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Happily Ever After: 21 Multicultural Fairy Tales to Delight Every
Child and Teen

by Charnaie Gordon

multicultural fairy tales
Background credit: Sofya Dushkina/Shutterstock

As a kid, I used to love reading fairy tales. Fairy tales are unlike any other kind of story. They’re magical, enchanting tales where anything is possible, and they almost always end with the line “…and they lived happily ever after.” We all know life doesn’t always have a happy ending, but I found something uplifting in the optimism of these stories.

Perhaps one of the best things about reading fairy tales today is that there are so many multicultural versions for children and adults to enjoy. Gone are the days when all the main characters looked virtually the same. Now children from all over the world can glimpse different cultures through these stories and see themselves reflected as well.

Reading fairy tales with a multicultural twist also allows parents and teachers to have richer conversations with children. You can talk about the similarities and differences between the stories as well as the different cultural references, main characters, settings, and plot. Below are 21 fairy tale retellings to explore with little readers in addition to the classics.

  • Little Red Gliding Hood

    by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Troy Cummings

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    There is an ice skating competition coming up and Little Red Gliding Hood knows she can win, but she doesn't have a partner. Oh, slippery slush! Author Tara Lazar makes reference to several popular fairy tales in this book and mixes them all into this hilarious story on ice! A fun book to read aloud with the little ones.
    (Ages 2 - 5)

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  • Rapunzel

    by Rachel Isadora

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    Rachel Isadora’s take on Rapunzel is bursting with vibrant collage artwork that will enchant readers of all ages. Rapunzel’s tower moves to a lush setting in Africa; her long, beaded dreadlocks greet her Prince Charming, who arrives on a zebra. And of course, as with all the best fairytales, there’s plenty of magic to go around.
    (Ages 4 - 6)

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  • La Princesa and the Pea

    by Susan Middleton Elya, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

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    A charming bilingual retelling of the classic fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea.” The lively art featured throughout is inspired by the culture of Peru.
    (Ages 4 - 8)

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  • The Rough-Face Girl

    by Rafe Martin, illustrated by David Shannon

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    This is a "Cinderella"-inspired tale set amongst the Algonquin Indian tribes of North America. Instead of a fairy godmother to help, the Rough-Face Girl relies upon herself. A powerful retelling with a great message for young readers: beauty lies within.
    (Ages 4 - 8)

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  • Brothers of the Knight

    by Debbie Allen, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

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    This contemporary retelling of the classic tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” takes place in Harlem, where an African American reverend tries to discover why the shoes of his 12 sons are worn out every morning.
    (Ages 4 - 8)

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  • The Orphan: A Cinderella Story from Greece

    by Anthony Manna and Christodoula Mitakidou, illustrated by Giselle Potter

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    Follow the story of a little orphan girl from Greece. Young readers will enjoy the luminous and stunning watercolors and beautiful rhymes sprinkled throughout. The story is familiar to many children, so they should have no problem catching on to the differences between this version and the traditional tale.
    (Ages 4 - 8)

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  • Lon Po Po

    by Ed Young

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    This Chinese retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” has become a classic. Winner of the Caldecott Medal, this version centers on three sisters and Lon Po Po, the Granny Wolf, who pretends to be their grandmother. A bit darker than the original version, the wolf’s cunning and girls’ smarts are on full display through Young’s stunning artwork and story.
    (Ages 4 - 8)

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  • The Talking Eggs

    by Robert D. San Souci, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

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    This beautifully illustrated and wonderfully written Creole folktale is full of expressive language that brings each scene to life. Little readers will venture to Louisiana in the American South and meet two sisters, cruel Rose and kind-hearted Blanche. Blanche's aunty gives her a chicken house full of talking eggs with treasures for good, obedient girls: silver and jewels, dresses, shoes, and even a splendid carriage.
    (Ages 4 - 8)

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  • Yeh-Shen

    by Ai-Ling Louie

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    Illustrated in gorgeous watercolors, this version of the "Cinderella" story takes place in China, where lonely Yeh-Shen — mistreated by her stepmother and stepsisters — finds solace and friendship with a magical pet fish, who plays the role of the fairy godmother.
    (Ages 4 - 8)

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  • Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas

    by Natasha Yim, illustrated by Grace Zong

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    When Goldy Luck wakes up on Chinese New Year, her mother sends her next door to bring turnip cakes and good tidings to their panda neighbors, the Chans. The story progresses as one might expect, ending with Goldy Luck asleep on Little Chan’s futon — but it takes a delightful turn when, embracing the spirit of the holiday, Goldy Luck takes responsibility and makes amends with her neighbors.
    (Ages 4 - 8)

