Did you know that before “Shrek” became a beloved animated children’s film character and movie franchise, the character started out as a fantasy picture book? Yes, in 1990, author and cartoonist William Steig published Shrek!, which was about a monster who enjoys anything gross and miserable. He travels with a donkey (getting any nostalgia yet?) to find a princess alleged to be even uglier than he is! And once they find each other, they live “horribly ever after”- which, in a way, is technically a fairytale happy ending for our main character.
Anyway, since “Shrek” the movie is trending on Netflix right now, we decided on pulling the classic Bookstr move of moving the conversation towards a more… bookish fashion by reminiscing old childrens’ books that parody traditional fairytale stories. Similar to Shrek, the movie and the book, here are five children’s books that make fun of or parody classic children’s fairytales!
The Paper Bag Princess, by Robert Munsch
In a feminist divergence from the typical damsel-in-distress story, this 1980 picture book starts with Princess Elizabeth, stuck in an imaginary fantasy of a perfect life with a perfect prince. These perfect plans are crashed when a dragon attacks her castle, kidnaps the prince, and burns all her clothes, diminishing her wide wardrobe to a single paper bag.
Elizabeth journeys to find and rescue the prince from the dragon, proving that despite being a beautiful young princess, she does not necessarily have to be the damsel in distress. Munsch’s book is a fun, inspiring twist from the princess-dragon trope that teaches children that you don’t have to necessarily look like a royal princess to get your happily-ever-after!
And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon, by Janet Stevens
“Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon.
The little dog laughed to see such fun
And the dish ran away with the spoon!”
Ever heard that nursery rhyme before? Well, this 2001 title takes after one of the most iconic nursery rhymes read to children. The subjects of this rhyme: Cat, Cow, Dog, and of course, Dish and Spoon, reenact this rhyme every night. Cow jumps over the moon, Dog laughs, and Dish runs away with Spoon. That is until one night, Dish and Spoon do not return. On a mission to rescue their friends, Cat, Cow, and Dog venture through new lands (specifically, lands of other nursery rhymes and fairytales) in order to find where their kitchen appliance friends disappeared off to!
Revolting Rhymes, by Roald Dahl
If you’re familiar with Roald Dahl’s other children’s books, you may predict that Revolting Rhymes is, well, a pretty revoltingly gruesome take on some classic fairytales. Dahl is well-known for the dark twists and turns of his imagination put in the pages of children’s literature, and Revolting Rhymes is no different. From gambling-addict dwarves in Snow White to a gun-yielding Red Riding Hood, Dahl’s spin on classic fairytales are not for the faint of heart. If you are looking for, or have a child who finds humor in dark comedy, then Revolting Rhymes would be a fun read to explore!
The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, by Jon Scieszka
If you are a late millennial or an early Gen-Z’er, you may remember reading this with your elementary school librarian. The entirety of this book is narrated by Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk, and frequently breaks the fourth wall to communicate to the reader.
Jack is a fairly pessimistic narrator, providing his candid perspectives and twists on fairytales such as The Ugly Duckling or fables like The Little Red Hen. Additionally, Jack combines fairytales together, too, such as Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin to form the short story of Cinderumplestiltskin. Full of sarcastic humor and fourth-wall-breaking, your child will definitely enjoy this award-winning take on breaking conventions.
The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, by Jon Scieszka
Also from the same author and illustrator as Stinky Cheese Man, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs is another anti-fairytale from 1989. In this children’s book, we find a much more developed version of the Big Bad Wolf, or his real name of Alexander T. Wolf.
Scieszka gives his readers a new side to the classic fairytale, in the written perspective of A. Wolf, which portrays him in a much more innocent, well-meaning light. He did not come to the pigs’ houses to eat them, but instead to borrow some cooking ingredients, and was instead framed as a predator and criminal. A little dark but a great twist on the classic fairytale, your children will learn that you truly cannot judge a book by its cover.