Daily Press (Sunday)

Classic books, refreshed and teaching strong character

- Caroline Luzzatto Caroline Luzzatto has taught preschool and fourth grade. Reach her at luzzatto. bookworms@gmail.com.

The new year is a great time to find new approaches, new perspectiv­es, new outlooks on life. It’s also a perfect time to take a fresh look at classic stories and find something new in them. These clever books all recharge old stories, whether they’re tales of long-haired princesses, wandering cookies or upwardly mobile spiders.

“A Spider Named Itsy” by Steve Light.

(Ages 3-5. Candlewick Press. $18.99.)

Everyone knows how the song goes: The diminutive but determined spider isn’t deterred by the rain (or his own failure) and insists on climbing up the spout again. But why?

Author-illustrato­r Steve Light uses his gorgeously detailed ink drawings and puckish sense of humor to dig into Itsy Bitsy’s life, following the top-hat-wearing spider from his damaged home on a watering can to the web location of his dreams, at the top of a ramshackle rainspout.

The tale in verse, packed with bug characters — from a guitar-strumming cricket to a brawny beetle who appears to be wearing Converse high-tops — shows a spout-climbing crew wash out in the rain: “What a mess! No time to rest!”

But then, of course, the new pals band together to finish their journey, and “this is how the story ends … New web home, newfound friends.”

“Ra Pu Zel and the Stinky Tofu” by Ying Chang Compestine, illustrate­d by Crystal Kung.

(Ages 5-8. Rocky Pond Books. $18.99.)

Locked up by a witch and waiting for a prince to rescue her? Not this Rapunzel — who, in this version set in China, is a strong-willed foodie named Ra Pu Zel. Princess Pu Zel has had enough of lectures about proper behavior and neat embroidery; she wants to cook (and eat) with abandon, and she locks herself in a tower in protest.

The scent of her cooking attracts princes from all over, pleading for her hand in marriage, but no one can lure her out of her haven. At least not until an adventurou­s young chef shows up with stinky tofu, and it turns out to be love at first sniff: “They lived happily, though somewhat stinkily, ever after.”

A funny, deliciousl­y illustrate­d feminist take on the Rapunzel story, this tale also includes a thoughtful author’s note about Chinese culture and the famous fermented delicacy, as well as a recipe for (not-so-stinky) tofu.

“The Gingerbrea­d Man: Class Pet on the Loose” and “The Gingerbrea­d Man: Buttons on the Loose” by Laura Murray, illustrate­d by Mike Lowery.

(Ages 5-7. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. $17.99.)

This graphic novel series for new readers — an extension of the cheerful “The Gingerbrea­d Man Is Loose” picture book series — takes the Gingerbrea­d Man story and turns it on its head, with a cookie fellow who lives in a classroom and has no interest in escape.

Here, the rhyming escapades include finding a little gray mouse who has gone rogue (and might be nibbling a certain gingerbrea­d character’s house) and dealing with some candy buttons that have popped off. The G-Man tours his school, solves the mysteries and adds to his long list of buddies: “I found some new buttons and found a new friend!”

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