Circle Time Circle Time Book Reviews
 
New Twists on Old Tales

 
The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! -- Piggie Pie -- The Frog Prince, Continued
Cinderella's Rat -- Rumpelstiltskin's Daughter -- The Jolly Postman -- The Dumb Bunnies
The Stinky Cheese Man -- The Paper Bag Princess -- Prince Cinders
 
 
        Once upon a time, I used to read The Three Little Pigs five or six times a day. My son couldn't get enough of it. He knocked on the table when the wolf was at the door, squeaked "not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin" in unison with each little pig, and huffed and puffed until I thought our house was going to fall down. Now, I have nothing against swine in general, and nothing against the three little pigs in particular, but I was getting a wee wee wee bit tired of the same old story.
 
        That's when I discovered the joy of fractured fairy tales, the same stories we all know by heart, with a little twist. The twist might be a new setting, an up-dated character, a surprise ending, or even an account of what happened after happily ever after. The result can be serious or silly. Most of the stories on this list are funny, silly, or even downright dumb (and I mean that in the nicest way).
 
Kathy Bennett
 

 
 
The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs!
by A. Wolf, as told to Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith
Circle Time rating
recommended age level - preschool (read aloud), 4-8
original copyright 1989
ISBN 0670827592 library binding -- Order this Book from Amazon.com
ISBN 0140544518 paperback -- Order this Book from Amazon.com
 
        Isn't it about time we heard the wolf's side of the story? Thanks to Jon Scieszka, Alexander T. Wolf finally gets a chance to tell what really happened to the three little pigs. It wasn't his fault. Really.
        Al Wolf just wanted to bake a cake for his granny's birthday. "So I walked down the street to ask my neighbor for a cup of sugar," Al explains, "Now this neighbor was a pig. And he wasn't too bright, either. He had built his whole house out of straw. Can you believe it? I mean, who in his right mind would build a house of straw?" The huffing and puffing bit was just Al having a really big sneeze. The first and second little pigs were killed when Al sneezed their houses over. He couldn't let two perfectly good ham dinners go to waste, could he? As for the third little pig, well, he made an unkind remark about Al's granny.
        Lane Smith's bow-tied, bespectacled Alexander T. Wolf looks every bit the innocent victim of circumstances, not the Big Bad Wolf that newspapers like The Daily Pig have made him out to be. The pigs, on the other hand, look menacing, except when their succulent rump roasts are tempting Alexander from the ruins of the straw and stick houses.
 
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (kbennett@fidnet.com)
 

 
 
Piggie Pie written by Margie Palatini, illustrated by Howard Fine
Circle Time rating
recommended age level - preschool (read aloud), 4-8
original copyright 1995
ISBN 0395716918 library binding -- Order this Book from Amazon.com
ISBN 0395866189 paperback -- Order this Book from Amazon.com

        Gritch the Witch needs eight plump piggies to satisfy her craving for Piggie Pie. When a quick check of her pantry reveals that she's fresh out of piggies, Gritch lets her bony fingers do the walking through the Yellow Pages. Sure enough, she spots an ad for "Old MacDonald's Farm. Call EI-EI-O. . . We have ducks, chickens and -- PIGGIES." She jumps on her broomstick and flies to Old MacDonald's Farm, where a whole herd of swine is ambling about the barnyard.
        "I've got you in my sights now, you little porkers!" she cackles as she circles overhead. The pigs madly dash for the barn, where they've had the foresight to stash a whole slew of animal costumes -- animals other than pigs, that is. By the time Gritch parks her broom, there's not a pig in sight, just a bunch of funny looking ducks that quack quack here and quack quack there. No piggies, they quack in response to Gritch's question about the availability of the missing ingredient for Piggie Pie. She gets the same answer from the cows, the chickens, and even Old MacDonald himself (sort of).
        Great, Gritch thinks. Now what is she going to eat? Just then, a voice from the bushes beckons Gritch. "Psst. . .psst. . . PSST! Excuse me, little lady. Wolf's the name. Let me give you some advice. Forget about the pigs. . .They're too tricky. Trust me. I've been chasing three little pigs for days," the voice in the bushes huffs and puffs.
        Gritch invites the wolf home for lunch, and they walk off, each envisioning the other as the main course.
        The illustrations are fantastic. As Gritch first flies over the farm, her broomstick exhaust spells out "Surrender Piggies!" The two page spread of the pigs helping each other into non-pig costumes is adorable. One pig adjusts another's duck bill; three pigs crawl inside a Guernsey cow suit.
 
