Fairy Tale Book Recommendations?

One of the books in SteelyKid's regular rotation of books to read at naptime and bedtime is this book about a girl visiting characters from fairy tales to ask them what makes somebody happy ever after. It's not the greatest, but she enjoys it.

It occurs to me, though, that while the book references a couple of classic fairy tales-- the girl in the story visits the princess from "The Princess and the Pea" and the frog prince, and also a fairy godmother-- SteelyKid has never heard any of the original stories, and thus is unlikely to appreciate the references (even accounting for the fact that she's two-and-a-half...). We don't own any books containing those stories, as far as I know, and we've certainly never read them to her.

Now, I realize that many of these stories are kind of awful from a gender/class/race stereotyping standpoint. At the same time, though, they're kind of essential background knowledge for a lot of Western culture. So it would probably be good to read some version of them to her at some point, so she knows what people are talking about when people reference Snow White or Cinderella or whatever.

Thus, a question for my readers:

What is the best, or at least least awful, source for classic fairy tales to read to steelyKid?

Ideally, this would be 1) kid-friendly (the gory original Grimm Brothers tales can wait until she's older, likewise the Edward Gorey fairy-tale book that I saw at the Book House in Albany), 2) presented well (nice pictures, minimal awfulness), and 3) readily available, preferably in some local store so I can look at it before buying, but at least in print via Amazon. If there's some truly exceptional collection out there that fails one of these, though, most of these are negotiable.

Of course, in addition to the fairy-tale-referencing, I'm sort of ridiculously pleased that she has requested numerous readings of the ridiculously silly 13 Words by Lemony Snicket and Maria Kalman (Word 1: Bird. Word 2: Despondent. It gets sillier from there...). If she's going to grow up liking that sort of thing, she's definitely ours. As if there was any doubt...

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You might want to go to your public library and talk with the children's librarian, and look at their books.

What Mara said. I was just about to write the exact same thing. You don't have to use collections of fairy tales. There are many picture book versions of individual fairy tales out there and I'll bet your public library has a substantial section. Once she has heard the originals, there are also a lot of really good fractured fairy tales, many of them empowering the girls in the stories. Also, my sister just changed the pronouns in many stories that she read to her children, so all those plucky boys became plucky girls.

By Ruth Ellen (not verified) on 05 Feb 2011 #permalink

I agree with exploring your local library and looking at the single title picture books. I like ones by Paul Galdone, James Marshall, Stephen Kellogg, for the humor in their illustrations, or Trina Schart Hyman and Tasha Tudor for lush and romantic pictures.

The best collections of fairy tales from around the world ever put together were done by Andrew Lang. While you can find some of them in stores like Barnes and Noble, you can also find the full collection online (thank god for copyright expiration dates!).

In fact, here's the link: http://www.mythfolklore.net/andrewlang/

The stories range from the simple and pleasant to the, well, let us say "more traditional". But there has never been a better set of fairy tales ever collected.

Try "The Princess Have a Ball" by Teresa Bateman. It's about a group of princesses who keep wearing out their shoes, and nobody can figure out why. It turns out they have set-up a secret basketball game in the basement of the castle. It's fun, positive, and my daughter loved it.

Michael #5 - Thank you!!! I had no idea that the Andrew Lang books were now online. How wonderful!

By Ruth Ellen (not verified) on 05 Feb 2011 #permalink

First, read The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim. Then you can use any source. The take-away lesson I got from Bettelheim is to make the storytelling a dialogue. And you tailor it to the occassion. I liked using comic books, esp Spiderman.

[Only partly joking here...]

Fractured Fairy Tales from Rocky and His Friends (wrongly known as Rocky and Bullwinkle or just plain Bullwinkle)

There are books transcribing the videos.

By featheredfrog (not verified) on 05 Feb 2011 #permalink

What Michael said. The Andrew Lang Fairy Books are fabulous. I would recommend staying away from retooled folk tales that minimize the awfulness, empower the originally-passive ladies, and make more sense. If you're going to read those to her, why bother? Just have done with it and read only modern works.

There are plenty of traditional folk tales with strong women, good justice, and minimal gore. Choose those now and add the more problematic ones later. But it's the actual traditional stories that are an important cornerstone of civilazation; modernizing them will deprive her of background just as surely as not reading them.

Besides which, children can handle the gore and badness.

I checked Chinaberry- my go-to resource for children's books.
They had a version of the snow queen (hans christian anderson) and a collection of aesop's fables you might want to check out.

Poking around amazon for inspiration... I have heard good thing about Andrew Lang's series "The Blue Fairy Book"/"The Red Fairy Book" ect. They are a lot more dark than disney versions though.

If those suggestions are not toddler-friendly, there is a golden book version of "the little red hen" and apparently a Tomie dePaola version of 'my first fairy tales'. I think I will need to get that one soon. He also has one called the knight and the dragon that I think I remember.

I have 2 author suggestions: Arnold Lobel and the couple, Janet and Allan Ahlberg

My child, who's now a physics major at your alma mater, devoured many of their books.

Arnold Lobel is primarily remembered for his Frog and Toad series. He also wrote Fables.


The Ahlbergs created lovely picture books. Each Peach Pear Plum is more of an introduction to Nursery Rhymes. If your daughter is "into" peek-a-boo or I Spy, then she would have fun with this and some of their other books.


You and your wife might consider starting with Aesop's Fables mostly because the stories are shorter.


