Where do you get your ideas? Every author gets asked that question after every book. Sometimes there is no easy answer. A character or a scene will suddenly appear and then a story weaves its way around until it becomes a book.
But sometimes the answer is rooted in a past where stories were handed along by word of mouth, not written down at all. Those old legends and stories have provided many modern writers with a rich narrative base, a wealth of timeless themes, and archetypal characters we never fail to recognize.
I’ve read quite a few amazing Young Adult books recently and some of the very best were retellings of stories I loved when I was a child – fairy tales. When I went to make a list of my favorite retellings, I found hundreds of books whose plots were riffs on familiar fantasy themes. Here, bunched up by author (the easiest way to do the research) are some I can enthusiastically recommend.
A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth Bunce
The gold thread promises Charlotte Miller a chance to save her family’s beloved woolen mill. It promises a future for her sister, jobs for her townsfolk, security against her grasping uncle — maybe even true love. To get the thread, Charlotte must strike a bargain with its maker, the mysterious Jack Spinner. But the gleam of gold conjures a shadowy past — secrets ensnaring generations of Millers. And Charlotte’s mill, her family, her love — what do those matter to a stranger who can spin straw into gold?
This is an award-winning and wholly original retelling of “Rumplestiltskin.” Winner, William C. Morris Award for best YA debut novel.
Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley
Beauty has never liked her nickname. She is thin and awkward; it is her two sisters who are the beautiful ones. But what she lacks in looks, she can perhaps make up for in courage. When her father comes home with the tale of an enchanted castle in the forest and the terrible promise he had to make to the Beast who lives there, Beauty knows she must go to the castle, a prisoner of her own free will. Her father protests that he will not let her go, but she answers, “Cannot a Beast be tamed?”
Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley
All the creatures of the forest and field and riverbank knew the infant was special. She was the princess, spirited away from the evil fairy Pernicia on her name-day. But the curse was cast: Rosie was fated to prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and fall into a poisoned sleep?a slumber from which no one would be able to rouse her.
Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley
Twenty years ago , Robin McKinley dazzled readers with the power of her novel Beauty. Now this extraordinarily gifted novelist returns to the story of Beauty and the Beast with a fresh perspective, ingenuity, and mature insight. With Rose Daughter, she presents her finest and most deeply felt work–a compelling, richly imagined, and haunting exploration of the transformative power of love.
The Door in the Hedge by Robin McKinley
Master storyteller Robin McKinley here spins two new fairy tales and retells two cherished classics. All feature princesses touched with or by magic. There is Linadel, who lives in a kingdom next to Faerieland, where princesses are stolen away on their seventeenth birthdays-and Linadel’s seventeenth birthday is tomorrow. And Korah, whose brother is bewitched by the magical Golden Hind; now it is up to her to break the spell. Rana must turn to a talking frog to help save her kingdom from the evil Aliyander. And then there are the twelve princesses, enspelled to dance through the soles of their shoes every night…. These are tales to read with delight!
The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley
New York Times bestselling author Robin McKinley’s vivid retelling of the classic story of Robin Hood breathes contemporary life into these beloved adventures-with Marian taking a pivotal role as one of Robin’s best archers. (IMO, not as good as some of her others.
Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede
Snow White and Rose Red live on the edge of the forest that conceals the elusive border of Faerie. They know enough about Faerie lands and mortal magic to be concerned when they find two human sorcerers setting spells near the border. And when the kindly, intelligent black bear wanders into their cottage some months later, they realize the connection between his plight and the sorcery they saw in the forest. This romantic version of the classic fairy tale features an updated introduction by its editor, Terri Windling.
Cinder: Book One in the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.