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (kbennett@fidnet.com)
 

 
 
The Frog Prince, Continued by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Steve Johnson
Circle Time rating
recommended age level - preschool (read aloud), 4-8
original copyright 1991
ISBN 0670834211 library binding -- Order this Book from Amazon.com
ISBN 014054285X paperback -- Order this Book from Amazon.com

        What if the prince and princess didn't live happily ever after? In this story, the Frog Prince and the Princess who kissed him "lived sort of happily for a long time. Okay, they weren't so happy. In fact, they were miserable." Things are so bad that the Princess wonders if they would have been happier if she hadn't kissed him and he were still a frog.
        The prince decides that the only way the two of them are going to be happy is if he can somehow turn back into a plain old frog, so he dashes out of the castle to find a witch who can do the job. He meets three different witches, who each have starring roles in other fairy tales, and they don't quite believe he's telling the truth about who he is and what he wants. The first two witches suspect he's out to break the spells they've put on Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, while the third thinks he'd make a lovely light lunch while she waits for Hansel and Gretel to show up for dinner. He has to run deeper and deeper into the forest in order to escape them.
        Now hopelessly lost, the Frog Prince stumbles upon a Fairy Godmother. She's just on her way to help a young girl get to a ball, but she agrees to try changing him back into a frog. She waves her magic wand and turns him "into a beautiful. . . carriage." The sun goes down. The forest is dark and spooky. The Carriage realizes that, all things considered, he'd rather be a Frog Prince spending a quiet evening at home with the Princess.
        A distant clock strikes midnight. The Fairy Godmother's spell is broken and the Carriage turns back into the Frog Prince. He runs all the way home to the castle and into the Princess's waiting and worried arms. He kisses her. They both turn into frogs, and, of course, they hop off to live happily ever after -- this time for good.
        Steve Johnson's illustrations add wonderful little touches to the story. The first witch relaxes in her recliner in front of the TV while she waits out Sleeping Beauty's one hundred year snooze. Snow White's witch peruses a fashion magazine, "Hauge," while she sits under the hair dyrer. The wall paper in the castle has a lovely dragonfly motif, which the Frog Prince carelessly zaps with his tongue.
 
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (kbennett@fidnet.com)
 

 
 
Cinderella's Rat written and illustrated by Susan Meddaugh
Circle Time rating
recommended age level - preschool (read aloud), 4-8
original copyright 1997
ISBN 0395868335 hard cover -- Order this Book from Amazon.com

        Life is full of surprises. Just ask the title character of Susan Meddaugh's clever story, Cinderella's Rat. You may remember him from the fairy tale: he's the one that the Fairy Godmother turned into a coachman (actually more of a coachboy). While Cinderella is busy dancing at the ball, Cinderella's Rat and his sister, Ruth (who is still a rat), have an adventure of their own. They discover rat heaven -- a fully stocked castle larder. Before they can enjoy it, however, there's a case of mistaken identity, and a well-meaning new friend drags the boy and Ruth to a wizard so the wizard can turn Ruth "back" into a girl. The boy is afraid to reveal the truth. What if the wizard turns both him and Ruth into cat food?
        Since Ruth is truly a rat, the wizard can't completely change her from a rat to a girl. Much to her brother's dismay, the wizard transforms Ruth into a cat, then a girl who meows, then a girl who woofs. Before the wizard can "fix" his last spell, it's nearly midnight, and, well, you know what happens when the clock strikes twelve. The coachboy returns to his rat self, and Ruth helps her family by keeping the cats away.
        The most amazing thing about Ms. Meddaugh's illustrations is that when Cinderella's Rat and his sister change from rat to human or vice versa, they are still recognizably their former selves. As humans, they look slightly rodent-like, but in a cute way As rats, they seem almost human, especially when the siblings are sniffing the cheese that leads them into a trap, or huddled inside the trap awaiting their fate.
 
