Children’s Book Review – Fairytales for Feisty Girls

Cover Image for Fairytales for Feisty Girls

Fairytales for Feisty Girls by Susannah McFarlane

This book was Shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year Awards – Younger Readers.

Feisty: typically describes one who is relatively small, lively, determined and courageous. Girls can rescue themselves just watch Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Thumbelina create their own happily ever afters in this beautiful and emboldening bedtime book.

Each tale has its own illustrator.

  • Rapunzel is illustrated by Beth Norling
  • Little Red Riding Hood is illustrated by Claire Robertson
  • Cinderella is illustrated by Lucinda Gifford, and
  • Thumbelina is illustrated by Sher Rill Ng

I will admit that I have never felt that fairytales are inherently lacking in women who do amazing things. But, I really appreciate the current trend of books specifically aimed at telling all people reading them that women have power, we have a right to stand up for ourselves, we don’t need to be saved and that we have always been amazing even if some people are just now coming to that conclusion. And that trend is visible in this book.

I’m actually going to review each story within the book as I think each one has something unique to share and they deserve a little focussed time.



Rapunzel is familiar to a lot of people.

But there are lots of version of Rapunzel from Tangled all the way back to the versions written down by the Brothers Grimm and through to the Italian version written by Giambattista Basile. In some version there are some very dark tones – for instance in one version I’ve read the prince gets blinded, Rapunzel ends up penniless on the street with twins and when they are finally reunited, because he heard her singing, her tears restore his sight.

This version is a wonderful addition. Yes, Rapunzel’s parents trade her for rapunzel which is the only thing that makes her mother’s pregnancy bareable. And yes, Rapunzel is hidden away in a tower by witch who wants to brush her hair. But, we need these things to make her Rapunzel because that’s when things get interesting.

This Rapunzel likes to make things. She likes to ponder and thing and plan and build. She takes the pretty things that her ‘mother’ gives her and makes things that are useful for what Rapunzel wants to do. She turns the aspects of her life that separate her from the world and use them to see into the world.

Then one day, Rapunzel thinks about escaping so she puts her mind to it. And yes, there is a prince and he does help her but he certainly doesn’t save her and she certainly doesn’t leave for him but for herself. She thinks of the plan and executes it. She breaks the curse that is holding her to her ‘mother’ and the tower. She sets out for a new life that will be exactly what she wants it to be.

This tale definitely has more in common with Tangled than with some of its predecessors but it is truly Rapunzel’s tale and I loved seeing her being resourceful and applying science and engineering to her problems in a very natural way.

Little Red Riding Hood

Little Red Riding Hood

Our little red riding hood has a passion for botany. We find out through the course of the tale that her grandmother is a local wise-woman, the type who would brew potions and salves from the plants they found in the forest where they live. And Lucy, our main character’s given name, is following in her grandmother’s footsteps by investigating the forest and the the flowers and plants that grow there. She learns their common names and their scientific names, she presses them into a book as samples, and she keeps a track of their uses, characteristics and other pertinent information.

Much like the traditional tale – grandma is sick, mum sends Lucy off to deliver goodies that will make her feel better, and warns Lucy not to wander off the path.

This always concerned me as wild animals don’t always care that you’re on the path and they therefore shouldn’t be but I can still see the benefit of being on the most commonly traversed ground and I’m aware that this is also a METAPHOR.

Lucy does do her best to follow her mother’s advice but then she meets the wolf, on the aforementioned path, and he tantalises her with knowledge of a very rare plant that she has been looking for forever. Though the use of the love of botany and introduction of this most desired plant before we know why Lucy makes the choice she does. Yes, she has been told not to wander off the path but she’s doing it in the name of science! And we can empathise with Lucy because we might not be as taken with plants as she is but we all have something we love that we have gone out of our way for…or done something that might not have been the best idea to get.

Meanwhile, the wolf is off capturing grandma but she is a fast-thinking grandma who leaves Lucy a clue. When Lucy realises she, and her grandmother, are in danger she doesn’t look for someone to help her she uses her knowledge to get her out of danger. Then helps the woodsman out as well on the way home.

This young lady thinks fast on her feet and utilises the knowledge she has built up over she life to save herself proving that even if you are part of the reason that the problem was created you can still be the solution.



Cinderella, or as she is actually called Ella, in this story is very faithful to the traditional tale. She loses her mother. Her father remarries and becomes an absentee father. Her father dies. Her stepmother makes her the family’s maid while utterly spoiling her biological daughters.

Ella is also a friend to animals and with her mother and then on her own goes into the forest near her home and rescues injured animals and rehabilitates them. Which feels very familiar but that’s probably due to all of the animal helpers from the Disney version.

In this version, Ella’s mother passes away when she is older and we see their relationship and we see her mother ask Ella to have courage, be hopeful and be kind. Ella remembers this as her stepmother’s requests become increasingly unreasonable. The audience can see through this how the slide from daughter to servant occurs. But Ella utilises her time not spent cooking and cleaning to continue her work with animals.

Then the invitation to the Prince’s ball occurs. Ella’s stepmother says she cannot go. Her fairy godmother assists her in getting to the ball anyway. The Prince is entranced by her. She leaves at midnight and loses a slipper.

But here we have a change. Ella’s mother asked her to have courage and hope and Ella takes the opportunity in front of her and changes her life for the better. Yes, the Prince comes searching for her and finds her but he fits into her life instead of whisking her off to the castle…but that may still happen in the future.

Overall, that integral message of kindness being rewarded over selfishness and cruelty remains but now we have a Cinderella who finds her own way out from under the repressive claw of her stepmother.



I don’t think I have ever heard the actual story of Thumbelina before. I knew she was a little girl who was found in a flower but that was the extent of my knowledge. So, this story was completely new to me. This means that it is a very hard story to talk about in terms of what Susannah McFarlane has altered as I have with the previous stories.

With that in mind, I really enjoyed the story. I couldn’t help feeling very sorry for the young woman who we meet at the beginning of the story who is lonely until she has Thumbelina. The main focus of the story is about Thumbelina looking for other people like her – tiny beings who are born from the centre of tulips. Thumbelina wishes to explore but quite unexpectedly one day a frog comes along and steals her from the young woman’s garden. Thumbelina thereafter is in a strange place and sometimes scared and sometimes lost but always hopeful that she will be able to find more people like her. She is polite in asking for help and as such is offered assistance freely by many different animals – most of whom she repays through jokes.

Thumbelina relies on herself, she knows what she wants and no matter the impediment she goes after it. And if that doesn’t make her feisty who knows what will.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book.

I found that having different illustrators for each section added to the book and each suited the story well. In addition, I have some new illustrators who keep an eye out for in the future.

I would recommend this book for parents reading to young children, children reading on their own, and the adults who like a good fairytale.