Review Blog

Dec 05 2019

Bold tales for brave-hearted boys by Susannah McFarlane

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Allen and Unwin, 2019. ISBN: 9781760524715.
(Ages: 6-9) Susannah McFarlane's book of 'tilted' fairy tales gives an interesting slant to four traditional tales; Jack and the beanstalk, Hansel and Gretel, The Emperor's new clothes and Sleeping Beauty. It is beautifully illustrated by Brenton McKenna, Simon Howe, Matt Huynh and Louie Joyce. I love the thoughts expressed in the preface poem, which tells boys that they can be 'clever, honest and bold of heart' and 'strong is more than muscle and might: it's following your heart to do what's right'. The four stories are not greatly different from the original and it could be an interesting class exercise to compare the originals with these, to look at how the characters vary from the originals and how that impacts on the adaptations. Titles that imply the book is for one gender only are not my cup of tea and this one has not really endeared itself to me. Written as a companion to the author's Fairytales for feisty girls, the book subtly tells girls they can do and be anything they want, but it does not seem to give the same message or permissions to male readers. Whilst Hansel is able to come up with the idea of how to escape, he has to rely totally on Gretel having the courage to rescue them. Prince Leo is simply following the family business and doing what he has spent his life training for, whilst Aurora breaks the stereotype of what princesses can do and be. This book has shown me that I prefer my fairy tales to have characters that are larger than life rather than ones that are as ordinary and mundane as the rest of us.
Jan Barwick

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