Fairy Tale Books of 2014: A Gift Guide

December 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

Looking for just the right fairy tale book for all the readers on your holiday list? Here are some of the highlights of 2014, including books for both adults and younger readers. Enjoy!

Short Story Collections

thompsonFor the Realist You’re Trying to Convert:
The Witch and Other Tales Retold, by Jean Thompson

Thompson is a master of exposing the wierdnesses of everyday life, in a manner that brings to mind Joyce Carol Oates at her vintage best. In this collection, she uses the framework and a few familiar tropes of beloved fairy tales and drops them into realistic tales of children surviving in a frightening foster home, teenagers acting out through sex, and young women tempted into strange, sudden marriages.

bernheimerFor the Die-Hard Fabulist:
How a Mother Weaned Her Girl From Fairy Tales, by Kate Bernheimer

Unlike Thompson, who uses familiar frameworks in updated settings in The Witch, Bernheimer is adept at crafting her own tales that are so odd and uncanny that they seem to be from another time. Frightening and fearless, Bernheimer’s imagination is at full force here — read these stories under a dim lamp at night, for optimal chills.

carroll_woodscoverFor the Graphic Novel Reader:
Through the Woods, by Emily Carroll

These graphic short stories are beautiful to look at, and haunting long after the last page has been turned. Carroll grounds her original tales in the context of scary bedtime reading, evoking the sensation of being a child and learning that Little Red doesn’t, in all versions, escape the wolf. Through the Woods is marketed as YA, but I definitely feel it appeals to all lovers of scary fairy tales. Read my full review from this summer here.


oyeyemiFor the Literariat:
Boy, Snow, Bird, by Helen Oyeyemi

A retelling of “Snow White” taut with social and family drama, this novel plumbs the depths of a fairy tale in order to explore tensions between a black family passing for white in the 1950s, and the white woman who marries into it. Oyeyemi utilizes multiple points of view spanning the course of several years to unfold the story of a mother, her dark-skinned daughter, and her light-skinned stepdaughter who are bound together by jealousy, racial tension, and mutual fascination.

valentineFor the Downton Abbey and Boardwalk Empire Fan:
The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, by Genevieve Valentine

Set in prohibition-era New York City, this winning take on “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” is pure period-piece pleasure reading. It could perhaps have gone a little darker — but I confess, it’s easy to get swept away by the story of these twelve unique and strong-hearted sisters. And who can resist a fairy tale in which the princesses take cabs and drink cocktails?


For, well, Pretty Much Anyone:gaiman
Hansel and Gretel, by Neil Gaiman and Lorenzo Mattotti

This book has been much-lauded this fall, and for good reason. Gaiman’s illuminating adaptation of the tale adds elements to the setting and character motivations that unfold “Hansel and Gretel” into something more like a short story than a bare-bones fairy tale, and Mattotti’s blackest-black illustrations are rich and grim indeed. The brief history of the tale, included in the back of the book, is an addition that will please any fairy tale buff.

schenkerFor the Friend who Already Has Hansel and Gretel:
Little Red Riding Hood, by Sybille Schenker

Schenker’s Hansel and Gretel, published last year and followed up in this past month with Little Red Riding Hood, doesn’t have the celebrity power behind it that Gaiman’s adaptation does, but Schenker’s illustration style, utilizing die-cut paper layering and transparencies to draw the reader from page to page, deserves high praise. In fact, I recommended it for Slate’s Overlooked Books list this year.

Fairy Tale Collections

For the Scholarly Grimm Completist:dezso_grimms
The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimms, translated and edited by Jack Zipes

I posted about this excellent volume a few weeks ago, and it definitely deserves another mention. I got a little irked by much of the internet commentary flying around implying that readers should eschew other volumes of the Grimms’ tales in favor of the Original’s darkness; instead, I think this book is a gift for someone who already has a sense of the larger context of the Grimms’ work, who can see this wonderful addition to the Grimms’ available oeuvre as valuable piece of a larger puzzle, and not a holy grail that makes everything else obsolete.

grimms_zwergerFor the Illustration Appreciator:
Tales from the Brothers Grimm, selected and illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger

Okay, so this one actually pubbed last year, but November 2013 is just late enough to reconsider it for 2014. Lisbeth Zwerger is a favorite among fairy tale storybook collectors for her delicate, ethereal illustrations that seem familiar but always just off-center — sometimes literally, framed at an angle that hints at something more happening just off the page.


This is hardly a comprehensive list of all the fairy tale books published this year that would make a wonderful gift. Have a favorite you don’t see here? Please feel free to list it in the comments!

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