A Fairy Tale book that is not too simple and not too violent but just right for your little Prince or Princess

Ah, my poor holiday-neglected blog!  I have not forgotten about you!  In fact, the holidays have given me a lot to write about, but I’m going to focus on fairy tales today because I am really excited about this book.  My family is lucky enough (crazy enough?) to celebrate two holidays, and while I’m not sure that means more presents necessarily, as each holiday’s gifts come from different sides of the family, it certainly does lend itself to quite the extended season of present-opening.  My husband and I decided that, knowing the wrapped love that was going to be poured on our son from grandparents, great-grandparents, and aunts and uncles, that we weren’t going to go crazy with gifts ourselves.  So, we bought a book of fairy tales and put it under the Christmas tree.

I was a little nervous that after the puzzles and games, magazines and toys from all the other relatives that my lone book gift would go neglected in the days after Christmas.  So it was with a really proud heart and a smile on my face that I found myself agreeing to read the fairy tales to him for the first, second, and third time right then on Christmas morning!  We even paused present-opening to read some of the stories!  We’ve read it multiple times each day and night since–and I am SO PROUD of myself!  Is that ridiculous?  I don’t care!  Parenting does not necessarily come with a lot of moments where you feel like you know what you are doing–so I am going to revel in this one!  I chose a great present!  And it was a book!  And he loves it!  Ha!

Now, I spent hours researching this book, and it was harder to find that I anticipated.  Part of this was because my beloved local bookstore has just now gone out of business, so asking them for advice was not to happen.  I did visit one of their really depressing, crowded, going-out-of-business sales in search of some books, but the shelves had been all but torn down by the vultures that had come to prey on the dying store, and what’s more, had been recently restocked with total junk books presumably brought in by the company running the closing sales.  So while I did find some fairy tale books that were marketed at the toddler age group, they were really, really horrible.

Then I looked online, and I found the same thing.  My options seemed to fall into one of three categories: (1) fairy tales that had been so dumbed down and shortened as to have almost no meaning whatsoever, (2) Disney-brand fairy tale stories, and (3) adult-length gorgeously illustrated stories that closely followed the original versions.

The first option was out for obvious reasons.  While I wanted short text, I wanted enough words for the story to actually make sense.  This seems obvious to me, but apparently not to some publishers.

The second option was also out for (what I hope are) obvious reasons.  I have nothing (or very little) against Disney, and I’m sure we will one day have all those Disney DVDs lined up on a shelf somewhere, but there’s something to be said for not reading brand-name versions of hundreds-of-years-old stories.  Disney changed a lot, really–you should have seen my husband’s surprise when he read the end of “The Little Mermaid” to my son.  Not to mention his surprise that some of the titles in the book were actually fairy tales and not Disney movies.  Sigh.  So no Disney version for me.

And as for the third option, while perhaps more literary and historically accurate, well, let’s face it, the original fairy tales are a little longer and more graphically violent than I really need to be reading to a two-year-old.

So, after much searching and review-reading, I came across this book.  I love it.  Is it perfect?  Maybe not for everyone.  But I think it really does the job, hits all the points I was worried about, and given the number of times we’ve read it so far, I’d say it was the right choice.

Title: Fairy Tales
Illustrator: Mary Engelbreit
Genre: Picture Book, Fantasy
Age: 0 – 6, Toddler, Preschool

Summary and Review:

I was intrigued immediately by this book because of the illustrator.  A Mary Engelbreit print hangs in my laundry room, stolen from my mom’s laundry room after she died.  A Mary Engelbreit anything reminds me of my mom, my aunt, and my grandma.  I remember a phase in my family when all greeting cards and calendars were Mary Engelbreit.  I think there was even a Mary Engelbreit apron.  Her artwork is original, colorful, and somehow simplistically complicated.  My son seems drawn to it, too.  I know that pictures are part of what draws him to a book.

The stories are simple, perfect length to read two or three at bedtime, and a perfect length for a young attention span to really enjoy and understand them.  Some may complain that they could be a little longer, they could include a little more of the beautiful complexity of the originals, but I do think they are a good compromise–they are introducing my toddler to these stories and he will have plenty of time later to fill in more details (starting, probably, with the Disney movies, and hopefully moving on from there).  They are told in a gentle manner without losing their charm, and for the most part stick closely to the original plot-lines.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

Fairy tales are rich with allusion and meaning and give a lot of opportunities to ask leading–or open-ended–questions to the unsuspecting toddler.  My favorite leading question in books like this is to say “that’s not very nice, is it?”  Yes, I realize by doing this I am indicating my moral choices and hoping my son will agree.  But if that isn’t parenting, what is, really?  And I don’t want him to think that by reading a story about someone making a bad choice that I am condoning that choice.  Of course, you can ask a more open version of that question if you prefer, and definitely should if your child is older and closer to preschool age.

Fairy tales are also full of characters that make choices.  Ask your preschooler if they would make the same choice.  Examples: would you give up life as a mermaid and risk death for a chance to meet the prince?  Or, “do you think the mermaid was right to take that risk?”  “Should she have killed the prince to save herself?”  Vary the type of question you ask, how you ask it, and whether or not you ask them to project the feelings onto themselves by your child’s age and the level of questions you think they will be able to understand.  Ask him why Ella’s stepsisters are so mean to her.  Ask her why Beauty would volunteer to live with a Beast.  Why did the princess first lie to the frog?  Why did her father, the King, insist the frog stay for dinner?  And why did she change her mind about the frog later?

Fairy tales are also great for reenacting.  Have a puppet theatre?  Act out the fairy tale.  Or make a crown out of some construction paper, and act out the story yourselves.  Fairy tales are such a beautifully rich part of our heritage.  Helping your kids understand their basic plots and structure will give them a solid foundation for understanding much more complex literary and morality in their years to come.

And you won’t risk hearing them one day say “Wait, you mean The Little Mermaid isn’t a Disney story?  Hans Christian Who?”

But really, my husband has other redeeming qualities.

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