Some 20-odd years ago my mother would read my sister and I the traditional stories but then tack onto the end something to the effect of '...and the prince placed the glass slipper on Cinderella's foot and it fit! Then Cinderella went to University, got a degree, and became independently wealthy. Then she and the prince got married and lived happily ever after. The end.'

So you can always change stories on the fly when they get a bit stereotypical.

By Elizabeth (not verified) on 05 Feb 2011 #permalink

I agree about Lang. And if you want his books in beautiful hard-back editions, try the Folio Society in Britain:
and search for Andrew Lang.
You'll pay a bit for postage and delivery isn't mega-fast but they are very reliable.

I'll readily admit that I was a pretty twisted child, but my favourites were always the Hans Christian Andersen stories, even when I was very small.

Keep in mind that kids don't really understand things like "death", so when the Little Mermaid dies at the end of the book, it's not so horrifying -- there's no connection to the idea of being "dead forever", and little horror at the idea of dying, since kids at that age don't see themselves as mortal.

We also had a big book of Grimm's fairy tales, but I don't think that was until I was 5 or 6.

Dover Press has reprints of Andrew Lang's Color Fairy Book series, which are excellent.

I can attest to the delight of introducing your child to Edward Gorey early (my kids are 24 and 21 now, and still hooked on him).

Picture books are the way to go, as is the library. Children's books can be pricy and are quickly outgrown. Get 'em from the library and buy her only ones she makes a strong connection with.

The problem of girls getting to do cool stuff in children's books is a long-term problem--one I was working at when my 21 year old daughter was little--seemed like potentially dangerous stuff was always boy territory. It's not a fairy tale, but be sure to get "Mirette on the High Wire" if you haven't already.

Not exactly what you're looking for, but I have to throw in a plug for Jane Yolen's retellings of traditional Scottish ballads, Dove Isabeau and Tam Lin. They might be a little mature, as one contains a revenge killing and one involves the thwarting of a human sacrifice, but they are beautifully illustrated, and the antifeminist elements are omitted or changed with striking elegance.

1) kid-friendly (the gory original Grimm Brothers tales can wait until she's older, likewise the Edward Gorey fairy-tale book that I saw at the Book House in Albany), 2) presented well (nice pictures, minimal awfulness), and 3) readily available, preferably in some local store so I can look at it before buying, but at least in print via Amazon.

You want the Disney versions, then.

Or at least the Victorian expurgated 'translations' that make sure to remove unhappy endings, and any attempts for people to break out of the social class (the anti-ugly-duckling, I guess).

You might want to give DK a try. There's A First Book of Fairy Tales, which I've never read and can't tell you anything about, and The Illustrated Book of Fairy Tales. The IBoFT has fairy tales from all over the world, so even though the European ones are full of white folks, there's oodles of pictures and stories of heroes and heroines from other places as well. Each story is 2-6 pages, and has multiple pictures on each page, but it is written more for the 4-8 age range, I think. But if you're looking at the Lang books, I'd give this one a try as well.

By Technocracygirl (not verified) on 06 Feb 2011 #permalink

Jan Brett. Her illustrations are great - she has little side stories going along with the main story and she goes all over the world to research her drawing.

And then I'll second and third all the other wonderful suggestions you've gotten.

I think with a 2 yr old go with the non-gory classics and then get them challenged as grade schoolers to explore other culture/ethnic tales as I did from my mom and she ingraining us with Sesame Street and Electric Company.

I wrote a children's picturebook story/tale to be sort of fun and mythic, using a dog and a horse as friends. I published it through Lulu and it's listed with Google Books and other bookstore websites. Some people like it as it's talking animals and connects to old native american and american west, plus astronomy and lore tied to star clusters represented by the animals. I was literally possessed by a writing muse spirit (psychotic obsession) one day and over a month designed and wrote it. =)

Classics to Read Aloud to Your Children by Wm F Russell. Stories are sorted by listening-age-level and approx reading time is given for each story. Also enjoyed Classic Myths to Read Aloud, same author.

I've never seen an illustrated copy, but I'm a big fan of George MacDonald's fairy tales. It's been awhile since I've read them, so my memory is a bit hazy, but I remember at least some retorts against the sexism of the tales his Victorian contemporaries were writing.

By Idhrendur (not verified) on 07 Feb 2011 #permalink

Overall, I don't think there are good collection books around, at least not in bookstores at this time, and one-by-one is the best bet. I once leafed through an anthology-type book that was marketed "for grandparents" - it was over-edited to the point that stories made very little sense. But one-by-one there's plenty of great offerings. Try any of the James Marshall fairy tale books. He has quite a few, and the illustrations and the text are hilarious. My almost 3 year old loves them, especially Little Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks. While there is still some violence (e.g., people and pigs get eaten, burned etc.), I think that's an essential part of the story and is also not dwelt upon. Princess and the Pea - we have a nice one illustrated by John Cech, which is more traditional ("pretty" illustrations); I think that's a recent edition. Paul Zelinsky and Jim Aylesworth are other good illustrators of traditional stories, but everyone has just a few, so you have to search.
I hope this helps,

By Anonymous (not verified) on 07 Feb 2011 #permalink

Our daughter (3) loves the Usborne Book of Fairy Tales. (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Usborne-Book-Fairy-Tales-Rumpelstiltskin/dp/074…) I ordered it after seeing it at a friend's house. It has very clear illustrations and the story is told in a very simple way, with each major step made pretty explicit. It's not p.c. though: the wolf does eat the grandmother and red-riding hood, but the woodsman saves them. Actually, she now loves to act out this story in particular, so it doesn't seem to be a problem.