Pictures of fairy tale books against a green background

Alicia Fernandes/Penguin

Fairy tales are unlike any other kind of story. Magical, enchanting, dark, ridiculous – anything is possible. And they’re not just entertaining; they offer invaluable life lessons, provide glimpses into other cultures and reflect different times throughout history.

Despite many now being more well known for their big-screen adaptations (Disney, we’re looking at you) nothing beats reading the original fairy tale. So, we’ve rounded up the best of the best.

Red Riding Hood by Beatrix Potter & Helen Oxenbury (2019)

Known for her perilous animal tales, Beatrix Potter’s retelling of Charles Perrault’s Red Riding Hood follows suit. Little Red Riding Hood is the prettiest girl in her village with a mother and granny who dote on her. One day, she is sent by her mother to visit her granny who is sick in another village. Along the way, she meets a wolf who, although charming on the surface, has a sinister plan in mind for Red and her granny. Helen Oxenbury’s pretty and wholesome illustrations juxtapose brilliantly with Potter’s dark adaptation of this cautionary classic that shows the consequences of giving personal information to strangers.

Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales retold by Naomi Lewis (1995)

Hans Christian Andersen, one of the most famous fairy tale writers of all time, has 12 of his enchanting stories retold by Naomi Lewis is this magical compilation. Included is the story of Thumbelina, a girl no more than one inch high; the vain emperor who was tricked into walking through town naked in The Emperor’s New Clothes; and the original tale of The Little Mermaid, before her story was picked up by Disney. Fun fact: some of Andersen’s most famous tales are autobiographical. He admitted that The Ugly Duckling was based on when he was teased for his appearance as a young child.

Aladdin and Other Tales from The Arabian Nights by W. Heath Robinson (1993)

When you hear the name Aladdin, you probably first think of Walt Disney’s 1992 animated film. But like most Disney films, the story of Aladdin was inspired by a folk tale. Originally written by Syrian storyteller Hanna Diyab at the start of the 18th Century, Aladdin is a classic rags-to-riches tale that follows a penniless boy as he journeys into an enchanted cave to rescue a lamp with a magical genie inside. Along with the stories of Sinbad the Sailor and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, this collection of Middle Eastern folk tales is perfect for sharing together as a family.

A Christmas Carol retold by Kristina Stephenson & Hoang Giang (2020)

A Christmas Carol is the ultimate festive fairy tale, and Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella is retold in picture book form here by Kristina Stephenson and Hoang Giang, perfect for younger readers who may find the original a bit tough. It’s nearly Christmas and despite all the cheer and merriment, nothing can melt the icy heart of Ebenezer Scrooge – the only thing he cares about is his money. But then he’s paid an unexpected visit by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, who teach him a lesson he’ll never forget…

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm (2012)

Who hasn’t heard of the Brothers Grimm? The fairy tale telling duo collected and recorded over 200 traditional folk tales from Germany and other parts of Europe during the 19th Century before they were lost or forgotten. This first volume of fairy tales includes favourites such as The Frog Prince, Rumpelstiltskin and Ashputtel (aka Cinderella). Quentin Blake, Raymond Briggs, Emma Chichester Clark and others have lent their drawing skills to this edition, which deserves a spot on every child’s bookshelf. Be warned though: not everyone gets a happy ending.

Aesop's Fables retold by Fiona Waters & Fulvio Testa (2014)

For stories with a clear moral, Aesop’s Fables are the crème de la crème. Attributed to a Greek slave and storyteller known as Aesop who lived over 2,500 years ago, this collection includes 60 of his most famous stories. From the tale of the arrogant hare and patient tortoise to the hardworking ants and lazy grasshopper, Fulvio Testa’s gorgeous watercolour illustrations help bring each of these timeless short lessons to life. A great one to read together and talk about after.

Hansel and Greta by Jeanette Winterson (2020)

Nope, that is not a typo. This is the story of Hansel and Gretel; it’s just had a modern update. Hansel and Greta live on the edge of a great forest with their father and aunt, GreedyGuts. GreedyGuts is exactly how she sounds – she eats everything in sight, shops till she drops and snores all night. Hansel and Greta care about the planet and are working on planting trees to help save the forest. GreedyGuts couldn’t care less about nature – or anyone else for that matter – and so she hatches a plan to get rid of her niece and nephew deep in the wood…

Ladybird Tales of Adventurous Girls (2018)

More often than not, the heroes in fairy tales are male; females are usually the damsels in distress. But in Ladybird Tales of Adventurous Girls, it’s the latter who save the day. These six stories come from all different corners of the world and include Tamasha, who tricks her captor the troll into helping her escape; Tokoyo, a young samurai who journeys to fight a great sea serpent; and Chandra, who convinces the greedy Rajah to give the villagers back their rice. This is perfect for reading at bedtime with your mini heroine.

The Adventures of Robin Hood by Roger Lancelyn Green (1956)

Robin Hood is the heroic medieval outlaw we all know and love because he steals from the rich and gives to the poor. It’s thought that the earliest story of him dates back to the late 13th Century. In Roger Lancelyn Green’s version, we follow Robin Hood, Little John and their band of merry men as they adventure around Sherwood Forest. King Richard I is away fighting a noble crusade and has unwittingly left his cruel brother Prince John in charge. He, along with the Sheriff of Nottingham, terrorise the local people, so it’s up to Robin and his men to right the wrong.

You Choose Fairy Tales by Pippa Goodhart & Nick Sharratt (2020)

You’ve read them all the fairy tales – now it’s time to fire up their imaginations and for them to come up with their own. Young readers can choose their own outcomes and scenarios – which fairy tale character to be, which home will they live in, where they will go on their quest. The possibilities are endless in this creative picture book from Pippa Goodhart and Nick Sharratt’s You Choose series.

What did you think of this article? Let us know by emailing editor@penguin.co.uk.

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