Enchanting Readers with Revisionist Fairy Tales
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This lesson leads students through an exploration of age-appropriate texts of various formats that are in their own ways revisionist fairy tales. Ever a popular choice among students and teachers alike, the fairy tale/fantasy genre offers vast potential for highly engaged interaction and both critical and creative discussions and activities. After reading the stories Ella Enchanted and The Courageous Princess, students write journal entries on which of the two stories' heroines they'd most like to be. Next they read the poem "Grethel" and then compare and contrast all three female leads. Then students choose one of the texts and write their own revisions by turning the poem or book into another form. For instance, they can turn the poem into a book or the graphic novel into a narrative. Finally, students share their work and assess their own writing using a class-created rubric.
From Theory to Practice
Over the last few decades, there has been a movement in literature to revisit, revamp and revise aspects of familiar storylines in established works. Classics such as Gone With the Wind, Dracula, The Scarlet Letter and The Wizard of Oz have received this treatment. Also popular among revisionist writers are age-old fairy tale themes, and this trend extends into quality fantasy Young Adult literature. Often within these retellings, female characters that once seemed bound by oppressive traditional structures become exciting, round protagonists actively ready to confront their worlds and the conflicts within them.
A similar theme has developed in contemporary fantasy comics and graphic novels. Women, once designated only as love interests, damsels in distress, or temptresses for the likes of hyper-masculine heroes such as Conan the Barbarian, have moved to the fore in epic titles like Sojourn, Rose, and The Courageous Princess. The young women in these works are not just secondary characters, but leading heroines, determined women as qualified as any man to not only take care of themselves, but to save the kingdom.
This lesson has students explore this genre by creating revisionist fairy tales using three pieces of literature as models for their own writing.
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
- 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
- 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
- 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
- 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
- 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
- Situations for Fairy Tales
- Common Elements of Fairy Tales
- Comic Book Primer
- Sample Comic Script and Visual Interpretation from Cedric the Dragonslayer
- Comic Book Scripting Techniques
- Students should be familiar with basic elements of traditional fairy tales.
- Make copies of the handouts for the lesson: Common Elements of Fairy Tales, Common Situations for Fairy Tales, and Comic Book Primer.
- Students should have completed reading Ella Enchanted and The Courageous Princess.
Why these two books? Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted certainly fits the mold of revisionist fairy tale. Nilson and Donelson consider it as one of their "Old Stories in New Dress" (2001, p.48). Levine's comic heroine Ella might be a reluctant focus of attention, but she is definitely a force, and one that often trumps traditional notions of "fairy tale princess" and "helpless girl." Similarly, Rod Espinosa's Princess Mabelrose stands out among princesses in other fairy tales and even in her own Land of the Hundred Kingdoms. Ella Enchanted is perfect for younger middle school students or older students who might need lighter material, both in mental strain and seriousness of tone. The Courageous Princess is a stunning visual treat with a soft color palette sure to attract young female readers and art featuring enough larger-than-life fantasy characters to engage male readers too. Further, its progression is smooth and it has a strong economy of words.
- Review the information about Paideia teaching philosophy and questioning techniques.
- Test the Comic Vocabulary interactive on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.
- apply information about fantasy and fairy tales to their literary analyses of three different forms of text: a traditional book, a graphic novel, and a poem.
- compare and cross-reference themes in each, especially focusing on how the female characters act differently than they do in traditional fairy tales.
- practice small group and class-wide discussion techniques.
- gain practice in working in the three different forms explored.
- Review aspects of traditional fairy tales that students might have read recently or in previous years. Use the Common Elements of Fairy Tales and Common Situations for Fairy Tales to help jog students' memories or to extend their schemas.
- Narrow the discussion to how males and females seem to take different roles in traditional fairy tales, female characters often being meager victims or bait, whereas male characters are often portrayed as courageous and heroic.
- This would be a good time to share the Levine interview since she talks about trying to write a Cinderella story but realizing she needed to give the character a new attitude.
- Make a chart with the items from the above discussion in one column (the typical characteristics of fairy tales), and ask students to help you fill in information for themes in the two novels and for the two main characters, Ella and MabelRose.
- Discuss elements of the stories via small groups, or better yet, use the discussion guide to craft a Paideia-style discussion, a structured Socratic seminar.
- Have students write journal entries on which of the two heroines they'd most like to be and why for homework.
- Have students share their written responses to the prompt with the rest of the class.
- Review the main points of discussion in the previous session.
- Introduce the poem "Gretel," and ask students to compare and contrast the three female leads in the stories (Ella, MabelRose, and Gretel).
- Discuss the different forms and ask students if they feel one was more powerful than the other. The Comic Book Primer resources and Comic Vocabulary interactive can help if you and your students need more exposure to the comic book format.
- Ask students to pick one of the texts, then do their own "formal" revisions, turning the poem or book into the comic form, or the graphic novel into a narrative or poem, etc.
- Before starting the projects, ask students to help you create rubrics by which the finished products should be assessed.
- Allow time for students to write their revisionist tales.
- Provide support while students work, pointing out models and resources in the revisionist fairy tales that the class has read.
- Post the class-created rubric so students remember the expectations of the project.
- When students have completed their revisions, allow time for them to share their work.
- Assess their work using the class-created rubric.
- Ask students to write their own revision of another popular fairly tale such as Jack and the Beanstalk or Little Red Riding Hood. Ask them to give one or more of the characters a twist, such that they behave in a way we might not expect a fairy tale character to act.
- Use the interactive Fractured Fairy Tales to review how the genre works and practice fracturing three well-known fairy tales.
Student Assessment / Reflections
Observe students for their participation during the exploration and discussion of the different forms of fairy tales. In class discussions and conferences, watch for evidence that students are able to discuss the revisions made. Monitor students’ progress and process as they revise their selected fairy tales. As students present their tales to the class, take notes and assess their work using the rubric that the class creates during the second session.