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  • Adelita

    by Tomie dePaola

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    Rather than leave behind a glass slipper at the ball, Adelita misplaces her rebozo — a shawl — which Javier uses to find the woman who stole his heart. There are even more twists in this "Cinderella" story, as well as Spanish vocabulary and paintings that capture the folk art of Mexico.
    (Ages 4 - 8)

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  • Princess and the Peas

    by Rachel Himes

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    Set in the mid-1950’s in Charleston County, South Carolina, this book features a vibrant African American community and themes of love, family, and of course — food and cooking. John’s mother, Ma Sally, cooks the best black-eyed peas in town. When John tells his mother he wants to get married, three women vie for his hand in marriage. The caveat? The lucky woman chosen must be able to cook black-eyed peas as well as Ma Sally.
    (Ages 5 - 8)

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  • Little Roja Riding Hood

    by Susan Middleton Elya, illustrated by Susan Guevara

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    This is a cute, sassy, and modern Latinx-inspired retelling of the classic fairy tale in which a little girl (chica) saves her grandmother (abuelita) from a wolf. There are Spanish words peppered throughout along with a handy glossary of Spanish words included in the back. A fun rhyming book to read aloud with children!
    (Ages 5 - 8)

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  • The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra

    by Marc Tyler Nobleman, illustrated by Ana Aranda

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    If it wasn’t abundantly clear from the title, this one is full to the brim of playful language and hilarity, making it a quick reader favorite. Three brave (if misguided) goats are tired of waiting around for the dreaded Chupacabra to make a snack out of them, so they head out into the dark to scare off the Chupacabra with a candelabra. Chaos — and humor — ensues.
    (Ages 5 - 8)

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  • The Golden Sandal

    by Rebecca Hickox, illustrated by Will Hillenbrand

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    When her mother dies, Maha begs her father to marry their neighbor, with no inkling that the woman will treat Maha unfairly. Like Yeh-Shen, this Middle Eastern version of "Cinderella" features a magical fish, who helps Maha attend the grand henna — a wedding celebration — after she saves its life. A lovely entry point into a rich culture.
    (Ages 5 - 8)

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  • Pattan's Pumpkin

    by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Frané Lessac

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    Based on a traditional tale told by the Irula people in South India, Pattan’s Pumpkin follows a young boy as he grows a mysteriously enormous pumpkin. As a dangerous flood approaches, Pattan wonders if the pumpkin might save the plants and animals, and buoy them all to safety.
    (Ages 5 - 8)

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  • Hansel and Gretel

    by Rachel Isadora

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    Caldecott Honor winner Rachel Isadora writes and illustrates this colorful retelling of the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale using the lush African jungle as the setting.
    (Ages 6 - 8)

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  • Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship: Stories from India

    by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy

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    This one collects eight stories inspired by Indian folk tales, all centering around Prince Veera and his best friend Suku, who are put in charge of the royal court and must settle disputes among the king’s subjects. Clever and amusing, Veera and Suku’s conundrums also allow for discussions about kindness, fairness, and conflict resolution.
    (Ages 6 - 9)

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  • The Dollmaker of Krakow

    by R.M. Romero

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    When Karolina, a living doll, is swept away from the Land of the Dolls by strange wind spirits, she ends up in Kraków, Poland with the Dollmaker. After getting over the initial shock of a doll talking to him, the Dollmaker learns to find happiness with the help of Karolina's compassion and courage. But that happiness is short lived. Combining fairy tales, folklore, and World War II history, this imaginative novel will keep tweens on their toes.
    (Ages 8 - 12)

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  • Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

    by Julie C. Dao

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    This spin on "Snow White" reimagines the legend of The Evil Queen and sets it in East Asia. The stars say beautiful 18-year-old Xifeng is destined to be Empress of Feng Lu, but only if she taps into her dark side. This magical fairy tale retelling sees the young someday-Empress grapple with the promise she made to her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, and the price of deserting the young man who loves her in order to fulfill her destiny.
    (Young Adult)

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  • Egg and Spoon

    by Gregory Maguire

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    A case of mistaken identity ensues when the lives of Elena, a young girl living in the impoverished Russian countryside, and Ekaterina, a girl from a noble family on her way to see the Tsar in Saint Petersburg, collide. An adventure including a prince in disguise and Baba Yaga, witch of Russian folklore, make this story an imaginative fairy tale for teens.
    (Young Adult)

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