Tag Archives: Folk Tales

Fables Retold: Traditional or Modern?

Photo Credit: Elsita (Elsa Mora) via Compfight cc

I’ve heard it said that there are only six types of story in the world, and everything written is just one of them retold. I doubt this is actually true, or if it is the story base must be very broadly defined; but when it comes to fairy tales / folk tales / traditional tales / fables or whatever classification you give them, the same stories can, and have, been told in countless different ways.

I personally love modern retellings of fables, especially when the characters are aware of their story book origins and interact with the ‘real world’ in some way. But in order to love the re-imaginings, it’s necessary to have some knowledge of the original stories.

There are so many different versions of the stories to choose from too. Take The Three Little Pigs. There are the same elements in each tale: three pigs; houses of straw, sticks and brick; the wolf huffing and puffing. But in some versions the wolf eats the first two pigs, and it others they get away; in some the wolf tries several methods to get the third pig, in others he doesn’t; and in some versions the wolf is killed but in others he gets away and repents.

Which versions of stories should we read to young children? There is a train of thought that children should be protected from bad things therefore many modern retellings will be of the ‘pigs get away’ and ‘wolf repents’ style. There is another train of thought that small children are bloodthirsty little tykes and quite enjoy the wolf being eviscerated by the woodcutter or boiled alive by the remaining little pig! I think it comes down to parenting style and children’s personalities. I’ve read many versions to MG and DG and they enjoy both darker fables and the light. However, when they were toddlers, they preferred the light and fluffy versions so age-appropriateness is key.

Where I prefer modern retellings though, is when it comes to gender stereotyping. I don’t want to feed my children a constant diet of women being saved by men. Little Red Riding Hood can be bright and resourceful enough to defeat the wolf on her own; Cinderella, Beauty, and other princesses need a good reason to fall for their princes – being handsome isn’t much of a character trait; and Goldilocks really shouldn’t get away with breaking and entering just because she’s blonde.

That’s just reminded me, I must find my copy of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes as I suspect that my bloodthirsty little tykes angelic dears will probably love those now. The pile of fable-related books that we have on our bookshelves is enormous, and it would take a long time to cover them all. In the next post, I’ll review a very small selection of them.

How do you like your fables? Modern or traditional? Light or dark? Please share any of your favourite versions or new classics in the comments, I’d love to hear from you.

Photo Credit: Elsita (Elsa Mora) via Compfight cc
(There’s a beautiful blog too)

The Gigantic Turnip (Barefoot Books)

The Gigantic Turnip: Aleksei Tolstoy, Stella Blackstone & Niamh Sharkey (Barefoot Books, 1998)

The Gigantic Turnip: Aleksei Tolstoy, Stella Blackstone & Niamh Sharkey (Barefoot Books, 1998)

Is it terrible to admit that I didn’t know that this story was written by Tolstoy? I guess I thought it was just a generic folk tale that had been around forever, like Little Red Hen (although on Googling I can’t find a definitive answer as to whether Tolstoy just rewrote the folktale or actually made it up!) The text for this version has actually been written by Stella Blackstone, and I think it’s a shame that she’s only credited on the copyright page rather than on the front cover as it’s her words we’re actually reading.

This is an excellent version of the story, starting with an old man and an old woman planting vegetables, and building up the addition of more and more animals trying to pull up the turnip once it has grown. It includes counting from one to six, a menagerie of farm animals, glorious repetition and illustrations to drool over. I am a fan of current Irish Children’s Laureate, Niamh Sharkey’s art and the humour in these illustrations is gorgeous.

This is a beautifully made book too. It’s a total cliché to fall in love with Barefoot Books, but I suppose there is a reason for that. I am getting very close to jumping in and signing up as an Ambassador for them to be honest.

The book also comes with a CD of the story being read as standard. Personally I’m not an aural person and my children don’t listen unless a real person is reading to them so CDs don’t work for us but it’s an added bonus for children who do like audio stories.

This is one of the best versions of the story I’ve read, and has been picked out by Darling-Girl as one of her bedtime stories for the last few nights since I collected all the unreviewed books together and she rediscovered it!

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of The Gigantic Turnip by Barefoot Books as part of the BritMums Oxford meetup. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post.