Once upon a time, fairy tales were full of dragons and ogres and sprites.
There were magic mice and talking frogs. There were wondrous spells. And there were kings and queens, princes, princesses, lords and ladies, all of them white. But in “Crowned” by Kahran and Regis Bethencourt, it’s time for a new kind of magic.
Ask any kid about their favorite storybook character, and they’ll have a quick answer. They want to be like this princesss or that king. They want to dress the part, too.
The thing is that “the images that surround us on a daily basis” are what we ultimately come to consider as normal – and if those “normal” characters don’t look like the child who loves them, the child is “often left with unrealistic standards of beauty” and power.
To change the atmosphere and set things right, authors Bethencourt “wanted to reimagine some of our favorite childhood stories with our idea of what could be.”
Here, The Little Mermaid is Aliya, and selflessness in the face of a mean girl saves the day. Snow White becomes Ebony Black, and Goldilocks learns to appreciate what she has instead of searching for perfection. Rapunzel learns that her hair is not her strength. Asha meets a young prince at a dance, but without pumpkins or white horses. And a child named Red meets a big bad wolf, and it’s all good.
In the middle section of this volume are classic folktales: the story of Anansi the spider is told, with patience as a lesson. There’s a tale of a king with a magical ring in this book, a story about how the zebra got his stripes and the baboon got a red butt, a tale of a princess who wanted a life “of adventure and fun,” and stories of a “Lion’s Gifts.”
Even if authors Kahran and Regis Bethencourt stopped here, adult readers could sit back and relax, satisfied that they’re holding one of the most majestic, most creative storybooks money can buy – but the last section of “Crowned” changes everything once again. That last segment is filled with modern classics, complete with skateboards, candy, cowboys, lessons on personal beauty, and an invitation to believe in “fairy folk.” That addition gives this book a nice twist for today’s kid, who’ll certainly want to spend a lot of time immersed in these pages.
The tales are only part of this book, however. Richly illustrated with colorful costumes and backdrops, the rest is a feast for the imagination.
Readers of all ages will be awed and amazed by the dozens of photos accompanying the stories, each featuring Black and Brown children dressed in wondrous finery, in settings that follow the story and enhance the sense of magic.
It’s the photos that will pull a young reader in. It’s the stories that will keep them returning, whether they do it themselves or with you, together. “Crowned” is a book you’ll proudly display on a shelf or coffee table, and it’ll make your child happily ever after.
By Kahran and Regis Bethencourt, c.2023, St. Martin’s Press, 260 pages