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (kbennett@fidnet.com)
 

 
 
Rumpelstiltskin's Daughter written and illustrated by Diane Stanley
Circle Time rating
recommended age level - 5 and up (read aloud)
original copyright 1997
ISBN 068814327X hardcover -- Order this Book from Amazon.com
ISBN 0688143288 library binding -- Order this Book from Amazon.com

        Sometimes I run across a book that has such a well-crafted story and such exquisite illustrations that I just sit back and say, "Wow!" This book by Diane Stanley is one of those "wow" books. In this version of Rumpelstiltskin, the miller's daughter, Meredith, is not a brainless wench who jumps at the chance to marry the king. Rumpelstiltskin is not an evil child-snatching gnome. In fact, he's a sweet soul who only wants one thing in life -- a child to love and care for. No wonder Meredith decides to ditch the king and marry Rumpelstiltskin. Besides, she has a weakness for short men.
        Rumpelstiltskin and Meredith marry, work on their farm, and raise their daughter. Although the family could use Rumpelstiltskin's talents to become exceedingly rich, he only spins a small amount of gold to buy those things they can't make or grow themselves. The rest of the people in the kingdom are not so lucky. The greedy king has rooms full of gold while his subjects are penniless and starving. No wonder he needs a contingent of armed guards who have elevated teeth-gnashing and sword-clutching into an art form.
        When Rumpelstiltskin's daughter is sixteen, her parents let her take the odd bit of gold into town to exchange it for coins to buy necessities. Eventually the old greedy kings hears about this, kidnaps Rumpelstiltskin's daughter, and locks her in a tower filled with straw.
        "Rumpelstiltskin's daughter looked around. She saw a pile of straw the size of a bus. She saw a locked door and high windows. She gave a big sigh and began to think. She knew her father could get her out of this pickle. But she had heard stories about the king all her life. One room full of gold would never satisfy him. Her father would be stuck here, spinning, until there was not an iota of straw left in the kingdom.
        "After a while she climbed the pile of straw and thought some more. She thought about the poor farmers and about the hungry children with their thin faces and sad eyes. She put the two thoughts together and cooked up a plan. . ."
        Instead of spinning straw into gold, Rumpelstiltskin's daughter puts her plan (which Ms. Stanley develops so cleverly that you really should read it for yourself) into action and saves the kingdom by teaching the king some simple lessons in economics and public relations. By the end of the story, the king offers her his hand in marriage, which she wisely declines. "Why don't you make me prime minister, instead," she suggests.
        The best word to describe the illustrations is sumptuous. Diane Stanley's greedy king with his elegantly styled coif bears a striking resemblance to Louis XIV, and the artwork mirrors the Sun King's opulence. The palace shines with gilded ceilings and elaborate tiled floors. On the palace walls hang masterpieces so famous that my six year old can recognize most of them --works by da Vinci, Van Gogh, Picasso.
 
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (kbennett@fidnet.com)
 

 
 
The Jolly Postman written and illustrated by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
Circle Time rating
recommended age level - preschool (read aloud), 4-8, and older
original copyright 1986
ISBN 0316020362 hard cover -- Order this Book from Amazon.com

        In this book, the Jolly Postman is delivering the mail to the residents of a quaint fairy tale village, and you get to read all the letters -- even the junk mail! Every other page is an envelope with some type of correspondence tucked inside. The Three Bears get a handwritten apology from Goldilocks, complete with misspellings and invitation to a birthday party. The occupant of Gingerbread Bungalow in The Woods, who happens to be the Wicked Witch, gets an advertising circular from Hobgoblin Supplies Ltd. A certain snout-nosed grandma gets a demand letter addressed to Mr. B.B. Wolf from Miss Riding-Hood's attorney, who also states, "On a separate matter, we must inform you that The Three Little Pigs Ltd. are now firmly resolved to sue for damages. . .all this huffing and puffing will get you nowhere."
        Some of the funniest moments in this book come from the illustrations of the Jolly Postman stopping for tea with each mail delivery. At the Wicked Witch's cottage, he peruses the newspaper, the Mirror Mirror, while the witch reads her mail and her black cat does the dishes. At Cinderella's castle, he enjoys a glass of champagne poured by Prince Charming, who is still in his honeymoon Hawaiian print shirt and white slacks.
        This book is perfect for sharing one on one with a child, but if there aren't any children available, it's also amusing for solitary adults.
 
