The tales are familiar. A young woman attends a ball with the aid of a fairy godmother. A girl escapes from an evil queen and her quest for vain gratification. A girl and her cloak journey through the woods. Fairy tales provide the simplistic and highly dramatic bones that have influenced countless retellings, reimaginings, reexaminations— pick your word.
It’s almost remarkable then that writers are still finding interesting and original things to pull from these stories. Yet that is exactly what author Hilary McKay has done with ten of these tales. Some of them range more on the classic side, with Cinderella remaining close to its source, though with a few clever twists on the idea of royal blood. Similarly, Rumpelstiltskin is the same piece only told from the point of view of the mysterious “hob”, whose loneliness makes him yearn for a child. McKay’s approach to both of these is charming and surprisingly tender.
However, the stories that put the original tale in the periphery work best. Particularly, Hansel and Gretel takes the form of a child’s class essay of what she did over her school break. The reader glimpses it over the shoulder of her teacher, who is preoccupied with her own problems as she acclimates to the school. It’s incredibly smart, and also makes for a nice break from the abundance of royal-based tales.
Illustrator Sarah Gibb provides lovely silhouettes to accompany each section. They straddle that line between whimsically elegant and modernly practical, matching McKay’s words perfectly.
By neither sticking to straight retellings nor moving all stories outside their base, McKay has succeeded in making something entirely new. It probably won’t replace the originals as quickly recited bedtime stories. However, it is a tome readers can pluck from the shelf to admire a master storyteller weaving masterful ideas into old tales.
Title: Straw Into Gold
Author: Hilary McKay
Illustrator: Sarah Gibb
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication Date: 02/05/2019
Classification: Fairy Tales
Note: I received a free ARC of this book through NetGalley.