Fairy tale re-tellings never go out of style. They were huge when I was a teen and they continue to be in demand now, though it seems the trend has shifted some from outright fantasy to a more science fiction-inspired flavor. Authors are also trying their hand at re-telling fairy tales in a completely realistic way, eschewing any sort of magic or futuristic technology. (Jane Nickerson’s historical re-tellings of Bluebeard and Tam Lin are good examples.) So while fairy tale re-tellings are most often a subgenre of fantasy, that’s not always the case. Like many of the other genres we’ve written about, fairy tale re-tellings can and do cross genres.
It’s no surprise that fairy tale re-tellings have tremendous staying power, given how versatile they can be. As readers, I think we like the combination of the familiar and the strange; we are naturally curious to see how an author can transform something so old and well-known into something new and unusual. There’s also something timeless about the original, bare-bones stories themselves. In many ways, fairy tales are the most basic of our stories, and even the most intricately-plotted of our modern tales usually draw from some sort of trope first found in a fairy tale or folk tale.
In my experience, teens are drawn to fairy tale re-tellings for the romance and adventure. The protagonists usually also go from a place of no power to a place of tremendous power, whether through the use of magic or simple resourcefulness. This is incredibly appealing to teens who may feel that they have zero power over their own lives.
While this guide will focus primarily on fairy tale re-tellings, teens who read them may also enjoy re-tellings of other classic stories, such as mythology, Robin Hood, King Arthur, Shakespeare, Bronte, and others. Epic Reads has created a truly Epic Chart of 162 Young Adult Retellings that covers a lot of this territory. It’s well worth a look.
A few authors who are known for writing fairy tale re-tellings include Donna Jo Napoli, Robin McKinley, Cameron Dokey, Alex Flinn, and Jackson Pearce. Some of their books were published when I was a teen (or before!), but fairy tale re-tellings tend to stand the test of time a bit better than other sorts of stories. Their source material is timeless, after all. Provided they’re not modernized re-tellings or saddled with dated covers, even 10 or 20 year old books should suit teen lovers of the genre just fine.
Simon Pulse published about 20 fairy tale re-tellings for teens between 2002 and 2010 written by various authors including Suzanne Weyn, Cameron Dokey, Debbie Viguie, Tracy Lynn, and Nancy Holder. A full list of those titles can be found at Simon and Schuster’s Once Upon a Time website.
Below are a few YA fairy tale re-tellings published within the past five years (roughly), grouped by original story. Descriptions are from Worldcat or Goodreads. Are there any glaring omissions?
Beauty and the Beast
Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay
When nineteen-year-old Gem of the Desert People, called Monstrous by the
Smooth Skins, becomes the prisoner of the seventeen-year-old Smooth
Skin queen, Isra, age-old prejudices begins to fall aside as the two
begin to understand each other.
Beastly by Alex Flinn
A modern retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” from the point of view of
the Beast, a vain Manhattan private school student who is turned into a
monster and must find true love before he can return to his human form.
Belle by Cameron Dokey
woodcarver, must carve the the legendary Heartwood to repay her father’s
debt to a fearsome beast that gave him shelter during a terrible storm.
Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom —
all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth,
she has been in training to kill him. With no choice but to fulfill her
duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates
herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth
birthday, Nyx abandons everything she’s ever known to marry the
all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his
enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on
her people. Kimberly’s review
Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers
Sybella’s duty as Death’s assassin in 15th-century France forces her
return home to the personal hell that she had finally escaped. Love and
romance, history and magic, vengeance and salvation converge in this
sequel to Grave Mercy. Kimberly’s review
Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson
After the death of her father in 1855, seventeen-year-old Sophia goes to
live with her wealthy and mysterious godfather at his gothic mansion,
Wyndriven Abbey, in Mississippi, where many secrets lie hidden. Kimberly’s review
Ash by Malinda Lo
the fairy realm that the king and his philosophers have sought to
suppress, until one day she must choose between a handsome fairy cursed
to love her and the King’s Huntress whom she loves.
Before Midnight by Cameron Dokey
In this retelling of the Perrault fairy tale, Cendrillon’s father, grief
stricken over the death of his wife, leaves his baby daughter to be
brought up by servants together with an unidentified infant boy until
the day, sixteen-years-later, when a new stepmother with two daughters
arrives and changes their lives forever.
