Tag Archives: fairy tales

Escape to anywhere

We sometimes think of reading as a form of escapism. But many stories, including those in picture books, feature an escape as part of the complication or resolution.

It doesn’t require much thought to create a list. Here are just a few to start:

#6 Traditional stories

By Charles Perrault, Harry Clarke (ill.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jack and the Beanstalk – Jack escapes from the giant

Hansel and Gretel – the children escape from the witch

Snow White – escapes death ordered by the jealous queen

The Three Pigs – escape from the Big Bad Wolf

The Lion and the Mouse – the mouse helps the lion escape the hunter’s trap

The Gingerbread Man – escapes from the oven and those who pursue him

I had a little more difficulty in finding modern tales involving an escape, but here are a few:

#6 Modern tales

Hey, I Love You! by Ian Whybrow – father and son mouse escape the claws of the cat

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson – the mouse uses his wiles to escape being eaten

Wombat Stew by Marcia Vaughan – Wombat’s friends help him escape being Dingo’s dinner

Fox and Fine Feathers by Narelle Oliver – with the help of the nightjar the birds escape being a feast for fox

Run, Hare, Run! The story of a drawing by John Winch – the rabbit has numerous attempts at escaping the hunter but is caught, and finally freed

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen – the family escapes from the bear encountered in a cave

A new favourite

This Mo Willems story is an innovation on the traditional tale of Goldilocks escaping from the three bears. In Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, Goldilocks has a lucky escape out the back door just as the dinosaurs return home through the front door. Willems concludes his story with two morals, one for the dinosaurs:

Lock the back door!

And one for Goldilocks:

If you ever find yourself in the wrong story: leave.

What a great philosophy that we could perhaps employ more often. If we don’t like where we’re at, just leave. Life’s decisions are not always that easy though.

I rather like the idea of characters appearing in the wrong story. What a great topic for discussion with children and a wonderful stimulus for their writing.

  • What if the Big Bad Wolf knocked on the Giant’s door?
  • What if the Three Pigs chased the Gingerbread Man?
  • What if Goldilocks came to the house of Red Riding Hood’s grandma?
  • What if?

In fact, Nick Bland has written a story that utilises this concept. In The Wrong Book, Nicholas Ickle tries to tell his story but keeps getting interrupted by other characters such as an elephant, monsters, a queen and a pirate. Nicholas tells them that they are in the wrong book and to go away. By the time they leave, we get to the end of the book and there is no time for him to tell his story.

But what if the story characters didn’t want to be in the book at all, and decide to escape? How would they escape? What would the writers do if their characters revolted and walked off the job?

I’m thinking about escapes this week as Charli Mills has challenged the Carrot Ranch Literary Community, to In 99 words (no more, no less) write about an escape artist. It can even be you, the writer, escaping into a different realm or space in imagination. It can be any genre, including BOTS (based on a true story) or fantasy. You can focus on the escape, the twist or the person who is the escape artist.

Where could I escape to if not picture books? Here’s my contribution. I hope you like it.

Let’s get out of here

Delaying the inevitable, she was picking wildflowers when she heard sobbing. She gasped to see him cowering behind the bushes but ignored instructions to avoid strangers.

“What’s wrong?”

“I can’t do it anymore. Every day: first the pigs; then your grandma. They’ve painted me bad. I’m not. I’m –“

A giant with a goose crash-landed beside them.

“I’ll not let that nasty boy steal my goose, again. And he says I’m bad.”

A diverse troupe in T-shirts emblazoned “Freedom for princesses” appeared.

“We want out,” they all chanted.

A witch magicked a rocket from a pinecone and everyone disappeared.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

Guess what you’re getting for Christmas!

The love of reading is gift

I went Christmas shopping yesterday, and guess what I bought!

© Norah Colvin The titles of these books are hidden to maintain the “surprise” for the recipients.

© Norah Colvin
The titles of these books are hidden to maintain the “surprise” for the recipients.

Books! It wasn’t difficult to guess was it? I have written in previous posts about both giving and receiving books as gifts.  I’ll let you in on a little secret though. I did buy a few others things as well. That’s probably a good thing, otherwise the memory game My grandmother went shopping and she bought … would not do anything to develop memory and would be rather boring:

“My grandmother went shopping and she bought … a book … and a book … and a book … and a book …:

one

I have already received one beautiful book for Christmas this year: One: How many people does it take to make a difference?, and the recommendation of many others, some of which I have purchased for myself or as gifts. Books received as gifts often take a very special place in a collection.

