Bend me, shape me: The best shapeshifters in books

Published on: 28 March 2018 Author: Ali Sparkes

Finding The Fox author Ali Sparkes writes about shapeshifters in her books, so we asked her to choose some of her other favourite transformers.

Ali Sparkes and her Shapeshifter books

Imagine you could just change shape. Right now. Become something completely different in a matter of moments.

This was the daydream knocking around my head for some time before I wrote The Shapeshifter: Finding The Fox – my debut novel with Oxford Children's Books. Dax Jones is my hero - he's featured in eleven books now! - and he's a boy who one day shapeshifts into a fox... much to his surprise.

But shapeshifting stories are nothing new. From Hans Christian Andersen to Andrew Norriss, authors have been playing with transmogrification for centuries. Here are my top five:

1. The Wild Swans by Hans Christian Andersen

The Wild Swans

Eliza is the little princess whose eleven older brothers are turned into swans by an evil stepmother (sorry, nice stepmums!) Banished from the palace to be brought up by peasants, Eliza discovers the only way to lift the curse on her brothers is to weave each of them a shirt of nettles and then throw the itchy apparel across their backs in one hit when the brothers make their annual visit back to their homeland.

It's going to be months – even years – of painful clothing manufacture. Oh, and she's not allowed to speak a single word until it's done, on pain of all her brothers' deaths. Then a flippin' king rides up and insists on marrying her, which really gets in the way. It's a CRACKING story! Why haven't Dreamworks done this one?

2. Jennie by Paul Gallico


When Peter Brown gets knocked down by a car, he wakes up to discover he's a cat. Friendly stray Jennie befriends and protects him, teaching him how to be a cat. I read this when I was in my early teens and can't remember anything else affecting me so much at that age. I still well up remembering it now; it's a wonderful story which any cat lover will adore. Jennie told Peter, 'When in doubt – wash'... advice I still follow today.

3. Woof! The Tale Wags On by Andrew Norriss (and Allan Ahlberg)

Some of us may remember the TV series of Woof! back in the 80s and 90s. Originally written by Allan Ahlberg, series screenwriter Andrew Norris later took over the Woof! brand and delivered three fun adventures with his trademark wit, warmth and humour. Eric regularly turns into a dog and awkwardly sheds his clothes every time it happens, leaving his best friend Roy to chase around after him with a bundle of school uniform to save his blushes.

4. Dracula by Bram Stoker


Of course, Count Dracula is better known for growing fangs and having that hard-to-achieve slicked-back hairdo, but he also morphs into a bat. I happen to be a fan of bats and if I had to shapeshift into anything during the night hours, this would be my mammal of choice. Perhaps not a vampire bat though - I'm not sure I'd get on with the bloodsucking. On the other hand, I don't fancy crunching up living moths much, either. Can I be a fruit bat?

5. The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk

Hero and anti-hero, I loved the conflicted character of Dr David Banner (as he was named back in the 1970s-80s TV series). I used to flick through the Marvel graphic novels (nicked from my brother, I think) and empathise entirely with Dr Banner. I often felt like there was a pulsating green Hulk inside me, too, just waiting to burst out and pound my enemies to mush.

Interestingly, although Hulk's clothes also used to burst off, like Eric's in Woof!, he never lost his pants. I've recently reached the conclusion that Dr Banner always buys Lycra easy-fit slacks with an elasticated waistband. And that is the real tragedy of his shapeshifting curse...

The latest book in Ali's Shapeshifter series is Feather and Fang, while her newest release is Night Speakers - both are published by Oxford University Press.

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