Orchard Books has called upon the considerable talents of award-winning children's storybook writer Geraldine McCaughrean to "retell" and breathe new life into ten classic tales that have inspired some of the world's greatest and most beloved ballets. Gorgeously illustrated, these stories, which are intended to be read aloud, are written in a voice that is easy enough for a five-year-old to follow, yet descriptive enough to hold the interest of a ten-year-old.
McCaughrean tells a story in a simple, straightforward manner with a good balance between character and plot development. The most notable selection is Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, which is likely as rich a story as you will find anywhere in English literature. Here, the writer's masterfully clean style ensures that the integrity of the plot of this tragic love story and morality tale is maintained while she carefully maneuvers the reader through the dramatic twists of fate that befall the star-crossed lovers. The more squeamish moms among us will be relieved to know that the infamous night of torrid lovemaking is deftly handled with two neat sentences: "So Romeo spent that night in Juliet's bedroom. But as dawn broke he had to leave."
Beautifully realized and depicted, these stories will delight. From Swan Lake, Cinderella, Gisèle, The Nutcracker, and Sleeping Beauty to the lesser known Petrouchka, Coppelia, La Sylphide, and The Firebird-all are filled with adventure, magic, whimsy, dreamlike conjurings, and faraway lands.
To dismiss this book as a collection written just for young girls who aspire to become ballerinas would be a mistake and a lost opportunity. And yet, these stories present the modern reader with a dilemma-namely, how does one reconcile passing on the romantic notions of princes and glass slippers to a new generation in a world where politically correct sensitivities abound? It has taken conviction, and even more finesse, for McCaughrean to write the stories with a subtlety that allows the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.
While traditional fairy tales cannot be expected to provide a blueprint for or against a feminist lifestyle, they can serve as a springboard for discussion and provide children with a context in which to critically assess their own world. After all, at its essence, reading is all about dialogue. Whether it is the author who engages the reader's mind in thoughtful introspection, or whether it is reader-to-reader, as witnessed by the renewed popularity of Reading Groups, reading is meant to be an interactive experience. In retelling these stories, McCaughrean has taken great pains not to alter the original intent of the stories which reflect the times in which they were written. Still, she has managed to walk the fine line between promoting the traditional view and imposing a more modern interpretation.
As a young girl, Mary Kovack's favourite books were The Secret Garden and The Little Princess, both about strong, resourceful but soft-hearted girls who prefer to make their own way in the world rather than to be rescued by a knight in shining armour.