Book Review: Straw into Gold


Straw into Gold: Fairy Tales Re-spun

Written by Hilary McKay

Illustrated by Sarah Gibb

288 pages

Published by Pan Macmillan

Publication date: 26th September 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

Hilary McKay’s Fairy Tales is a classic fairy-tale collection to treasure. Featuring Hilary McKay’s imaginative retellings of key favourites, this ten-story collection includes the much-loved tales of Rapunzel, Cinderella, The Princess and the Pea, Rumpelstiltskin, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, The Swan Brothers, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Red Riding Hood, The Twelve Dancing Princesses and Hansel and Gretel.

This gorgeous collection features black-and-white line and tone illustrations throughout from the talented Sarah Gibb.”


First impressions: I knew that I had to read this because of my love for fairy tales and re-imagined fairy tales. I also love Sarah Gibb’s illustrations and have all of the fairy tales she has illustrated. I love the way the cover has been done with a limited colour palette, containing lots of fairy tale motifs. It also has a recommendation by Stephanie Burgis, an author whose books I very much like, so I imagine that I’m going to like this!

In the introduction Hilary McKay describes fairy tales as our living heritage, saying that each interaction with them throws up questions, some of which she has attempted to answer in her own retellings.

Ten fairytales have been retold in this collection, each giving a surprising twist on the original.

The Tower and the Bird/ Rapunzel – this story looks at Rapunzel’s life after leaving the tower and her difficulty in adjusting to freedom. This felt very realistic and thoughtful to me.

Straw into Gold/ Rumplestiltskin – this is my favourite of the collection. I didn’t think that anybody could make me feel sympathy for Rumplestiltskin, yet this story made me teary-eyed! Beautiful!

The Roses Round the Palace/ Cinderella – definitely an unexpected twist in this one, with the Prince being revealed as an avid gardener and lover of roses!

The Fountain in the Market Square/ Pied Piper of Hamelin – an exercise in self-justification as the mayor of Hamelin attempts to explain why he was right to do what he did.

Chickenpox and Crystal / Snow White and the Seven Dwarves – a fascinating look at the remnants of fairytales, both physical and in memory. The shard of the magic mirror also reminded me of the Snow Queen. Another unexpected favourite!

The Prince and the Problem / Princess and the Pea – this was a very sweet re-imagining, with the Prince’s problem being solved in a non-traditional way!

Over the Hills and Far Away / Red Riding Hood and the Piper’s Son – a look at the fallacy of human memory and how easily our expectations can be manipulated. I liked how this story drew on some of our shared understanding of various fairy tales.

Things Were Different in Those Days / Twelve Dancing Princesses – ultimately quite a heartbreaking look at cultural norms and how they have changed. I honestly felt really sorry for the Old King!

What I Did in the Holidays and Why Hansel’s Jacket is So Tight (By Gretel, aged 10) / Hansel and Gretel – as a teacher, this one gave me a bit of a giggle, especially as the teacher reads the accounts from both brother and sister and begins to suspect that there might be more to the story…

Sweet William by Rushlight / The Swan Brothers – I was glad to see The Swan Brothers (of The Children of Lir as I know it!) included in this collection as it has always been one of my favourite fairy tales, yet seems less well-known outside of Ireland. This also had an unexpected ending!

I loved how so many of these re-imaginings dealt with the aftermath of the ‘happily ever after…’ as I have always wondered what happened next in so many of the traditional tales that I have read. I also liked some of the unexpected twists on the stories, difficult to do when fairy tales have already been recast and re-imagined by so many people.

This collection feels fresh and interesting and has earned a permanent place on the shelf of books I will continue to dip into for years to come.


What I liked: How creative and unexpected the twists on each story were, the way my opinion of Rumplestiltskin has completely changed and the partnership between Hilary McKay and Sarah Gibb which has produced a book which will be treasured for years to come.

Even better if: I want more! Ten stories was a good number, but I now want to see Hilary McKay’s take on other fairy tales. The same for the internal illustrations – they were beautiful but I would have liked even more. Finally, as with every anthology, some stories are stronger than others, but I imagine that each reader will find their own favourites.

How you could use it in your classroom: This would be great to add to any classroom collection of traditional tales, or to be used alongside other fairy tale retellings/ fractured fairytales to examine the changes and why they have been made. I imagine that these stories might change a few minds (particularly Rumplestiltskin) and could perhaps be used as an impetus for pupils to rewrite other famous stories from the perspective of the ‘antagonist’ or looking for reasons behind each character’s actions.

(Thank you to my lovely library for having a copy on your shelves!)

While you’re here, why not check out my reviews of Cinderella and the Furry Slippers, Flower Moon, Mirage, Power to the Princess or Eternal Seas?

Some other fairytale retellings featured on my blog are North Child/ East, West , Tangleweed and Brine and Spinning Silver.

Why not learn about fairy tales in 10 languages with some of my multilingual flashcards?

Find me on Twitter , Goodreads or Instagram

Thanks for reading!

8 Comments Add yours

  1. savageddt says:

    if you like the art in this check out the band A fores of Stars and their song Gatherers of the Pure, maybe put it on mute if you are not into metal…


  2. arubunwritten says:

    As a lover of fairy tales myself, this looks really interesting – I’m especially intrigued by those that look at what happens after Happily Ever After because fairytale endings are usually too neat to be realistic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I agree! I always closed the book on fairytales thinking “But what if…?” or “What happened next?” I particularly enjoyed how this book made me reassess certain characters and looked at the long-term impact of what they had experienced (e.g. Rapunzel struggling with open spaces because of being in a tower for so long etc) Hope you get a chance to read it!

      Liked by 1 person

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