If you weren’t around during the 2000s, you missed out on an absolute tsunami of reimagined fairy tales that flooded the market. A Cinderella Story (2004), Enchanted (2007), and Sydney White (2007) flew off the shelves of Blockbuster. The Princess Diaries series (by Meg Cabot), the Princess Academy series (by Shannon Hale), and the Beastly series (by Alex Flinn) all had long hold lists at the library. We couldn’t get enough of these new stories of strong, stubborn, quirky fairy tale protagonists being their strong, stubborn, quirky selves. Is it any surprise that we fell in love with Ella? She was unlucky enough to be “blessed” with the gift of obedience, but that doesn’t stop her from being wonderfully stubborn and resourceful. Young readers looking for other characters like Ella might enjoy the following books:
- Curse of the Night Witch by Alex Aster
What is with all these magical beings going around and cursing kids? Twelve-year-old Tor Luna lives on Emblem Island, an isolated region where the course of your life is predetermined by the mark you’re born with. Like his mother, Tor was born with the leadership emblem. The emblem is supposed to be an honor, but the ocean calls to him in a way he can’t shake. When the annual New Year’s Eve celebration comes around, he throws his dreams into the bonfire hoping that the wish-god will grant him a new power. He wakes up with a new emblem but it’s a horrible surprise; Tor now sports a cursed emblem, signaling a shortened lifespan that could have only come from the Night Witch. Joined by his friends Engle and Melda, Tor must travel across Emblem Island to find a way to lift the curse. We’re sure Ella’s curse was a bit easier to cope with.
- Alliana, Girl of Dragons by Julie Abe
Alliana spent her life dreaming that one day she and her grandmother would be able to travel to the capital city to see the queen. The days of sugar-spun dreams were before her grandmother died, leaving her a true orphan. Alliana finds herself in overwhelming servitude to her stepfamily. She wakes up at dawn to mend her stepsisters’ dresses, cleans the family’s inn until her fingers are raw, and wishes for a better life. Things rapidly change when she meets a young nightdragon and Nela, a young witch. Nela needs help navigating the nearby abyss, a place full of magic and danger. Alliana knows the ravine by heart but assisting Nela would mean leaving her stepfamily behind, to whom she hasn’t finished paying off her debt. Leaving means the chance at freedom, though, and Alliana has never wanted anything more in her life. Alliana, Girl of Dragons is the prequel to the Eva Evergreen series.
- The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
When young Frances is approached by a staff member of the royal family with a proposal to become a seamstress and dressmaker, she can hardly believe it. Her surprise turns into full-blown shock when she discovers that she’s being employed by Prince Sebastian, a shy prince being forced into the role of king and husband by his family. He manages to play the part by day but by night, he transforms himself into the jaw-dropping Lady Crystallia. Dressed as Lady Crystallia, Prince Sebastian and Frances develop an intense connection as they fly through the streets of Paris at night, eventually becoming a fashion icon. But when it becomes clear to Frances that being a secret weapon means remaining a secret, she must decide whether she can live knowing her work will never be recognized.
Teens and adults searching for more spunk might try some of these titles:
- Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu
What does it mean to have moxie? Slang dictionaries define it as having a courageous spirit, determination, and nerve. “Ya got moxie, kid.” Vivian Carter’s mom has moxie. She was a punk rock Riot Grrrl in the 90s and raised hell, in addition to an incredible daughter. Why should Viv back down from sexist dress codes, harassment in the hallways, and a small southern town too obsessed with the high school football team to do anything about it? After creating a feminist zine to blow off some of her frustration, she’s surprised to find that girls of all grades, cliques, and popularity statuses are responding. She learns how white privilege exists even within the overarching scope of sexism in society, models a very healthy budding romance, and kicks off the teen girl revolution of our dreams.
- How to Be Eaten by Maria Adelmann
Do you ever wonder what happens to the women in fairy tales? We’re not talking about Disney princesses, but rather the ones trapped in the old tales. In present-day New York City, five women meet in a basement support group to talk about what they’ve been through. “People know of you,” the group leader starts out, “but do they know you?” Big bad wolves, hungry witches, and locked basements filled with bodies are replaced by aggressive tabloid journalists, reality TV, and eating disorders. As the women ease into their stories, they move away from their carefully rehearsed monologue and allow each other to get to know their true selves.
- Damsel by Elana K. Arnold
This is not a book for teens. This is barely a book for adults. This is a haunting, purposefully grisly fairy tale meant for fans of bloody, vicious Grimm-nightmares. Ama can’t remember anything before she wakes up in the arms of Prince Emory, having been captured by a dragon and held captive in its lair. All she knows is the story he tells her of her heroic rescue and her future destiny to sit on the throne beside him. The kingdom of Harding has always been this way. The king dies, the prince slays a dragon and rescues a fair maiden, the maiden produces one male heir, and then the cycle repeats. The royal lives of men in Harding are full of adventure, power, and respect. On the other hand, the royal lives of women in Harding are not as pleasurable. Women are expected to be obedient, silent, and pleasant. When Ama fights back against these expectations, she begins to understand that she might have found herself in even more danger than she was in with the dragon.
“Instead of making me docile,” Ella says, “Lucinda’s curse made a rebel of me. Or perhaps I was that way naturally.” Despite being the modern-day Amelia Bedelia, Ella often finds ways to work around her curse, inspiring decades’ worth of feminists. If you’re interested in exploring Ella Enchanted through the lens of feminism, Bustle’s How ‘Ella Enchanted’ Made Me A Feminist, Book Riot’s Ella Enchanted is a Feminist Masterpiece, and Huffpost’s How The Heroine Of ‘Ella Enchanted’ (Accidentally) Became A Feminist Icon are just a few great places to start.
This blog is created by Hannah and Ella in conjunction with the These Books Made Me podcast, a Prince George’s County Memorial Library System production. Check out the corresponding episode on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you normally listen to podcasts.