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Donna Jo Napoli

Donna Jo Napoli(1948- )
Donna Jo Napoli writes for children and young adults. Several of her novels are retellings of Greek Myths and Fairy Tales. Learn more about Donna Jo Napoli at her website.

The Magic Circle: Poignant and thought-provoking

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The Magic Circle by Donna Jo Napoli

Donna Jo Napoli's trademark technique of fleshing out a fairytale is in fine display in The Magic Circle, her retelling of Hansel and Gretel. Napoli's stories often reveal motivations behind some of the action that takes place in the traditional fairytales, reasoning out some of the fantastic elements and explaining the behaviour of the familiar characters; which usually results in the villain becoming more sympathetic and understandable. Such is certainly the case in The Magic Circle, in which she explores the background of Hansel and Gretel's wicked witch.

The hunchback woman is known as the Ugly One by all her neighbours, but has the gift of healing which she uses to aid pregnant women and sick people in her medieval Europe commun... Read More

Zel: Deceptively Simple — Deep and Evocative

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Zel by Donna Jo Napoli

For readers who simply glance over the words and do no reading between the lines, Zel will simply read as a fleshed-out fairytale, in which the characters, settings and storylines are given more background and details. For those who take the time to read more luxuriously and deeply, they will find layer upon layer of meaning, symbolism, motivations and psychological breakdown that is simply intoxicating to discover. Underlying all of this is the concept of deep and powerful love, and its conflicting abilities to both nourish and destroy.

Set in the mountains of Switzerland in the mid-1500s, Rapunzel ("Zel") lives an isolated and innocent existence with her mother in their small farm, finding joy in such simple pleasures as visits into town and her birthday celebrations. But when her mother leaves her at the smithy, Zel comes into contact w... Read More

Sirena: Powerful, beautiful, tragic

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Sirena by Donna Jo Napoli

Now famous for her ability to take old, familiar tales and present them through new perspectives, Donna Jo Napoli tackles the subject of Greek mythology and the captivating mermaids of the oceans.

The Sirens were long thought to be deadly women, either humanoid or bird-like, who lured sailors to their deaths on the rocks with their enticing songs. But Napoli presents the Grecian Sirens as mermaids — half-women, half-fish, a hybrid creature who are just as cursed as the men they destroy. Due to a spiteful nymph's curse, the mermaids are mortal until they can cause a man to fall in love with them and be their mate, thereby securing immortality for themselves (quite a change from the usual stories when falling in love means a heroine must give up her immortality). Thus, the heroine Sirena and her nine sisters spend eac... Read More

Breath: Good book, not enjoyable

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Breath by Donna Jo Napoli

Nearly almost all of Donna Jo Napoli's books are based around a simple formula: to take a well-known myth, legend or fairytale, and retell the story from the eyes of a certain character (often the villain, allowing them to defend their actions). It has been a technique that has worked brilliantly for several of her stories.

In this case, Breath draws upon the German folktale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, though it is not told by the Piper himself. Instead, our narrator is a twelve-year old boy named Saltz, a resistant of the town of Hameln (who is ultimately revealed to be the young boy who is left behind by the piper's music — though you probably guessed that from the start). Though we are not told this till the postscript, Saltz suffers from cystic fibrosis and is named after the sweat that often pours off his body; the "salt" as it... Read More

The Great God Pan: A little forgettable

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The Great God Pan by Donna Jo Napoli

Donna Jo Napoli is famous for her retellings of fairytales; from Rapunzel (Zel), Rumplestiltskin (Spinners) and Hansel and Gretel (The Magic Circle), but she's also done a couple of Greek myths as well: Sirena, and this, The Great God Pan. Taking inspiration from two mythological mysteries: the fate of Iphigenia (the king's daughter sacrificed in order to ensure safe passage to Troy) and the goat-legged god Pan (of whom Plutarch wrote: "the great god Pan is dead!"), Napoli attempts to fill in the gaps in the stories.

Here Pan is presented as an innocent and carefree young god, who adores his father Hermes but whose mother is a mystery. He is happy roaming the countryside and sporadically spending time with ... Read More

More books by Donna Jo Napoli

Donna Jo Napoli The Great God Pan, The Magic Circle, Zel, Sirena, Spinners, Beast, Breath, BoundSpinners — (1999) Young Adult. Publisher: Provides a fantastical tale as a bitter man discovers he is able to spin straw into gold through the magic of his crippled leg and the wheel on which he spins.


