Retold, remixed, or reimagined

Each of these four stories, recommended for intermediate or middle-school readers, retells an existing tale, sometimes putting a brand-new spin on it. See also our Five Questions interview with Clar Angkasa about Stories of the Islands; and, for older readers, YA retold.

The Little Match Girl Strikes Back
by Emma Carroll; illus. by Lauren Child
Intermediate    Candlewick    208 pp.
9/23    9781536233353    $19.99

In July 1888, women and girls working at a match factory in East London went on strike to protest dangerous working conditions and poor pay. Carroll takes the story of this significant event in labor history and uses it as the armature for her own version of Hans Christian Andersen’s weeper “The Little Match Girl.” Carroll’s little match-seller has a name, Bridie, and a strong voice, luring customers with stories and outrageous patter. Her whole family is in the match trade, her mother in the factory, herself on the frigid streets selling, and her small brother at home fashioning match boxes. Like her nameless original, Bridie experiences visions, but unlike her predecessor she turns these visions into social action and survives to tell her tale. The mash-up of history and Andersen-tale works beautifully, especially on the metaphorical level with light, enlightenment, warmth, and energy battling it out against darkness, ignorance, chill, and despair. Child’s illustrations, collages in black, gray, and red with a rich use of pattern, incorporate text at certain points to create an arresting, graphically dynamic page. Serve this up with Pinkney’s lushly illustrated picture-book edition of the Andersen and with Maguire’s Matchless for a feast of Victoriana and an invitation to discuss child poverty, capitalism, and the power of organized labor. SARAH ELLIS

The Song of Us
by Kate Fussner
Middle School    Tegen/HarperCollins    368 pp.
5/23    9780063256941    $19.99
e-book ed.  9780063256958    $10.99

In this verse-novel retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, seventh-grade girls Olivia and Eden fall in “like-like” at first sight. Soon, they’re meeting up to kiss almost daily and professing their love. But their (secret) happiness doesn’t last long. Eden falls in with a reckless crowd, and Olivia reacts with strong, hurtful words. The two are driven further and further apart, but Olivia sets out to reunite them on a quest involving poetry. The source material lends itself to the seriousness with which the protagonists take their situation — and beyond their romance and conflict, there are weighty elements at play, including Olivia’s mother’s depression and Eden’s fear of her homophobic father. It all leads up to an ending that isn’t perfectly happy, but one that gives hope to readers rooting for the two girls’ connection. Poet Olivia’s more deliberate voice (“I scramble to scribble / but my mind says wrong / to every word I write”) is distinct from more impulsive music-lover Eden’s (“This girl is / a power ballad: / bold, clever, all confidence / joy at full volume”); both are accessible and often impassioned. Hand to middle-school readers ready to be swept up in emotion. SHOSHANA FLAX

Eagle Drums
by Nasuġraq Rainey Hopson; illus. by the author
Intermediate    Roaring Brook    256 pp.
9/23    9781250750655    $18.99
e-book ed.  9781250750662    $10.99

Hopson’s (Iñupiat) debut novel is the story of the origin of the Messenger Feast, an Iñupiat festival of song and dance. Piŋa follows in the footsteps of his two older brothers, both of whom died confronting a golden eagle. When he encounters the eagle, instead of attacking or freezing in fear, Piŋa accepts its challenge to learn what the Eagles can teach him. Piŋa brings his new understandings of song, drumming, dance, architecture, and community back to his family, to the animals who share their environment, and to the people whose stories sustain their culture. This retelling of a traditional tale benefits from Hopson’s personal connection to Alaska, where she was born and raised and where she and her family live. Set in the long-ago of oral tradition and accompanied by occasional colored-pencil and ink drawings, the tale evokes the tundra in all its seasons. Hopson deftly describes smells (the autumn earth, the “dusty rot” of the Eagle Mother), tastes (berries, roasted caribou meat, bitter Arctic hare fed on willow bark), and sounds (marmot whistles, bumblebees) that bring the land to life for the reader and ground this archetypal hero’s journey in the real world. LARA K. AASE

Paul Bunyan: The Invention of an American Legend
by Noah Van Sciver and Marlena Myles; illus. by the authors
Intermediate    TOON    48 pp.
8/23    9781662665226    $17.99
Paper ed.  9781662665233    $11.99

Wait, Paul Bunyan wasn’t born in Maine and cradled­ in the Bay of Fundy before making his way to Minnesota’s north woods with Babe, his blue ox? It turns out his legend was promulgated in a Red River Lumber Company marketing campaign as a way to promote both the timber industry and, according to an introduction by Lee Francis IV (Pueblo of Laguna), “the common colonial theme of settling various lands and regions that once belonged to Indigenous peoples to make way for ‘American civilization.’” This caution paves the way for the graphic-format tale, which imagines a train making its way through Minnesota’s winter in 1914, stopped in its tracks by an accident up ahead. The passengers while away the time with stories. Red River’s advertising manager delights many with his tales of Paul Bunyan (who looks, in the scratchy ink-and-watercolor panels, a lot like the storyteller in buffalo plaid). The yarns have some detractors, who make note of the clear-cut forests and the displacement of Native peoples — and Van Sciver gives them the last word, effectively complicating the folk-hero narrative for both characters and readers. The book concludes with essays by Indigenous contributors Deondre Smiles (Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe) and the book’s coauthor and illustrator Myles (Spirit Lake Dakota), and a map of the region from a Native perspective. It’s a busy, thoughtful presentation that will leave readers with much to ponder about the ­making of this strand of the American mythos. VICKY SMITH

From the November 2023 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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