Thursday, September 8, 2016

Laura Shovan: Fractured Fairy Tale Workshop

Title card from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, via Jonathan Morris

Sorry to say we do not have Rocky and Bullwinkle with us today, but we do have someone equally entertaining (some might say more so). 

Laura Shovan is here with the next episode in her Poet in the Schools series on Today's Little Ditty— a look at a fractured fairy tale workshop she developed for the classroom.

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Hi, Michelle. Thank you for inviting me back to Today's Little Ditty.

I love fairy tale retellings. One of our family favorites is Jane Yolen’s book SLEEPING UGLY—a hilarious, earthy twist on traditional princess tales.

Another is Marilyn Singer’s first book of reverso poems, MIRROR MIRROR. Marilyn uses the reverso form to tell familiar stories—Rapunzel, the Frog Prince, Beauty and the Beast—from two very different points of view. More on that later.

This spring, I put together a fractured fairy tale poetry workshop for a local third grade. We had so much fun writing these poems. The students relished the chance to give a minor or misunderstood character the chance to tell his side of a famous story. This workshop complements the persona poem lesson we discussed in my last TLD post. Instead of a postcard or image of a person to work from, we’re taking a story we know well and fleshing out an existing character.

For educators, my goal for this lesson was this:
Students will list details of a familiar story, analyze for plot holes and characterization, and use point of view to create an alternate version of the story in a narrative poem.
The classroom teachers and I started this workshop by introducing the concept of a fairy tale retelling. Students were already familiar with books, though not always aware that they fit into this specific genre. One favorite was THE TRUE STORY OF THE THREE LITTLE PIGS by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith.

Next, students generated a list of fairy tales in small groups. As a whole class, we began to discuss which characters, other than the traditional protagonist, we’d like to hear from. I love when students contribute outside-the-box ideas—letting the hill tell the story of Jack and Jill’s fall, or the porridge narrate what really happened when Goldilocks came to the bears’ house.

Using an overhead projector, I showed the students MIRROR MIRROR. We read “In the Hood” (spoken by Red Riding Hood and the Wolf) first, so students could check out the reverso form. They flipped out when they realized that the wolf’s poem is identical to Little Red’s poem—only the lines are reversed. And yet the meaning is totally different. Wow! Marilyn Singer is brilliant.

"In the Hood" from MIRROR MIRROR (Dutton Books) © 2010 Marilyn Singer, illustration © 2010 Josée Masse.
Used with permission of the author. (Click image to enlarge.)

I chose a different poem from this book for the lesson model. “Bears in the News” is a little bit longer and includes more details, which supports the lesson goal. The first half of “Bears in the News” tells the Goldilocks story from the human point of view, while the second part takes the bear family’s side.

If time permits, I like to walk younger students through the pre-writing process on the board before they head off to write their own poems. You may not need this step for fifth grade and up. We broke down the writing process in this way: 
1.    List the facts of the fairy tale.
2.    Consider possible characters.
3.    Worksheet (see below).
4.    Who is narrating?
5.    Write!
6.    Share.

Here are two first draft responses from third grade poets at Bushy Park Elementary in Glenwood, MD:


I am very mad
because I’m not the one who’s bad.

I’m prepared to fight the beast.
At my tavern there will be a feast.

I’ll carry Belle away
and marry her today.

That’s my plan,
to be a man,

to have Belle as my wife.
Kids? Gaston Jr. will be our ninth!


One day, I took a walk in the woods
and when I came home
my house was destroyed.
I was very mad. Who did this?
I walked around and then
I saw a little girl in my son’s bed.
Why and how could she do this?
But she’s so tiny.
Then I realized she was sleeping.
I woke her up and she screamed.
I nearly tripped over something
because she scared
the living daylights out of me.
Then, when I opened my eyes,
she was gone.  

My favorite line in this poem is “But she’s so tiny.” It communicates Papa Bear’s empathy for poor little Goldilocks beautifully.

To extend this workshop, I recommend Jane Yolen and Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s GRUMBLES FROM THE FOREST: FAIRY-TALE VOICES WITH A TWIST (WordSong, 2013). My favorite poem to share is “Whining Stepsisters Brag,” from the Cinderella story.

