Fairy tales are wonderful when introducing young minds to the great world of books. The stories are usually illustrated and short enough to capture attention that might fluctuate quite widely for 5-7 year olds. The narrative often includes following a hero or a heroine on a quest or some sort of adventure. And there are sometimes small lessons to be learnt. We all know Aesop’s fables – for instance about the tortoise and the hare – and that it doesn’t help to have good abilities as long as you are lazy and scorn others for not being as good.
But the more common ones are the modern fairy tales that we feed our kids with nowadays, or rather our kids are being fed with by the film industries. Those fairy tales are adapted, more often abducted from classical ones, or invented by Disney and the likes. But do those spur a deeper and more realistic kind of insight? Yes – there are morals. And fights between good and bad. But they most often end on a high note – no matter what the struggles have been in the meantime.
Human life does not always end on a high note. Life entails lots of challenges, disappointments, grief and broken dreams. What seeds of expectations are we planting in the heads of children through what they read or maybe more often watch? That good always conquer evil and that the prince and princess always gets each-other and of course live happily ever after… And since we tend to treat the kids as princes and princesses they will most surely think (at least for a while) that someone will come with their white horse and bring them to the castle as soon as they are adults.
The other day I picked up up a really old fairy tale book to read for the 5 year old and his cousin, also 5. I found the story about the little mermaid appropriate since we are going to Copenhagen next week to have a look at the famous mermaid sculpture. The story is beautiful. It tells about how the youngest daughter of the sea-king longs to be allowed to visit the world of people, to see how they live, the lights of the big city and the snow on the mountains. She falls in love with the prince. She makes a huge sacrifice in order to get close to the prince on land – she trades away her voice.
The five year olds made big eyes – and the story continued. I started realising that unlike in the movie this old original edition was not ending so well – at least for the heroine. In short – the little mermaid turns into foam on water since the prince marries another girl. A princess!
The kids took it well. I am not sure it would have been that easy if they were watching this version on TV. Even if not ending up as foam on water is very realistic it still conveys a message – not everything ends well in the world. Counting on getting the prince (a dumb one in this case) can create difficulties: diverting the ambitions that should have been directed towards more attainable objectives. Dreams are good to have. Being on another planet is not so good.
This is not to say that everyone should dig up all the original (and gory) versions of the favourite stories. But from time to time it may be an idea to introduce something more mind-bending and unexpected. My kids love the Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde or the giant turnip by Tolstoi, not to mention Peter and the Wolf and the Little Prince. This I found is the best way to introduce children not only to books but also to literature. And make sure you put your best storytelling voice to it, because it can beat every movie out there.