Growing up, one of my favorite movies was Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. My grandparents had the VHS and I remember watching it many times in their small den. I always wondered if being human was worth turning into sea foam in the end. Years later, Disney released their version of the classic fairy tale with no sea foam ending.
It’s not news that recent animation has softened fairy tales into stories with happy endings. (Did you know that Frozen was based on Andersen’s The Snow Queen?) And, I’m not necessarily against new versions of classic tales. Many fairy tales have been rewritten with new and fun twists.
Frank and I have been talking about how we want to introduce Bea to fairy tales. Do we begin with the original version and then let her discover the recreations? If we start with the Disney version, will the original seem harsh and unnecessary?
When I taught third grade, part of the curriculum was reading The Little Match Girl, another Andersen tale with a sad ending. My students were enthralled and we had an amazing discussion about the story. I wonder if we underestimate the ability kids have to empathize and think critically about literature. Do we need to soften the edges or can they handle thought-provoking stories?
Our discussions of fairy tales and responsible parenting have led me to ponder how we protect our kids from life in general. It’s easy to explain things in simple terms or soften the edges of reality. How do we explain homelessness, poverty, war, and oppression in terms that Bea can understand but that doesn’t diminish the power of those words?
We have a few years before this truly becomes a choice we make, but the vocabulary we use now will lay the groundwork for how we teach Bea to empathize in the future. Maybe fairy tales are a good place to start.
Do you read the original versions of fairy tales? How do you explain big ideas to small people?