If you’re working with teens, check out Anna Denise’s “How to Change a Frog into a Prince” at Poetry 180 and Anne Sexton’s well-known and very dark revision of “Cinderella.”

Thank you, Laura! 
We always enjoy discovering what's in your educational toolbox.

If you're new to these parts, make sure you check out Laura's previous posts on Today's Little Ditty:

Laura Shovan is former editor for Little Patuxent Review and editor of two poetry anthologies. Her chapbook, Mountain, Log, Salt and Stone, won the inaugural Harriss Poetry Prize. Laura works with children as a poet-in-the-schools. The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary is her debut novel-in-verse for children (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House).

Visit her at Laura

Next month Carrie Clickard will be here with a new installment in her Rhyme Crime Investigator series. If you have a question for Carrie or want to suggest a rhyme-related topic, please send an email to TodaysLittleDitty (at) gmail (dot) com, or use the contact form in the sidebar to the right.

Last Friday's interview with Jane Yolen revealed that we will be writing septercets this month. We began this week with a Two Line Tuesday from Jane, followed by septercets from Ann Magee and Linda Baie. Visit our September 2016 padlet to see all of the poems contributed so far, or to add one of your own.
Amy Ludwig VanDerwater is our gracious Poetry Friday host this week. See what's on offer at The Poem Farm.


  1. I loved all your ideas for mentor texts, Laura, and those poems by the students are marvelous. You must be a wonderful teacher/poet with the kids! I rarely had a whole class assignment like this, but I did share the idea of a fractured fairy tale as an idea, sharing a mentor text, and sometimes a student wrote one. These were young adolescents and they still loved imagining a different POV. Thanks, Laura.

  2. Great lesson! It obviously elicits inventive work. ("Grumbles from the Forest" -- how could I not know about this already? Must look it up...)

    1. The Yolen/Dotlich sequel, GRUMBLES FROM THE TOWN: MOTHER-GOOSE VOICES WITH A TWIST, is out this Tuesday!

  3. Thanks so much for including me! Love the lesson!

  4. I love sharing and exploring fractured fairy tales with students, it's really quite empowering when kids realise that they have the power to recreate stories and poems in their own unique way, and discover that their version of a story is just as valid as anyone else's!

  5. Sounds like a fun workshop and a great idea for reimagining a tale from a minor point of view, that shift everything in a wicked way. ;-)

  6. A lamb, a little lamb, named Mary
    took Laura to school one day.
    You should have seen the children
    laugh and play,
    To have fun, with Laura at school!

    - jag

    This is a rollicking fun time!

    And look forward to next month's rhyme tyme. My question is about any mentor texts (lines) where established, good children's poets have made up words or created different spellings, to rhyme/in rhyme.

  7. What an imaginative lesson - one I am so ready to try out in my classroom. Thank you both!

  8. I am totally doing this with my kids! Thanks! One of the poets laureate of our state wrote a fractured fairy tale book of poetry, Ava Leavell Haymon Why the House is Made of Gingerbread. This is an adult book, but some would probably work for kids. At least Lemony Snicket thinks so. See

  9. Nice! I'm lifting this straight out into my classroom!

  10. Thanks for sharing this amazing lesson and a couple of wonderful resources!

  11. Terrific workshop plan--thanks for sharing it!

  12. Wonderful and fun lesson for students. I work with teens....but they don't always know the fairy tales...or have enough command of English to handle more complex stories. So, I do use fairy tales with them sometimes. It's amazing how rich a lesson becomes when using poetry.
    Also, thanks for the poetry 180 links! Off to see those too.

  13. What an enchanting lesson! Lucky students. Thanks for sharing.

  14. For older kids, this lesson can be extended by talking about how a text can be copyrighted, but an idea can't.

  15. What a blast! I love learning from Laura. Thank you for highlighting this lesson. I also love playing with known stories...there is something about just stretching them around like gum and imagining the WHAT IF...WHAT IF...WHAT IF...??? x

  16. Wonderful! I love how this exercises the imagination!