“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” –Albert Einstein
One of the greatest scientific minds ever was a firm believer in fairytales and developing the imagination of children. He also said, “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
So why do we seek to develop the mind and imagination through fairytales?
Fairytales fall under the category of folklore (just like our tall tales and legends in the previous challenge). Folklore has two distinct characteristics that define it: 1) It has no known author, and 2) it originated orally. The thing that most fascinates me about folklore in general is that there is literally NO story arc that has not been explored in folklore; everything else stems from it, making it the Mother of All Literature. Think on that: family dysfunction, abuse or exploitation of the weak, mistaken identity, wishing for more than one has, to name just a few common story conflicts. All originate in folklore.
Fairytales specifically tend to highlight the universal themes of good over evil, and the underdog prevailing over the powerful. Fairytales usually involve magic or magical creatures, often romance, sometimes royalty. There might be a damsel in distress rescued by a prince or knight (or at least a good guy), but there are also some where the girl is clever and does a lot for herself. We need to share all kinds, and remember that we are reading these with our kids so we can discuss them.
Fairytales make it easy for children to develop their ideas of right and wrong. The characters are flat—we don’t get to see Cinderella’s faults. She is all good. We don’t see Stepmother’s inner struggles to behave differently. She is all bad. Sometimes it’s nice to see things in black and white, particularly for children. There is no struggle in trying to decide what was right and wrong in the story; it’s clear-cut. Evil is evil; virtue is virtue. Good is rewarded, and bad is punished. It’s fair—the childhood ideal parents try to stamp out by reminding them, “Life’s not fair.” But in fairy tales, justice will prevail! How satisfying for a child!
This challenge should stretch well across all ages. For our youngest children (even babies and toddlers), you can find board books like the simply-worded and cheerfully illustrated Les Petits Fairytales series (pictured below).
Fairytales lend themselves to exploring different cultures. Every culture has its own version of the more widely known tales (like Cinderella), and there are also tales unique to each culture. Here are some of my favorite cultural variations of fairytales.
Let’s start with Cinderella. Tomie dePaola has Adelita (Mexican version). I love the pictures; it’s lengthy for young listeners. I also love Yeh-Shen (Chinese), illustrated by Ed Young, retold by Ai-Ling Louie. (Any other ’80’s children recall a Saturday morning special cartoon that came on occasionally based on the Yeh-Shen story? I loved it, so of course I love this book!) It is also a longer picture book. The Rough-Face Girl (Algonquin tribe) by Rafe Martin, illustrated by David Shannon is one of my favorite read-alouds for upper elementary.
By the way, when my 3-year old inevitably asks to read books that are too long for her attention span, I do read them with her, but I paraphrase anywhere I feel I need to, i.e., when the text is too long or intense, or I know she won’t understand. Sometimes, we simply “read the pictures” together. We had to do that to an extent on the versions of Rapunzel (below). The one by Sarah Gibb (right) was her favorite–pink, girly and frothy. Rachel Isadora’s Rapunzel, in keeping with Isadora’s tradition, transplants the tale to Africa. Sugar Cane: A Caribbean Rapunzel is for the older children (lots of text, fewer illustrations). Petrosinella was my favorite because in it, Diane Stanley retells a version older than the Grimm brothers’ Rapunzel, and Petrosinella has some girl power going on! She uses her wits and cleverness to get away from the ogress.
I know I can’t be alone in enjoying the (strange) story of Rumpelstiltskin. The Girl Who Spun Gold is a version set in Africa by master storyteller Virginia Hamilton, and illustrated with beautiful metallic paints by Leo and Diane Dillon. This version is so much fun–please look for it! Paul O. Zelinsky is another name to remember. He retells and illustrates this traditional version (below, right) that we love.
I can’t leave off mentioning a few books that are more boy-oriented. My seven-year old son is anti-princess tales, so I find others to share with him. We love Steven Kellogg’s Jack and the Beanstalk (fun, exciting story and illustrations). And he enjoyed Puss in Boots, by Philip Pullman, illustrated by Ian Beck (below, far right). It has a comic book style that appeals to kids. The other version is by John Cech.
As I said, there will be a lot more to this challenge to come! I came across some lesser known tales I CAN HARDLY WAIT to share! Go forth to your 398.2 section of your library, and Happy Valentine’s Day!