The best books when you have a soft spot for fairy tales, but still love the unexpected

Who am I?

Since I can remember, I’ve loved fairy tales. Stories that start once upon a time, somewhere far, far away. Those words are both comforting and exciting. I am fascinated by their evolution and prevalence in different cultures and genres. That same story can be told in a million different ways that are familiar, and completely new. I used a fairy tale to complete my writing minor, then submitted that same story for a Masters writing program, transforming it into my thesis, which became my first published book. I’ve spent a career reading and writing fairy tales, and I hope this list helps you love them as much as I do.

I wrote...

The Ice Maiden's Tale

By Lisa Preziosi,

Book cover of The Ice Maiden's Tale

What is my book about?

Every town has an old lady all the children just *know* is a witch. Johanna and Casper must spend the afternoon at Mrs. Kinder’s house while awaiting their mother’s return from the hospital. She tells them an intertwined tale of two young men—the sensitive Sculptor who carves a beautiful woman from ice and the thieving Sorcerer searching for a way to bring the statue to life.

This story-inside-a-story twists and turns from the Frozen Forest, to the land of the Lemon Trees, as the Sculptor’s and Sorcerer’s adventures circle each other. As Johanna and Casper listen, the inevitable confrontation between the young men reveals buried secrets that force all of them to confront the true cost of love and grief.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Stepsister

Lisa Preziosi Why did I love this book?

This is a dark tale. A grim tale. It’s a tale from another time, a time when wolves waited for girls in the forest, hearts paced the halls of cursed castles, and witches lurked in gingerbread houses…It’s grim for any girl who loses her way. Grimmer still for a girl who loses herself…Donnelly uses one of the oldest and most familiar of fairy tales—Cinderella, to give a unique perspective. This feminist retelling shows us the world through the eyes of Isabelle, the ugly stepsister, who cuts away pieces of herself (literally and figuratively) to fit the mold of the perfect princess. This empowering story is about the value of being true to yourself and its themes will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page.

By Jennifer Donnelly,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Stepsister as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

'In an ancient city by the sea, three sisters - a maiden, a mother, and a crone - are drawing maps by candlelight. Sombre, with piercing grey eyes, they are the three Fates, and every map is a human life . . .'

Stepsister takes up where Cinderella's tale ends. We meet Isabelle, the younger of Cinderella's two stepsisters. Ella is considered beautiful; stepsister Isabelle is not. Isabelle is fearless, brave, and strong-willed. She fences better than any boy, and takes her stallion over jumps that grown men fear to attempt. It doesn't matter, though; these qualities are not valued…

Book cover of The Tale of Despereaux Trade Book

Lisa Preziosi Why did I love this book?

Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark.” DiCamillo’s Tale of Desperaux follows Desperaux, a little mouse in love with a Princess. And while this description may sound overly saccharine and suitable primarily for younger children, this story’s exquisite prose and rumination on dark and light, and the damage that grief can cause is a must-read for everyone—even the most cynical adult. This is a book I have read countless times and the one I reach for when times are dark, and I need a little light. 

By Kate DiCamillo,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Tale of Despereaux Trade Book as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 7, 8, 9, and 10.

What is this book about?

A heartwarming young adventure story, winner of the prestigious Newbery Medal.

A deftly crafted fairy tale adventure story from a New York Times bestselling author, twice winner of the prestigious Newbery Medal. Here, reader, is the tale of a tiny, sickly mouse with unusually large ears; a mouse who takes his fate into his own hands. It is the tale of a beautiful, flaxen-haired princess who laughs often and makes everything around her seem brighter. It is the tale of a poor, deaf serving girl who entertains foolish dreams of splendour. It is a tale of impossible love, of bravery…

Book cover of Looking Glass

Lisa Preziosi Why did I love this book?

Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is ripe with retellings, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a darker, more gruesome version than Christina Henry’s. In this violent, twisted landscape, a broken Alice finds herself trapped in an insane asylum, with only one friend—Hatcher. Known for being mad, he’s housed in the neighboring cell, imprisoned for killing people with a hatchet. We follow these damaged characters as they escape their prison and navigate a nightmarish world. While this is not a story for the faint of heart, if you can handle the darkness, Henry’s lovely prose and imaginative story will take you on an unforgettable journey unlike any fairy tale you’ve ever read.

