Almost any young person can tell you the basic plot of Cinderella or Hansel & Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood. What is it about this genre of stories that make them so memorable and so loved by kids and adults?
In talking with young people about why they love of fairy tales, their responses are quite consistent. These stories draw them in, transport them to another place, and make them feel something — fear, happiness, worry, or excitement to name a few. They speak to universal themes of good versus evil and moral values like hard work and kindness. This makes sense as these tales were often passed down as oral traditions, so they must be captivating and relatable enough that people want to hear them again and again and memorize them to tell their own friends and family.
What Kids Say About Fairy Tales
Michael, 7, speaks for many kids when he says, “The magic is my favorite part about reading fairy tales.” Witches and warlocks, good fairies and evil trolls, characters who can transform into something more beautiful or an entirely new shape inspire active imaginations and make kids feel like anything is possible. Zoe, 9, loves the adventures in fairy tales. “Reading them lets me escape from the real world.“ Isabella, 8, seconds that saying, “I can use my imagination when I read these and visit places I could never really go.”
Some like, Riley, 7, and Rowan, 9, rank “romance” high for why they like the stories while for siblings, Raymond and Rose of Sharon, both 4, the more “twisted and bizarre” the better. Cecilia, 7, likes reading different versions of the same story from different cultures and “seeing the same things and the new things that show up” in each version.
What Educators Say About Fairy Tales
Educators also love sharing fairy tales with kids to strengthen their reading comprehension and writing skills. Kristen, a second grade teacher likes to use these stories to introduce the topic of perspective. “We read The Three Little Pigs and then another story from the Big Bad Wolf’s perspective. They loved it!” Jenni, a fifth grade teacher, uses fractured fairy tales like The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka to kick off a creative writing unit with her students. “Reading a book like this opens up a new world to them as writers. Knowing that it’s okay to take a familiar storyline and riff off of it gets their creative writing juices flowing.”
Favorite Fairy Tales and the Disney Factor
When asked to pick their favorite fairy tales, the answers ranged from classics to modern twists to Disney’s versions. Kyra, 12, appreciates the depth and complexity of classic fairy tales. “They help me think about real life problems and give me hope” and Abby, 12, “loves the original, dark tales like the Grimm Brothers’ Fairy Tales.” Jack, 12, loves books like A Tale Dark and Grimm where “the tales take a twist and who you thought was bad becomes good.” For older tweens and teens, series like The Selection and The Lunar Chronicles take familiar tropes and characters and give them a modern and mature feel that these readers adore.
While many kids first get introduced to these stories through Disney books and movies, the “Disneyfication” of fairy tales is not for everyone. “The Disney versions are way too cheesy and wrap it all up with a ‘happily ever after’ formulaic ending. I prefer the modern takes on the fairy tales like The Land of Stories where things are more complicated,” shares Nicole, 12. Others, like Mezzie, 12, like the ‘happily ever after’ ending and find it “comforting and optimistic.” I was glad to learn that the kids I spoke with do not think that the Prince must come in to deliver the happy ending. They know that the Princess is just as likely to be the hero of the story.
Magic, adventure, a quest with twists and turns, and a dash of romance are tried and true foundations of any good book. Fairy tales offer all of these elements with the added comfort of familiarity. Kids first learn the rhythm of these stories through being read to as toddlers and pre-readers. Then, they experience joy and contentment as they re-discover the same beloved story arcs and the related roller coaster of emotions in everything from chapter books through the latest young adult bestsellers. They are stories that progress with them through the years, building reading memories along the way.