Fairy Tales, Big Bird, and Modern Parenting

March 16, 2010

One of the things I loved most during our recent trip were all of the painted houses. They were each so colorful and unique with their detailed murals of religious images, period pieces, and decorative touches (fancy trim around windows, etc). My favorites were the fairy tale houses in Oberammergau. Cinderella, Puss in Boot, The Bremen Town Musicians, Little Red Riding Hood, and then there was the one that brought all of my most vivid childhood nightmares crashing into in my current life as a parent: Hansel and Gretel's house. It's been over thirty years since I have heard the tale and yet I still cringe when I think about it. Somehow that story wedged it's way very deeply into my psyche. So much so that I have never told the story to my kids. And suddenly in the middle of a small Bavarian town I was faced with explaining it to them. It was all there in the lovely, intricate paintings covering a very large house/school. And it didn't faze them one bit. They didn't have nightmares that night. They didn't have any questions about the story. They didn't wimper when looking at the boy in the cage or the children standing in front of the oven. I had spent all this time wanting to protect them from that scary tale and turns out, surprise, surprise it was all my issue.

I remember studying Bruno Bettelheim's theories about fairy tales and childhood development as an English major in an undergrad Children's Lit class and later on in one of my graduate level social work classes. I am not so sure I agree with his analysis and dark thoughts on the topic, but I think there is value in reading the fairy tales (sans Disney's interpretation) much like there is value in reading the Greek myths that are also full of their own darkness and gore. And yet, I grapple with how and when to do it. And with a quick google search of the subject it turns out once again I am not alone in this. Look at how many modern parents are no longer reading the fairy tales with their kids. And while reading that I followed the link to this
. It turns out we aren't just choosing to forgo Grimm, but also being warned that the Sesame Street of our childhoods is no longer safe or suitable for our children. What?!!!

Since Camille is into the whole princess/mermaid thing right now I have been working hard to find fairy tale books that are not the Disney versions, that aren't too slapstick or sickly sweet, that aren't poorly written and/or hideously illustrated versions. There is quite a bit of junk to sort through in the fairy tale/princess section or am I just too picky? We are just starting this process, but here are a few of the ones that work for us right now:

Rapunzel by Paul Zelinsky
Cinderella by Barbara McClintock
Rumpelstiltskin by Paul Zelinsky
Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Jim Aylesworth

Fairy Tale Favorites by Jim Weiss (audio cd)
Best Loved Stories in Song and Dance by Jim Weiss (audio cd)

And if you really want to dive into the world of fairy tales I would recommend visiting Sur La Lune ...hoping to do some more reading on that site later today especially the discussion on children and fairy tales.

So what about you? Have any favorite fairy tales (or modern versions) to share? Would you let your kids watch the first episodes of Sesame Street? Did Hansel and Gretel scare you or did Snuffleupagus give you nightmares?
Emily said...

i've got some links for you! :)



i think some of the links in the post are the same as what you posted, but the comments in the posts are still interesting!

here are some horn book fairy tale recommendations (i've not read any of them): http://www.hbook.com/resources/books/monthly/dec08.asp

i LOVE barefoot books and they have some really cool looking fairy tales, though the only one we've read is Tales From Old Ireland (highly recommended). http://www.barefootbooks.com/

We have Michael Hague's Favorite Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales, but i haven't read it since i was in high school, so i can't really comment on it. We also have Beauty and the Beast retold by Marianna Mayer and illustrated by Mercer Mayer, which is quite nice, but out of print. And then the complete Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales and The Complete Brother's Grimm Fairy Tales, edited by Lily Owens. Not sure that's what you're looking for though? It's also been ages and ages since i've read them, so don't feel that i can really recommend them one way or the other.

and let's see...we have the first season of sesame street and the kids have watched it and didn't appear to be traumatized! though they honestly were not so interested in it, and we don't watch it often.

anyway, i've read quite a few books and stories to the kids that i imagine are not so PC now (um, wizard of oz and peter pan!!!). also the greek myths, and some norse myths. they don't seem bothered. really, i should say, my oldest doesn't seem bothered. i'm not sure that my middle one is REALLY paying attention when i read her longer stories without loads of pictures! i find myself cringing at times, but i forge ahead, thinking of disneyfied, watered down stories (and scornful roger sutton!). we actually haven't done too much in the way of fairy tales yet, just because...well, probably because of such a limited access to books at the moment. and their ages too, i guess. it's only been the past year or so that i've felt they were ready for longer books.

on a slightly different note, are you familiar with the blog MotherReader? I think you'd like it: http://www.motherreader.com/

goodness! sorry for The Longest Comment Ever!

Heather Jacks said...

I love following your adventures. I have awarded you a sunshine award and linked to your blog in my latest post.

Emily said...

okay, one more--i've been seeing this book everywhere lately, and while it's more like fairy poems than fairy tales, it does seem worth mentioning as it's getting rave reviews! Mirror, Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse by Marilyn Singer

likeschocolate said...

I guess being a mother of all boys, I have never thought about whether to read or not to read the fairy tales to them. Also, given that their father and all is family are German it was just about impossible not to read some of the Grims tales to them. They are definately not for the faint in heart. My boys have had no interest in any of the princess series by Disney, but tend to lean towards anything Fantasy with magic or wizards. I like the good old classic from Disney like Old Yella, Polly Anna, Moonspinners, That Darn Cat, and The Parent Trap. Good luck on your hunt for appropriate books.

