Fairy tale classics can present issues with youngsters
Almost everybody agrees that reading to young children is important, but not everybody agrees on what should be read or should not be read to children. As our country continues to grow in diversity of ethnicity, religion and political views, the literature available for children shows an ever-increasing diversity. Each family has its own set of values and beliefs and believes in bringing up its children in similar beliefs and values. Therein lies the problem, because people interpret stories in different ways and may well disagree on what is proper for their young children to read.
I remember when my oldest grandchild was little; I decided to read some classic fairy tales and children's stories to him - ones I had heard as a youngster. One I chose was "Jack and the Beanstalk." As I got into the story, I began to have second thoughts. Jack disobeyed his mother and sold their cow for a few magic beans instead of bringing home money for food and clothing and he didn't really get into too much trouble for his disobedience and foolish actions. His mother tossed the magic beans out the door and scolded Jack. When the beans sprouted and grew to the sky, young Jack once more displayed a disturbing tendency toward reckless behavior without regard to consequences and climbed the beanstalk up to the sky where he discovered a giant's castle nestled in the clouds. Then the tale really began to get dicey. Jack broke into the giant's castle - a crime by all standards. He voyeuristically watched the giant eat his meal and praise his goose for laying wondrous golden eggs. To make a long story short, Jack stole the goose and hurt the giant for coming after him by cutting down the beanstalk and enjoying the fruits of his ill-gotten adventure. My grandson, then about 4, obviously was thinking about what it all meant, but I helped him along by explaining that the story was fictitious and in real life, Jack would have been in serious trouble for breaking into the giant's house and running away with the obviously valuable goose.
I ran into further trouble when I read him "Hansel and Gretel." This story involved children losing their mother at a tender age and having her replaced with a horrible woman who didn't want them and forced their father to abandon them in the dark woods. Then, they are lured and imprisoned by an evil old woman who is intent on fattening them up in order to cannibalize them. The children end up tricking her and shoving her into the oven already heated up to cook them. He did seem somewhat intrigued by this story, but I rushed to assure him that it was completely made up and nothing in it would affect him.
I didn't have much better luck with my other grandchildren. "Three Little Pigs" frightened my grandson Owen when he was 3. That old wolf was just too scary. I remembered being enthralled when my mother imitated the wolf in a deepened loud voice, but that was just too much for Owen. "Goldilocks" was another example of a youngster gone wrong as she broke into the empty bear house and ate their food and broke their furniture. She did manage to escape without being eaten. Whew! I decided not to tackle the tale of "Little Red Riding Hood." Wolves and grandmothers are a little too closely associated in that tale.
I suppose the lesson to be learned from my disappointing attempts to read the fairy tale classics to my various grandchildren is that I must always think about how these stories will come across to the children and be prepared to explain inherent problems in them.
However, I'll never know just what will set children off. My daughter to this day hates the story of Bambi as told by Walt Disney. Seeing Bambi's mother killed by hunters traumatized her.
I don't know what the moral of this story is - except don't expect smooth sailing when reading fairy tales to youngsters. Be prepared to explain and comfort and even lie about what the story actually says. They do present an opportunity to compare and contrast values in terms children understand.