Teen Librarian Toolbox
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Take 5: Something Old, Something New, Part II

Last week, I shared with you 5 books (most of them from 2021) that put bold new spins on tired old classics in way or another. Today I am sharing with you another 5 because 2021 is a great year for retelling old tales and put fresh new spins on old classics. I’m here for it because most of the classics we are asked to read in high school and college were written by white men, though occasionally you get a title from a white woman, and there are great ways we can update our teaching. I love getting fresh spins, new twists, and different cultural points of view on the stories that I was told I should know. Pairing texts is a great framework for innovation and discussion and growth.

Fairytale retellings are pretty popular, always. Some of the best fairytales – like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty – get retold in multiple ways, and I’m here for it. But what if there was a book that didn’t just retell one fairytale, but all of them? Into the Boodred Woods kind of just mixed them all together in a magic hat of storytelling and you get an epic Brothers Grimm inspired fairytale world with werecreatures, queer love and so much more.

Publisher’s Book Description: This is Martha Brockenbrough’s feminist twisting of the Brother Grimms’ stories, Game of Thrones-style.

Once upon a time there was a kingdom and a forest that liked to eat men and a girl who would change everything, but not alone . . .


There’s no such thing as once upon a time.

In a far away land, populated by were beasts and surrounded by a powerful forest, lies a kingdom about to be sent into chaos. On his deathbed, King Tyran divides his land, leaving half to each of his two children-so they’ll rule together. However, his son, Albrecht, is not satisfied with half a kingdom. And even though his sister, Ursula, is the first born, he decides that as a girl and were bear, she is unfit to rule. So he invades her land, slaughtering her people and most of the were beasts, and claims it for himself. As King Albrecht builds his iron rule and an army of beasts to defend his reign, Ursula is gathering the survivors and making plans to take back the kingdom. Not just her half-the whole thing. Because Albrecht should have never been allowed to sit on the throne, and Ursula is going to take his crown. And if he’s not careful, he might not get to keep his head either.

Emma considered herself a master matchmaker but was honestly not that great at love. This is true of Elliot, who has entered her freshman year of college and soon things go wildly out of control. This is truly a touching coming of age story about a college freshman trying to figure out who she is and deal with the consequences of the decisions she makes along the way. Spoiler alert: she makes a lot of bad decisions. It was months after I finished reading an ARC of this book that I realized that Fresh was a wink and a nod to the fact that the main character is a Freshman in college and starting her life fresh. I just felt that I should come clean about that. This book is humorous and touching and puts a queer spin on an old tale that has been told multiple times before, but this version is delightful. For those who like to know, there is a lot of frank discussion about sex here.

Publisher’s Book Description: A hilarious and vulnerable coming-of-age story about the thrilling new experiences––and missteps––of a girl’s freshman year of college

Some students enter their freshman year of college knowing exactly what they want to do with their lives. Elliot McHugh is not one of those people. But picking a major is the last thing on Elliot’s mind when she’s too busy experiencing all that college has to offer—from dancing all night at off-campus parties, to testing her RA Rose’s patience, to making new friends, to having the best sex one can have on a twin-sized dorm room bed. But she may not be ready for the fallout when reality hits. When the sex she’s having isn’t that great. When finals creep up and smack her right in the face. Or when her roommate’s boyfriend turns out to be the biggest a-hole. Elliot may make epic mistakes, but if she’s honest with herself (and with you, dear reader), she may just find the person she wants to be. And maybe even fall in love in the process . . . Well, maybe.

Because apparently I’m making a lot of true confessions in this post, I have never read Little Women. I did, once, get to watch Riley act in a magnificent version of this novel in a play, so there’s that. Bethany C. Morrow took this perennial favorite and remixed it with four Black sisters. Bethany C. Morrow is a fabulous author and I wanted you all to know about this update of the classic.

Publisher’s Book Description: Four young Black sisters come of age during the American Civil War in So Many Beginnings, a warm and powerful YA remix of the classic novel Little Women by national bestselling author Bethany C. Morrow.

North Carolina, 1863. As the American Civil War rages on, the Freedmen’s Colony of Roanoke Island is blossoming, a haven for the recently emancipated. Black people have begun building a community of their own, a refuge from the shadow of the old life. It is where the March family has finally been able to safely put down roots with four young daughters:

Meg, a teacher who longs to find love and start a family of her own.

Jo, a writer whose words are too powerful to be contained.

Beth, a talented seamstress searching for a higher purpose.

Amy, a dancer eager to explore life outside her family’s home.

As the four March sisters come into their own as independent young women, they will face first love, health struggles, heartbreak, and new horizons. But they will face it all together.

Dorian Gray introduced us to the idea of artwork that is evil and dangerous. She’s Too Pretty To Burn also explores the intersection of art and danger. Though some of our tales are retellings, this is more of an inspired by tale.

Publisher’s Book Description: An electric romance set against a rebel art scene sparks lethal danger for two girls in this expertly plotted YA thriller. For fans of E. Lockhart, Lauren Oliver and Kara Thomas.

The summer is winding down in San Diego. Veronica is bored, caustically charismatic, and uninspired in her photography. Nico is insatiable, subversive, and obsessed with chaotic performance art. They’re artists first, best friends second. But that was before Mick. Delicate, lonely, magnetic Mick: the perfect subject, and Veronica’s dream girl. The days are long and hot―full of adventure―and soon they are falling in love. Falling so hard, they never imagine what comes next. One fire. Two murders. Three drowning bodies. One suspect . . . one stalker. This is a summer they won’t survive.

Inspired by The Picture of Dorian Gray, this sexy psychological thriller explores the intersections of love, art, danger, and power.

Peter Plan is one of those classic stories that gets told again and again and again and for the longest time, most of us didn’t realize how truly harmful it was to Indigenous people because it perpetuates harmful stereotypes of Native American and Indigenous people. Indigenous author Cynthia Leitich Smith has updated the classic from an Indigenous point of view for the middle grade crowd and up in this moving fantasy.

Publisher’s Book Description: In this modern take of the popular classic Peter Pan, award-winning author Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek) brilliantly shifts the focus from the boy who won’t grow up to Native American Lily and English Wendy—stepsisters who must face both dangers and wonders to find their way back to the family they love.

Stepsisters Lily and Wendy embark on a high-flying journey of magic, adventure, and courage—to a fairy-tale island known as Neverland.

Lily and Wendy have been best friends since they became stepsisters. But with their feuding parents planning to spend the summer apart, what will become of their family—and their friendship?

Little do they know that a mysterious boy has been watching them from the oak tree outside their window. A boy who intends to take them away from home for good, to an island of wild animals, Merfolk, Fairies, and kidnapped children.

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