By Christina Henry,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Looking Glass as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In four new novellas, Christina Henry returns to the world of Alice and Red Queen, where magic runs as freely as secrets and blood.

Lovely Creature
In the New City lives a girl with a secret: Elizabeth can do magic. But someone knows her secret--someone who has a secret of his own. That secret is a butterfly that lives in a jar, a butterfly that was supposed to be gone forever, a butterfly that used to be called the Jabberwock...

Girl in Amber
Alice and Hatcher are just looking for a place to rest. Alice has been dreaming of a…

Book cover of Fables

Lisa Preziosi Why did I love this book?

Ever wonder what would happen if you mixed up traditional fairy tales with noir fiction? This graphic novel series answers that question, as it moves those familiar fairy tale characters from the storybook forest to a gritty urban landscape called Fabletown. Now, you’ll follow a reformed Big “Bad” Wolf as he tries to solve the murder of Snow White’s party girl sister, Rose Red. It’s a fun read with compelling illustrations and an unexpected twist on both the fairy tale and detective genres.

By Bill Willingham,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Fables as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When a savage creature, known only as the Adversary, conquered the fabled lands of legends and fairy tales, the famous inhabitants of folklore were forced into exile. Disguised among the normal citizens of a modern New York, these magical characters created their own peaceful and secret society, which they called Fabletown. But when Snow White's party-girl sister, Rose Red, is apparently murdered, it's up to Fabletown's sheriff -- the reformed Big Bad Wolf, Bigby -- to find the killer. Meanwhile, trouble of a different sort brews at the Fables' upstate farm, where non-human inhabitants are preaching revolution...and threatening the carefully…

Book cover of The Book of Lost Things

Lisa Preziosi Why did I love this book?

This book starts in that familiar way fairy tales do, with a child that loses their mother and now must contend with that loss, a new stepmother, and then a half-sibling. Set in the modern world, our young protagonist hears books whispering to him and dreams of “The Crooked Man”. He finds himself in a dark fairy tale world full of odd and often terrifying characters. The story unfolds like a psychological thriller wrapped in lovely, lyrical prose, that keeps you turning pages until the very end.

By John Connolly,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Book of Lost Things as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

'A brilliantly creepy coming of age novel' Daily Mirror

'A moving fable, brilliantly imagined, about the agony of loss and the pain of young adulthood' The Times

'This is no saccharine fairytale, but an eerie fable that's perfect for long winter nights' Daily Mail

This illustrated edition includes two new short stories - Cinderella, A Version and The Rat King, the latter introducing the Crooked Man who is central to the world of The Book of Lost Things - and an afterword from the author.

'Once upon a time, there was a boy who lost his mother . . .'…

You might also like...

The Finest Lies

By David J. Naiman,

Book cover of The Finest Lies

David J. Naiman Author Of The Finest Lies

New book alert!

Who am I?

Anyone with siblings knows the deal. Your sibling becomes your first best friend and closest confidant but also your first competitor and fiercest critic. Navigating that relationship as a teen is fraught with peril. If done poorly, it can leave deep scars. If successful, it can teach you the foundations of how to build healthy relationships for the rest of your life. This theme has everything a writer needs to craft an emotional narrative, and these books do it best.

David's book list on sibling rivalry that will inspire you to reconnect

What is my book about?

A mysterious stranger traps teen siblings in a precarious game where each must overcome their embittered past for the other to survive.

This suspenseful, yet winsome novel explores the power of family and forgiveness. But take heed. The truth can cut like shards of glass, especially for those who’d rather avoid it. Sometimes, only the finest lies will do.

The Finest Lies

By David J. Naiman,

What is this book about?

High schooler Nicole Hallett has just about had it with her brother Jay, so when a mysterious man appears with an offer to replace him with a better one, she doesn’t hesitate. Nicole has always been impulsive, but this time, she finds herself in predicament far worse than anything she’s experienced. Just like that, an average snow day—usually filled with hot cocoa and snowball fights—is commandeered by the stranger, who forces the siblings into a dangerous game.

Confronted by past reflections, tested by present complications, and threatened by future possibilities, Nicole has until the end of the day to disentangle…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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