The best upcycled children's fairy tales, nursery rhymes & folk tales: recycled, reused, & repurposed, all told with a twist

Barbara Lehman Author Of Little Red and the Cat Who Loved Cake
By Barbara Lehman

Who am I?

I love the experience of reading a book that combines a known (to me or not!) story combined with elements that make it new again. It could be a parody, a “fractured fairy tale,” or a new retelling, funny or serious. For my book Little Red and the Cat Who Loved Cake, I read so many nursery rhymes and fairy tales in order to populate the town with fun versions of recognizable characters for Little Red to encounter, it makes me appreciate these books even more.


I wrote...

Little Red and the Cat Who Loved Cake

By Barbara Lehman,

Book cover of Little Red and the Cat Who Loved Cake

What is my book about?

A highly visual fractured-fairy-tale retelling of Little Red Riding Hood (and a cat who loves cake) from Caldecott Honor–winner Barbara Lehman. With simple picture bubbles and pictograms, this is perfect for budding graphic novel readers. This playful retelling of a beloved classic is a visual delight, with references to other fairy tales hidden throughout Lehman's inviting illustrations. Master of the wordless picture book, Lehman tells a rich story using only pictures, perfect for teaching visual literacy and for young graphic novel enthusiasts.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

The Three Pigs

By David Wiesner,

Book cover of The Three Pigs

Why this book?

This is a very meta version of The Three Pigs, which goes on to additionally be a meta version of a book experience. First, we see the wolf blow a pig right out of the story panel border, and then everything really implodes conceptually from there. The pigs then regroup in a non-book void, despite still being in the book we are holding, and from there devise a plan to return to their original story with a wolf-proof reinforcement they got from a different story. Sounds wild? It is.


Rapunzel's Revenge

By Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, Nathan Hale (illustrator)

Book cover of Rapunzel's Revenge

Why this book?

In this graphic novel adventure (followed by the equally compelling Calamity Jack), the twist is that the story of Rapunzel is set in a magical fantasy version of the Wild West. Yes, you read that right: Fairy Tale + Wild West + High Fantasy. Oh, and humor too. With incredible and satisfyingly dense world-building, all of Hale’s work seamlessly combines to create a complex and believable landscape, unlike anything I’ve seen. The story is gripping, since Rapunzel must basically save the world from magical destruction with her wits, weaponized braids, and her new buddy Jack, the lovable rascal of beanstalk fame.


The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon

By Mini Grey,

Book cover of The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon

Why this book?

The author/illustrator of the truly hilarious Traction man is here! answers the burning question I know I have always had: what happened after the dish and spoon ran away? Spirited illustration and a rollicking storyline imagine the fate of the runaway kitchenware, leading to a final redemption after many wild adventures. A reminder that peripheral characters can have complex lives too.


The Tunnel

By Anthony Browne,

Book cover of The Tunnel

Why this book?

This contemporary retelling of Little Red Riding Hood is moody and pensive, and very unique. It is not humorous, and it is definitely weird - but I find myself having a lasting affection for this strange retelling. In it, two fractious siblings travel via portal (the tunnel) from an urban setting into a forest filled with haunting suggestions of fairy tale imagery. They are forced to face internal challenges in order to escape back to their home, which then changes their relationship roles to each other.


Rabbi Harvey Rides Again: A Graphic Novel of Jewish Folktales Let Loose in the Wild West

By Steve Sheinkin,

Book cover of Rabbi Harvey Rides Again: A Graphic Novel of Jewish Folktales Let Loose in the Wild West

Why this book?

In another Wild West setting twist, an advice dispensing Rabbi is the vehicle for upcycling traditional folk tales. And it is funny: whether the Rabbi is busting through saloon doors to beat someone to the punchline of an Abe Lincoln joke or using his wits to outsmart bandits or simply helping out with a frontier domestic issue, I find myself literally laughing out loud. The illustrations are charmingly folky, and there is a glossary for the story sources which often turn out to be tales that are many hundreds of years old.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in nursery rhyme, fairy tales, and revenge?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about nursery rhyme, fairy tales, and revenge.

Nursery Rhyme Explore 13 books about nursery rhyme
Fairy Tales Explore 184 books about fairy tales
Revenge Explore 56 books about revenge

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Honeybee, They All Saw a Cat, and Pokko and the Drum if you like this list.