The Curse Girl by Kate Avery Ellison
When her father tries to steal magic from the cursed mansion outside her town, seventeen-year-old Bee is the one who becomes a prisoner of the “beast” who lives there. But the so-called monster, Will, isn’t anything like she expected. He’s the same age as she is, he doesn’t have claws or fangs … and contrary to the local legend, he’s really, really handsome. Well, maybe the whole “beast” thing is a metaphor, because he’s a total jerk. Bee’s only goal is to escape, but there are some major complications–like the fact that she has to break Will’s curse first. The witch who cursed Will left him a riddle to solve and an hourglass to track the time. And although she’d rather eat dirt than help Will, Bee has to work with him to figure out the riddle, or she’s going to remain a prisoner forever. As time goes on, Bee discovers there is more to Will than first meets the eye. She might even be falling in love with him. But the hourglass is almost empty, and they’re running out of time. Can they solve a baffling riddle and break the witch’s curse before everything is lost?
Crazy Beautiful by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
In an explosion of his own making, Lucius blew his arms off. Now he has hooks. He chose hooks because they were cheaper. He chose hooks because he wouldn’t outgrow them so quickly. He chose hooks so that everyone would know he was different, so he would scare even himself. Then he meets Aurora. The hooks don’t scare her. They don’t keep her away. In fact, they don’t make any difference at all to her. But to Lucius, they mean everything. They remind him of the beast he is inside. Perhaps Aurora is his Beauty, destined to set his soul free from its suffering. Or maybe she’s just a girl who needs love just like he does.
The Once and Future King by T.H. White
My personal all-time favorite retelling. A masterful vision of the saga of King Arthur, a fantasy classic as legendary as Excalibur and Camelot, and a poignant story of adventure, romance, and magic that has enchanted readers for generations. Portions of this specific retelling were then retold as Camelot, the musical and as The Sword in the Stone, a Disney animated movie.
There were so many others I hadn’t read and couldn’t personally recommend, but I decided to include them just because. For example, Simon Pulse published a whole series of books that retold legends and fairy tales. Among those titles were:
Water Song: A Retelling of “The Frog Prince” (Once Upon a Time (Simon Pulse)) by Suzanne Weyn and Mahlon F. Craft
Sunlight and Shadow: A Retelling of “The Magic Flute” (Once Upon a Time (Simon Pulse)) by Cameron Dokey and Mahlon F. Craft
The Storyteller’s Daughter: A Retelling of “The Arabian Nights” (Once Upon a Time) by Cameron Dokey and Mahlon F. Craft
Snow: A Retelling of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (Once Upon a Time) by Tracy Lynn and Mahlon F. Craft (Oct 24, 2006)
Beauty Sleep: A Retelling of “Sleeping Beauty” (Once Upon a Time) by Cameron Dokey and Mahlon F. Craft (Oct 24, 2006)
Wild Orchid: A Retelling of “The Ballad of Mulan” (Once Upon a Time) by Cameron Dokey and Mahlon F. Craft
Golden: A Retelling of “Rapunzel” (Once Upon a Time) by Cameron Dokey and Mahlon F. Craft
Before Midnight: A Retelling of “Cinderella” (Once Upon a Time) by Cameron Dokey and Mahlon F. Craft (M
The Night Dance: A Retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” (Once Upon a Time) by Suzanne Weyn and Mahlon F. Craft
Midnight Pearls: A Retelling of “The Little Mermaid” (Once Upon a Time) by Debbie Viguié and Mahlon F. Craft
Belle: A Retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” (Once Upon a Time) by Cameron Dokey and Mahlon F. Craft (
The Rose Bride: A Retelling of “The White Bride and the Black Bride” (Once Upon a Time) by Nancy Holder and Mahlon F. Craft
The Crimson Thread: A Retelling of “Rumpelstiltskin” (Once Upon a Time) by Suzanne Weyn and Mahlon F. Craft
The Storyteller’s Daughter: A Retelling of “The Arabian Nights” (Once Upon a Time) [Mass Market Paperback] by Cameron Dokey
Other Sources, Other Lands
I haven’t read these, either, but wanted to show the breadth of stories and cultures that have been or could be mined for modern adaptations.