Did any of you take your kids to see the movie Tangled? So fun, right? Rapunzel is an excellent heroine; our group of girls (all six years and under) agreed. She's artistic and athletic, brave and kind, loyal and smart too. The animation is beautiful, the animal sidekicks are very funny, and the story kept everyone, kids and grown-ups alike, on the edge of our seats. One reason for the suspense is that the story of Tangled is so different from the traditional Rapunzel fairy tale. Most aspects of the movie connect back in some way to the original, but it takes a bit of thinking to sort out exactly how.
An unexpected outcome of seeing Tangled is that, ever since, my daughters have been on a constant lookout for other versions of Rapunzel. Rummaging around in the library, bookstore, and on their friends' bookshelves has yielded quite a few finds. The girls have developed something of an expertise on the story's versions and have spent many a dinner hour discussing how the story's essential elements -- hair, tower, plant, healing tears, singing, lost parents -- come together in different ways in different retellings. They also have formed a few opinions about which are the best Rapunzel books, and these I pass on to you now.
Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky (Caldecott Medal)
Paul Zelinsky's book won a Caldecott Medal in 1997 for its gorgeous paintings and elegant retelling of this classic tale. Zelinsky's narrative follows the Grimm Brothers' version fairly closely, and the oil paintings are based on Italian Renaissance landscapes and interiors. This versions beautifully highlights the themes of old age clinging to youth, and young people making their own way in a forbidding world. More sophisticated that many picture books, it is nonetheless entrancing for even very young children. An author's note at the back offers a useful guide to the story's literary history.
Petrosinella: A Neapolitan Rapunzel by Diane Stanley
Any passionate student of Rapunzel should have a chance to spend some time with this lovely telling of the 17th century Italian tale that became the basis for the popular Grimm's version. The details of story are significantly different, and children will enjoy teasing them out. Here, for example, the pregnant mother steals parsley, and the evil ogress doesn't take the child away until she is seven years old. To escape the tower, Petrosinella and her prince must break the witch's enchantment, an entire adventure that is absent in later versions. And in a final twist that delights young readers, Petrosinella is reunited with her real mother in the end.
Sugar Cane: A Caribbean Rapunzel by Patricia Storace
This Rapunzel story, set on a Caribbean island is as lovely as can be. It's on the longer side, so best for five years and up, but full of rich detail of island life and interesting twists to the story. Any Rapunzel fan will greatly enjoy.
Falling For Rapunzel by Leah Wilcox and Lydia Monks
A silly spoof of an oft-told tale is always welcome, and this one is especially good. "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, throw down your hair!" cries the enamored prince. But, the tower being so very high, the acoustics are not ideal. He gets hit, instead by her "underwear." He calls out for her "locks," but she throws down "dirty socks." You get the idea. And the kids will get serious giggles.
Rapunzel: A Groovy Fairy Tale by Lynn Roberts
Can the Rapunzel story translate to a modern urban setting? We know your kids are wondering, and the answer is yes. Quite well too, we might add. This groovy version is set in the 1970s (Rapunzel does not have an iPod, just a stereo with headphones), but close enough. How do the story elements work here? The tower becomes an abandoned high rise with a broken elevator, and the prince is a jeans-clad would-be rocker. Befitting the era, there's no wedding at the end, but the two become "best friends," and Rapunzel starts a wig-making business to support herself. It makes you wonder, what happened to all of that hair in the other stories?!
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