You’d think that our favourite fairytales have been told and retold so many times that they can’t possibly be done in a way you haven’t seen before. If you pick up Girls to the Rescue, you’ll be delighted to realize that you thought wrong.
The stories are told with a mischievous wit, which even an adult would appreciate. For example, when the prince arrives at Rapunzel’s tower and notices the hapless maiden, his first reaction is panic. “He felt a bit nervous about what he was expected to do. Would there be dragons involved?”
As the title suggests, girls take centrestage in this charming collection. But it is not a bra-burning, man-hating type of feminism. Women are capable, self-respecting and do not necessarily hang around hoping to ensnare a prince. Sleeping Beauty, in an unexpected twist, has a mother who wants to finish writing her book, but can’t because of her newborn daughter who refuses to sleep.
Author Sowmya Rajendran has mastered the twist-in-the-tale with her unusual take on classic fare. Every story leaves you with a surprised “Ha!” and with new ideas to think about. What would you say, for example, if your grandmother had married a wolf? This novel thought in the Red Riding Hood tale also opens up conversations about spousal abuse and domestic violence.
In another hilarious tale, Snow White, an extremely fair-skinned child, is thought to be a freak, both by the people of the kingdom as well as her extremely worried mother. But meeting the dwarves puts her in equally ugly company and we learn that everything is okay, no matter what you look like or what the colour of your complexion is.
Rajendran’s language is faultless. An unusual thing in an age of ‘chalta hain’ English, which shows that you needn’t be esoteric or use three-syllable words aplenty to tell a story with warmth and humour.
Girls to the Rescue is age-appropriate and empowering, and is a must-read for girls and boys above the age of eight. The only question that remains is: when will someone rewrite our fairytales to portray a more realistic expectation from boys?
By Itisha Peerbhoy
Author: Sowmya Rajendran
Illustrator: Ashok Rajagopalan
Tulika Publishers, 2014
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction