The story of Rapunzel is another well-known fairy tale popularized by the Brothers Grimm. But what are its roots? Lots of speculation: perhaps “Petrosinella,” an Italian fairy tale written in 1634 by Giambattista Basile; maybe the tale of Saint Barbara, who was locked in a tower by her father; or even the 10th century AD Persian story of Rudaba, who lets down her hair to let her lover climb up the tower walls to her. Whatever her beginnings, Rapunzel is definitely a part of the Fairy Tale Hall of Fame, and well-known in today’s popular culture. She is a worthy and fascinating topic for a family flight of books. You’ll definitely want to start with Paul O. Zelinksy’s Caldecott Award- winning traditional retelling, based on the Brothers Grimm tale. Then, dig into the other versions for an intriguing adventure in reading for the whole family!
Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky and Brothers Grimm
The classic retelling is enhanced by the Renaissance-style illustrations that Zelinsky paints, drawing the reader(s) in with the magic of the words and images. The story is familiar to most in its simple form: Rapunzel is trapped in a tower with no door, visited only by the sorceress who imprisoned her. When Rapunzel is visited by her captor, she lets down her rich luxurious (and strong!) hair so that the witch can climb up. So goes her life until one day, a Prince hears her singing as he listens to the forest birds. The perfect read-aloud to introduce the family to the wonders of Rapunzel.
How about a Rapunzel with beautiful long dreadlocks? And a setting in Africa, with the Prince’s steed a Zebra? When your see Rachel Isadora’s signature (and always stunning) collage and oil illustrations, you know you and your young readers and listeners are in for a treat. The retelling is simple, but though in a different culture than the original, very true to the well-known tale. We are long-time fans of Rachel Isadora, so if you are intrigued by her work, check out: Two New Books by Rachel Isadora and International Children’s Book Day which includes a review of The Ugly Duckling.
Rapunzel/Rapunzel: A Bilingual Book (Bilingual Fairy Tales) by Francesc Bofill, illustrated by Joma Joma
Some bilingual texts suffer in the translation. But this whole series does a fine job of capturing the traditional story in both English and Spanish. The illustrations are quite wonderful, too, adding to the subtle charm with some modern twists. The colloquial language in both languages is a treat: for example, in English, Rapunzel and the prince “lived happily ever after”; in Spanish, “Y vivieron felices y comieron perdices el resto de sus dias” (“And they lived happily and ate partridges for the rest of their days”). Yum!
Falling for Rapunzel by Leah Wilcox, illustrated by Lydia Monks
Perfect for young readers who enjoy Amelia Bedelia-like puns and plays on words. In this fractured fairy tale version, the Prince comes along to try to visit Rapunzel, but she is too far away to hear his words. When he asks her to “throw down her hair,” she tosses down her underwear. When the Prince tries to clarify by explaining, “No, Rapunzel, your curly locks,” she throws down her dirty socks. It gets worse and worse from here, with a satisfying and surprising conclusion. The rhyming is fun and playful, and so are the bright and bold illustrations.
Sugar Cane: A Caribbean Rapunzel by Patricia Storace, illustrated by Raul Colon
In this Caribbean version, Madame Fate steals away little Sugar Cane on her first birthday. Her only company in the high tower where she is imprisoned is a pet green monkey named Callaloo. She is sustained by her love of music and sings by her window, waiting for the echoes to come back to her. Her voice draws a handsome young man to her tower, and the traditional tale unfolds from here, with some added magic and mystery. Beautiful and lyrical language from the author, who is an award-winning poet.
Tweens and Teens:
Rapunzel’s Revenge by Dean Hale, and Shannon Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale
Another retelling, this one set in the Wild Wast, where cowgirl Rapunzel teams up with Jack (of beanstalk fame). I love this version, with a suitably spunky heroine who rescues herself from the tower (using her amazing hair, of course) and ignores the Prince to join the outlaw Jack in righting wrongs and freeing the kingdom from the evil witch. Humorous (and downright witty) dialogue and magical illustrations that combine the fairy tale setting with a rugged desert countryside make this a sure winner with the tweens on your life.
Rapunzel Untangled by Cindy C. Bennett
Welcome to the 21st century, Rapunzel! In this retelling, Rapunzel lives a lonely and isolated life in her mother’s mansion, never allowed to venture beyond its walls, believing she has a severe immune disease and that exposure to any outside germs will be fatal. When she needs a computer to complete her on-line high school studies, her isolation ends with her exposure to the world through the Internet. With the aid of Facebook, Rapunzel befriends a young man (Fab Fane) who vows to help her escape her isolation. Along the way, he introduces her to contemporary pop culture and modern food. Witchcraft and prophecies fulfilled remain at the heart of this retelling despite its modern trappings. A fun read for fans of fairy tale retellings.
Twice Upon a Time: Rapunzel: The One With All the Hair by Wendy Mass
Another modern spin on the fairy tale, this time with Rapunzel trapped in her tower, and Prince Benjamin by his family’s expectations. Both teenagers’ stories are told separately, with lots of humor and Wendy Mass’s signature fine writing. And the good news is, if you enjoy this book, you’ll like the others in the Twice Upon a Time series.
Rapunzel and Other Maiden in the Tower Tales from Around the World by Heidi Ann Heiner
Heiner is a librarian researcher and collector of fairy tales from around the world. This anthology of “maidens in towers” (some with long hair, though not all) contains over 50 stories of imprisoned princesses, maids, daughters, wives, and even political prisoners. If you are intrigued by fairy tales and folk tales, Heidi Ann Heiner is a name to remember. Check out her fabulous website: SurLaLuneFairyTales.com