Tuesday, 16 January 2007

fairy tales

I'm not really in the habit of cross posting here from my other blog, but I'm really needing some assistance.

We had a shocking night here last night after Amy got to thinking too much about the day when I will die. It's not the first time we've played out this scenario, but after a good four plus hours of mid night sleeplessness for us all I had ample opportunity to think through where all this comes from.

I know there's a lot of background stuff - new baby, holiday loss of routine, my pregnancy induced lack of energy and involvement for starters - but I suspect there's also a component that comes from the current reading craze for fairy tales.

A friend of mine, whose mother died young, once remarked to me how appalled she was by the way fairy stories are so heavily oriented towards tales of lost mothers and failed fathers. And the more I have thought about this, the more I have come to see her point. From Cinderella to Hansel and Gretel, the little mermaid to rumplestiltskin and beauty and the beast and a whole raft of stories in between focus on the travails of poor children who cannot rely on parents to keep them safe in a hostile world.

Of course, the other problem is how frequently the solution to this whole problem is finding a decent bloke to ride in, marry and save said damsel, fighting off other female contenders and accepting the required personal losses and compromises to secure married life. Last time Amy had a meltdown about losing me she was also terrified about not finding a husband - quite a bizarre fear, given D and I aren't married, and neither are many of our friends. But that's a whole other story.

So I find these stories pretty disturbing on an ideological level, and increasingly I think they aren't doing Amy any good either. I don't believe in wrapping my girl in cotton wool - I think if anything I might be criticised for failing to provide her with sufficient protection from life's realities - but it seems pretty much every substantial story book she owns takes for granted that a four year old should be able to take death and misery in her stride.

So I'm casting around for some good books for a four and a half year old. Books with substance, where something happens, books that provide food for thought as well as holding attention through the reading. The 10 to 15 mintues of reading before bed kind of books. Some pictures are nice, but not as important as the story. Books that teach a girl (or boy) that the world is an interesting and exciting place, not one to be overly frightened of, and where the path to success and happiness is not proscribed. Books that are not branded or merchandised or pitched by marketing experts looking to on sell.

Am I asking too much? Surely they are out there, just waiting for you to tell me about them. Surely?

29 comments:

The Shopping Sherpa said...

Can I just say I love love LOVE Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole (http://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/Princess-Smartypants.html) and it may be just the ticket for you!

The Shopping Sherpa said...

Oh - she's also the perfect age for Richard Scarry - particularly "What do people do all day?" which introduced economics and an idea of how things work in a format just right for curious 3-6 year olds.

I prefer the old (unabridged) version but the new one is OK too.

Margaret Mahy's story books were also faves, from memory...

amanda said...

Ooh! Yes, balance is KEY with these fairy tales, I do think. How thoughtful of you to be looking for this for her- what a mama! These two anthologies are very, very good:

Not One Damsel in Distress: World Folktales for Strong Girls

Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters: Heroines from Folktales Around the World

Gudrun said...

well, Ellen being now 5.5. yrs old had a problem with fairy tales a year ago. All tales involving wolves were a problem. We had nightlog discussions where wolves live, why they cannot com into our house and so on ... I stopped reading fairy tales then and started to read stories about everyday life, which soloved the problem. sorry that these are all German books so I cannot really recommand one. Those we got from Melbourne from my in-laws are only for smaller children.

Anonymous said...

My four year old daughter loves Milly Molly Mandy and Little House in the big woods.

Krista said...

"Love you Forever" is one of the sappiest books for kids I've ever read. BUT. The effect of seeing a woman have a son, watch her son grow, and then see him take care of her until she's VERY old and happy and gray and have his own son, is wonderful on kids I think. It gives a sense of the cycle of life, but some permanence ("forever") and security too. Like I say, very sappy, but positive and full of love.
Hard, hard topic, but is there comfort in knowing we all have to deal with this one with our kids at some stage?
All the best!

Sundara said...

I had a book when I was a kid called "Arthur and Clementine" about two turtles. The girl turtle (Clementine) stayed in her shell while the boy turtle (Arthur) went off and did stuff. Since Clementine got bored, Arthur would bring her things to do. She got more and more stuff, which was all piled on top of her shell. Finally she got fed up with it all and leaves. I'm not describing it very well, but it is a sweet and charming book with a decidely pro-girl slant, maybe a bit more for younger kids, but the drawings are fabulous as well. It is out of print, but can be found for quite cheap through the used bookstores on amazon or barnes and noble. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

The Paper Bag Princess is a wonderful Fairy Tale
as is George and the Dragon

Eclair said...

