Gender Swapped Fairy Tales by Karrie Fransman & Jonathan Plackett

Values: Equality, Empathy... and so many more!

I was drawn to Gender Swapped Fairy Tales as soon as I saw it in the bookshop last October – both the concept and the gorgeous front cover caught my eye. I now treasure it for so many reasons!

This anthology of fairy tales is written by husband-and-wife team, Karrie Fransman and Jonathan Plackett. At the start of the book, they outline the context for why they wrote the book and it is fascinating. They have personal reasons – including having a daughter who they want to grow up in a world where girls are empowered and boys can show their emotions – as well as larger, societal reasons. I really appreciate the way they distinguish between the difference of ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ and that they appreciate gender is far more diverse than girl/boy. They also explain how they developed an algorithm to swap the gender pronouns in books and what impact this had on them as they read books which challenged traditional roles and stereotypes. It also goes without saying that the illustrations are stunning and add so much to the retelling of the stories!

The contents page itself reminds us of how many fairy tales we take for granted have specific, strong male or female roles. ‘Handsome and the Beast’, ‘Jacqueline and the Beanstalk’, and ‘Mistress Puss in Boots’ are some examples. The gender-swaps within the stories really do challenge you as a reader who has been familiar with the traditional roles for a long time, and it took me a few pages to almost stop fixating on this and to enjoy the stories! Children hearing the stories for the first time may not have this mini hurdle to overcome. Fairy tales are obviously a product of their time, and this explains some of the stereotypes we see. However, it is so refreshing to see a book that actively challenges these as a discussion point for modern readers.

I won’t look at specific examples of Values from individual fairy tales as the variation is huge! I’m sure you will be able to spot Values such as determination, kindness, compassion, self-belief and confidence as you read them. Instead, I will pull out a couple of generic Values that run through the book.

The first Value that shines through in this book is equality. The whole book is based on the premise that all children should be empowered to see themselves as the protagonist or the hero in a story. They should all see men and women in roles that are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ – breaking down some gendered assumptions we sometimes see in literature, and especially literature that is several hundred years old! It has great links to history and discussions of equality legislation for older pupils. Maybe older children could rewrite a picturebook of their choice, swapping the genders and evaluating the impact this has on the story.

The second Value you could explore using Gender Swapped Fairy Tales is empathy. I think it is really interesting to ask children to empathise with different characters in the traditional fairy tale and whether this changes in when the genders are swapped. Teaching empathy to children is one skill when the person is ‘like’ them. It can be more tricky to teach when the character is a different gender, age, maybe has different morals. What a great book for examining this complex Value!

This is an enriching book for assemblies, circle times, English, history and art topics. Some of the stories are longer and some are shorter so it is very varied in giving lots of opportunities for dipping in and out of. I believe you could read these to younger children as they are, and to older children too, but perhaps with more of a structured discussion to accompany.

You can buy it at any bookshops or online. Try to shop independently if you can! If you haven’t heard of, it is a fantastic way of supporting local bookshops through the ease of shopping online (plus they dispatch super quickly - I ordered a few this morning and they have already been dispatched!).

You can also find the authors on Twitter (@KarrieFransman and @JonPlackett) and they encourage readers to let them know their thoughts on the book, so I can imagine they would love to hear some children’s views too! You can explore more books that can be effective discussion hooks for the Values above by using the links below: