The King’s Frog Legs and Other Fairy Tales
Amusing contemporary tales in which classic roles are reversed
‘Normal, normal – what is normal?’ replies the fairy when the king asks if he’s going to have a normal child. This is perhaps the key sentence of this sparkling book of fairy tales. Because there’s room for everyone in Janneke Schotveld’s fifteen long stories. Roles are reversed, and there’s no lack of diversity in the words or the pictures: from a lesbian princess to an enchanted headscarf and a black prince who is rescued from his tower by a brave lady knight.
This might all sound a little politically correct, but fairy tales are of course the perfect format for a moral or two. The stories are also told with such a great sense of humour and imagination, in a smooth mix of modern language and the classic idiom of fairy tales, that they are a delight to read – and to read out loud.
In some of the stories, the modern world is further away, as in the story about the ‘silverfish fisherman’, a strong variation on the Brothers Grimm’s tale ‘The Fisherman and His Wife’. Schotveld’s fisherman catches silverfish on the shelves of a bookshop. He lives with his wife in a sentimental novel, but she would like to move into an exciting thriller or ‘a children’s book if we must’.
Schotveld alludes to other existing tales. The touching story of Shahib and Susha, for instance, has its roots in the tales of One Thousand and One Nights, and ‘Princess Ishana from Overseas’ is the female version of the well-known Dutch picture book King & King by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland, about two princes who fall in love.
The social criticism may sometimes go over children’s heads, but that doesn’t matter. It’s fun for adults who are reading the stories out loud – for instance, the commentary on factory farming (the king of the title has a mega farm for frogs in his cellars) or on children who have become so addicted to WiFi that they’ve stopped playing outside.
Each of the tales is illustrated by a different artist, with interesting new talents such as Pyhai and Djenné Fila joining famous Dutch illustrators like Thé Tjong-Khing. Schotveld has created her best book so far.