As most of my friends know, I'm a big fan of books of fantasy. I especially love the retelling of fairy tales in a different way. Of course, there are some excellent retellings and there are not-so-excellent retellings.
A while ago, I was at my favorite used book store and found a wonderful book that appealed to my love of fantasy as well as my own craftiness. It was the book, Spinners, by Donna Jo Napoli and Richard Tchen.
Basically, this YA book is a retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin story (collected by the Brothers Grimm), where a miller's daughter is told to spin straw into gold or die by the King, and a strange man helps her. The authors DO tell that story, but they also weave an interesting back story to Rumplestilskin as well as the Miller's Daughter. It's rather artfully done. The back story they create is interesting, and there is some character development that leads you to see how the characters come about and how it leads them into their fairytale.
In addition, the authors did an excellent job at researching spinning, spinning different fibers (wool, cotton, flax, etc), and I couldn't find fault in how they described a a lot of the actual spinning that takes place. My only gripe (now that I think about it) was they gloss over how much time it actually "takes" to prepare fibers for spinning (like cotton or flax), but considering they are trying to move the story along, it's not a sticking point for me.
It's actually quite refreshing to see how much spinning and detail that they actually incorporate into the storyline instead of glossing over why this fairytale occurs (i.e. spinning straw into gold). Without giving away spoilers, they authors describe how the Miller's Daughter (who is an excellent spinner) creates different types of yarn (incorporating white & black stripes into her yarn skeins) or adding flowers, feathers, or other things into her skeins of yarn (basically art yarn).
However, as much as I really liked what they did with the backstory and the aspects of spinning, I'm rather disappointed with the ending of the book. They pretty much stuck with the ending of the fairytale (that we're all familiar with) instead of taking this book into a different direction that would still stay true to the backstory that they created AND the spirit of the fairy tale itself.
I'm not saying that the book needed to have a "Happy Ending". After all, real life doesn't always have a happy ending, but I think they cheated the reader and abruptly ended the story with the fairytale ending. They could have created an ending something more appropriate given the backstory they created for their characters and the relationship betwixt them.
Personally, I think they did more research on the aspects of spinning than thinking about a much more cohesive and appropriate ending for this book.
As a retelling of a fairy tale, this book is not the best, nor is it the worst I've read. It's mediocre at best, although if you are a spinner, you might delight in those aspects of the storyline -- I know I did.
If you're going to give this to a young reader (especially one learning how to spin), you might want to give it to a 14+ year old, as there is a "love" scene in the first few pages of the book. It's nothing graphic, but probably a bit more detailed than a simple kiss and hug.
Unfortunately, this book is currently out-of-print, but you might be able to find a copy of it at your local used book store.