Katherine Woodfine on retelling the classics for kids
13th January 2020
I was thrilled when I was invited to retell Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for the brand new Awesomely Austen series, illustrated by Églantine Ceulemans. Pride and Prejudice has long been one of my favourite novels: I first read it aged 12 and fell instantly in love with the story of the Bennet sisters, and the Regency world they inhabited. But far more than simply bonnets and ball-gowns, handsome heroes and swooning heroines, what appealed to me about Austen was her humour. In writing my own version of Pride and Prejudice, I wanted to do my best to do justice to the original, conveying some of the sharpness and wit of Jane Austen’s writing which I had loved from that first reading. I hoped that the book would offer an accessible ‘way in’ to the story for younger readers, which will entertain them, but which might also inspire them to go on and read the original novel for themselves in due course.
Writing Awesomely Austen: Pride and Prejudice got me thinking about how important retellings like this can be in terms of providing a first encounter for young readers with classic literature. Understanding the story and getting to know the characters helps to make books like Pride and Prejudice to feel familiar - something that is ‘for them’. Of course, classics also offer an endless source of inspiration for writers, so it’s no surprise that children’s authors return to them again and again - whether in Malorie Blackman’s bold sci-fi reimagining of Shakespeare’s Othello for young adults in Chasing the Stars or Michael Rosen and Tony Ross creating a new picture book version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Bah Humbug!
Here are some more of my favourite reimaginings of classics for young readers - ranging from accessible retellings to quirky reinventions.
Jane Eyre: A Retelling
Jane Eyre is a brilliant book for teenagers - I remember first reading it aged 13 and being completely gripped. Here it has been perfectly retold by CILIP Carnegie Medal winner Tanya Landman. Following Jane from her miserable childhood to working as a governess at the mysterious Thornfield Manor, where she meets the enigmatic Mr Rochester, it’s a spare, beautiful and accessible retelling of Charlotte Bronte’s story.View Book COMPARE PRICES
The ‘queen of historical fiction’ Emma Carroll takes inspiration from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in this atmospheric tale. Felix is a young servant, eavesdropping as Lord Byron and his friends share spooky stories. But then comes a knock at the front door, and the arrival of a strange girl covered in scars, who brings a mysterious tale of her own… This is a great first taste of gothic fiction for middle grade readers.View Book COMPARE PRICES
Lydia: The Wild Girl of Pride & Prejudice
This joyful reimagining of Pride & Prejudice is told from the point of view of youngest Bennet sister Lydia. Sick and tired of country life, she can’t wait to set off for adventure in Brighton, where sea-bathing, society and scandal are in store. This is a delightful read that will make teen readers see both Lydia and the dastardly Mr Wickham in an entirely new light.View Book COMPARE PRICES
Terry Pratchett puts a fresh new spin on Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist in this brilliantly engrossing novel. Here the Artful Dodger is not a pickpocket but a ‘tosher’ - a scavenger combing the sewers of Victorian London. When he tries to help a young girl in trouble, Dodger is plunged into an extraordinary adventure. Humorous and full of heart, it is peopled by lots of real historical characters like Joseph Bazalgate and Benjamin Disraeli, and is packed with jokes that will entertain Dickens fans.View Book COMPARE PRICES
Lizzy Bennet's Diary
Marcia Williams has created a host of fabulously illustrated books for children that take their inspiration from the classics ranging from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to Homer’s The Iliad. Her take on Pride & Prejudice retells the story in the style of Lizzy’s diary, complete with drawings, pressed flowers, notes, invitations and even a letter from Mr Darcy himself.View Book COMPARE PRICES
The Deathless Girls: A beautiful gift this Christmas
For young adult readers, award-winning author Kiran Milwood Hargrave has created a darkly gothic tale which takes inspiration from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Here, we discover the untold stories of the brides of Dracula - twins Kizzy and Lil. This is one of the first books to be published in new YA feminist series Bellatrix: look out also for Becoming Dinah by Kit de Waal, which is a reinterpretation of Moby Dick.View Book COMPARE PRICES
Comic Classics: Great Expectations
It’s not out until April, but I already can’t wait to read Jack Noel’s retelling of Great Expectations in comic form - think Wimpy Kid or Tom Gates meets Charles Dickens! There are more books in the Comic Classics series to follow, including Treasure Island and The Hound of the Baskervilles.View Book COMPARE PRICES
16th January 2020