There are few things I love more than a great fairytale retelling. I loved fantasy as a kid, so even from a young age I was attracted to books exploring fairytale tropes and stories. And middle grade fairytale retellings were among my favorite. It’s interesting that I remember some of these books more than I do hearing/reading the original fairytales for the first time. Maybe that’s just because they’re so ingrained in society. Or maybe I saw the Disney movies and absorbed a lot of the basic tales that way. Regardless, it’s safe to say that I loved seeing a classic fairytale turned on its head. And I think this is a thing most kids have in common. There’s just something terribly fun about a fractured fairytale, in seeing something old and maybe a bit outdated made silly or modern or relatable.
And the great thing about fairytale retellings is there are so very many of them. Think about it: people have been retelling and reimagining fairytales since their origins. It wasn’t until later that people like the Brothers Grimm and Alexander Afanasyev started compiling them into what we now think of as the originals. These middle grade fairytale retellings take those tales and spin them into wonderful new stories for a generation of young readers. You’ll see tales here you recognize and some you may not, but all of them are fairytales in the making.
The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson
Baba Yaga’s granddaughter is tired of tending to the dead. It’s the job she will one day inherit, but 12-year-old Marinka just wants a friend. And the house she lives in doesn’t count, no matter how many times they played hide-and-seek together as children. But when Marinka makes a terrible mistake that leaves her grandmother trapped on the wrong side of the afterlife, she must journey across the world to find other Yagas who can reveal the secrets of coming back from the beyond before she loses her grandmother forever, and, even worse, has to take up the mantle of Baba Yaga for herself.
A Wolf for a Spell by Karah Sutton
Ever since Zima was a pup, she’s been taught to fear humans. And witches are the worst sort of human. But when her family is threatened, Zima has no choice but to go to the witch Baba Yaga for help. Baba Yaga never does magic for free, though, and before Zima knows it the old witch has done a switching spell that’s left Zima in the human’s body while she runs off into the woods as a wolf. When a village girl comes seeking Baba Yaga’s help only to find Zima in her place, they realize they have a common enemy. And it will take uniting the humans, animals, and witches to defeat it.
Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia Leitich Smith
The Peter Pan retelling we all need, written by Muscogee Creek author Cynthia Leitich Smith. English Wendy and Native American Lily have been best friends ever since they became stepsisters. But with their parents always fighting and planning to spend the summer apart, what will become of their family and their friendship? A mysterious boy with plans to take them away from all this has been watching from a tree outside their window. A boy who plans to whisk them away to a magical island full of merfolk and fairies and kidnapped children. His name? Peter Pan.
Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
Peter and the Starcatchers is a favorite from my middle school days. This fast paced adventure imagines the story of what came before Peter Pan, revealing how a lonely orphan from England became a leader of lost boys and a fearsome ambidextrous pirate became the infamous Captain Hook. It’s a fairly long read at 480 pages, but perfect for precocious readers looking for a magical, high-stakes adventure.
Forever Neverland by Susan Adrian
The great-great-grandchildren of Wendy Darling are whisked away by Peter Pan for the adventure of a lifetime in Neverland. Clover is hesitant to make the leap, always feeling the need to look after he little brother who is autistic. But Fergus is tired of Clover’s constant pestering and longs for the independence of the Lost Boys. To him, it seems like the whole world would be better off if it were a bit more like Neverland.
Beauty and the Beast
The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell
This retelling mixing together the story of Beauty and the Beast and The Twelve Dancing Princesses. In the 15th century kingdom of Sylvania, the princesses are cursed to dance each and every night to the point of exhaustion. The prince as offered a reward for anyone able to break the curse, but everyone who tries fails terribly. But Reveka, a 13-year-old herbalist’s apprentice, believes she might be able to break the curse. Doing so will take her all the way to the Underworld and put her very soul at risk, but the reward is too great not to try.
Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen
Sarah’s family is constantly on the move, and she’s tired of it. She longs for a bit of stability and magic. But what Sarah doesn’t know is that magic is exactly what her family is running from. Her family is afflicted by an age-old curse, one that begins to turn her father into a beast when her mother leaves them, and one that will affect Sarah one day, too — unless she can figure out some way to break it.
The Frog Prince
Frogkisser! by Garth Nix
Princess Anya has the power to break any curse with a single kiss. Bit unfortunate if you ask her. And now her evil stepfather has forced her to join his quest to make the kingdom entirely his own. Sigh. At least she has a loyal talking dog and a thief trapped in the boy of a newt at her side. Maybe she can learn a thing or two about saving a kingdom and the power of a well-placed smooch along the way.
Frogged by Vivian Vande Velde
Princess Imogene isn’t feeling like a particularly good princess of late. And being turned into a frog by a bit of princely trickery certainly hasn’t helped. If a princess is supposed to be good and beautiful — as the book she was supposed to be reading before said frog turned her into an amphibian, too — Imogene is in real trouble here. Will she be stuck as a frog princess forever? Or will she find someway to get back to the castle that doesn’t involve casting her curse onto someone else?
