(reading Puss in Boots)
Happy Tell a Fairy Tale Day!! No, I’m not kidding -it’s a thing. Here’s proof. If the internet says it, it must be true, right?
In any case, I’m a firm supporter of…well, any reason to curl up with a good book. And fairy tales are some of my favorites. I love the endless possibilities (talking animals? magic potions? spinning straw into gold?) and the safe structure provided for confronting fears. Who needs to be grounded in reality anyway?
“When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking.”
– Albert Einstein
Sing it, Dr. E.
Here are our top five fairy tale books right now:
1. The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen, published by TASCHEN.
Do you know the publisher Taschen? This publisher is perhaps best known for it’s coffee table art books, usually filled with gritty, sexual, and sometimes controversial images. And now Taschen has taken on fairy tales and -get ready- they’re FABULOUS. I couldn’t be more thrilled with the result. My hands-down favorite is The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (think: Princess and the Pea, Emporer’s New Clothes, Ugly Duckling). This book is one-part art book, one part children’s book, and the (highly esteemed) 1942 translation by Jean Hersholt is THE BEST I’ve ever read.
For example, did you know that many of these stories were actually satires, enjoyed by adults and children alike? The helpful introductions give insight into each tale, and I often found myself laughing out loud. And the artwork is nothing short of jaw-dropping. In some cases, Taschen resurrected art from previously published editions, in other cases new pieces were commissioned for the book. The result is a diverse collection of unique and beautiful imagery, making this book a true treasure of both story and art.
Taschen has also published The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, and it’s just as gorgeous (we own both), but this translation retains the original stories, dark and brooding, often with violent ends. For example, in the original Frog Prince there isn’t any kissing. The frog turns into a prince because she throws him against the wall in anger. True story.
Artwork from Sleeping Beauty
One note: The original stories in both books are all quite long, and may not appeal to toddlers. Both of my boys love them, but Pax, my youngest, is four, and has always had a penchant for stories.
2. Beauty and the Beast by Max Eilenberg, illustrated by Angela Barrett
I searched long and hard for a retelling of Beauty and the Beast that had both gorgeous artwork AND a story I could stand behind. (For example, this one, I could NOT. It was like reading a poorly written soap opera.) Additionally, I had problems with the father saying (essentially), “don’t eat me, I’ll go and get my daughter – you can eat her.” Hunh? Nor did I like it when Beauty “suddenly” realized that she was in love with the beast. Yeah, this is common stuff of fairy tales, but Beauty and the Beast has so much potential for a beautifully written love story – with all of the failures and fragility of human nature.
Finally, I found it.
This retelling of Beauty and the Beast by Max Eilenberg ranks as one of my very favorite children’s books ever written. The storytelling is superb, and the scene at the end – where Beauty realizes her love for the Beast has grown into something profound – moved me to tears. It is one of the most beautifully written love stories I’ve ever read.
The artwork, detailed and dark – almost surreal – is the kind you can pour over for hours. Angela Barrett handles magnificent, breathtaking landscapes and tiny, detailed vingettes with equal skill. The scene where Beauty wanders through the Beast’s castle – discovering all of the varied rooms – is done in fine, elegant detail, and leaves one feeling like you’ve just discovered a wonderful secret.
3. Jack and the Beanstalk, Steven Kellogg
I usually hate this story. Jack is almost always presented as such a dolt (“sure, here’s my cow, three beans sounds fair”) who then, by some seriously dumb luck, ends up with a magic hen and a harp. I mean. The first time Raines heard this story he was flabbergasted. “WHY WOULD HE GIVE UP THEIR ONLY COW??” he wanted to know. “FOR BEANS???”
Raines was three. #preach
Happily, Steven Kellogg gives Jack some wits – enough wits to make him take a risk on magic beans (there was a money-back guarantee after all) and enough wits so the rest of the story makes sense. He also gives a little backstory on how the Ogre came to possess the magic items, making you feel much less sorry for the Ogre when he meets his final end.
But the best part of the story? The illustrations. They’re so…awful, they’re delicious. Both boys (even scaredy-cat Pax) can’t resist (although Pax will only read this book during the day – too scary for bedtime). This is one of our most enduring stories – at any age. Raines was three when we first introduced this story, Pax has always loved it. It’s still a favorite with both today.
4. The Snow Queen, A Pop Up Adaptation By Yevgeniya Yeretskaya
Have you ever read The Snow Queen? Even the original, found in The Hans Christian Andersen compendium (mentioned above) is….well…fractured, in terms of story. Insane amounts of detail that matter not all, and a plot that starts and stops in bursts, rather than bringing the reader along. Frankly, this story drives me nuts. And the end? A total letdown. Rather than some exciting bit of trickery or adventure, when Gerda reaches the Snow Queen’s palace to save her beloved friend Kai, the Snow Queen is…absent? Yeah – she decided to fly off on an errand or something. HOW CONVENIENT. And then there’s some confusing bit about ice making the shape of the word “ETERNITY” (which is odd, since this is pretty much the first you’ve heard of it) and VOILA!! Kai is saved, and they are all grown up but still children at heart.
I find all of this especially frustrating because this story has all of the makings of an epic journey: fantastical beings, breathtaking scenery, talking animals and more than one major obstacle to be overcome.
So. There have been many publications of The Snow Queen, and they all have one thing in common: mediocre storytelling coupled with amazing illustrations. The Snow Queen illustrated by PJ Lynch is the closest to the original tale (with gorgeous illustrations), or even this one (a shorter version that’s even more stilted than the original, but with slightly glossier imagery).
So given that I’m no fan of The Snow Queen, why is it even on this list? Well. The Pop-Up version (random, I know), is a paper engineering marvel. Truly, there is no better word.
This book renders my boys SPEECHLESS. It goes in phases, but this is often one of our most-requested reads. And the storyline is no worse than any of the others – it’s very closely based on the original, with clever little pull-outs and pockets that hold both additional text and hidden art. It’s…delightful, actually, and the odd story almost works better this way.
Someday, I’ve love to completely rewrite The Snow Queen. The possibilities, you guys!! (And if anyone knows of some seriously awesome Snow Queen fan fiction I’M ALL EARS.)
5. A First Book of Fairy Tales by Mary Hoffman, Illustrated by Julie Downing
First of all, the publishers state that this book is best for ages 7-12 and THAT IS INSANE. This “first book” is for 2-3 year olds. The abbreviated, stilted storytelling and bland pictures should give that away pretty quickly.
BUT. There’s something about this book – stilted storytelling and all – that really resonated with my boys when they were young. For some reason, this book – THIS ONE – was the first chapter-like book my boys would sit through. Each page is virtually a different story, many of them following the lines of “once upon a time….a few things happened, they were sad, then they lived happily ever after the end” and I’m left thinking, “well, that sucked” while my boys were crowing for more. So. Consider yourself warned – this book isn’t very fun for adults to read, but it captures all of the magic and drama of traditional fairy tales in an easy, kid-friendly, non-scary way. But again: best for 2 and 3 year olds.
There are so many more Fairy Tales that we love to read – more than I could possibly list here. In addition to our favorites above, if you haven’t checked out the work of illustrators Charles Santore, KY Craft, or Ruth Sandersen then you’re in for a treat. See The Mom Edit Shops – Kids Books for the complete list of our favorite fairy tales.
If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
What are YOUR favorites? I’d love to know!!