HeidiHeidi inside

One of my strongest memories is of waking before sunrise one Christmas morning, checking to see if Santa had been, and discovering a book at the end of my bed. While there was not enough light at first to see the illustrations or read the words, I delighted in the smoothness of the cover and the smell of the pages. Slowly as the sun rose the title revealed itself: Heidi by Johanna Spyri, and I started to read. I loved that story and read it many times. After more than fifty years I still have the book in my possession, rather tattered and worn, not unlike its owner, but still loved.

In a recent post I shared some Australian Christmas picture books.   In a comment on that post Sherri Matthews, who blogs at A View from My Summerhouse,  reminded me of the Janet and Allan Ahlberg book, The Jolly Christmas Postman.   Although it was given to Bec for Christmas exactly thirty years after I received Heidi, I still have it in my possession. Shh! Don’t tell Bec. Of course the reason it was not included in my list of Christmas books is that the authors were British. (Allan is now aged 77. Janet passed away in 1994.)

cover

The Jolly Christmas Postman was published in 1991 and followed the success of the original Jolly Postman story. It is a delightful interactive book in which the postman delivers Christmas mail to storybook characters, including:

  • A Christmas card for Baby Bear from Goldilocks and her sister
  • A game about being safe in the woods for Red Riding Hood from Mr Wolf, who declares he is a “changed wolf”
  • A Humpty Dumpty jigsaw puzzle for Humpty Dumpty from all the king’s men
  • A Christmas annual and book in a book for the Gingerbread Man from Pat O’Cake Bakers
  • A Wolf Spotter’s Guide for Mr Wolf from Red Riding Hood , and
  • A special concertina “peep-show” for the postman from Santa and Mrs Santa.

activities

After the postman delivers the children’s letters to Santa, has a cup of tea and receives his gift, he hitches a ride back home on Santa’s sleigh. What a delightful conclusion to the story.

There is much to explore in this little book for both young and old; far too much for just one sitting. With books to read, games to play and puzzles to do it could entertain for hours. A full appreciation of the cleverness and humour in the story requires an understanding of fairy stories such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Red Riding Hood, The Gingerbread Man, The Three Little Pigs; and nursery rhymes such as Humpty Dumpty, Doctor Foster, and Pat-a-cake, amongst others. Reading the book is a literary adventure.

I wonder how soon before it will also be an adventure in history. It was published in 1991 before email became popular and social media was invented. The number of items sent by “snail mail” is decreasing. It may not be long before children also need a history lesson to understand what is mean by “a postman”.

Books make special memories. What special memories will you create for someone with a book this year? What books have made a special memory for you?

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

 

 

It’s a steal

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about theft; of family pets, of the apples from her garden, of property, and even of good name through myths and false accusations.

I didn’t have to think for long to come up with three fairy tales that deal with the issue of theft. Why three? Because three is the fairy tale number. I’m sure most of you will be familiar with these two traditional fairy tales: Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and Jack and the Beanstalk. Some will not be familiar with Joan Aiken’s more modern (1968) fairy tale A Necklace of Raindrops.

girl and bear

If you were to search online for teaching resources to support use of Goldilocks and the Three Bears in an early childhood classroom, you would have much from which to choose. Many of the available resources are worksheets and printables with few requiring children to think beyond the surface level of the story.

The same is true for Jack and the Beanstalk. A search for supporting teaching resources also brings up a plethora of worksheets and printables for colouring, cut and paste and writing activities.

While it’s no secret that I am not a fan of worksheets, activities such as those may have a place if they are used to stimulate language development through retell and role play, support beginning readers and writers in a meaningful context and develop basic mathematical concepts. Children might also be involved in activities associated with the story such as making porridge or growing beans.

However children can be encouraged to think more deeply through discussion of the motives and feelings of the characters and the morality of their actions. After all, both Goldilocks and Jack were guilty of break and enter and theft; Jack repeatedly so. Jack didn’t follow his mother’s instructions and was “conned” by the man with the beans. Goldilocks was also guilty of vandalism.

