The best novels based on lesser known folk and fairytales

Who am I?

One of my favorite sections in the library is the collections of folk and fairy tales. Especially the lesser-known tales. My novel, Vasilisa, is inspired by the Russian folktale Vasilisa and Staver, plus my question of “how did Vasilisa get so strong?” I love combining folk tales with extensive research of the culture and history of their settings, as well as delving into characters who have vastly different experiences than mine. And I love reading character and detail-rich novelizations of traditional tales. It was difficult to pick only five novels based on lesser-known fairy tales. Enjoy, then go find some others!

I wrote...


By M.L. Farb,

Book cover of Vasilisa

What is my book about?

Vasilisa has always been strong. She’s strong enough to break the arm of the bully that daily taunts her. She won’t because she and her mother are servants at the Orlov manor, and her mother would be punished for her retaliation. Instead, Vasilisa bides her time until she is sixteen and can return to the forest. Only Staver, the master’s son, shows her kindness. His friendship pulls as strong as the forest, but their classes are divided forever by law. She is a forest-born, fatherless servant and her future at the manor holds mockery-filled drudgery.

War threatens. The forest calls. Will she stay to protect the one who can never be more than a friend, or flee to the peace that the forest offers?

The books I picked & why

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Echo North

By Joanna Ruth Meyer,

Book cover of Echo North

Why this book?

Echo North combined several familiar-to-me folk tales, and introduced me to the tale of Tam Lin. I loved the blending of known and original—especially the mirror room, where stories layered upon stories and acquaintances took on completely new qualities. The sewing together of a fracturing magical house also fascinated me. I was never sure about the intentions of certain people until the end, and despite guessing wrong, I was delighted by what really was happening.


By Intisar Khanani,

Book cover of Thorn

Why this book?

I have two favorite retellings of Goose Girl and it was difficult to pick one for my list (the other is by Shannon Hale). The lyrical language combined with a young woman who grows from passive acceptance to taking a stand is beautiful. I especially love the ending and her unique solution to saving the man she loves. It is a story of abuse and healing, learning to trust and to find family. It is also on justice and mercy, at many levels.

The Legendary Inge

By Kate Stradling,

Book cover of The Legendary Inge

Why this book?

I literally guffawed as I read this—enough times that my kids begged me to read it to them (which I did). This retelling of Beowulf played with expectations, twisting and turning in unexpected ways. The characters were fully fleshed out, with plenty of faults and quirks. No one was who I thought they were. Intrigue, magic, and stubborn independence mixed to make this delightful tale. 

Shadow Spinner

By Susan Fletcher, Dave Kramer (illustrator),

Book cover of Shadow Spinner

Why this book?

This was one of my first introductions to novel-length fairy tales. Shadow Spinner influenced the first stories I made up as bedtime tales for my little sisters. Like Marjan, I love playing with the many threads of traditional tales, weaving them together with my own threads of imagination. I still have folders with my first attempts at writing the thousand-and-second tale of Arabian Nights. 

Enchantress from the Stars

By Sylvia Engdahl,

Book cover of Enchantress from the Stars

Why this book?

This book blended fantasy and science fiction in a way that caught me and didn’t let go. I appreciate the moral dilemma of: is it better to interfere and stop a wrong if the interference might cause an even greater wrong? I like to make decisions based on facts rather than emotion, but this book shows how both are needed in balance. And how even doing good comes at a cost—are we willing to pay the cost?

5 book lists we think you will like!

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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