A Guest Post for NSSM from Sophie Anderson
I have always loved fairy tales. They burst with wonder and enchantment; and contain a wealth of information about the world. As a child, I enjoyed them as short, fun stories, but they also made me think deeply about life and what it means to be human.
Fairy tales showed me that across time and space, humans are connected by universal fears, hopes and dreams. They also showed me how humans are different; how different societies might have different values and beliefs, and how these might change throughout history. But that despite our differences, there is a strong thread that links us all together: a desire to be good, courageous and kind, to overcome evils both internal and external, and to make sense of life with a story.
Whether they contain a strong moral lesson or not, fairy tales encourage readers to consider right from wrong, good from bad, and the consequences of different behaviours and actions. They develop critical thinking skills, provide a safe space to explore difficult or dark scenarios, and nurture emotional intelligence and empathy.
With so many benefits, it is no wonder that fairy tales have been shared by humans all over the world from ancient times to the present day. They are a huge part of our cultural heritage, and I am confident they will continue to entertain, inspire, and educate future generations for many years to come.
So here are my five top tips for sharing fairy tales, to make the most of the magic they contain:
- Share a rich variety of tales.
I have been enjoying fairy tales for over forty years, and I still discover new stories almost every day! It is wonderful to share the well-known stories; Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Hansel and Gretel, and different versions of these tales from different times and places. But it is also wonderful to discover and share lesser-known fairy tales from a range of cultures. The wider the selection of stories we share, the greater the source of inspiration, imagination and knowledge.
(Try A Year Full of Stories, written by Angela McAllister and illustrated by Christopher Corr, Frances Lincoln; or The Whistling Monster: Stories from Around the World written by Jamila Gavin and illustrated by Suzanne Barrett, Walker)
- Discuss the stories you share.
Fairy tales can stimulate so many interesting discussions. Even the youngest children are likely to have opinions on the behaviour of different characters. For example: Should Goldilocks have gone into the bears’ house? Was the sea witch really a villain? Should the prince have kissed Sleeping Beauty without permission? Should the Gingerbread man have trusted the fox? Many questions won’t have a clear answer, but the process of considering and discussing different issues can be hugely beneficial in developing critical thinking skills.
- Identify and challenge stereotypes and outdated ideals.
Many fairy tales contain stereotypes; the handsome, brave young hero; the beautiful princess in need of rescue; and the ugly, evil, old woman. Many fairy tales also contain outdated ideas and ideals; that princesses needs to be rescued, and that the ultimate reward is marriage into a wealthy, royal family. These stereotypes and ideals were not always featured so heavily in fairy tales, and many are later additions by some of the writers who first recorded fairy tales into books. Learning something about the historical, social, political and cultural context of fairy tales can help explain why stereotypes often feature in them; and identifying and challenging these stereotypes is important in building a more accurate view of the world. There are many fairy tales that turn stereotypes on their heads, or smash them to pieces, so it is also important to share as many of these tales as possible.
(Try Not One Damsel in Distress, written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Susan Guevara, Houghton Mifflin; or Tatterhood: Feminist Folktales from Around the World written by Ethel Johnston Phelps and illustrated by Suki Boynton, The Feminist Press; and for adults Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales, written by Angela Carter, Virago; and Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale, written by Marina Warner, OUP)
- Seek out new tales.
Many fairy tales are ancient, having been passed down for thousands of years, but new fairy tales are also being written every day. Some are fresh retellings of old tales, some are reimaginings, and some are completely new, original stories. I believe these tales can be just as powerful as the older stories; and can often be more relevant and accessible to a modern audience. Seeking out fresh new stories and voices can be wonderfully rewarding; broadening our understanding of the world today, and breathing new life into an old genre.
(Try A Wolf at the Door, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, illustrated by Tristan Ellwell, Simon and Schuster; The Secret of the Purple Lake, written by Yaba Badoe and illustrated by Gbolohan Adams, Cassava Republic; or The One Hundred Nights of Hero, written and illustrated by Isabel Greenberg, Jonathan Cape)
- Create your own tales.
Fairy tales have been told and retold, written and rewritten, and changed along the way to suit different storytellers and different audiences since earliest times. Becoming part of this tradition can be hugely enjoyable; and can stimulate creativity, imagination, and innovative ways of expression and communication. If you haven’t already, try adding your own unique embellishments to old fairy tales, try reimagining or reinventing them in your own way, or try making up completely new stories inspired by the genre. Creating new fairy tales, and encouraging future generations to do the same, will help to keep this genre full of wonder, enchantment and wisdom alive.
(Try My Book of Stories: Write Your Own Fairy Tales, written by Deborah Patterson, The British Library; or Write Your Own Storybook, written by Louie Stowell and Jane Chrisholm, Usborne)
The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson publishes 3 May in paperback from Usborne. Cover art by Melissa Castrillón and inside black and white illustrations by Elisa Paganelli.
This is a guest post from Sophie Anderson, and the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the FCBG.