Fairy tales have been told and retold and published and republished and there are hundreds of different versions now. So, where to start? We started with the Ladybird First Favourite Tales when they were very little. I really like Paul Galdone for the traditional tales well-told with lovely illustrations, although Hansel and Gretel is a disturbing story however cute the pictures. I’ve checked under every bridge at a playground/park for trolls for some years now. We have recurring conversations: Is the Big Bad Wolf real? Are wolves real? I suppose the line between reality and fantasy is a subtle one and takes time to explore.
There are many good collections. My favourites are the Usborne Ten Minute Fairy Tales which are perfect for bedtime – readable, lively retellings, and we’ve been trying Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales. Excitingly, fairy tales and folk tales can be found in every culture. Again, I love Usborne – we have beautifully illustrated stories from India, China, the Arabian Nights. I would love to find other collections from other cultures.
As I’m reading, I find there are lots of opportunities to talk about the weird stuff that is going on. We sometimes play spot the mistake, things you just wouldn’t do: falling in love before you’ve spoken to someone, kissing someone who’s asleep – if they’re asleep, you can’t ask them if it’s ok. It’s funny at the time, but a good step for some key lessons in life (and ones that some people never learn – if you’re asleep/unconscious, you can’t be asked for consent.) Am I using Sleeping Beauty to teach my 3 year old about consent? Hell, yes.
If they start to incorporate the ideas into their play, I just assume that it’s working, even if their play gets slightly weird too. My daughter is in a Rapunzel phase and likes to build Duplo towers for witches to trap the little people in; sometimes the mother gets trapped and then rescued by the daughter. Or she’ll have me swing her from the climbing structure crying ‘Mother saves girl from witch!’
As they get older and more aware, you can add in the alternatives. And even if just for yourself, have a look at the gorgeous Rejected Princesses by Jason Porath. It’s a bit much in places for younger ones, but well signposted.