I’m going to start by referencing my most important rule for sharing a book with your child: make sure you have read it yourself first. Fairy tales, in particular, are the kinds of stories that are going to lead to more questions. Be prepared to have a discussion with your child about what you read and be prepared for your child to want to process some of the things that they just heard. I actually start the discussion about fiction and nonfiction pretty early with the children in my care. When I tell them this book is fiction, they will tell me “it’s not real, but it’s something that came out of someone’s mind.” This will help relieve some of the fears that a child can develop after hearing a frightening story.
Still, fairy tales have value and I plan to read them to my son when he is old enough to be able to enjoy them. Some can be gruesome in their punishments and many have parents that are not kind to their children. But, here are some of the reasons that I love to share fairy tales:
- They help to develop critical thinking. Children can see how many of the results in a story are tied to consequences from the decisions that the characters make earlier in the story.
- They are a great segway to talk about other cultures. Some of our most beloved fairy tales don’t come from the US and, as a result, you can talk with your child about the origin of the story and what influences that might have.
- They allow a child to start seeing that there is good and evil in the world. Of course, the real world is a lot less black and white than the worlds of fairy tales, but it introduces children to the concept that the world has some darkness in it.
- The princesses in these stories are often very clever in order to save themselves. In fact, a lot of the women in written fairy tales are multidimensional in a way that most Disney princesses are not. Fairy tales offer many different views of how women can be rescued besides waiting for a handsome prince. After all, doesn’t Gretel save Hansel and isn’t it the sister who saves her brothers in The Twelve Brothers?
For children under the age of five, I suggest starting with some less gruesome tales. Some of my personal favorites include The Princess and the Pea (by Rachel Isadora), The Three Robbers by Tomi Ungerer and Rapunzel by Sarah Gibb.