A strategy for encouraging thinking:

Ask children to:

  • retell story events
  • tell about the character and character traits
  • make a judgement about  the character’s actions: Was what Goldilocks did good or bad? Was what Jack did good or bad? (Note: It is best for children to make and record this judgement independently of others before sharing their thoughts. The method of recording would be dependent upon the age and ability of the children. They could, for example, write the word “good” or “bad” in a book; or colour a picture of the character e.g. green for good, red for bad.)

Tally and/or graph children’s responses.

Invite individuals to explain the thinking behind the decision. A lively discussion may ensue, particularly if there are mixed responses. It would be of interest to note which children maintain their position, which waiver and which change their opinion.

Other questions can also be asked, and children can be encouraged to ask questions of their own, for example:

Questions re Goldi and Jack

Hopefully the events of these stories will be just as fanciful to the children as the settings. Most children will not have records of breaking and entering, and any incidences of petty pilfering or even vandalism will have occurred as part of their learning about property and ownership. Some appropriation of another’s toys or breakages in frustration or misuse are common and nothing to cause concern about future morality.

a necklace of raindrops

While the setting of A Necklace of Raindrops is equally fanciful with the personification of the North Wind, talking animals and a magic necklace, the situation, involving schoolyard jealousy and theft, may be more familiar. You will find few teaching resources to support it in an online search.

book 3

Here is a brief synopsis:

A man frees the North Wind from a tree.

The North Wind gives the man a necklace of raindrops with magical powers for his baby girl, Laura.

Each year a new raindrop with new powers is added.

Laura must not remove the necklace.

At school Meg is jealous of Laura’s necklace. She tells the teacher who insists Laura remove the necklace.

Meg steals the necklace.

The animals help Laura get the necklace back.

The North Wind punishes Meg.

(Note: My few words have not done justice to Joan Aiken’s beautiful story. If you can, please read the full version.)

The story is rich with opportunities for discussion with children, including:

Envy and jealousy — feelings familiar to many children who may have taken, borrowed or used something that didn’t belong to them. They may have squabbled about ownership or use of an item or had someone take something of theirs. Learning a sense of ownership as well as sharing is important in early childhood.

Telling the teacher — sometimes called “dobbing” in Australia. When is it important, when doesn’t it matter? What were Meg’s motivations?

Honesty — Was it okay for Meg to tell her father that she had found the necklace on the road? Why did she tell him that? What would he have done if she told him the truth?

Finders keepers” — Is it ever okay to keep something you find? When might it be okay to do so?

Following the rules – The teacher insisted that Laura remove the necklace. What could Laura have done or said? What else could the teacher have done? Was it fair for Meg to tell the teacher?

Stealing the necklace — Was Meg good or bad to take the necklace? Why?

Why did the magic not work for Meg?

Was the North Wind’s punishment of Meg appropriate? (He blew the roof off her house so she got wet.)

Thinking of these issues familiar to many in the schoolyard and playground made me think of Marnie who has experienced some similar situations. In this episode a boy dobs on Marnie for having a unicorn at school. Toys weren’t allowed, but this boy knew it meant Marnie was troubled again and needed the teacher’s help. A teacher is also called upon in this episode when Marnie has locked herself in the toilet and won’t come out. In both those instances the children were dobbing for good reason.

In this episode Marnie is purposefully tripped and falls into a puddle losing hold of her “security” unicorn, and in this longer episode we find that, later that day, the same boy took her paint brush, and stashed it out of reach on a high shelf. He hadn’t taken it because he wanted it, as Meg had taken the necklace. He had taken it simply to torment, be mean and bully.

Children, like Brucie, who tease, torment and bully are often themselves victims of similar behaviour. They feel powerless, lacking control in their own lives, and probably lowest in the pecking order at home. Targeting someone more vulnerable provides an opportunity to find a sense of power; for a while at least.

So that’s where I’m headed for my response to Charli’s challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a thief or a theft. 

Motives

The morning started badly; nothing unusual in that. He’d been woken in the night by shouting, slamming doors, and screeching car tyres. Nothing unusual there either.

There was no milk to moisten his cereal, only a slap to the head for daring to ask. He grabbed his bag and disappeared before she used him as an ashtray, again.

