We all love Fairy Tales! This guide offers recommended stories by age group, teaching ideas, discussion questions, and useful links. We hope it is particularly useful for students, teachers, and homeschool parents. You may also enjoy our complete collection of Children's Stories and Short Stories for Students
Fairy Tales are stories involving fantastic forces, usually good versus evil, most originating in folklore, mythology, and legend. They feature fantasy beings like dragons, dwarfs, fairies and talking animals. They aren't just for kids. In fact, many are complex morality tales; some are graphic or morbid, and shouldn't be read to children at all. We recommend previewing stories before reading with your children.
Most Fairy Tales occur in the past, usually close to home. Some begin with "Once upon a time" and end with "and they lived happily ever after, THE END" but not always. They often feature magic or enchantments, but are unlike modern Fantasy, in which new worlds are created far from home (works by J.R.R. Tokien and C.S.Lewis). Fairy Tales tend to occur near home (Little Red Riding Hood was walking distance from her grandmother). They differ from Science Fiction, which usually occurs in the future and involves newfangled technologies, space and time travel (again, far from home). Folk Tales and Fables are types of Fairy Tales. A Folk Tale is a traditional story shared by a culture, passed on from one generation to the next. A Fable offers a moral lesson, usually involving animals and primarily geared towards children, such as Aesop's Fables. Some Fables are intended for older students and adults because they pose complex ethical questions, employ ironic twists, or are cautionary tales with elements of Gothic Horror. As you can tell, what we call "Fairy Tales" covers a lot of literary ground. They appeal to all ages and all cultures. Common characters and plots have been adapted in different countries, modernized for new generations, resulting in an ongoing shared global literacy.
"'How can I find a bride,” he asked himself, 'in a place where there are no human creatures at all!'" -- The Forest Bride: The Story of a Little Mouse Who Was a Princess
"Little pig! Little pig! Let me in! Let me in!' 'No! No! No! Not by the hairs on my chinny chin chin!" -- The Three Little Pigs
"Run, run, fast as you can. You can't catch me, I'm the Gingerbread man!" -- The Gingerbread Man
“Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman. Be he alive, or be he dead, I’ll grind his bones to make my bread!” -- Jack and the Beanstalk
"Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of us all?" -- Snow White
"'I have many beautiful flowers,' he said; 'but the children are the most beautiful flowers of all.'" -- The Selfish Giant
"No one had the slightest suspicion of what beautiful things she had seen; no one even dreamed of the splendor in which, with her grandmother she had entered on the joys of a new year." -- The Little Match Girl
Differentiate these ideas for your grade level, and check our Useful Links for sample lesson plans.
Either assign a story or ask each student to select a specific story for a written assessment on the following:
1. Identify the characteristics of Fairy Tales, and how they differ from modern Fantasy and Science Fiction.
2. Fairy Tales are told in all cultures around the world, and passed from one generation to the next. Compare two Cinderella stories: Cinderella (German), with the Celtic version: Fair, Brown, and Trembling. Highlight their differences, and discuss the cultural distinctions in each story.
3. How have fairy tales changed over time? Take the scary Grimm's version of Little Snow-White for example, and compare it to the 2012 movie, Snow White and the Huntsman. Comment on the roles of special effects and graphic violence in the modern-day movie, compared to the graphic elements of hate and death in the story. Bonus: discuss the portrayal of the jealous Queen in Disney's 1937 Snow White movie.
4. Identify a scary fairy tale inappropriate for small children, with graphic violence, such as The Brothers Grimm's The Girl Without Hands or The Juniper-Tree. Re-write the story so it can be told to a 3 - 7 year old. What elements did you change?
6. Some fairy tales are not straight-forward "morality tales." They do not have clear "good" and "evil" elements, such as Frank Stockton's story that leaves you hanging, The Lady, or the Tiger? Discuss how its theme of determinism versus free will make this a "grown-up" allegory. [Visit our helpful The Lady, or the Tiger? Study Guide].
8. Read The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde, discuss its surface story, and its deeper meaning as a parable, in the kingdom of God, where the giant finds redemption by the Christ child. Here's a The Selfish Giant Study Guide to help you out.
9. Choose two of Ambrose Bierce's Fantastic Fables. Identify their "lessons" and ironic twist, featured in many of his tales. How do these seemingly absurd tales compare with his better-known Civil War Stories? Use our A Horseman in the Sky Study Guide for some ideas, then read that story.
10. Writing Prompt: Consider the epic Star Wars saga. Identify elements that are specific to each genre: Fairy Tale, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Fable, and Folk Tale (all these genres are present). Provide specific examples (and reference which episode) to demonstrate your understanding of the differences in genres. [Consult our Science Fiction Study Guide for helpful background.]
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