Bewitching by Alex Flinn
Tells the story of Kendra, a witch, and the first three-hundred years of
her life, including takes on a classic fairy tale, the 1666 plague in
Britain, the Titanic disaster, and the story of a modern-day, plain
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
As plague ravages the overcrowded Earth, observed by a ruthless lunar
people, Cinder, a gifted mechanic and cyborg, becomes involved with
handsome Prince Kai and must uncover secrets about her past in order to
protect the world in this futuristic take on the Cinderella story. Kimberly’s review
Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott
Trained in the magical art of shadow-weaving, sixteen-year-old Suzume,
who is able to re-create herself in any form, is destined to use her
skills to steal the heart of a prince in a revenge pot. Kimberly’s review
Wayfarer by Lili St. Crow
terrifies her, her plan for surviving and getting through high school
quietly begins to unravel, and Auntie, an odd old woman who takes her
in, may not be as kindly as she appears.
East of the Sun, West of the Moon
eighteen-year-old Cassie learns that her grandmother’s fairy tale is
true when a Polar Bear King comes to claim her for his bride and she
must decide whether to go with him and save her long-lost mother, or
continue helping her father with his research.
The Frog Prince
Enchanted by Alethea Kontis
When Sunday Woodcutter, the youngest of seven sisters named for the days
of the week, kisses an enchanted frog, the frog transforms back into
Rumbold, the crown prince of Arilland–a man Sunday’s family despises.
Water Song by Suzanne Weyn
Stranded in war-torn Belgium, Emma Pennington finds a wounded American
soldier carrying vital information for the Allies and protects him from
the Germans occupying her family estate.
The Goose Girl
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
On her way to marry a prince she’s never met, Princess Anidori is
betrayed by her guards and her lady-in-waiting and must become a goose
girl to survive until she can reveal her true identity and reclaim the
crown that is rightfully hers.
Hansel and Gretel
Sweetly by Jackson Pearce
When the owner of a candy shop molds magical treats that instill
confidence, bravery, and passion, eighteen-year-old Gretchen’s haunted
childhood memories of her twin sister’s abduction by a witch-like
monster begin to fade until girls start vanishing at the annual
Jack and the Beanstalk
beanstalk in an effort to reclaim their destitute family’s riches, Gen
enters the mysterious “Land Above” and confronts a dangerous giant, in a
reimagining of the classic tale, “Jack and the Beanstalk.”
The Little Mermaid
Fathomless by Jackson Pearce
Celia, who shares mental powers with her triplet sisters, finds
competition for a handsome boy with Lo, a sea monster who must persuade a
mortal to love her and steal his soul to earn back her humanity.
Midnight Pearls by Debbie Viguie
A retelling of “The Little Mermaid” in which Pearl, a teenaged girl who
was discovered in the sea as a small child by a fisherman and treated
with scorn by the villagers ever since, falls in love with James, a
prince, and faces powerful forces–human and magical–determined to tear
Little Red Riding Hood
Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
about her missing grandmother, join forces with Cinder as they try to
stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana in this story
inspired by Little Red Riding Hood. Kimberly’s review
that the townsfolk believed she practiced. Amidst these dark days, a new man enters Ruth’s life. William
is a noble with a hot temper and a bad name, and he makes her shiver.
But the young man is prey to his heritage, a curse placed on his family
ages ago, and each male of the family has strange blood running in his
veins. Now Ruth must come face-to-face with his destiny at Grandma’s
Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce
After a Fenris, or werewolf, killed their grandmother and almost killed
them, sisters Scarlett and Rosie March devote themselves to hunting and
killing the beasts that prey on teenaged girls, learning how to lure
them with red cloaks and occasionally using the help of their old
friend, Silas, the woodsman’s son. Kimberly’s review
Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
Fifteen-year-old Dashti, sworn to obey her sixteen-year-old mistress,
the Lady Saren, shares Saren’s years of punishment locked in a tower,
then brings her safely to the lands of her true love, where both must
hide who they are as they work as kitchen maids.
Cress by Marissa Meyer
Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, now with Scarlet and
Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and
prevent her army from invading Earth. Their best hope lies with Cress, a
girl trapped on a satellite since childhood who’s only ever had her
netscreens as company.
Golden by Cameron Dokey
Rapunsel has only two nights and one day in which to free a girl from a curse.
