle-grade novels.


Photo credit: falsedan via Flickr

Folk tale retellings:

ABIYOYO RETURNS by Pete Seeger (sequel to Abiyoyo, based on a South African folktale)

From IndieBound:  After Abiyoyo the giant left, the small town he had bothered grew by leaps and bounds. The boy who helped his father make Abiyoyo disappear grew older and became a father, too. The people were filled with new life and spirit. But now there are new dangers: droughts and floods. The town needs a dam before it gets washed away. And sitting right where the dam would be is a boulder too big for anyone to move. Anyone, that is, except Abiyoyo.

Father still has his courage. Grandfather still has his magic wand. And his granddaughter knows he can bring Abiyoyo back, then make him disappear. But Abiyoyo is dangerous. People think the giant will eat them. Will lots of good food and beautiful songs keep Abiyoyo happy long enough to move the boulder and once again leave the town in peace?

THE MAGICAL MONKEY KING by Ji-Li Jiang (classic Chinese tales)

From IndieBound:  The ALA Notable author of “Red Scarf Girl” presents traditional tales about the Monkey King, the irrepressible trickster hero of Chinese legend. Embellished with Hui Hui Su-Kennedy’s charming black-and-white illustrations, these hilarious stories bring the Monkey King and his friends to life.

Fairy tale retellings:
THE THIRTEENTH PRINCESS by Diane Zahler (based on the fairy tale 12 Dancing Princesses)

From IndieBound:  Zita is not an ordinary servant girl—she’s the thirteenth daughter of a king who wanted only sons. When she was born, Zita’s father banished her to the servants’ quarters to work in the kitchens, where she can only communicate with her royal sisters in secret.

Then, after Zita’s twelfth birthday, the princesses all fall mysteriously ill. The only clue is their strangely worn and tattered shoes. With the help of her friends—Breckin the stable boy, Babette the witch, and Milek the soldier—Zita follows her bewitched sisters into a magical world of endless dancing and dreams. But something more sinister is afoot—and unless Zita and her friends can break the curse, the twelve princesses will surely dance to their deaths.

THE GOOSE GIRL by Shannon Hale (based on Grimm’s fairy tale, The Goose Girl)

From IndieBound:  Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, spends the first years of her life under her aunt’s guidance learning to communicate with animals. As she grows up Ani develops the skills of animal speech, but is never comfortable speaking with people, so when her silver-tongued lady-in-waiting leads a mutiny during Ani’s journey to be married in a foreign land, Ani is helpless and cannot persuade anyone to assist her. Becoming a goose girl for the king, Ani eventually uses her own special, nearly magical powers to find her way to her true destiny. Shannon Hale has woven an incredible, original and magical tale of a girl who must find her own unusual talents before she can become queen of the people she has made her own.

And one based on the epic tale of Beowulf:
THE COMING OF THE DRAGON by Rebecca Barnhouse

From IndieBound:  When he was a baby, Rune washed up onshore in a boat, along with a sword and a pendant bearing the runes that gave him his nickname. Some people thought he was a sacrifice to the gods and wanted to send him right back to the sea. Luckily for Rune, King Beowulf disagreed. He lifted the boy from the boat and gave him to Amma, a wisewoman living on a farm far removed from the king’s hall, to raise as she saw fit.

Sixteen years later, Rune spends his summers laboring on the farm. And at King Beowulf’s request, he comes to the hall each winter for weapons training. But somehow he never quite fits in. Many people still fear he will bring a curse on the kingdom. Then a terrible thing happens. On a lonely crag on a mountain that belongs to the giants, someone awakens a dragon. It is time for Rune to find the warrior inside himself and prove to the doubters once and for all that he is a true hero.

Tell us your favorite folk and fairy tale retellings!

Karen B. Schwartz
  1. I am a science and social studies teacher in middle school. Most of my students read on grade level and a bit above…so think 7th graders probably. This year I’ve been requiring them to read one book per month in each of my classes. Oh boy…they hated it at the beginning of the year. But I gave them the freedom to read any book that feel within our curriculum….so they still have some control.

