My first experience with a remixed classic was Ibi Zoboi’s Pride, which I still regularly recommend to people. That remix was set in the present day and published by Balzer + Bray. These books, all from Feiwel & Friends’ Remixed Classics series, take the classics, still in their original time periods, and retell them from the point of view of people of color. So far, all of them have been fabulous.
So Many Beginnings by Bethany C. Morrow. Feiwel & Friends, 2021. ISBN 9781250761217. Read from library copy.
It’s 1863 in the Roanoke Freedmen Colony in this Little Women retelling. All four of our beloved sisters and their Mammy are present, recognizable while being their own people. Meg is teaching at the colony’s under-resourced school, while sincerely looking for a life partner. Joanna tells stories to everyone while also doing construction work, though her sisters urge her to write her words down. Bethlehem is a brilliant seamstress, taking apart and remaking the gowns from the former plantation house nearby. And Amy is allowed the new-found privilege of being bored, dancing through her days.
I do not know how many times I’ve read Little Women, and this retelling stays close enough to the original for the beats and the departures to be easily recognizable, the clear difference between the impoverished middle class existence of the sisters in the original and the struggling out of true poverty, hampered by prejudice and misunderstanding even from those claiming to support them. This was both fascinating and a little distracting from the newer story. Still, as before, I felt a deep kinship with the sisters, and it was so interesting to be introduced to their journey through an episode of history that I ought to have known about and yet never did.
A Clash of Steel by C.B. Lee. Feiwel & Friends, 2021. ISBN 978-1250750372 .Read from library copy.
Xiang has grown up in the countryside of southern China with her tutor Master Feng and only occasional visits from her mother, a successful salt merchant. She loves the legends of Zheng Yi Sao, the woman who was the Head of the Dragon, the queen of the largest fleet of pirate ships ever to terrorize the seas. (The title is made up for the book, but Zheng Yi Sao was indeed real and the most successful pirate ever.) Xiang’s mother plans a safe and boring marriage for her, but on her first day visiting her mother’s large tea house in Canton, Xiang slips out to explore the city. There she meets an enticing sailor girl named Anh. And when Anh steals Xiang’s one valuable possession, but brings it back when she discovers that it holds a treasure map, they both decide to drop everything to search for the treasure. Anh’s family ship, the Huyˋên Vũ, has a small but closely-knit crew whose members speak Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Thai. Once on board, Xiang starts to feel more at home than she ever has and to question everything she thought she knew about who she is. Also, did you notice that beautiful cover?
I tried multiple times as a child, but never made it past the first chapter of Treasure Island, so I don’t really know how closely this plotline follows that of the original. I do know that this was a wonderfully bold adventure with a restrained, slow-burn romance and a focus on found family and self-discovery.
Travelers along the Way by Aminah Mae Safi. Feiwel & Friends, 2022. ISBN 9781250771278. Read from library copy.
Robin Hood has long been a favorite of mine – I read both the Howard Pyle and the Robin McKinley versions many times, and have gone on to love many other retellings as well, including Kekla Magoon’s Robyn Hoodlum series.
This version is set in 1192, immediately following the fall of Akko/Acre during the third Crusade. Rahma al Hud had followed her sister Zeena to war. Rahma is only moderately religious, but she loves her sister and certainly would like to see the foreigners destroy her country sent back home. But as the story opens, the situation in Akko has gotten so bad that Rahma and Zeena are sent away to keep them safe, as the Faranji don’t respect women soldiers.
They can’t quite agree on whether they’re headed to Jerusalem or home, but it will take a lot of cunning to make it through the lines of enemy-held territories. They keep picking up more people along the way, from the Sky Worshiper Teni to Jewish alchemist Viva and even the false queen of Jerusalem’s prized horse, and running into the boy Rahma can’t forget from her childhood. We also get short narratives from each of the three major political figures involved – Queen Isabella, Yusuf or Salah-a-Din, and Richard the Lion-Hearted. But all of these figures seem to care more about their own victory than about the people whose lives are affected by their struggles. Will Rahma al-Hud and her band be able to save the peace of the land? While I loved all of these books, this is one I’m seriously considering adding to my permanent library.
A fourth Remixed Classic, What Souls Are Made Of: A Wuthering Heights Remix by Tasha Suri, is due out in May, and there are more scheduled for 2023. I’m looking forward to them!