Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid by Metaphrog

Published by Papercutz

Summary:  The littlest mermaid longs to see the world above her ocean home, but she must wait until she’s 15.  One by one her older sisters get to go explore, returning with stories of gorgeous sunsets and great floating icebergs.  Finally, her big day arrives.  Reaching the surface, she sees a ship and watches a handsome prince dance with a succession of beautiful women.  A sudden storm sinks the ship, and the little mermaid rescues the prince, the slips away before he regains consciousness.  More than anything, she wants to be human and to marry him.  She makes a deal with a sea witch, trading in her tail for legs, even though she is in great pain with every step.  In return, she gives up her voice.  She gets her wish to meet the prince, and they become great friends.  But, alas,  he eventually falls in love with another woman, leading to the typical Hans Christian Andersen downer of an ending.  80 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  A lyrical, haunting retelling in graphic novel form of one of Andersen’s most famous tales.

Cons:  Disney fans may be dismayed by the ending.

The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Jerry Pinkney

Published by Little, Brown

Summary:  Caldecott Medalist Jerry Pinkney takes on another classic folktale, emphasizing the bullying aspect of troll vs. goats.  Each goat takes its turn trip-trapping over the bridge, until the biggest goat comes along.  A pullout page gives extra emphasis to his confrontation with the troll.  Pinkney explains in his author’s note that he didn’t like the traditional ending of this tale, so he has invented a new one.  It doesn’t necessarily seem like a happy ending, but a careful reader will see some troll-goat cooperation going on in the endpapers.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros: Pinkney continues his string of folktale successes.  The language is perfect for a storytelling-style read-aloud, and the watercolor illustrations provide plenty of details to examine.

Cons:  That is one scary-looking troll.

Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke

Published by First Second 

Summary:  Jack’s summer is not looking too great: he’s expected to take care of his autistic sister Maddie while his single mom struggles to make ends meet with two jobs.  At a flea market, an unsavory vendor (with the help of Maddie, speaking for the first time) trades Jack a box of seeds for the keys to his mother’s car.  Needless to say, this doesn’t go over too well with Mom.  The next day, Maddie is outside at the crack of dawn, digging up the backyard to plant the seeds.  Before long, the two kids have created a garden of plants that come to life in more ways than one, and that attracts both the neighbor girl, Lilly, and a talking dragon.  After a gigantic snail almost crushes Maddie, Jack has had enough, and tries to burn the entire garden.  But complete destruction seems impossible, and by the end of this book, Maddie’s been carried off by a garden monster, and Lilly and Jack are arming themselves to go after her.  Readers will have to wait for the next installment to see if they will be successful.  208 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  This graphic novel retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk has all the adventure, compelling characters, and fantastic artwork to make it irresistible to middle grade readers.

Cons:  The cliffhanger ending.

The Ninjabread Man by C. J. Leigh, pictures by Chris Gall

Published by Orchard Books


Summary:  As a reward to his hardworking ninja students, Sensei makes ninjabread, an age-old recipe that contains mysterious powers.  After making ninjabread swords and throwing stars, he makes a Ninjabread Man.  When Sensei checks to see how the cookies are baking, ka-pow!  The Ninjabread Man comes to life and runs off.  He taunts the other students, Bear, Snake, and Mouse, with different variations of the “You can’t catch me” rhyme.  Finally, he comes upon Fox, meditating by a waterfall.  Fox cleverly pretends he can’t hear the Ninjabread Man, luring him closer until the sly canine scarfs him up.  And in another dojo far away, another sensei begins the process of making ninjabread.  Includes recipe and brief glossary.  40 pages; ages 4-6.

Pros:  In this season of gingerbread men, kids will enjoy comparing the traditional tale with the ninja version.

Cons:  The ending was a bit of an anticlimax.

The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes by Duncan Tonatiuh

Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers 

Summary:  Izta is a princess of the people, so when she falls in love, it isn’t with one of the wealthy suitors who travel from distant lands to court her.  The warrior Popoca can’t offer her riches, but he recognizes her kind heart and promises to always be faithful to her.  The king would prefer a more titled son-in-law, but he agrees to let the two marry if Popoca can defeat Jaguar Claw, a neighboring king who has caused trouble for years.  Popoca goes off to battle.  When Jaguar Claw realizes he is near defeat, he sends a messenger to tell Izta that her fiancé has been killed.  Grief-stricken, she drinks a potion that the messenger says will ease her sorrow.  Instead, it puts her into a deep sleep from which she never awakens.  When Popoca returns, he brings her outside to try to revive her, and there they stay, together, until they have turned into the two volcanoes, Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl.  An author’s note gives more history of this Aztec legend.  40 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  A captivating retelling of a Mexican legend that explains the existence of two volcanoes visible from Mexico City.  Award-winning author-illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh brings his distinctive style to the art done in the traditional Aztec style.

Cons:  Even with the glossary and pronunciation guide at the end, pronouncing the Aztec words is a challenge.

Jason and the Argonauts: The First Great Quest in Greek Mythology by Robert Byrd

Published by Dial Books for Young Readers


Summary:  Robert Byrd retells and illustrates the Greek myths about Jason and the Argonauts and their quest for the Golden Fleece.  He begins with the tale of how the Golden Fleece came to be, then moves on to Jason’s task to go in search of it, the help he received from Hera, and how he gathered the Argonauts to be his crew (Orpheus, Atalanta, and Hercules were all Argonauts…who knew?).  The crew sets sail, and encounters many dangers and adventures before finally returning with the Fleece, after which everything pretty much goes straight downhill.  Each two-page spread is a separate story; many have sidebars describing a deity or other mythological character who appears in the tale.  The final two pages includes brief profiles of the twelve Olympians (actually, thirteen), an author’s note, and a bibliography. Endpapers show a map of Jason’s journey.  48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  A fantastic first book of mythology.  The story is an exciting adventure, with plenty of interesting details, both in the text and the illustrations.  The sidebars expand on the pantheon to introduce readers to many characters from the Greek myths.

Cons:  Those gods and goddesses sure were a fickle bunch.

Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan

Publisher:  Candlewick Press 

Summary:  The story of Snow White is retold in a Depression-era New York City setting.  Samantha White’s mother often calls her Snow, but sadly she dies of what appears to be tuberculosis when Samantha is still quite young.  Enter the evil stepmother, queen of the Ziegfeld Follies, who dazzles Snow’s father into marriage, then sends her stepdaughter away to school.  Before long, the father is dead, and the stepmother sets her sights on Snow.  Running away, Snow meets up with seven young street urchins who hide her and protect her as best they can.  They’re no match for Snow’s evil foe, though, and before long, Snow has fallen into a deep sleep.  A handsome New York City detective holds the key to her awakening, the evil stepmother is disposed of in a fitting ending, and Snow, the detective, and their seven boys live happily ever after.  216 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  An amazingly well-done retelling of the classic tale in an unexpected setting.  It’s a story of few words, with much of it being told through the artwork, which perfectly captures the era.

Cons:  This evil stepmother goes beyond Disney…she’s a cold-blooded killer with at least two murders under her belt before she goes after Snow.