Sometimes the Witch Gets the Prince

While looking for something in the storage room the other day, Bea and I found one last box of books from my teaching days. This one was filled with fairy tales, books on character building and feelings, and books that taught specific idioms used in the curriculum. It’s been fun rereading these favorites and watching Bea latch on to new books.

One of her favorites is The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig. We’ve read it so much this past week that she already has it nearly memorized. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised – two other favorites are a more traditional (though whimsical) telling of The Three Little Pigs by Steven Kellogg and The Three Little Dassies by Jan Brett. The teacher in me loves that she’s making these text-to-text connections and starting to understand the concept of retelling a story.

img_1587On Bea’s first day of preschool, she wore a shell necklace, given to her for her birthday. She wanted to look like Saoirse from Song of the Sea. When she showed her teacher, she exclaimed, Oh, I love your necklace! It reminds me of Ariel from the Little Mermaid!

Bea tried to explain that no, this was like Saoirse’s, but the teacher had no context and there were a dozen other kids wanting to show her their special outfits.

We read a lot of fairy tales in our home and we own several Disney versions of them. But we also read and talk about other versions. I want Bea to know that Cinderella is a universal tale, told in many ways, in many languages, reflecting many cultures. That the Disney version isn’t wrong, it’s just one version.

Of course, fairy tales are part of childhood. But, I read them for so many other reasons. The original versions teach empathy and bravery in ways that prepare kid for real life giants and problems. They remind us of the threads that run through a common human experience. They prepare our children for the world outside our home and our curated friendships.

As an adult, reading fairy tales has grounded my view of our world today. Frank gave me Hans Christian Andersen’s complete collection last year and I’ve been slowly reading one or two tales every night before bed. Andersen is most known for The Little Mermaid, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and The Little Match Girl, but this 700 page book is filled with so many more stories – stories of life and death and good and evil and morality.

Andersen’s stories remind me that life hasn’t changed all that much, when you look at the core of humanity. Powerful kings can do good or they can be evil. Working people, just living their lives, can take big risks and go on great adventures or they can contentedly stay home. Love doesn’t always win and the witch sometimes gets the prince in the end.

They’re a reminder that magic doesn’t always go the way we hope and that happy endings aren’t real life. (Or even fairy tale life, if we go by the original versions.) I find this hopeful in so many ways. To always look for the happy ending is a futile quest – sometimes life doesn’t go the way we hope and it’s disappointing. I think these fairy tales remind me of that reality and that it’s not just me.

As Bea and Elle grow, I want to make sure we read these other versions – the ones in which the Little Mermaid turns to sea foam, or the little match girl is unsuccessful and freezes on a cold night. These stories open doors to conversations of kindness and generosity and how we view our neighbor. They help us see the world as a whole, rather than as one driven by the American dream of happily ever after.

What is your favorite fairy tale? Do you like reading different versions of it?


This post is Day 24 of the Write 31 Day Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the StrengthsFinder test. You can find the entire series over at Live Your Strengths page.


Fairy Tales

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.

The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, Denmark
The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, Denmark

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?