Misc. Fairy Tales
Rumaysa by Radiya Hafiza
Radiya Hafiza’s debut reimagines three classic fairytales to show that anyone can be the hero of the story. Rumaysa is trapped in a tower by a cruel witch who has tasked her with spinning straw into gold. But when she drop her hijab out the window one day, she realizes she might have found an unexpected means of escape. As she journeys through an enchanted forest and dragon’s lair, she teams up with Cinderayla and Sleeping Sara to save the day.
Beasts and Beauty by Soman Chainani and Julia Iredale
You think you know these tales, but with Soman Chainani, the author of The School for Good and Evil, at the helm, you really don’t. In these fairytales, a beauty must fight like a beast, a prince awakes, and a path that is lost is found again. Beasts and Beauty is a collection of fractured fairytales perfect for a new generation of readers.
Ella Enchanted by Gail Levine
This classic Cinderella retelling from my childhood remains a delight to this day. When Ella was born, she was cursed by a well-meaning fairy to always be obedient. With both of her parents gone, Ella must hide her curse or else fall prey to the terrible whims of her stepfamily and any others who would abuse her inability to resist direct commands. Her journey to track down the fairy who cursed her takes her all across the land, fighting back against ogres and meeting princes. But getting too close to Ella can be a danger for others, too. And as Ella and the prince grow closer, she begins to fear how their relationship could be used against him by anyone who finds out the truth.
The Peculiar Thing with the Pea by Kaye Umansky
This is not the Princess and the Pea that you remember. Prince Pete isn’t ready for marriage, thank you very much. He’s only 11! But his mother has this whole idea about peas and princesses, and, well, you know the rest. But when Patsy comes along claiming to be a princess, his mother puts her claims to the test with a pea. Pete definitely isn’t ready for a wife, but maybe he could use a friend like Patsy.
Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood by Liesl Shurtliff
Red isn’t afraid of any wolf, but she is afraid of magic. When her grandmother falls ill, she sets out on a quest to find a cure…even if it involves magic. With the help of a porridge eating blonde named Goldie, she journeys through dwarves’ caverns and a castle owned by a beast. Along the way a feuding wolf and huntsman keep trying to enlist their help to defeat the other. And one of them might just have the answer for how to cure her grandmother.
Flunked by Jen Calonita
In the Fairy Tale Reform School series, beloved fairytale characters are taught to be good by former villains like the Big Bad Wolf, the Evil Queen, and Cinderella’s Wicked Step Mother. Gilly doesn’t think she needs reforming. All she did was a bit of thievery to help ends meet. After all, it’s pretty hard to keep food on the table when you have five little brothers and sisters and live in a boot. Then she’s caught stealing and is sentenced to three months at reform school. But how reformed are these former villains running the school, really? With a battle brewing on the horizon, Gilly and her fellow students are about to find out.
Snow and Rose by Emily Winfield Martin
This retelling of the little-known fairytale, Snow White and Rose Red, follows two sisters and an enchanted wood. With their father lost among the trees and their mother drowning in her sorrow, it’s up to Snow and Rose to venture into the woods to break a series of terrible spells.
Original Fairytales / Various Mythology & Folklore
Blackberry Blue by Jamila Gavin
Blackberry Blue contains six magical stories full of enchanted forests, talking animals, and wicked witches. Full of a diverse cast of heroes and heroines, these original fairytales blend magic with the macabre in stories every bit as original and entrancing as anything from the pages of Hans Christian Anderson or the Brothers Grimm.
The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste
The Jumbies is a wonderful original tale rooted in Caribbean folklore. Corinne La Mer claims she isn’t afraid of anything, especially not jumbies. But that’s mostly because she doesn’t believe they exist. That is, until she wanders into the forest one night and finds herself surrounded by shining yellow eyes. The next day, a beautiful stranger shows up, ready to claim the entire island for the jumbies. It’s up to Corinne to put a stop to it and save her beloved island before the jumbies take over.
The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta
Kiranmala never put much stock in her parents stories about her being an Indian princess. After all, she’s just a regular 6th grader. But on the morning of her 12th birthday, a rakkhosh demon comes crashing through the door, shortly followed by two dream-worthy princes ringing the doorbell claiming they’ve come to rescue her. Suddenly, Kiran is swept into a world of magic, where horses can fly and birds talk. But in order to save her own world and all of New Jersey, she’ll have to avoid the Serpent King of the Underworld and the Rakkhoshi Queen, all while battling demons and saving the day. No big deal for an interdimensional demon slayer, right?
Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi
This original fairytale from Tahereh Mafi is all about being different in a colorful world. In Ferenwood, color is currency. But for Alice Alexis Queensmeadow, color is the one thing she doesn’t have. Entirely pigment-less and magic-less, Alice expects to fail the trials that would allow her to go on an adventure and prove herself. And passing them is important for more than just prestige. The trials may be her only hope of venturing dangerous lands of Furthermore where her father disappeared many years ago. There, up is down and down is up. But maybe it will take an opposite-girl like Alice — the last one anybody expected — to find him again.
Depending on reading level and maturity, some YA fairytale retellings might make great reads for middle graders, too. Kalynn Bayron is a fantastic new voice in YA retellings with the dystopian Cinderella retelling, Cinderella is Dead and the updated Greek myth of Medea, This Poison Heart. Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust is another wonderful retelling that might be suitable for some younger readers.
And those aren’t all the great fairytale retellings we have to recommend. Check out these lists for even more reimagined fairytales and retellings: