Book Review: Fairytales for Feisty Girls, by S McFarlane

Book Review: Fairytales for Feisty Girls, by Susannah McFarlane

Four classic fairytales cleverly rewritten and matched with stunning illustrations from Australia’s best illustrators to complete a wonderful book for children aged 6-9 years old.


The book begins with a definition of feisty which ‘typically defines one who is relatively small, lively, determined and courageous’. It certainly applies to all the girls in the book.

Susannah McFarlane has cleverly rewritten four classic fairytales each matched with stunning illustrations from one of four of Australia’s best illustrators which complete a wonderful book for children aged from around 6-9 years old.

We all know the classic tale of Rapunzel, who had incredibly long hair and was taken from her parents by an evil enchantress who was so selfish and jealous of the girl’s beauty that she imprisoned Rapunzel in a tower. But rather than pine for her freedom and sit around waiting to be rescued, MacFarlane’s Rapunzel gets on with life and uses her imagination; inventiveness and DIY skills to improve her situation. For example, her long hair is a trial to her as it is so heavy it even stops her thinking properly, so she builds a cart to tow it around in.

Beth Norling’s illustrations are charming, with detailed shading which really brings out the personalities of the characters in the story. The enchantress is made more menacing by her long, thin shape and her height is further emphasised by her starkly upswept hair – so different to the beautiful soft gold of Rapunzel’s own hair. In both the story and the pictures, Rapunzel is the main focus, and, while she has a little practical assistance, she works on how to escape by herself – a good lesson for anyone.

Next comes Little Red Riding Hood with illustrations by Claire Robertson, an Australian who lives on a rocky island off the west coast of Canada. Her illustrations are more painterly, and include some lovely botanical-like sketches and details in both colour and grey scale. Once again, the heroine of the story works out how to deal with the wolf using knowledge she has learned from her grandmother.

A story I didn’t know well was Thumbelina, a Hans Christian Anderson fairytale. In the original tale tiny Thumbelina has to overcome obstacles and has very little power to control what happens to her. She is rescued by a fairy prince. This new Thumbelina is an entirely different sort of girl – independent, determined and very much in control of her fate. Wonderfully illustrated by Sher Rill Ng in a style which is very like animation drawings. My favourite picture is a grey scale sketch of Thumbelina, scanning the horizon, atop the mast of nasturtium leaf boat crewed by ladybirds – the very essence of a feisty girl!

I think my favourite tale is McFarlane’s version of Cinderella which also has my favourite illustrations, by Lucinda Gifford. The step mother and step sisters are wonderfully rendered, not as ugly as in the traditional tale, but rather as overdressed, lacking in style or taste, and looking very mean and spiteful. I especially liked the step mother’s ‘Dame Edna’ styled glasses. A major reason for preferring this version of Cinderella is that she has gumption, she is determined and doesn’t meekly return to her miserable life after the ball. But I can’t say more. You’ll have to read the book to discover what she does.

I can highly recommend the book for both boys and girls as it’s about time we had some more active heroines in our fairytales.

Reviewed by Jan Kershaw

Rating out of 10:  9

Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: September 2018
RRP: $24.99

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