Retelling Fairy Tales for Contemporary Times: Beauty Woke
Written by NoNieqa Ramos
Illustrated by Paolo Escobar
Published by Versify, 2022
Grades K and up
The remarkable power of words to hurt and to heal is echoed throughout Beauty Woke, the vibrant and uplifting picture book by author NoNieqa Ramos and illustrator Paola Escobar. Blending the genres of poetry and fairy tale, as well as incorporating both Spanish and English, Ramos retells the Sleeping Beauty tale for a modern, culturally diverse, and socially conscious world. While Beauty is still in her mother’s womb, la doctora warns Beauty’s parents of the dangers that lie ahead for their child. Instead of predicting that Beauty will fall into a deep sleep after pricking her finger on a spindle, she advises, “Keep Beauty close./The world ain’t woke./…They got spells./Words that devour./They’ll sentence her to sleep/and take her power.” Beauty’s family does everything they can to surround her with love, pride, and strength, but will it be enough to protect her from the harm that words can do? Paola Escobar’s bold and brilliant digitally rendered illustrations capture the warmth and energy of Beauty’s family and community. A versatile book for ELA, social studies, bilingual, and language classes, Beauty Woke acknowledges the capacity of words to divide and harm, but it honors the capacity of words to offer strength and hope over fear and hate.
Versify Found Editor Kwame Alexander’s video about Beauty Woke:
Teaching Ideas and Invitations
Note to our Readers: These ideas are not meant to be prescriptive. Choose one. Choose more. It’s up to you. Some ideas are bigger and will take a number of days to complete. Some are shorter. You can also choose to complete one part of a teaching idea, but not the whole thing. It’s up to you!
Grades K and up
Power of Words. Enlist the help of your school or local librarian to gather a text set of picture books that support Beauty Woke in exploring the power of words and what is possible when words are used for healing and hope. Some possible titles include Dictionary for a Better World, by Irene Latham and Charles Waters; Strong Voices: Fifteen American Speeches Worth Knowing, introduced by Tonya Bolden; Martin’s Big Words, by Doreen Rappaport; and The Hill We Climb, by Amanda Gorman. Help students discuss ways in which words can be used as weapons, as antidotes, as olive branches, and as inspiration. Discuss also how the dictionary definition of a word may state one meaning, but the social use of that word might give it a very different connotation. In what ways are words given power in these books? What examples do your students have about the power of words? Create a class dictionary of the words that have had an significant impact on them, and have students expand upon those words in illustration, poetry, and anecdote for each word entry.
Rewriting Fairy Tales for Today’s World. Many of your students are already familiar with fairy tales that have been reimagined and retold for modern audiences and issues because of their prevalence in films, television shows, and other popular media. Using the SurLaLune Fairy Tale website (see Further Explorations section below) as your starting point, have students locate three picture book versions of a favorite folk or fairy tale that has been rewritten and adapted for contemporary times. Have them compare and contrast the different representations of the story, drawing upon details in the text and the illustrations and explaining how 21st century issues and settings have influenced the retelling. Next, have them write their own original retelling in short story format, incorporating issues, settings, and elements of today’s world. Make sure they pay attention to the craft of fiction, including dialogue. You can use Beauty Woke or one of the versions of Sleeping Beauty listed below (see Further Explorations) as a mentor text, or you may also suggest they read an additional text from one of the many picture book versions of folk and fairy tales listed on the SurLaLune site, as well as any popular movie versions, such as Disney’s 1959 animated film Sleeping Beauty, 2014 live-action film Malificent, and 2019 live-action sequel, Malificent: Mistress of Evil. Other retold fairy tales we’ve blogged about include La Princesa and the Pea, by Susan Middleton Elya, and Little Red Writing, by Joan Holub.
Rhythm and Rhyme. NoNieqa Ramos creates a unique sense of rhythm and rhyme to underscore the nontraditional poetic telling of the Sleeping Beauty tale. Use the rhythm and rhyme in this book for a structural study of poetic meter and a word study of rimes and rhymes. When teaching students about meter, point out how Ramos changes the meter at different times to emphasize the content of the line (e.g. “Beauty said, ‘Sí, lo haré. Yes, I WILL.’/ She felt as strong as the bull./ Like the hummingbird:/ BEAUTY-FUL.”) When teaching students about a particular rhyme sound, have them also find examples that approximate the word’s ending sound (rime). Have them do this individually or in small groups, focusing on one page at a time. You might want to photocopy certain pages from the book and arm students with highlighters, or rewrite some lines on large chart paper and have students circle the rimes during whole-class interactive reading sessions.
