Book Review: The McElderry Book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales

The McElderry Book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales
By Saviour Pirotta
Illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2006
Age Range: Preschool to Grade 4

The Four-Year-Old recently discovered Super Why, a PBS show that employs fairy tale characters to solve problems of everyday preschool life (and incidentally help kids master the basics of learning to read). The episodes take place in a fairy tale land called Storybrook Village and as the four main characters all hail from commonly told fairy tales (Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, The Princess and the Pea, and Jack and the Beanstalk), The Four-Year-Old is naturally becoming quite interested in fairy tales herself.

So last week I picked up a copy of The McElderry Book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales for The Four-Year-Old from our local library. I chose this book in part because of its attractive and not too scary illustrations, the relatively simple language and brevity of the stories inside, and the fact that the cover copy implied that this edition had been developed specifically for reading aloud. (In other words, I thought, the tales had been sanitized for the younger, more fearful set.)

Billed as suitable for children from preschool to Grade 4, the McElderry Book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales includes ten stories:

  • The Sleeping Beauty: The Story of Briar Rose
  • The Magic Gingerbread House: The Story of Hansel and Gretel
  • The Magic Bear and the Handsome Prince: The Story of Snow White and Rose Red
  • The Golden-Haired Girl in the Tower: The Story of Rapunzel
  • Little Mouse and Lazy Cat: The Story of the Cat and Mouse in Partnership
  • The Princess and the Seven Dwarves: The Story of Snow White
  • The Swans and the Brave Princess: The Story of the Six Swans
  • The Naughty Princess and the Frog: The Story of the Frog Prince
  • The Girl Who Spun Straw into Gold: The Story of Rumpelstiltskin
  • The Twelve Dancing Princesses: The Story of the Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces

In the process of reading these to The Four-Year-Old, I’ve learned several things:

  • As promised, Saviour Pirotta’s language is simple and engaging to read aloud
  • The big print makes it easy for The Four-Year-Old to follow along as I read, which is helpful for beginning readers
  • Emma Chichester Clark’s illustrations are gorgeous
  • Really bad things happen in fairy tales

Yes, yes, I know. This last point is hardly an insightful one. There is a reason I looked for a sanitized version of Grimm’s tales after all. But when your short story’s plot hinges on children getting lost in dark forests, goblins kidnapping babies, fairies cursing infants, stepmothers turning stepchildren into swans, and kings executing princes and hapless young maidens for (let’s face it) rather arbitrary reasons, even Sanitized Fairyland turns out to be a rather scary place.

The Four-Year-Old made me skip all the scary bits, and I found myself passing over or changing several more, which makes for a lot of in-flight editing with this book. If I had to do it all over again, I’d hold off on the fairy tales until The Four-Year-Old was at least eight.

That’s not to say this edition is bad. I actually really like it, but at the same time, it’s clear to me that The Four-Year-Old isn’t ready for it. I think we’re going to explore the rich world of folk tales for a while instead and give the wicked fairies, witches, dwarves, and goblins a rest.

And now it’s your turn. Have you introduced fairy tales to your children yet?

UPDATE, 11/4/2012:

I had occasion to revisit this book review this morning, and it strikes me that my decision to wait until The Four-Year-Old was eight to read fairy tales is too simplistic. It’s not the age that determines the readiness for this book, but your child’s ability to distinguish between truly-scary-in-the-real-world things and scary-for-the-sake-of-plot things.

At the time we read Pirotta’s book, The Four-Year-Old was just beginning to be able to distinguish between fact and fiction. She could suspend her disbelief for happy tales, but even the thought that the grimness in the fairy tales (or the villains in Disney movies) might be real was too much for her and completely destroyed her enjoyment in the story, whether it be a book of fairy tales or the movie Tangled. Now that she’s The Five-Year-Old, she’s able to enjoy watching shows with scary villains. Hopefully, it won’t be long until she has the story-reading fortitude to enjoy fairy tales too.

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About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book, Did Dinosaurs Have Belly Buttons?, is currently planned for release in 2018. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Ten-Year-Old at Caterpickles.com, chatting about books and the writing life at BostonWriters.blog, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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5 Responses to Book Review: The McElderry Book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales

  1. Susan says:

    We tried some fairy tales (in their original Grimm/grim form) but have also backed off. My 7 year-old son likes them well enough, but my 4 year-old daughter finds them too scary. She was really bothered by the stepmother when we went to see the play “Snow White” recently (although she loves the theater, in general), and her persistent questions about why the prince wanted Snow White’s dead body unnerved me. Fairy tales are (despite their many problems) part of our culture, but there’s nothing wrong with waiting a few more years.

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    • Ali says:

      Those fairytales weren’t oiaringlly meant for kids they were for adults. I love collecting old versions of Hans and Grimm, but I don’t have any really old or amazing copies (yet). My friend has a very old (possibly original) Little Mermaid, so jealous.You should read some of Donna Jo Napoli’s fairytale versions, those stick to the gruesome and dark tales of not so pretty happily ever afters. For example Bound is a Chinese Cinderella story, the sister has toes chopped off so she can have small feel and than a raccoon starts gnawing on her feet. Go check out some of her work, they are awesome!

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      • Shala Howell says:

        Sorry for the slow reply, your comment got trapped in my spam folder. Thanks for the recommendations. I like to read fairy tale retellings myself, so will check them out.

        Like

  2. Matthias says:

    I am not going to lie, I have never read the Grimm’s tales, nor The Wizard of Oz or Through the Looking Glass and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland… In fact, I don’t recall ever seieng some of the books film adaptations! But I must say that I love when books break apart in half from you opening and closing them so much! I mean, it is kinda sad, but it just shows how much the book truly means to you (last summer my sister and I had to tape up my copy of Trickster’s Choice by Tamora Pierce because it completely broke apart… If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it!)

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