The Gingerbread Girl
by Lisa Campbell Ernst
Dutton Children’s books, 2006
Retellings of classic nursery stories are as plentiful (and sometimes as grating) as the sand on the seashore, but every now and then an author manages to turn out a clever, engaging version of a familiar tale.
My favorites tend to be the reboots, spinoffs, or parodies of the classics: Sczieska and Smith’s Fairly Stupid Tales, the Hales’ Rapunzel’s Revenge and Calamity Jack, Marshall and Sendak’s Swine Lake—and now Lisa Campbell Ernst’s The Gingerbread Girl.
This picture book isn’t just a rewrite with a girl subbed in for the rather dim-witted gingerbread boy. Instead, Ernst has crafted a very funny little sequel, where she imagines what might happen if the old couple of the original tale were to bake again.
This time, they decide to make a gingerbread girl—because, as the little old man presumes, “a sweet little girl wouldn’t run away!” What they end up with, however, is a sassy little cookie with an appetite for revenge. The moment the oven door creaks open, she’s off down the road to teach that gluttonous swimming fox a lesson.
Like her older brother, she evades a host of hungry pursuers and then hops on the fox’s back to cross the river. Unlike her brother, however, she’s only playing dumb. Once they’re too far into the river for the fox to escape, she captures him, tames him, and spends the rest of her happy days riding him around the countryside.
Aside from Ernst’s hyper-energetic illustrations, I love this book for the confidence and craftiness the Gingerbread Girl possesses. Right from the start, she settles on her purpose and doesn’t let anyone deter her. She knows she’s smart, knows she’s fabulous, and knows she can accomplish her goal if she just stays focused and brave.
Even better, she doesn’t let her predecessor’s mistakes define or deter her. And I think that’s where the inspiration is. She realizes that she’s her own person, with her own choices to make and her own narrative to write.
I want my daughter to grow up with that understanding: the knowledge that other people’s failings don’t have to limit her. Whatever choices her friends or even family members are making—have made in the past—she can stand strong, stick to her purpose, and accomplish her goals.
For the Gingerbread Girl, that means teaching the fox to treat others with kindness and respect. For a real-life little girl, it can mean mastering a skill like music or art, making the top soccer team, or leading a neighborhood service project. Or even growing up to change the world.