Towering by Alex Flinn
A contemporary retelling of Rapunzel told from the alternating
perspectives of three teens whose fates unknowingly bind them together
to destroy a greater evil.
The Crimson Thread by Suzanne Weyn
It is 1880. Bertie has recently emigrated to New York from Ireland.
Struggling to make ends meet and care for her younger siblings, Bertie
finds work as a seamstress for textile tycoon, J.P. Wellington. When the
Wellington family fortune is threatened, Bertie’s father boasts that
she can save the business. She can “practically spin straw into gold”
Amazingly, overnight Bertie creates exquisite evening gowns, but only
with the help of a mysterious man who uses an old spinning wheel. With
dazzling crimson thread, he makes the dresses look like they are laced
with real gold. Bertie would do anything to pay this man back for his
help. When he asks for her firstborn child, Bertie agrees, never
dreaming that he is serious.
A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce
Upon the death of her father, seventeen-year-old Charlotte struggles to
keep the family’s woolen mill running in the face of an overwhelming
mortgage and what the local villagers believe is a curse, but when a man
capable of spinning straw into gold appears on the scene she must
decide if his help is worth the price.
may hurt others, so she goes on a quest to end the evil magic.
modern-day American who kissed her awake after a 300-year sleep, to take
her to his Miami home, where she hopes to win his love before the witch
who cursed her can spirit her away.
corporation UniCorp, is awakened after sixty years in stasis to find
that everyone she knew has died and as she tries to make a new life for
herself, learns she is the target of a robot assassin. Kelly’s review
The Snow Queen
Cold Spell by Jackson Pearce
When her boyfriend disappears with a mysterious girl, seventeen-year-old
Ginny leaves her hometown of Atlanta and fights wolves, escapes
thieves, and braves the cold to rescue him.
Winter’s Child by Cameron Dokey
A retelling of the Andersen tale in which childhood best friends, Kai
and Grace, grow apart as teenagers after Grace spurns Kai’s declaration
of love, and a dejected Kai is lured away by the mysterious Snow Queen,
leaving Grace to realize her loss and determined to find him and bring
In this retelling of Snow White, sixteen-year-old Cami, a mortal raised
by one of the powerful Families that rule magic-ridden New Haven, begins
to uncover the secrets of her birth and why her past is threatening her
Snow by Tracy Lynn
A retelling tale of a princess who takes refuge from her wicked
stepmother by fleeing to London. Story inspired by brothers Grimm.
Twelve Dancing Princesses
Entwined by Heather Dixon
Confined to their dreary castle while mourning their mother’s death,
Princess Azalea and her eleven sisters join The Keeper, who is trapped
in a magic passageway, in a nightly dance that soon becomes nightmarish. Kimberly’s review
The Night Dance by Suzanne Weyn
A knight falls in love with the youngest of twelve sisters, but they can
only marry if he can discover where the sisters secretly go to dance.
Inspired by the fairy tale of the twelve dancing princesses.
Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George
A retelling of the tale of twelve princesses who wear out their shoes
dancing every night, and of Galen, a former soldier now working in the
king’s gardens, who follows them in hopes of breaking the curse.
Wicked Lovely novels that mix with accounts of new characters.
fairy tales, but with a dark and sinister twist, Grim contains short
stories from some of the best voices in young adult literature today.
their favorite classic stories, the ones that have inspired, awed, and
enraged them, the ones that have become ingrained in modern culture, and
the ones that have been too long overlooked.
What was life like for the giant above the beanstalk? Readers need
wonder no more. This collection of 13 fantasy short stories takes
favorite folk tales on a wild spin through the imagination. The roster
of authors includes Michael Cadnum, Jane Yolen, Garth Nix, Tanith Lee,
and Gregory Maguire. (Datlow and Windling edited at least two more anthologies of retold fairy tales for younger readers.)
The Mirk and Midnight Hour by Jane Nickerson (March)
stepmother and stepsister and her young cousin when she comes upon a
wounded Yankee soldier, Thomas, who is being kept alive by mysterious
voodoo practitioners. [Tam Lin]
mere mortal, Princess Aurora is a fairy blessed with enhanced strength,
bravery, and mercy yet cursed to destroy the free will of any male who
kisses her. Disguised as a boy, she enlists the help of the handsome but
also cursed Prince Niklaas to fight legions of evil and free her
brother from the ogre queen who stole Aurora’s throne ten years ago.