    In science, they’ve read almost everyday DK Eyewitness book we have in the earth sciences (which is my curriculum), physics and chemistry books that are on their levels (tons of rollercoast, car science, airplane, David McCauley books). We’ve also read through the cool biography series Giants of Science). The increase in background knowledge is huge and they’ve fallen in love with non-fiction.

    In social studies I cover everything from prehistoric man (not dinosaurs) to the middle ages. A huge span of time to say the least. Again we’ve hit the DK books very hard along with picture books about ancient life. I’ve also added in all the Rick Riordan books (Percy, Red Pyramid, Lost Heroes) + the Jaguar Stone books. I’ve just started reading LaFevers books about Theodosia and am going to try The Youngest Templar series.

    But I’m feeling very overwhelmed with high quality titles to share. My kids are at that awkward age where they’re too young for many of the YA titles and too old for some picture books. By too old I mean, they read them quickly, love what they learned but need another and another and another and another. Frankly our interlibrary loan capabilities aren’t speedy enough to supply them with enough picture book titles. So I’m hoping you can help me find something a bit longer.

    Any list(s) that you might have to suit this age group and area of interest would be so greatly appreciated.



    PS….I immediately added two titles you included in the last post…the Magical Monkey King and the Coming of the Dragon. Both sound like titles that will be perfect for my kiddos.

  2. Thanks for all these recommendations!!!

  3. My daughter and I have been reading the Sisters Grimm series together, which is a fun play on familiar characters. I recently read three different books based on my favorite fairy tale of all, East of the Sun, West of the Moon. All three were very good, but my favorite was East by Edith Pattou. The most middle grade version was Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George. Ice by Sarah Beth Durst felt closer to YA, but like I said, all three were enjoyable.

  4. ELLA ENCHANTED is my favorite. I also love The Goose Girl.

  5. I’m reading Adam Gidwitz’s A TALE DARK AND GRIMM, which is a retelling/reworking of several of the Grimm’s fairy tales. It’s very charming.

  6. Great list. I loved The Red Scarf Girl. My daughter was adopted from China and her 4th grade teacher had her read it too. And I loved The Goose Girl. I’ll have to check out some of the others.

  7. This is exactly the type of list my 5th grader needs because of a year-long assignment in reading different genres. Thank you!

    One of the trickiest genre categories is plays. Apparently it can be an actual play (and the only one I know of is Johnny Tremaine) or novels based on a play of some sort.
    She loved The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet by Erin Dionne, but I’d love some other ideas.

    • @Cindy, Noonie’s Masterpiece by Lisa Railsback is based on her play of the same name.

  8. This is a great list!
    If you’re looking for ideas – I DESPERATELY need to find books for boys who feel like they’ve gotten too old for “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” “Captain Underpants,” etc., but still want to read things that are light and funny. I’m having a hard time finding anything to meet their needs.

    • @Amanda, are you looking for humor or books with humor and heavily illustrated? For funny, illustrated MG I’d recommend Jarrott Krosozka’s Lunchlady series

  9. Your welcome, Deb!
    Becky, thanks for sharing your story!

  10. Thank you thank you for this list! Abiyoyo is one of my all-time favorite stories to share with kids, will for sure be checking out his return.

    Abiyoyo, Abiyoyo
    Abiyoyo, Abiyoyo



  11. FERRADIDDLEDUMDAY, published in 2010 by Cedar Creek Publishing, is my Appalachian retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin story.

    Gillie—a skilled spinner of wool—leads a charmed life high in the Blue Ridge Mountains until a hailstorm destroys their cash crop. With taxes due, Gillie and her pa risk losing their farm. Then a strange little man appears and gives her the power to spin hay into gold. As she and her pa leave the courthouse after paying their taxes, Gillie bumps into the handsomest man she’s ever seen. William courts her, marries her, and the following year they have a beautiful daughter. When the strange little man eventually returns and demands his payment, Gillie doesn’t know what to do.

    From NYT best-selling author Sharyn McCrumb: “Becky Mushko’s retelling of the European folk tale Rumpelstiltskin brings a new world perspective to the old story, illuminating the frontier setting with a wealth of detail: plant names, folk traditions, and regional dialect. If the story had happened here, it would have happened like this.”