Fairytale board books are really upping their quality game as of late. I’ve always loved a well-told fairytale regardless of the form it takes — oral stories, picture books, movies, novels, anything magic-y and I’m there. Based on fairytales’ continued reimagining, republishing, and modernizations, I’m clearly not alone in this either. Even though I know more or less how each story will go, it’s exciting to experience how the imagination of a new teller shifts the details.
People of all ages — from all eras and cultures — are drawn to the magical worlds of these same stories. And so, storytellers adapt the tales for varying audiences. Based on their continuing republication, interest doesn’t seem to be waning. According to fairytale expert Marina Warner, a common thread between the stories is that they express hope in ways that are both familiar and amazing. As she writes, “The agents who bring about miracles of hope in the stories vary from place to place, as they rise from local belief systems which belong to tradition. The tradition may contain imaginary elements but also traces of history: fairies and goblins on the one hand, cunning beldames and stepmothers on the other.”
What I’m excited about are the current attempts to diversify fairytales, pairing the traditional stories with characters and plot points with aspects updated to current beliefs and expectations. These fairytale board books, aimed at the youngest of humans, are doing a beautiful job at providing diversified updates on the classic stories while teaching language and motor skills.
Once Upon a Time: Fairytale Board Books
Layer by Layer Sleeping Beauty by Carly Madden and Cynthia Alonso
The art is very cute in this cut-out board book retelling of Sleeping Beauty. I like that Alonso depicts an interracial couple and that the prince blows a kiss instead of planting one on the lips of the titular heroine.
Layer by Layer The Jungle Book by Carly Madden and Cynthia Alonso
Like Layer by Layer Sleeping Beauty, the layered format and cut-outs encourage hand-eye coordination. Along with vibrant illustrations and engaging but simple storytelling, it’s a delight.
Cinderella by Chloe Perkins and Sandra Equihua
This is part of the Once Upon a World series, which retells well-known fairytales by moving them to different countries and bringing the stories to life with illustrators from those countries. In this fairytale board book, the story of Cinderella is moved to Mexico, with rich and energetic illustrations.
Snow White by Chloe Perkins and Misa Saburi
Also part of the Once Upon a World series, in this charming reimagining Snow White is a young Japanese girl. The new setting really breathes life into the familiar story — I’m not a big fan of the story of Snow White usually (why would you eat the apple, whyyy), but the changes really piqued my interest and made it better.
Rapunzel by Chloe Perkins and Archana Sreenivasan
Set in India, this Once Upon a World board book features detailed, absolutely gorgeous illustrations. I also like that Rapunzel and the Prince speak for hours and fall in love that way, instead of just some sort of at-first-sight situation.
The Little Mermaid by Hannah Eliot and Nivea Ortiz
Another fairytale board book by Once Upon a World, this one is The Little Mermaid amidst a Caribbean backdrop. As with the other books in this series, the art is glorious. Ortiz’s vivid and exaggerated images will not disappoint the kiddos.
Zel, Let Out Your Hair by Trish Cooke and Angela Corbin
Part of the Hairytales book series, which fits together Black protagonists, hair-inspired stories, and fairytales. In this one, Zel (like Rapunzel), is bored by how long it takes to do her hair. Eventually, her mom helps her free it into long braids. While its similarities to the actual plot of Rapunzel are minimal, it’s a very funny and cute homage.
Jackson and the Hairstalk by Trish Cooke and Angela Corbin
Another Hairytales entry, this one retelling Jack and the Beanstalk. Poor Jackson trades his father’s one cow for a bowl of red bean soup, but luckily the soup is magic. This one is very adorably altered.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Penguin Bedtime Classics) by Lewis Carroll and Carly Gledhill
In this modernized retelling, Gledhill’s version of Alice wears overalls and sneakers as she follows a rabbit through the woods. The art is whimsical and humorous, and font changes are used to cleverly emphasize parts of the story.
These nine fairytale board books will really appeal to young children and the adults reading with them, as they provide an invigorating mix of vivid illustrations, diverse settings, and familiar plots. Enjoy revisiting the stories and you will likely find new wonders within.