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (kbennett@fidnet.com)
 

 
 
The Dumb Bunnies written by Sue Denim, illustrated by Dav Pilkey
Circle Time rating
recommended age level - preschool (read aloud), 4-8
original copyright 1994
ISBN 0590477080 library binding -- Order this Book from Amazon.com
ISBN 0590477099 paperback -- Order this Book from Amazon.com

        This is the perfect book for a kid whose favorite jokes revolve around the words "toilet" and "underwear" -- your typical four year old, for instance. My typical four year old loves it! The Dumb Bunnies are a family of clueless rabbits who might remind you of a certain family of bears. When they go to town to let their porridge cool off, they take their bikes, which are strapped on top of their car.
        "'Can I drive the car?" asked Baby Bunny.
        "'You don't know how to drive," said Poppa Bunny. 'You'd get us all killed.'
        "'Aw, please?' asked Baby Bunny.
        "'Duh, okay,' said Poppa Bunny."
        While the Dumb Bunnies are in town bowling at the library and picnicking in the car wash, Little Red Goldilocks, whose skin is white as snow, breaks into their house. She sleeps in Poppa Bunny's porridge, eats Momma Bunny's bed, and uses Baby Bunny's pimple cream, but the Dumb Bunnies love her. In fact, Baby Bunny loves her so much, that he flushes her down the toilet.
        This book was my first introduction to Dav Pilkey, and now I'm a diehard fan. His cartoon drawings are hilarious! The cover of The Dumb Bunnies shows the family in the great green room from "Good Night Moon," complete with the bowl of mush on a table and lava lamps on the mantle. There's even a big gold Caldecott-like seal over the illustration which reads "This book is too dumb to win an award." Well, if four year olds could give book awards, this one would be a sure winner!
 
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (kbennett@fidnet.com)
 

 
 
The Stinky Cheese Man
written by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith, designed by Molly Leach
Circle Time rating
recommended age level - 5 and up
original copyright 1992
ISBN 067084487X library binding -- Order this Book from Amazon.com

        This book defies description . . .but I'll give it my best shot. If, like me, you're ready to tear your lips off if you have to read the traditional story of "The Three Little Pigs" one more time, then you need to go into a quiet room, settle in a comfy chair, and read this book. Don't forget to lock the door, or the rest of the family will want to come in to see what you're laughing about.
        As the introduction states, "[t]he stories in this book are Fairly Stupid Tales." They've got names like Cinderumpelstiltskin, the Really Ugly Ducking, and Chicken Licken. Then there's The Stinky Cheese Man, about the child fashioned out of stinky cheese by a lonely old woman and her husband. "When she opened the oven to see if he was done, the smell knocked her back. 'Phew! What is that terrible smell?' she cried. The Stinky Cheese Man hopped out of the oven and ran out the door calling, 'Run run run as fast as you can. You can't catch me, I'm the Stinky Cheese Man!'
        "The little old lady and the little old man sniffed the air. 'I'm not really very hungry,' said the little old man. 'I'm not really all that lonely,' said the little old lady. So they didn't chase the Stinky Cheese Man."
        To fully appreciate how funny this book is, you need to hold it in your hands and check out the illustrations. They are funny in and of themselves, and the way the book is put together is nothing short of brilliant. This is the perfect book for the sophisticated reader of whatever age.
 
