Ladybird editor Ellen considers the importance of classic fairy tales for today's children…
It’s a good job I’m fascinated by fairy tales: at Ladybird they are never off the agenda. We’ve been publishing them for over forty-five years, so they really are at the heart of our publishing history.
Here are some of my favourite things about fairy tales:
The clear-cut, you-know-where-you-stand good or badness of the characters: wolves = horrid, fairy godmothers = wonderful.
The neat morality: if you are a big, bullying giant you will end up crashing down from your beanstalk. If you get all your housework done, you shall go to the ball.
The magical, olde-worlde settings: villages, woods, small German towns and shadowy forests, where anything can happen.
The odd, old-fashioned language and well-known shout-along lines.
For me, these familiar words immediately conjure up images of greedy wolves who want to gobble everyone up, trolls lurking under bridges, and the wonderful idea of living in a cottage in the woods surrounded by magical creatures. Brilliant! Some of the things that happen in fairy tales (abandonment, poverty, threat of being eaten, among many others) may seem grisly, but they give children a chance to think about their fears and find ways to make them manageable.
It’s easy to forget, as adults, just how powerful those early experiences of imagination are. Children tend to listen to every word, and build up a vivid mental picture, full of emotional connections. They visualise a hungry Hansel and Gretel stumbling upon a cottage made of sweets and gingerbread, and thrill to the idea of breaking off a piece of stripy candy-cane to eat. It’s these magical ideas that can help children create a rich inner world of imagination for themselves.
Often, fairy tales tap into the same themes that children are toying with in the playground when they play cops and robbers, princess palaces or flying spaceships. These are settings in which anything can happen, and the child has the power to make adult decisions and test the consequences. It’s an opportunity to think about bravery, kindness, anger, right and wrong.
The most recent Ladybird editions to hit the shelves are the newly-illustrated Read It Yourself stories. The great thing about these is that they’ve been written really cleverly with a small number of words, so that young children can manage to read them all by themselves. If you know a child who is starting to read short sentences and you’d like to get them excited about a real story, get them to give one of the Read It Yourself books a try:
Ellen, Ladybird Editor