My daughters (3 & 4) and I are huge fans of Babette Cole. We particularly love Prince Cinders (and his big hairy brothers)

The old Enid Blyton stories like Folk of the Faraway Tree and The Wishing Chair are excellent for this age group too. They have goodies and baddies but nothing actually scary for 4 year olds before bedtime.

Eva said...

We like some of Cynthia Rylant's books - particularly the Mr. Putter and Tabby or Poppleton series. Also, Laurence and Catherine Anholt (www.anholt.co.uk)write and illustrate beautiful story books (Sophie And The New Baby made us cry when my big one was 6 and the baby was only a couple of months old, but the rest are very cheerful without being cloying). Good luck!

Jill said...

I second Eclair's nomination of Enid Blyton books - they may not be PC these days but I loved The Faraway Tree and Three Bad Brownies etc when I was little :)

craftydabbler said...

My daughter, who is three, really enjoyed a chapter book called My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannet. It has a black and white image on about every other page. It is about a boy who runs away on the advice of an old alley cat to rescue a baby dragon, and his adventures along the way.

Fiona's favorite books right now are A Bad Case of Stripes and The Berenstain Bears and the Bad Dream. The former is about a girl who wants everyone to like her. She stops eating one of her favorite foods to please other people and she breaks out in stripes. The latter is about a brother and sister bear who both have bad dreams the same night and their parents explain to them why they had those dreams.

Anonymous said...

I recommend reading "What to expect when mommy's having a baby" It's written by one of those ladies who wrote the "What to expect" series. Jaylene wants me to read it every night. Last night I was too tired (and had already read three other books) so we did it super speed.. she has most of it memorized... I'm on the hunt for "What to expect when the new baby comes home"

Julie K in Taiwan

Anonymous said...

I echo the earlier post for Cynthia Rylant -- such fabulous books. Mr. Putter and Tabby leave us in stitches. The illustrations are incredible.

melissa said...

My sister has a five year old daughter who loves the Enid Blyton book 'Folk of the Faraway Tree' - it is quite old-fashioned but has a real sense of imagination and playfulness. For my own 3.5yr old son we love anything by Quentin Blake esp. 'Angel Pavement' and the 'Mrs Armitage' series. And because I live in NZ I have to recommend Margeret Mahy- the 'Bus Under the Leaves' and many others have lovely imaginary worlds and feature strong boy AND girl characters. Good luck!

crumpet said...

I loved Enid Blyton when I was a kid, and my other favourite book was The Thinks You Can Think by Dr Seuss -- more pictures than story, but brilliant anyway.

Anonymous said...

Interesting question. We have only discovered Steiner last year, our child is 5.6 yr old. Very bright girl and have been reading to her since she was 5 weeks. I am a trained Early Childhood Educator. I personally never thought fairy tales were of any value and were sexist and put ideas into my daughters head that I did not agree with, looking for husbands was important and the old values. I went to a steiner talk last yaer about children's literature and what was "good". Fairy tales were discussed and there was definite direction in some not being introduced until later, like Hansel and Gretel as they are too gruesome for our younger children. Yet some fairy tales were encouraged as they stimulate the imagination and take children into that realm of fairy world and dreamy state. Since I have reading to my daughter some. I think it is important for us as parents to read what we love and enjoy. I believe children get more out of a story and are enthused about books if you enjoy them too. I go to the library and sit there and choose a pile and then read thru them and then only take what appeals.

There are so many books. Just to think of a few. Jane Hissey, Alison Lester,The Secret world of fairies I have just found and my daughter loves it, Wind In the Willows. there are so many.

I think children and particularly smart ones ask a lot about things we can feel uncomfortable about. They can also detect when we feel uneasy and then ask more. I feel for your situation. Something I have learnt from being involved with Steiner this past year is to allow children to be children and sometimes they don't need to know everything and worry about some things that take them out of that dreamy and child state which now is their time to play and be free to roam in that state instead of being in the mental state yet IYKWIM.

lOVE YOUR BLOG. THANKYOU FOR ALL THE GREAT STEINER DOLL INSPIRATION i HAVE TURNED INTO A Sewing nut since taking a course last december in making a Nativity scene. Your work is beautiful thank you so much and best wishes for your new journey of another child. Much love

Suse said...

The problem with Enid Blyton books is that Anne is timid and needs Julian and Dick to look after her, while George is only a strong female character because she pretends she's a boy. In the faraway tree books, Bessie and Fanny do the housework while Joe helps Father in the garden, etc etc.

