The best middle grade retellings of classics & fairy tales

Jessica Lawson Author Of The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher
By Jessica Lawson

Who am I?

I grew up reading all kinds of stories, but I was also a big fan of playing outdoors. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was always a favorite of mine, but as an adult, I realized something…the one main female character who was my age, Becky Thatcher, didn’t seem to like adventure at all! I loved the idea of Becky being as much of a mischief-maker as the boys – and that became my first novel, The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher. I love retellings of classics and how they respect the original story, but are also able to imagine a new path! I hope all readers have adventures, inside and outside of books!

I wrote...

The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher

By Jessica Lawson, Iacopo Bruno (illustrator),

Book cover of The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher

What is my book about?

Tom Sawyer’s and Huckleberry Finn’s adventures are legendary, but what about the story you haven’t heard? In 1860, eleven-year-old Becky Thatcher spends much of her time on her own, getting into mischief. Before long, she joins the boys at school in a bet to steal from the Widow Douglas, and Becky convinces her new best friend, Amy Lawrence, to join her.

But the theft doesn’t go as planned, and Widow Douglas ends up being unfairly accused of grave robbing as a result. So Becky concocts a plan to clear the Widow’s name and find a hidden cave treasure to boot! In this retelling of Mark Twain’s classic The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Becky might just get away with it all…that is, if that tattletale Tom will quit following her around.

The books I picked & why

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More to the Story

By Hena Khan,

Book cover of More to the Story

Why this book?

More to the Story by Hena Khan is a retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, Little Women. This version features four Muslim Pakistani-American sisters who live in Georgia. Their experiences and personalities both mirror and bring new light to the characters that I read and appreciated as a child. The novel delves into the personal challenges and joint effort of being a family in ways that are authentic and familiar. The details of setting and culture make the characters and story truly stand on their own. The importance of empathy, individuality, and support are all things that I loved about this book.

Rump: The (Fairly) True Tale of Rumpelstiltskin

By Liesl Shurtliff,

Book cover of Rump: The (Fairly) True Tale of Rumpelstiltskin

Why this book?

Rump by Liesl Shurtliff is a funny and poignant fractured fairy tale based on Rumpelstiltskin. It breathes new life into a character that has been typecast in the past as somewhat one-dimensional. I love that this author made tweaks to the original tale and brought another fairy tale character, Red Riding Hood, into the mix as a support system. I love the idea of origin stories that make readers think twice about judging supposed villains. Imagination abounds from this author, and the reader learns so much about Rump throughout his journey; both strengths and internal wounds that can be healed. This story has it all: humor, adventure, and heart.

A Wish in the Dark

By Christina Soontornvat,

Book cover of A Wish in the Dark

Why this book?

A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat is a retelling of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables set in a Thai-inspired fantasy world. I cannot say enough about the gorgeous setting details and atmosphere that support the characters in this novel. From the very first pages, I felt drawn into the world of Pong and Nok. This novel will feel familiar in theme and plot to those familiar with Victor Hugo’s classic, but it also stands alone as a new story that needs to be read and shared.


By Anne Ursu, Erin McGuire (illustrator),

Book cover of Breadcrumbs

Why this book?

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu is one of my very favorite books to read over and over. It’s a modern-day story inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, a classic fairy tale. Hazel and her best friend Jack have gotten to a point in their age where they feel as though they’re drifting apart. Hazel feels very isolated and alone, but when Jack goes missing, Hazel sets out on a dangerous adventure to save him…and their friendship. This story touches on so many topics: growing up, friendship, adoption, grieving, change, and above all, hope.

Midsummer's Mayhem

By Rajani LaRocca,

Book cover of Midsummer's Mayhem

Why this book?

Midsummer Mayhem by Rajani LaRocca is a favorite for my whole family. Inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this tale incorporates the delectable combination of food and magic. The main character, Mimi, is part of a highly-relatable Indian-American family, and her love of baking is deliciously clear on every page and in every recipe. The plot points that relate to Shakespeare’s classic work are both clear and clever. This story will leave you hungry for more from Rajani LaRocca!

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