Reviews /

Once Upon A Fairytale

Authored by Natalia O’Hara
Illustrated by Lauren O’Hara
Published by Macmillan Children's Books

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The choose your own adventure style of text is well-established, and in Once Upon A Fairytale Natalia O’Hara and Lauren O’Hara bring the gamebook genre to the world of the fairy tale. The book follows a simple narrative with minimal text in which the reader chooses a hero who is needed to solve the problems created by an (unnamed) villain who has cursed the land and ‘turned all the babies into pigs, the mums and dads into rocks, the queen and court to birds and bugs [and] dinners into socks.’ On the way to confront the villain, the hero chooses (through the reader) both a magical item and magical companion, which return later in the story to help them defeat the villain and return home safely.

At the same time as they are exploring the possibilities for different fairy tale adventures with every reading, Once Upon A Fairytale invites children to see connections across the narrative, with choices made early on influencing the tale as it unfolds. Being a book of choices, this book also would provide a rich stimulus for discussions between children or child and adult.

Lauren O’Hara’s illustrations use both single page and double-page spreads, with the collections of narrative elements from which the reader is to choose individually illustrated and surrounded by white. Because of the frequent (but necessary) fragmentation of pages with these elements, when the double page spreads appear they seem particularly expansive and sumptuous (despite the naive illustrative style). One of the strengths of this book is the device employed to ensure that the choice of hero is inclusive. The book introduces a list of possible protagonists from which the reader chooses (a list which includes people of colour). Once the reader has chosen their hero from a cat, woodcutter’s son, knight, princess, witch, fox, farm girl or gingerbread man, they are told that their hero takes ‘a cloak as red as a berry and went out into the world’ and this voluminous red cloak is then always illustrated from behind, hiding details of gender and ethnicity, and allowing every child to identify with the protagonist.