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (kbennett@fidnet.com)
 

 
 
The Paper Bag Princess
written by Robert N. Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko
Circle Time rating
recommended age level - preschool (read aloud), 4-8
original copyright 1980
ISBN 0920236820 library binding -- Order this Book from Amazon.com
ISBN 0920236162 paperback -- Order this Book from Amazon.com

        Elizabeth has it made. Not only is she a princess, but she's got everything that goes with being a princess -- a castle, good looks, a great wardrobe, and Prince Ronald for a fiance. Then along comes a dragon who smashes her castle, incinerates her clothes, kidnaps her boyfriend, and musses her hair.
        An ordinary princess would dissolve into heartbreaking sobs at this point, but Elizabeth is anything but ordinary. For modesty's sake, she grabs the only covering available, a paper bag, and sets out to find the dragon and rescue Ronald. The dragon tells her to go away -- he's too full to eat a princess at the moment. Not to be put off, Elizabeth tricks the dragon into proving just how mighty he is, and exhausting himself in the process. When the dragon is soundly asleep, Elizabeth opens the door to the dragon's lair and finds Ronald.
        Ronald, who, for want of a better word, is a royal jerk, doesn't even say "thank you.". Instead, he shakes his finger at Elizabeth and scolds, "Elizabeth, you are a mess! Your hair is all tangled and you are wearing a dirty old paper bag. Come back tomorrow when you are dressed like a real princess."
        As you might guess, Elizabeth tells him off and goes skipping into the sunset. Even my four year old, usually the champion of any prince in any tale, cheers for Elizabeth at the end. As for his sister, well, Ronald just confirms her theory that no boy is as good as her dad (except for maybe one certain boy in her class, but that's another story altogether).
        The illustrations capably capture the mood of the story. In the beginning it's easy to tell that Elizabeth is swooning over Ronald, while he accepts her adoration as merely his due. I recognize the clutched fists and clenched teeth of Elizabeth as she decides to follow the dragon and get Ronald back -- a certain six year old I know does exactly that when one of her little brothers crosses her.
 
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (kbennett@fidnet.com)
 

 
 
Prince Cinders written and illustrated by Babette Cole
Circle Time rating
recommended age level - preschool (read aloud), 4-8
original copyright 1987
ISBN 1854303066 hard cover -- Order this Book from Amazon.com
ISBN 0399218823 paperback -- Order this Book from Amazon.com

        In this Cinderella story, Cinderella goes by the name of Prince Cinders. He looks like the "before" picture in an ad for a mail order body-building course, while his big and hairy older brothers look like the "after" picture. The older brothers party all night at the Palace Disco with their princess girlfriends, while Prince Cinders cleans up their beer cans, cigarette butts, and macho magazines.
        One night, while he's doing a load of dirty socks, a fairy drops down the chimney. She tries to make all his wishes come true. She changes a crumpled beer can into a red sports car, a toy red sports car, that is. "That can't be right," the fairy muses. She gives him a new suit to wear to the Palace Disco -- a swim suit. Finally, she makes him big and hairy, like his brothers, sort of. Now he's a big hairy ape wearing a swimsuit!
        The fairy is pretty sure the spell will wear off by midnight. In the meantime, Prince Cinders admires himself in the mirror -- he sees a dashing prince in an Armani suit -- and hops on (not in) the little red sports car to check out the Palace Disco. He's so big that he can't fit in the door. He wisely decides to take the bus home, and bumps into pretty Princess Lovelypenny. "Luckily, midnight struck and Prince Cinders changed back into himself. The princess thought he had saved her by frightening away the big hairy monkey. 'Wait!' she shouted, but Prince Cinders was too shy. He even lost his trousers in the rush!"
        Soon all the princes in the land are standing around in their underwear, waiting for the chance to try on the trousers. Of course, these trousers only fit a scrawny guy like Prince Cinders. He tries them on; they fit, and Prince Cinders and Princess Lovelypenny are wed. The princess tells the fairy about the way Prince Cinders' older brothers used to treat him, and suddenly they are turned into house fairies, in charge of keeping the palace spic and span forever.
        My four year old son loves this story, especially the illustration of Prince Cinders as the big hairy ape, peering through the window at the royalty dancing at the Palace Disco. My six year old daughter likes Princess Lovelypenny's leopard print outfit. Both my kids think being doomed to clean the palace forever is a fate worse than death, and from the expressions on the faces of the house fairies, Prince Cinders's brothers would probably agree.
 
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (kbennett@fidnet.com)
 

 
 
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