Looking for a fight, he couldn’t believe she was just sitting there clutching her stupid unicorn. He snatched it; danced a jig to her wails, then threw it onto the roof.

“I’m telling,” said a witness.

“Who cares?” was his response.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

Of rainbows and unicorns – Part 2 – Do fairy tales and fantasy still have a place for children?

I have many discussions with parents about whether they should read fairy tales and stories with magical elements to their children. These parents raise a number of issues, for example:

  • Horrible things happen – Hansel and Gretel are abandoned in the woods (by their parents) and are captured by a wicked witch – the wolf tries to trick the seven little kids left at home alone
  • Parents are often dead or absent – Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Rapunzel, Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk
  • Stepmothers are mean – Cinderella, Snow White
  • Sexism, especially the need for a female to be rescued by a handsome prince – Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty
  • They contain “magical” creatures such as fairy godmothers (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty), witches (Snow White), giants (Jack and the Beanstalk), trolls (Three Billy Goats)
  • Myth of happily ever after
  • Stereotypes – beauty is good, ugly is bad
  • The presence of magic – good magic of fairies and bad magic of witches – Sleeping Beauty; magical bean seeds and geese (Jack and the Beanstalk)
  • Bullying – Cinderella

Maria L. Hughes, writing for The Little Prickle Press sums up the concerns this way:

“many of the older tales incorporated rather dark themes devoted to death, suffering and children being murdered. But then there is also a second incorporation that has to do with later Disney movies of these fairy tales and them being too happy and can result in parents thinking their child will be deluded with ideas that the world will just work for them and things will be good.”

While I acknowledge these elements occur, I am not prepared to abandon fairy tales because of it.

While I may consider a diet of only fairy tales problematic, I think something would be lacking if a child was refused access to the richness of their stories and tradition. Like most fiction, they offer an avenue for escapism. In addition, the stories can be used as a tool for initiating non-threatening discussions of the issues listed above.

In Once upon an if The Storythinking Handbook Peter Worley writes

“Stories are just one way that we are able to sharpen our own character in order to prepare for the narratives we will one day find ourselves in as the story of our life unfolds before, around and within us.” 

Following a comment by Richard Dawkins, a recent discussion on The Guardian considered whether fairy tales are harmful to children. So far the consensus seems to be that they are not.

Albert Einstein was a supporter of fairy tales and is often attributed with the following quote, discussed in more detail by Maria Popova on brain pickings.

Anne Fine, in the Foreword to Once upon an if The Storythinking Handbook explains

“In an increasingly complicated world, we more than ever want our children to be able to think with clarity, rather than lead lives hampered or derailed by all those false assumptions and unexamined prejudices that seem as easily inherited as freckles or brown eyes.

How can we go about teaching them to peel back the surface of their first thoughts on a matter, or even their strongest beliefs, and look at them with more care? . . . fiction has always fostered the moral, intellectual and emotional development of the growing child. (‘Should she have done that?’ ‘Would I?’ ‘What else could have been done?’ ‘How would it feel?’) Good stories highlight the sheer complexity of things. They furnish a far greater understanding of the world and everyone in it. For most of us, fiction has always been the earliest – and many would argue the best – instrument we have had for ethical enquiry.”

Think of the ethical inquiry that could occur when discussing Goldilocks and her break and enter, Jack’s theft of the giant’s belongings and the constant portrayal of the wolf as the bad guy; just to get you started.

Melissa Taylor on her blog “Imagination Soup” suggests the following 8 reasons why fairy tales are essential to childhood:

  1. Show kids how to handle problems
  2. Build emotional resilience
  3. Give us a common language (Cultural literacy and canon)
  4. Cross cultural boundaries
  5. Teach story
  6. Develop imagination
  7. Can be used to teach critical thinking skills
  8. Teach lessons

In a previous post about fairy tales, written in response to a flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills  I mentioned that I was not a keen reader of adult fantasy. In a comment on that post Charli mentioned that she knew others with similar feelings. I will leave you with a link to another article on brain pickings in which Maria Popova discusses the thoughts of one of the masters of fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien on Fairy Tales, Language, the Psychology of Fantasy, and Why There’s No Such Thing as Writing “For Children”

What do you think? Should we read fairy tales to children? Why/why not?

What are your favourite fairy tales and what lessons have you learned from them?

Please share your thoughts.