Friday, March 26, 2010

Women in Folklore Month: Gail Carson Levine

Fairy tale retellings for younger readers were in a slump in the mid-1990s. Fantasy wasn't as popular a genre or heavily marketed. After all, the time was pre-Harry Potter. Then a relatively unknown author entered the scene with Ella Enchanted. I was in grad school at the time, SurLaLune was only a few months from being born actually. When I saw this book listed as a Cinderella retelling, I was intrigued but not excited. After all, it was CINDERELLA. How very predictable and rather lame, I thought.

Fortunately, I didn't let my prejudices keep me from reading the book one night. In one night, actually, with homework and other demands waiting on me the next day. Levine managed to make me enjoy Cinderella for the first time in years. That same year Drew Barrymore's Ever After came out, so it was a good year for Cinderella actually, and helped me find the interest in annotating the tale a few months later when SurLaLune became the brainstorm that wouldn't stop.

I was surprised to find Cinderella sympathetic and interesting, not the boring stereotype of the character I expected. Of course, I had read other fine versions, but this one was just fun, plain and simple. It had the right blend of many elements to make it a successful recommendation, too. I love many books that others don't like (and hate books recommended by others, too!) so it is always gratifying to find a book that is well accepted by many different readers.

So I rooted for Ella Enchanted to win the Newbery Medal, which it didn't, something I'm still bitter over for reasons I won't discuss here, but it did receive an honor medal which helped its continued publicity and popularity. (We won't mention the Disney film "adaptation" which came later. *Shudder* That movie has done more in keeping people from reading her very entertaining and clever book in my experience. I claim Ella Enchanted as one of my favorite Cinderella retellings and when I get a grimace as a reaction, I always learn their only experience is with the movie.)

Anyway, I credit Levine with some of the increased success of fairy tale novels for young adult and middle readers especially in the past decade. She has also written several other fairy tale retellings for various ages, including picture books. Ella Enchanted is still my admitted favorite, but I've had great success sharing her titles with young readers, too.

She also chose some less popular tales, such as Diamonds and Toads, to retell which pleases me no end, of course.

Levine's official site is through her publisher HarperCollins. I have a SurLaLune bookstore page for her, too, where you can read more about her fairy tale related titles.

This fall Levine will have a picture book, Betsy Red Hoodie, a follow-up to her Betsy Who Cried Wolf from a few years ago. This one is of course a take on Little Red Riding Hood with her established character of Betsy. I'll write more about it when I learn more and closer to its September release date.

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