Donna Jo Napoli The Great God Pan, The Magic Circle, Zel, Sirena, Spinners, Beast, Breath, BoundBeast — (2000) Young Adult. Publisher: Meet the Beast — before there was Beauty. Orasmyn is the prince of Persia and heir to the throne. His religion fills his heart and his mind, and he strives for the knowledge and leadership his father demonstrates. But on the day of the Feast of Sacrifices, Orasmyn makes a foolish choice that results in a fairy’s wretched punishment: he is turned into a beast, a curse to be undone only by the love of a woman. Thus begins Orasmyn’s journey through the exotic Middle East and sensuous France as he struggles to learn the way of the beast, while also preserving the mind of the man. This is the story of his search, not only for a woman courageous enough to love him, but also for his own redemption.


Donna Jo Napoli The Great God Pan, The Magic Circle, Zel, Sirena, Spinners, Beast, Breath, BoundBound — (2004) Young Adult. Publisher: Young Xing Xing is bound. Bound to her father’s second wife and daughter after Xing Xing’s father has passed away. Bound to a life of servitude as a young girl in ancient China, where the life of a woman is valued less than that of livestock. Bound to be alone and unmarried, with no parents to arrange for a suitable husband. Dubbed “Lazy One” by her stepmother, Xing Xing spends her days taking care of her half sister, Wei Ping, who cannot walk because of her foot bindings, the painful but compulsory tradition for girls who are fit to be married. Even so, Xing Xing is content, for now, to practice her gift for poetry and calligraphy, to tend to the mysterious but beautiful carp in her garden, and to dream of a life unbound by the laws of family and society. But all of this is about to change as the time for the village’s annual festival draws near, and Stepmother, who has spent nearly all of the family’s money, grows desperate to find a husband for Wei Ping. Xing Xing soon realizes that this greed and desperation may threaten not only her memories of the past, but also her dreams for the future. In this searing story, Donna Jo Napoli, acclaimed author of Beast and Breath, delves into the roots of the Cinderella myth and unearths a tale as powerful as it is familiar.


Donna Jo Napoli The WagerThe Wager — (2010) Young adult. Publisher: D on Giovanni was once the wealthiest and handsomest young man in Messina. Then a tidal wave changed everything.When a well-dressed stranger offers him a magical purse, he knows he shouldn’t take it. Only the devil would offer a deal like this, and only a fool would accept. Don Giovanni is no fool, but he is desperate. And so he takes the bet: he will not bathe for three years, three months, and three days. Beauty is a small price to pay for worldly wealth, isn’t it? Unless he loses the wager — and with it his soul. Set against the stunning backdrop of ancient Sicily,Donna Jo Napoli’s new novel is a powerful tale about discovering what truly matters most.


fantasy and science fiction book reviewsLights on the Nile — (2011) Young adult. Publisher: Kepi is a young girl in ancient Egypt, content to stay home with her family, helping her father, who was wounded in the construction of a pyramid for the cruel pharaoh Khufu. But that was before she and her pet baboon, Babu, were kidnapped and held captive on a boat bound for the capital city, Ineb Hedj. And when Kepi and Babu are separated, she knows she has only one choice: to make her way to the capital on her own, rescue Babu, and find a way to appeal to the pharaoh. Khufu is rich and powerful, but Kepi has her own powers, deep inside her — ones she herself doesn’t even know about yet.


fantasy and science fiction book reviewsSkin — (2013) Publisher: My lips are white. Sixteen-year-old Sep stares into the bathroom mirror. It’s not some weird lipstick (she never wears lipstick). Her lips are just — white. In a panic, she digs up an old lipstick and smears it on her colorless lips. But soon, more and more white spots begin to bloom, spreading their chalky tendrils across her olive brown skin. Does she have a disease? Is she turning into some kind of freak? Sep is usually the one who knows all the answers. With a quicksilver mind and a supple body, she’s happiest when she’s delving into the mysteries of animal biology or giving herself over to sweet, hot moves in Jazz Dance Club. Unlike her best friend, Devin, she’s never been in a rush to get a boyfriend. But as the white blotches spread, her dating days — like the endangered species she studies — seem numbered. So when Joshua, a boy she’s always liked, makes a flirty advance, she wonders: why not grab pleasure while she can? Frank, funny, and full of passion, this is the empowering story of a strong gifted teen who, as her life spins out of control, desperately tries to prove to the world — and herself — that she is deeper than skin.


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