Translanguaging in Children’s Literature. Translanguaging is the skill of using different languages flexibly and skillfully when communicating a thought. The narration, dialogue, and illustrations in Beauty Woke shift between English and Spanish, often within the same sentence, to communicate, showing their dexterity with multiple languages. Moreover, NoNieqa Ramos does not often translate the Spanish in Beauty Woke. Have students identify the examples of translanguaging within the text and illustrations and determine why they are included. What does the use of translanguaging, rather than sticking solely to English, add to or emphasize in the story? What does the author’s decision to not translate the Spanish lines suggest about the future of language? What does it suggest about young people’s use of translanguaging today? Enlist the help of your Spanish-speaking students, staff, and community members to read aloud, translate, and discuss those parts of Beauty Woke with the monolingual students in your class. Have students then work collaboratively with those community members to create back matter, bookmarks, charts, and webpage glossaries that act as translation tools.
Taíno Indian Puerto Ricans. Beauty’s bisabuela (great-grandmother) says that Beauty’s “blood runs onyx, gold” to describe her Taíno Indian roots. If you teach in a school with a large population of Puerto Rican students, some of them may also have Taíno ancestry. Use Beauty Woke as a springboard for inviting students to share and learn about Taíno Indians in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. Ask students to consider their own identities in relation to Indigenous Peoples within the cultural communities they embrace. How does Beauty Woke serve as a window and mirror of your students’ own intersectional identities? What else can you as a teacher do to help Beauty Woke be a sliding glass door to step through to learn about this population?
National Puerto Rican Day Parade. The pride that Beauty’s family has of their cultural roots is expressed through various scenes at the National Puerto Rican Day Parade. Invite students and community members who have participated in or are familiar with the parade to share their knowledge and experiences of it. As a class, brainstorm other questions about the parade, and have students engage in inquiry research to answer those questions. If you live in a town that celebrates the parade, encourage students to attend and share their experiences after the parade in class.
Peritext Information. The peritext of a book refers to the images and textual elements that surround, or are secondary to, the main body of text, such as the title page, end pages, dedication page, copyright page, and author’s and illustrator’s notes. Study the peritext of Beauty Woke, which contains information that illuminates the content of the book. Study the peritext of other books they have recently read, as well. What do they all have in common? What differs? What information about the book, the illustrations, and the author/illustrator does the peritext provide that isn’t apparent in the main text? What value does this information have to different readers of the book? Have students create peritext for a piece they have already written, considering the answers to the questions above.
Paola Escobar Illustrator Study. Collaborate with your school or local librarian to gather a collection of books illustrated by Paola Escobar. Survey her illustrations, and identify her artistic style, artistic idiosyncrasies, and favorite artistic media to use. Gather information about her from her media accounts listed below, your local librarian, the Internet, and as other biographical sources. Encourage your students to try imitating Escobar’s style to illustrate some of their own writing.
Grades 5 and up
Defining “Woke”. Originating from African American Vernacular English, the word “woke” has become a fixture in popular and news media these days. Some use it as a compliment, while others use it as an insult. Some see it as a performative term, while others see it as a perjorative. But what does it really mean? And why has it become a divisive term? Invite students to inquire about the meaning and use of the term “woke” in various texts and contexts. How did it originate? What do they notice about how it’s used and who uses it in those ways? What do they believe about the connotations and value of being described as “woke”? Read the articles linked below in Further Explorations as springboards for this inquiry.
National Puerto Rican Day Parade
Sur La Lune Fairy Tale Database
Articles about “Woke”-ness
Gorman, A. (2021). The hill we climb. Viking.
Latham, I. & Waters C. (2020). Dictionary for a better world: Poems, quotes, and anecdotes from A to Z. Ill. by M. Amini. Carolrhoda Books.
Rappaport, D. (2007). Martin’s big words. Ill. by B. Collier. Hyperion.
Modernized retellings of Sleeping Beauty
Underwood, D. (2019). Reading Beauty. Ill. by M. Hunt. Chronicle Books.
Vernon, U. (2017). Hamster princess. Puffin Books.
About Grace Enriquez
Grace is an associate professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former English Language Arts teacher, reading specialist, and literacy consultant, she teaches and writes about children’s literature, critical literacies, and literacies and embodiment. Grace is co-author of The Reading Turn-Around and co-editor of Literacies, Learning, and the Body.
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