Fairy Tales and the Young Child

Besides the social emotional development that happens to a child when reading fairy tales, it’s also very fun to find all the different versions of the popular tales. In my own class, we started reading The Three Little Pigs. This spiraled into a full project where we collected and read as many versions of The Three Little Pigs we could find. We had parents who spoke Chinese and French bring in their home versions and read them aloud to the children. The children acted out their own versions of the story with flannels and toy versions of the pigs and the wolf. We eventually ended the project by building all three houses and acting out the story in our daily play. The complete project took us almost 2 months! This just shows the joy, the learning and the importance fairy tales play in a child’s life. 

As with play-based curriculum, some parents have a bias when it comes to fairy tales and their validity as proper reading material for their young child. Some may think - fairy tales are too fantastical and do not provide those intellectual qualities other storybooks do. Some may find fairy tales, especially the older ones like Grimm’s collections, well, a little too grim. After much research and personal practice reading fairy tales aloud to children, I can tell you, fairy tales are incredibly important to include in your children's lives. Bruno Bettleheim, author of The Uses of Enchantment, states matter of factly, “In all these and many other aspects of the entire children’s literature - with rare exceptions- nothing can be as enriching and satisfying to a child and adult alike as the folk fairy tale.”  Fairy tales provide so much for young children at a level in which they can understand and make sense of the world.

Fairy tales play on the basic human predicaments, good vs. evil, safety, fear, being capable, strong versus weak, mortality etc. They sound like very grown up concepts to include in a children’s story, but the way in which fairy tales are written make these concepts accessible in a child’s mind and helpful in a child’s own process of growing up. Jim Trelease explains the importance in his book The Read-Aloud Handbook, “By recognizing a child’s daily fears, appealing to his courage and confidence and by offering hope, the fairy tale presents the child with a means by which he can understand the world and himself.”

Here is a list for teachers and parents alike to get started reading and enjoying fairy tales:

Books for Adults:

  • The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease
  • The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim
  • Dickens and the Fairy Tale, 1972
  • A Dictionary of British Folk Tales by Katherine M. Briggs
  • The Fairy Books by Andrew Lang (1889)

Classic Fairy Tales: There are SO many to choose from and its always fun to collect as many versions of one story as you can to see differences and get the children interested.  Here are some of my favorites:

The Three Little Pigs 
Goldilocks and the Three Bears
Three Billy Goats Gruff
Jack and the Beanstalk
The Princess and the Pea
The Ugly Duckling
The Gingerbread Man (or boy or baby)
Beauty and the Beast 
Chicken Little
Hansel and Gretal 
Puss in Boots
Red Riding Hood
Sleeping Beauty 
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Snow White and Rose Red 
The Emperor's New Clothes 
The Frog Prince
The Little Mermaid 
The Musicians of Bremen
The Pied Piper of Hamelin
The Shoemaker and the Elves
The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse

Complilations and parodies of popular fairy tales 
* Take in mind that although fairy tales are important to a child, even a child as young as two, some tales (like all books) may need to be held back until your children are ready for the mature language, subject matter and complex plots. 

Household Stories of the Brothers Grimm transalted by Lucy Crane
Cindy Ellen: A Wild Western Cinderella by SUsan Lowell
Dusty Locks and the Three Bears by Susan Lowell
Goldie and The Three Bears by Diane Stanley
Jim and the Beanstalk by Raymond Briggs
The Jolly Postman by Janet and ALlan Ahlberg
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
The Principals New CLothes by Stephanie Calmenson
Sleeping Ugly by Jane Yolen 
Somebody and The Three Blairs by Mayilyn Tolhurst
The Three Littel Rigs by David Gordon
The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Eugene Trivizas
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by John Scieszka
The Ugly Truckling by David Gordon
The Wolf Who Cried Boy by ROb Hartman
The Wolf’s Story by Toby Forward
Leaping Beauty by Gregory Maguire 

There are also many mutli-cultural versions for your classroom or home libraries. Here are a few of my favorites:

Lon Po Po by Ed Young ( a chinese version of Little Red)
The Luminous Pearl by Betty L. Torre (Chinese folktale)
The Empty Pot by Demi (chinese)
The Funny Little Woman by Arlene Mosel (Japanese)
The Seven Chinese Brothers by Margaret Mahy
Two of Everything by Lily Toy Hong (chinese) 
Yeh Shen by Ai-Ling Louie (chinese Cinderella)
The Mitten by Jan Brett 
Adelita by Tomie DePaola (Mexican cinderella)
Cendrillon by Robert San Souci (caribean cinderella)
Multicultural Fables and Fairy Tales by Tara McCarthy