Inside: Everyone loves fairy tales. Popular fairy tales teach us how to put a dragon in our hearts; outsmart the villains, and live happily ever after. Make reading fairy tales a tradition. Your children will love and cherish these stories as they learn important lessons that will carry them through life’s many challenges.
“Once upon a time…”
These are alluring and spell-binding words known by all who love fairy tales!
I’ve had a love affair with fairy tales ever since my kindergarten teacher read to our class those immortal stories of Cinderella, Snow White, and Little Red Riding Hood. With the help of Walt Disney, these and many others became my favorite genre of books. I was still reading fairy tales in college and they were some of the first books I read to my sons.
Do you have something—a picture, a precious heirloom, a memento—in your home that reflects your personality and are things you love and cherish (other than family pictures which we all love and cherish)? For me, it’s four large signed prints of different fairy tales, matted and framed and hanging in our home. The artist is Scott Gustafson. I love how he has captured the magic of these enchanting stories.
Ever since the Brothers Grimm penned their first fairy story, people all over the world have fallen in love and identified with such characters as Hansel and Gretel, Snow White, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Jack and the Beanstalk.
Which fairy tales are your favorites? Which ones inspired magical dreams and lofty ambitions for you as a child? There are many “popular” lists of classic fairy tales but here are what seem to be the most popular fairy tales. Undoubtedly, if you are a lover of these stories, you can recite them by heart…
Top 10 Most Popular Fairy Tales
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
- Beauty and the Beast
- Hansel and Gretel
- Little Red Riding Hood
- Jack and the Beanstalk
- The Sleeping Beauty
- Puss in Boots
Fairy Tale Naysayers…
Okay, we might as well talk about this right now! Did your parents read fairy tales to you or did they find them objectionable?
Surprisingly, there are parents who don’t like them… Some feel the stories are too hocus pocus, too many witches or wizards, or too violent.
Don’t all of us at some time wish for a little more magic or hocus pocus in our lives? And who wouldn’t want to have a fairy godmother making the impossible, possible? The magic in fairy tales rather than being devoid of reality plays into the many possibilities of real-life. As far as violence goes—what about all those video games you let your kids play?
Don’t dig your heels in and refuse to read fairy tales to your children. They play an important role in your child’s development. Instead of protecting your child from the world, they force the child to face the world head-on and give them the tools to handle and overcome challenges they never thought possible.
Fairy tales make us feel like we can…conquer the world!
Begin today to read these wonderful stories and watch your child’s imagination, creativity, and confidence soar!
Fairy Tales are Magical!
What makes fairy tales so beloved by millions of children? According to Bruno Bettelheim, author of The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, and an expert on fairy tales, children want to find meaning in their lives and fairy tales provide that meaning best because they
- arouse curiosity
- stimulate the imagination
- suggest solutions to the problems children face
From these tales, children are able to sort through their lives, find understanding and learn lessons.
Best Ages to Start Reading Fairy Tales
Bettelheim found that the best age to start reading fairy tales is around 4 or 5 years old and continue on for as long as your child wants and needs these stories told.
7 Reasons to Read Fairy Tales
If you are looking for reasons to read a healthy dose of fairy tales to your children, here are seven…
#1 Life is a Struggle
Parents tell their children that with hard work they can accomplish anything in this life; they can be the first person on the moon or president of the universe. Fairy tales say just the opposite to the child, “It’s a cold, cruel world out there and it’s waiting to eat you alive!”
These stories do not sugar-coat life. They present life as it is: tough and difficult. BUT! Fairy tales also let the child know that despite challenges, good things can and do happen to those who never give up!
Snow White lost her mother and father, was banished from her home by the evil queen and was left in the forest to sink or swim. With the help of 7 dwarves, she swam! The moral: even though life is a struggle, with the help of friends and determination, we can swim successfully with the sharks!
#2 The Meek Can Succeed
The fairy tale offers the child this assurance: even though life is grim and you may be scared and afraid, don’t give up! If you have courage and if you persist, you can overcome any obstacle and conquer any foe. And best of all, you can reach your heart’s desire.
Think about Cinderella. She was a meek (timid, gentle submissive) orphan, and was at the mercy of her mean stepmother and sisters. But she never gave up, she worked hard and eventually good things happened to her. According to well-respected literary scholars, there are at least 1,500 versions of Cinderella, and all present her as the timid heroine who eventually realizes her heart’s desires.
#3 Boasts a Hero, Heroine or Both
The beauty of the fairy tale is that both boys AND girls are portrayed as heroes and heroines. With persistence and tenacity, they overcome the impossible, live to tell the tale and end up living “happily ever after.”
In the story of Hansel and Gretel, Hansel is the first to use his wits and becomes the hero. He gathers stones and drops them as he and his sister are being taken deep into the forest by their parents. This trail of stones leads them back to their father and (unfortunately) their mean stepmother. But the next time they are taken into the forest, they get lost; discover a gingerbread house and are taken captive by an evil witch.
It’s now Gretel’s turn to step up to the plate and score! The witch is preparing to eat Hansel, but Gretel tricks her and ends up shoving her into the oven; allowing both children to escape.
