I recently took up crochet (stay with me, I honestly have a book related point) and joined a Facebook group for inspiration and ideas. It completely horrified me when time and time again, I saw people talking about creating baby clothes with only blue or pink in mind for boys and girls. I am astounded that even now, we play along to stereotyped gender roles in this way. It really starts right at the beginning doesn’t it? So when I was offered the chance to read and review Gender Swapped Fairy Tales I was never going to say no! Created by husband and wife team Karrie Fransman and Jonathan Plackett and published by Faber, this book is a modern day treasure!
Now where do I start, honestly. Gender Swapped Fairytales came about as a result of co-creator Jonathan Plackett’s father playing around with genders when reading books to him as a child in order to provide his sister with some more empowering female role models (how awesome is that?). 30 years on, and Jonathan and Karrie have a two year old daughter of their own and wanted her to grow in a world where gender stereotypes are broken down. Jonathan created an algorithm which directly swapped males and females throughout the traditional retellings, and thus, Gender Swapped Fairytales was born. For the full story I would definitely suggest watching their making of video, it compelled me to read this book!
Gender Swapped Fairytales contains all the stories we remember so fondly, including Beauty and the Beast (Handsome and the Beast), Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk (Jacqueline and the Beanstalk) and many more stories we know and love (12 of them to be precise). Because traditional texts were used for this retelling and the gender swapping left purely to the algorithm, the writing and stories are wholly authentic and traditional, which I think makes the gender variations in this stand out more and make this just, well, utterly refreshing!
Imagine a world were the man wears pretty glass slippers and dreams of finding his true love, where the female was nimble and quick footed and escapes the giant (also female). This IS the world we live in, men have emotions and like pretty, females can be strong and tough. This is nothing new yet it’s not presented in books children read nearly as often as it should be. This book is clever, it’s a simple idea that works so incredibly well, not only that, but fundamentally, and crucially, it’s a really entertaining read.
Alongside the stories, this book contains beautiful watercolour illustrations by Karrie which bring life and colour to these tales. Again the video above gives a fascinating insight into the research and methods that went into the artwork. These are not quick sketches, but incredibly well considered pieces of art that reflect the traditional artwork of the times, whilst inserting bright colour combinations to ensure they remain lively and current.
Gender Swapped Fairytales is another book where the publication values are exceptional, the beautiful hardback copy, containing thick luscious pages and a solid cover with ribbon bookmark included. It helps this book feel like a true collection of treasures, one to be loved and read time and time again.
So the algorithm may not be considered infallible, it does a straight swap of genders so sexes remain very much opposite, rather than representing the LGBTQ relationships we know and want to recognise in books today. A completely rewritten book would have given quite different results, but in a way that is what is wonderful about this book. It’s a fascinating exploration of gender perceptions and what happens when we turn that directly on its head.
If you want modern day fairy tales, familiar stories with a fresh new take, to teach children that people can be whoever they want to be, that we are not actually defined by, or dictated by our gender, a bedtime read that will entertain and excite young children, something they will love, enjoy and remember for years, then here it is, Gender Swapped Fairytales … a bit of a masterpiece really.
Gender Swapped Fairytales is available now from all good bookshops and libraries. If you would like to support an independent shop, you can order a copy from my affiliate shop Bear Hunt Books
(I receive a small amount for every book purchase which I use towards purchasing more books from them to share with you.)
Or you can find an indie bookshop near to you. Please support your local shops this Christmas.
Thank you to Faber for sending me this copy, and thank you for reading this gender free Book Monster review.