Katja | Driving Like a Maniac said...

The Three Billy Goats Gruff used to scare the bejaysus out of me. Well, not so much the goats themselves, but the troll. This was possibly exacerbated by a dramatic father, who would do all the voices properly. Of course, at the same time as being scared, I also secretly loved that feeling of terror at the pit of the stomach, and the fact that I knew it would all turn out OK in the end.

As an adult, having gone into the acting profession, I spent a year touring as a Hillbilly Goat Gruff, which was brilliant fun. The three to six year olds who made up the main core of our audience seemed to be fine with the show, so maybe modern children have become inured to the classic fairytales and just enjoy them?

My (German) grandmother brought us up on Grimms tales, and also the Just-So Stories by Kipling. I have a feeling that they may not be *entirely* politically correct now, but I adored them at the time. I must re-read them and find out if I still do so.

Dim Sum, Bagels, and Crawfish said...

Emily! What a great list of links and your mention of the Barefoot books triggered my memory...I bought their Princess book several months ago and stashed in the closet for future reading...guess what we'll be reading this afternoon. I like their books, too. Off to check out the links you so generously shared. And that Mirror, Mirror book does sound like a lot of fun.

Heather, thanks so much! The blog admiration is mutual :) Your photos always inspire and amaze me.

Likes Chocolate, I am with you on the old Disney stuff...love that my kids are getting old enough to start watching some of those goodies.

Dim Sum, Bagels, and Crawfish said...

Katja, I love the full circle aspect of your experience with Three Billy Goats! My kids love that story and frequently play it out when we are hiking. They really like the Jim Weiss version of it on one of his audio books. It is always interesting to re-read books from childhood, isn't it? Thanks for the reminder about the Just-So stories. I think those might be good to try right now, too.

boatbaby said...

First of all, thank you for the link to those houses, they are stunning!

As for fairy tales, I tell them myself and my husband does story telling with my son too (which is a HUGE stretch for him, but he does it). I don't sanitize it, but as I a free forming I can watch his face and decide where to tune the dial, so to speak. He LOVES hearing it from us.

We are also HUGE Jim Weiss fans. He seems to strike the PERFECT balance between staying true and staying safe, so to speak. My son LOVES his Greek Myths.

As for Sesame Street, this is a timely question. My son never knew what it was as we are TV free. But he heard some kids talking and asked me this week. So we you tubed it, and I felt I would ONLY show him the old school ones. The new ones are so commercial and cheesey and PC. It cracked me up watching kids jump into the back of a pick up with the gang and drive away sans seatbelts, car seats or anything in the Hawaii episode from 1960-something.

We just have talks about how "in the old days" people didn't know about car seats or people didn't let women have the same jobs as men or what have you. It's a fact. It's a learning moment. Not to be sanitized or avoided or applauded, it is what it is, so to speak.

And at almost age 6 (which is the age sesame street was intended for, NOT for 2 year olds who shouldn't be watching ANYTHING) he thought old Sesame Street was hilarious and loved it as much as he loved the story of Perseus.

Sarah said...

Love the murals.

I vetted stories when he was young. Not sure there was much point since his latest "home education" offering involved creating a story based on a scary character, I assumed the kid would overcome, instead my bloodthirsty son finished the story with his mate just finding a bit of his jumper after the monster ate him..

Maybe the stories were so scary because they were written with kids and their taste for the gruesome in mind, rather than written in order to scare the kids silly.

It would be nice if he could produce on piece of work where everybody stayed alive and intact though.

Mom said...

I loved the Fairy tale houses. It sounds like your trip was a wonderful experience.
We read fairy tales to the kids when they were little and I don't remember them being afraid. Maybe a little with Peter and the Wolf and Bambi. I'll have to ask them. But I do remember wordsmithing when I thought appropriate and reinforcing the difference between "real" and "make believe".

I can't believe that there is controversy over the old Sesame Street's!! Not only did Stacy and Adam love them, but I remember loving it too and sitting and watching the show with them and then singing them with the kids over and over because they were so catchy. Oh well, guess I am showing my age.

Laurie said...

I loved Sesame Street (family legend says my parents got a color TV the day they heard me yelling colors at the black and white one). :) I just figure every kid is scared by something different - I was more rattled about 'real life' scary stuff than the stories I read or had read to me, since I could tell myself that the stories were 'just pretend.'

katy said...

We bought Eva an anthology of Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales for Christmas. My thinking was that if she was into fairy tales and princesses she may as well know the "real" stories aka NOT Disney. She was very upset by The Little Mermaid. In the real version she doesn't marry the prince but remains a girl so she can have a spirit. Eva was so upset, insisting she HAD to marry the prince. Then I read her the Little Matchstick Girl who dies on the side of the road. Nice. I still think it's important that she understand that Disney is copying classic fairy tales and that they often differ from the real tales.

Let me think about the fairy tale books that we read. I can't think of any off hand. Must be tired.

Mom2Isabel said...

they scare the crap out of me.
Forgot all about it until reading the comment about the Billy Goats Gruff.

I recently read The Little Match girl and was floored by her death at the end.

[Mind you.. I had read it many times before as a kid.]

Clearly, it hadn't bothered me. What I am more bothered by is the effect of PC-ness on me!

upatreecupatea said...

Rapunzel by Paul Zelinsky is one of my all time favorite story books.


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