Many of us grew up with fairytales as the first stories we heard, whether retold by a family member, read in a book or watched in a Disney film. But with so many wonderful new stories out there, do we still need to introduce children to fairytales?
Tiny Owl says YES if we update them!
There are plenty of arguments for taking them off our shelves. The stories can have regressive messages, for instance telling young girls that all their problems can be solved by finding a handsome prince. The antiquated settings of most traditional fairytales are hardly relatable to today’s children, and the underlying themes can often be dark or disturbing.
Yet, the problematic nature of stories written hundreds of years ago can make them the perfect subject for a contemporary retelling that flips old ideas on their head. In the last decade, we’ve seen many brilliant books that give feminist, LGBT and BAME-centred reinterpretations of classic fairytales.
Tiny Owl’s One Story, Many Voices series reinterprets traditional tales from around the world as multicultural children’s books. We think it’s not the handsome princes or magical dresses that make these stories stand the test of time, but the core messages they express. We’ve kept the essential, timeless messages of the stories, but also updated the stories to reflect modern, forward-thinking values.
Cinderella of the Nile by Beverley Naidoo and Marjan Vafaeian introduces a version of the Cinderella Story that predates the familiar European version by Charles Perrault by hundreds of years. Instead of a fairy godmother, the heroine Rhodopis is helped by the Egyptian falcon god Horus, and instead of a prince, she meets the Pharaoh. It is her courage and kindness in the face of adversity, rather than her beauty, that win the day for this heroine.
In The Phoenix of Persia, a story from the ancient Persian epic Shahnameh is retold for modern audiences. When Prince Zal is born with white hair, his father King Sam banishes him to the forest where he is rescued by the mythical phoenix Simorgh. When the King comes to regret his actions, they both learn a powerful lesson about forgiveness and what it means to be truly wise.
The latest in the series, Quill Soup, is a creative collaboration between British author Alan Durant and South African illustrator Dale Blankenaar. It retells the traditional European fable ‘stone soup’ as a colourful animal tale set in Africa. In the story, the porcupine Noko arrives in the village very hungry after a long journey, but no one will share their food with him despite having plenty to share. So Noko cooks up a plan to make them change their minds. The earliest written version of this story dates back to 18th century France. So what relevance does it have today?
At its core, this is a story about the value of empathy and treating other people the way we would like to be treated. These are essential human values that don’t change over time. Sharing with others and being welcoming towards outsiders are key lessons learnt on the playground that stay with us throughout our lives. Quill Soup explores these lessons through an entertaining story with intercultural exchange at its heart.
New interpretations of fairytales like Quill Soup, The Phoenix of Persia, Cinderella of the Nile and many more help to keep the original stories alive and add something new and exciting for contemporary readers. They share important and timeless messages through simple stories to inspire all children. We hope this has made you think about how fairytales can still be a fun and enriching reading experience!