Think about the fairy tales you’ve read—they are a mix of heroes and heroines: Cinderella, Snow White, The Frog Prince, The Wild Swans, Beauty and the Beast—all boast strong heroines.
And don’t forget about the heroes of the day: The Sleeping Beauty, Puss in Boots, the woodcutter in Little Red Riding Hood, Thumbkin and Jack in the Beanstalk.
Children love to know that not only can they succeed in life—they can be the person responsible for incredible feats and the doer of good deeds!
#4 Multiple Layers of Meaning
All fairy tales have multiple layers of meaning. What a child derives from each story is determined by what he/she is going through at that particular time in his/her life. And when they read the same fairy tale at different ages, they will learn something new each time. The deepest meaning of a fairy tale will be different for each person.
According to Bettelheim, children find different meanings in fairy tales such as
- Handling separation anxiety (Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood)
- Stepping out alone into the scary world (Puss in Boots, Snow White)
- Starvation fear (Hansel and Gretel)
- Oral greediness (Hansel and Gretel)
- Being saved by a man (The Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White)
- Deserted by parents (Hansel and Gretel)
- Death of parents (Puss in Boots, Cinderella, Snow White)
- Devoured by something evil (The Wild Swans, Little Red Riding Hood)
- Spells cast by a witch (The Wild Swans, The Sleeping Beauty, Heckedy Peg)
- Dealing with evil stepmothers (Cinderella, Snow White, The Wild Swans)
- Saving a parent (Beauty and the Beast)
As a child, I read a healthy dose of fairy tales. The stories that spoke to my heart were Cinderella, Snow White, The Wild Swans and Rumpelstiltskin. All included heroines who successfully overcame difficulty and danger.
Because of fairy tales, I believed that if I was really good, followed all the rules and was kind to people eventually good things would happen to me. Today, I believe that following all the rules makes Jack a dull boy—creativity is built on breaking rules. For example, Jack in Jack and the Beanstalk breaks the rules and steals all the giant’s magical possessions. However, some versions have Jack just stealing back what belonged to his father.
This is the beauty of fairy tales—each child will learn something different and needed for their particular situation and/or problems.
Here are two very important points to remember when reading these stories to your kids:
- Lessons learned from fairy tales are most likely buried in your child’s subconscious. He or she will not necessarily tell you what they like about the story, but if it speaks to their hearts, they will want to read the story over and over again
- Don’t tell your child the meaning of the tale. It ruins it for them. Let them figure it out on their own.
#5 Religious Themes
Many fairy tales were written when religion was central to people’s lives so some have religious overtones such as The Thousand and One Nights that has references to Islamic religion and “The Seven Ravens” that is replete with Christian values. The Sleeping Beauty opens up with Sleeping Beauty’s Christian baptism where the evil fairy curses her.
Many Bible stories have similar trappings of a fairy tale. Just as fairy tales say to the child, “if you persist, you can overcome any obstacle and conquer any foe and reach your heart’s desire,” Bible stories tell a child “if you have faith and strive to keep the commandments, God will always be there for you and help you conquer your enemies.” Think: “David and Goliath,” or “Daniel in the Lion’s Den.”
In some circles, The Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis are considered fairy-tale-like as the four children brave the wicked White Witch and other scary figures. Lewis purposely wrote these books to help children understand Christianity, and if you’re discerning, the great lion Aslan, plays the role of Jesus Christ. You can read this series with Christianity in mind, or not. They are powerful either way.
Fairytale stories are just plain entertaining.
Where else can you read about witches changing people into frogs (The Frog Prince), swans (The Wild Swans), beasts (Beauty and the Beast), cats (Queen Cat), or deer (The White Deer), etc.?
Where else can you climb up someone’s long hair? (Rapunzel). Or climb out of a wolf’s stomach intact? (Little Red Riding Hood). Or wear out your shoes every night dancing? (The Twelve Dancing Princesses). Or change your seven children from being food back into their human form? (Heckedy Peg). And the list goes on and on…
Interestingly, children love the white-knuckle, exciting page-turners that fairy tales offer. And escaping into a world of witches and broomsticks, talking animals, and enchanting forests is just plain fun!
#7 And they lived happily ever after…
Have you ever read a fairy tale that doesn’t end with “…and they lived happily ever after?” (some fairy tales end, “They lived for a long time afterward, happy and in pleasure.”) No matter how challenging and difficult it is for the heroes and heroines of the story, everything, in the end, turns out hunky-dory.
These happy endings let the child know that when life is tough, with almost impossible tasks to perform and hills to climb, eventually all will be well…and happy!
Your Favorite Fairy Tales…
What are your children’s favorite fairy tales? Do you have a favorite fairy tale book that has been in your family for years?
Go to my Resource Section for a selection of my most favorite fairy tales. For me, it’s not only the story—but also the illustrations that I love. Some are no longer in print—and if you have books of fairy tales that are out of print—please share because perhaps we’ll find them at a used bookstore or garage sale…hidden treasures!
You can access the 2-minute video here.