Whitefield Academy Blog
Library Finds: Tales from the Brothers Grimm
This is the first in an ongoing series of great finds at the library.
A local library is a great resource for new stories to tell your children, but sometimes you can also find stories your children have already heard told in new ways and with beautiful illustrations. Fairy tales (call number 398.2), whether from the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, or other sources, have stood the test of time and have attracted many great illustrators.
Not Just For Children
J.R.R. Tolkein in his essay “On Fairy-Stories” argues that fairy tales aren’t just for children. Fairy tales, by presenting strange but immersive worlds of fantasy, allow us to recover a sense of wonder about the world we live in when we rediscover it after visiting another one. Parents might find that they can “multi-task” by finding enjoyment in the fairy tales they tell their children. Tolkein thinks it’s possible (though he isn’t certain) that children have an advantage with fairy tales, because they more easily enter the state of “literary belief” required for their enjoyment, having fewer experiences to tell them what is real and what is fantasy. Perhaps parents can learn from their children how to immerse themselves in the worlds of fairy tales while they read them aloud.
The collection of fairy tales I picked up at the Central Branch of the Johnson County Library contains stories from the Brothers Grimm illustrated by Herbert Leupin. The Brothers Grimm shouldn’t be thought of as the authors of these stories; in the nineteenth century they collected and published old German folk tales that had been passed down through oral tradition. The origins of many of these tales are uncertain, but some of them, such as “Snow White,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and “Cinderella” will be familiar to us through their adaptations in Disney movies. Walt Disney Studios took many liberties with major aspects of these stories, however, and people are sometimes shocked by the darkness of the original tales. The worst offender in this collection is probably “Hansel and Gretel,” where two children are abandoned in the woods and a witch locks up one of them to fatten him up and eat him.
Too Scary for Young Readers?
G.K. Chesterton, in his essay “The Red Angel” responds to modern adults who think traditional fairy tales such as the Grimm stories are too frightening for children. He responds that fairy tales don’t present anything new to children when they show them evil characters; children are naturally aware of evil through their experience of the world as soon as they enter it. According to Chesterton, “One small child can imagine monsters too big and black to get into any picture, and give them names too unearthly and cacophonous to have occurred in the cries of any lunatic.” What fairy tales give children is assurance that these evils can be defeated. A child is used to the idea that he is weak and that the world is full of danger, but fairy tales show him that even powerful forces of evil are limited by God.
A Unique Collection
This collection doesn’t shrink from including these darker aspects of fairy tales. What sets this particular collection apart from others are the illustrations by Herbert Leupin. Leupin was a Swiss graphic designer, and the images he uses for these fairy tales are full of vibrant colors and comic details without being cartoonish. They each take up a full page, with text on the opposite page, and some illustrations take up two pages. My girls laughed at many of the pictures, and their attention was held throughout the stories. This is helpful, because the text is sometimes a bit difficult for small children. In some of the more complex stories, such as “Hans in Luck,” I wondered how much they understood, though they were still entertained. Hearing a variety of sentence structures and levels of difficulty is important for children learning language, and I think this book does a great job of presenting simple stories like “The Wolf and Seven Little Kids” along with complex but humorous stories like “Hans in Luck.”
Check it out!
My only complaint about this collection is that sometimes the text does not quite line up with the illustrations. This is especially problematic when the illustrations get ahead of the text. I endured several minutes of questions about a donkey who spits out gold in “The Wishing-Table, the Gold-Donkey, and the Cudgel in the Sack,” but I’m pretty sure they missed the whole part about the wishing-table. Overall, however, this collection is a delightful way to bring fairy tales into your family’s story time. Check it out at the Johnson County Library today!
Here’s another Whitefield favorite, read by Mrs. Metcalf, our amazing Pre-K teacher!
Have a little one getting ready for kindergarten? Download our Kindergarten Readiness Checklist!