Dr Suess doesn't have one single positive female character that I can think of.

I heartily second Amanda's recommendation that you read 'Fearless Girls'. In fact I'll bring it along in Feb so you can borrow it.

Away from fairy tales, most Mem Fox, Alison Lester, Janet and Allan Ahlberg books are good for that age group. Also, the Anholt couple who wrote 'Sophie and the New Baby' have a fabulous one called 'Good Days Bad Days' that is soooo comforting to read to a small child (ie. all families have happy sad good bad busy quiet days), and another lovely one called 'Harry's Home' which we bought for obvious reasons.

Lazy Cow will have heaps of fab suggestions I bet.

Eva said...

Last night, my daughter reminded me - Tomie DePaola!! He is an amazing illustrator and has recently written a series of autobiographical chapter books perfect for the 5-7 crowd to listen to/read. The first book is 26 Fairmount Ave. In the second book there is a scary section where the new baby is ill, so you may want to preread there.
And hooray for the My Father's Dragon trilogy. All three are treats.

elke said...

I guess, some children just are like that: thinking about death and loss at a very early age. Despite the fact that I was very careful with the fairy tales I was reading to my kids, my son is like that, too. (And we had the whole wolves-discussion with my daughter, too...) Since he is three-something he has times when he is utterly upset in the evenings, worrying about my death and his own finiteness. Up to know, we couldn't figure out any cause for this phases. But it seems to be fine with him, when we take his worries serious and hold him thight - not too many words needed!

Our recommondation for reading: Astrid Lindgren, for example her "Lotta" and "Michel" stories (hope, they have the same names in the English version?!).

Lazy cow said...

I did a big post about this recently:
http://onlybooksallthetime.blogspot.com/2006/12/best-books-of-year-childrens-picks.html
There are quite a few books there that people have already mentioned. I also adore Babette Cole. Good luck with your search. Your public library should be able to help too - just ask your friendly children's librarian!

Eclair said...

I forgot one - for bedtime stories with nothing upsetting in them that children really relate to, my girls adore Paddington Bear by Michael Bond. It is a little old fashioned.

Suse said...

Popping back because I forgot to say Rudyard Kipling's 'Just So Stories' are fabulous. The language is so fun and playful yet also sophisticated.

Also, I second someone else's recommendation of Astrid Lingren. Pippi Longstocking is great. Although she is a semi-orphan now that I think of it. But a strong and independent and fun loving orphan whose dad pops in just every now and then!

Ingrid said...

Steiner/Waldorf books "You Are Your Child's First Teacher" by Rahima Baldwin Dancy and "Beyond the Rainbow Bridge" by Barbara (...?) both have recommendations on what fairy and folk tales are appropriate to introduce at specific ages. For example, Grimms' tales for 3 and 4 year-olds include Sweet Porridge and the Shoemaker and the Elves. Other suitable stories include the Gingerbread Man, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Little Red Hen, and The City Mouse and the Country Mouse.

With the prevalence of Disnefied versions of fairytales I think it's easy to overlook whether the story is age-appropriate or not; it seems as though if the video or book-from-video is being marketed for little kids, it must be suitable for them. Not so! My kid won't be seeing "Bambi" until she's at least 7!

Amelie said...

Some of the books my parents read to us (not fairy tales) scared me too much to fall asleep, while they didn't have the same effect on my (younger) brothers, so I guess it matters a lot what your own fantasy and thoughts add to the actual text.
Astrid Lindgren's "Pippi Longstocking", "The Children of Noisy Village", and "The Children on Troublemaker Street" are clever and entertaining and should be ok for young children. Her "Brothers Lionheart" deals with death, maybe you want to look at that (haven't read it myself yet).

Karen said...

I just had to comment because I absolutely love children's books. My very first job at 14 (and stayed until I was 18) was working for a children's bookstore that would only stock intelligent books e.g no Disney & Barney. If you're looking for something fairy tale-esque that has a more modern message, I highly recommend these -

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch

It's about a princess who ends up rescuing herself. I get it for every little girl I know.

I also recommend Jon Scieszka as he does a humourous re-telling of fairy tales such as The Frog Prince continues (what happens after the girl kisses the frog) and The True Story Of The Three Little Pigs (told from the wolf's perspective).

Good luck!

The Frog Princess said...

She might be a bit too young for them, but you might want to try The Enchanted Forest Chronicles. The main character, Princess Cimerone is a very smart, independent princess who runs away from home to live with a dragon. Even at 26, it's still one of my favorites!

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