Snow in Summer : Fairest of Them All by Jane Yolen. November, 2011. 9780399256639. Gr. 5-8.
Snow in Summer’s life came to a crashing halt when she was seven and her mother died. Her father no longer sings or tends to his beautiful garden and instead goes to his wife’s grave every day. Summer is left in the care of Cousin Nancy who becomes a second mother to her. Then, one day her father returns from her mother’s grave with a new woman and shortly thereafter, he remarries. A new woman who brings poisons and a magical mirror with her. A woman who Cousin Nancy claims is a witch. Stepmama has plans for Summer and her father, including stealing their land and years of their lives.
But Summer thwarts Stepmama’s plans, and with the help of Cousin Nancy and old folk magic, Summer keeps Stepmama’s evil plans at bay. When Stepmama cannot convince Summer to join her evil ways, she enlists the help of a hunter to take care of the problem once and for all.
This is a great novel to teach fairytales and fairytale variations. Yolen re-images Snow White into a post-depression Appalachian setting with fantastic results. She incorporates local dialect to make the characters sound more authentic and changes details of the classic story to keep readers guessing. Readers likewise can take their favorite fairytales and imagine new settings and plot twists for them. They can place Cinderella in the present day or The Twelve Dancing Princesses in WWII and see how that affects the fairytale.
This novel can also be used to look at point of view. Although the story is told mostly from Summer’s perspective, several chapters are narrated by Cousin Nancy and Stepmama. These chapters provide back story and an alternate perspective to the overall story. Readers and students could combine this with the fairytale element and try narrating a well known fairytale from a different character’s perspective. How did Cinderella’s stepmother see the story? Or did things really end happily ever after from wolf’s perspective in Little Red Riding Hood? I think they will have fun re-imaging their favorite fairytales from a different character’s prospective.