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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Snow in Summer by Jane Yolen

What was your first experience with Snow White?  Was it the Disney film, the Disney Golden Book version, or the German version by the brothers Grimm?

What image is most clear to you from the story?  The evil queen, the mirror, the happy home of the dwarves, the hag and the apple, the glass coffin?  Something else?

All of the above images come to mind for me when I think of Snow White, but perhaps my favorite is an image of the queen, sitting at the window sewing and thinking about the baby she carries. She pricks her finger and three small drops of blood appear in the snow, and she says to herself that she wishes that her daughter would have skin as white as snow, red lips, and ebony hair.  She is already in love with her daughter.  

Brothers Grimm. Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs.
 Bess Livings, illustrator.
Chicago: Rand McNally & Company, 1938.

Of course, we all know what comes after--the good queen 

dies and the evil queen becomes the stepmother.  

Snow in Summer is an interesting retelling of the Snow White tale, set in the mountains of West Virginia e in the 1940's.  Snow in Summer (called Summer by her parents) has a wonderful childhood until her mother dies when she is seven; and, you know, things begin to go down hill from there.

The story is mostly told through Summer's point of view, but there are also sections from Cousin Nancy's and Stepmama's points of view.  Through these three frames of reference, Yolen is able to give additional insight into the situation.

For the most part, the story follows the original (adjusted for time and place) with the additional character of Cousin Nancy and a little twist on the seven dwarves.  The story has a dark edge which echoes the darkness of classic fairy tales.  All is not Disney-resolved.

What I liked:  The Appalachian setting worked for me, as did the use of local folklore which is woven into the plot.  The character development stayed mostly with Summer, but we get a good feel for Cousin Nancy and for Stepmama, who of course, is a scary woman.  

What bothered me:  Summer loved fairy tales, but apparently she never read Snow White.  Not only does she not pick up the general fairy tale/stepmother trope, the magic mirror doesn't ring any bells, either.  

Snow in Summer is, however, an intriguing retelling of the original story and gives the story a fresh perspective.

First book finished for Carl's Once Upon a Time Challenge.

Fairy Tale.  2011.  Print version:  272 pages.


  1. The version I remember most is the Disney version, I think. Now I tend to associate Snow White as the character in the TV show Once Upon a Time. I love the back story the writers there created for her.

    Anyway, Snow in Summer sounds like a good book. It's always interesting to see how different authors will weave together familiar tales and make them their own. I can see how the setting for this retelling would really work for the story.

  2. I am not sure what came first for me, but the movie is probably the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Snow White... It is sort of inevitable that you would remember a movie!

    I have read some Jane Yolen here and there over the years, but I have never even heard of this one before. I might have to get a copy!

  3. Wendy - I think the Disney version is probably what most people think of when they think of almost any fairy tale!

    Oh, I need to catch up on the TV show! I waited for a new season and then forgot about it.

    Kelly - Yes, I think film versions are often our first exposures to fairy tales. Jane Yolen's books and fairy tale poems are wonderful!

  4. Yolen's work isn't that readily available in the UK but I do remember reading a series about dragons some years ago. I like retellings of fairy stories, so I may see if I can persuade our library to look out for copy.

  5. I love her poems about fairy tales almost better than her books. I hope you can get something through your library!

    Once Upon a Time, She Said.

  6. Hahaha, I remember thinking something similar about the Lizzie Bennet character from the Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Like, in this universe, are we meant to believe that Pride and Prejudice does not exist? ARE WE?

    I really want to read this. I'm fond of Jane Yolen but somehow never even knew this book existed. My most recent Snow White adaptation was Helen Oyeyemi's Boy, Snow, Bird -- very very good, very strange, not very Snow-White-y.

  7. Sometimes characters are really dense! :O

    I didn't realize Boy, Snow, Bird was a retelling of Snow White. I loved Oyeyemi's The Icarus Girl, but abandoned Mr. Fox because I just couldn't care what happened to the characters.

  8. Certainly I think of the Disney movie first...although when I first saw the title of your post, I think I must have been thinking of Snow in I have another one to read!

  9. :) Well, a lot of people have had enough snow this winter! Is Snow in Winter the title of a fairy tale?