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Author Liesl Shurtliff continues fractured fairy tale series with 'Red'

Posted April 19

Although some may have considered author Liesl Shurtliff a “reluctant reader” when she was growing up, she says she would have classified herself as an “extremely picky reader.”

“I had a very strong sense of things, what I liked and what I didn’t like,” Shurtliff said in a phone interview. “What I found was that teachers were always pushing books that I think they really liked as adults and weren’t necessarily considering what kids really liked and what would make sense to them and what would resonate with them.”

Shurtliff’s experience as a young reader continues to have an impact on her as an author. She recently released the third book in her middle grade fractured fairy tale series, “Red: The True Story of Little Red Riding Hood” (Knopf Books for Young Readers, $16.99, ages 8-12), on April 12.

“When I started writing, I think I felt that I was writing the book that I wish I had had when I was younger, that I wish the teachers would have had me read when I was in third, fourth and fifth grade,” she said.

“Red” follows her other books, “Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin” and “Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk.” Shurtliff said both books have been well received, especially “Rump,” which she said has been listed on several state reading lists.

“I’ve had so many kids tell me (‘Rump’) was the first book they read on their own, that they read from cover to cover, that they loved, that they couldn’t put down,” she said. “To me, that’s the best compliment that a kid could give me.”

But Shurtliff said she has been surprised to hear after the success of her first two books that many readers have said “Red” is their new favorite.

“For people to say (‘Red’) was their favorite of the series was really sort of overwhelming to me,” she said. “It felt like it was hard to live up to the expectations I had set with the previous two books, so it was very positive.”

As a fractured fairy tale, “Red” contains many of the same elements as classic versions of the story but takes many unexpected twists and turns along the way.

In Shurtliff’s version, Red and her granny are both witches with magical powers. The difference between the two is Granny knows how to control her magic, while a few unfortunate mistakes have caused Red to be afraid of using hers.

But when Red goes to stay with Granny while her parents are away and finds Granny sick in bed, she must face her fears and go on a journey to find what will cure Granny.

She embarks on her quest in search of ingredients to make one of Granny’s magic healing potions. As she travels, Red notices a wolf following her, keeping a close eye, and Horst the Huntsman close behind, hoping to capture the creature.

She comes across Goldie Locks in the woods while looking for the ingredients, and much to Red’s displeasure, the bubbly Goldie invites herself on the journey. When they come across a dwarf named Borlen in the woods, Red considers asking him to lead her to the ingredients for the potion, but then realizes that even if she succeeds in making the magic cure-all, her beloved grandmother will get sick again one day and eventually die.

Instead, she asks the dwarf if there is a way to make someone live forever, and he tells her three different ways to stop death.

Each attempt to find one of the methods leads Red and Goldie to a different part of the woods with different dangers, but little do they know the answer to their quest has been with them from the beginning. Along the way, Red learns valuable lessons about life, death, love and overcoming fears.

“I think the major theme of ‘Red’ is facing our fears and choosing to not be afraid, to face it head-on and to just take whatever comes with as much grace and humor,” Shurtliff said.

“Red” continues Shurtliff's practice of merging multiple fairy tales in her books.

“I think a lot of fairy tales, to me, feel like they share the same world and share a lot of similar themes,” she said. “Sometimes when I’m writing a fairy tale … I see openings and threads that connect with other fairy tales, and I bring them in as it feels natural.”

Shurtliff said incorporating the character of Goldie into the story of Little Red Riding Hood made sense to her and that Goldie provided a balance to “Red’s seriousness.”

“She helps bring a lot of humor into the story in what otherwise would have been a little too serious for my readership and my style in general,” she said.

Shurtliff said her next writing project will be “Dwarf: The True Story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” which is tentatively scheduled to be released by fall 2017 and will be told from the perspective of Borlen the dwarf. After that, she plans to take a break from fairy tales to work on a travel adventure trilogy.

But for now, she’s delighted to hear positive feedback from readers, which she said brings a whole different level of joy to her work.

“I hope (readers will) get out of it whatever it is they need to get out of it,” she said. “Maybe they need to just laugh, maybe they just need a good story to read and take them away from the world that they’re currently in.”

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