The best thing about fairy and folk tales is how versatile they are for retelling. You have the sassy, slightly snarky mashup of Diary of a Fairy Godmother (“We can’t all afford Hogwarts; some of us have to work for a living”) as a witch-in-training questions her career choice. There are the sensitive imaginings of Donna Jo Napoli, who gives a backstory to characters from the Frog Prince to the Ugly Duckling. Similarly, Robin McKinley does some pretty deep retelling of Beauty and the Beast and Robin Hood. Or you have outright reversals involving croquet and dynamite, like The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig.
With their fearsome villains and inexplicable happenings, folk and fairy tales also lend themselves well to the crime/detective persuasion. One of the most well known is Jon Scieszka’s The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, in which Al Wolf grants him an interview from prison and maintains he was wrongly convicted (“If cheeseburgers were cute, folks would probably think you were Big and Bad, too.”). Recently popular is the Sisters Grimm series, in which two sisters and their aunt–all descended from the Grimms–use the brothers’ case files to investigate magical crime.
One of my new favorites at the moment is Who Pushed Humpty Dumpty? and Other Notorious Nursery Tale Mysteries. Narrated by amphibian cop Binky, this picture book for older readers is a short but snappy set of fractured fairy tales. Can Gretel prove she acted in self defense? What happened after Goldilocks fled the bears’ house? And did Humpty fall, or was he pushed?
The appeal isn’t only in the way the tales are set up–black and white pictures for flashbacks and red CASE CLOSED stamps instead of “The end”–but in their teller. Barely peering over the wheel of his patrol car, dapper in his coat and hat, examining giant crime scenes, Binky is a regular gumshoe. His voice, slightly hardboiled and a bit smart-alecky, rivals any fictional cop’s, down to the puns. Adults reading aloud might smile at his possibly Law and Order-esque opening: “There are eight million stories in the forest. This is one of them.” And it’s a good one, a solid report in the fairy tale “true crime” genre.