Albert Einstein was asked once how we could make our children intelligent. His reply was both simple and wise. “If you want your children to be intelligent,” he said, “read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales. The creative imagination is the essential element of a true scientist, and fairy tales are the childhood stimulus to this quality.” He understood the value of reading, and of imagining. If you want to give your children a world in which they will read, imagine, and understand, try some of these, my favorite fairy tales. I try to include one in each of my storytimes.
I love the wording of Paul Galdone’s translations and you’ll find four tales in The Nursery Classics. Paul Galdone created hundreds of books in his lifetime and many of his picture books quickly became accepted as the definitive version of traditional stories. Collected here are four of his most popular picture books: The Three Pigs, The Three Bears, The Little Red Hen, and Cat Goes Fiddle-i-fee.
Galdone also illustrated The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Three clever billy goats outwit a big ugly troll that lives under the bridge they must cross on their way up the mountain to a grassy meadow. The troll meets his match and you’ll have everyone at your house trip tramping all about and reenacting this classic tale. It’s a favorite at our house and in storytime.
Try Chicken Little by Rebecca and Ed Emberley and you’ll not regret it! “Chicken Little was not the brightest chicken in the coop. He was very excitable and prone to foolishness. One day he was doing nothing, his usual pastime, when an acorn fell from the sky and hit him on the head. Bonk! EEP!” Chicken Little runs in a panic to his friends Henny Penny, Lucky Ducky, and Loosey Goosey, to tell them the sky is falling. Panic and adventure ensues.
Abiyoyo by Pete Seeger is a children’s classic which is now in a book and CD edition. This African folktale has it all: a monster, a hero, and music. “Abiyoyo” is an ancient lullaby of the Xhosa people of South Africa. Listen to Pete tell (and sing) this story, then read it yourself, and then let your child tell the story to you. That way, you tell the story you want to tell and make it your own. The result is a whole mess of fun!
Here’s a contemporary folktale from a marvelous writer: The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson. Just what is the gruffalo? “He has terrible tusks, and terrible claws, and terrible teeth in his terrible jaws.” But do all those things make him the scariest creature in the deep dark wood? One brave little mouse with a big imagination doesn’t think so! You’ll cheer for this clever little mouse as he fends off all of the animals who want to eat him. I read this one during my ‘I’m Not Scared!’ storytime.
I must include the books of local (Kirkland, Washington) librarian/storyteller Margaret Read MacDonald. She retells folktales from all over the world. The Boy From the Dragon Palace is a Japanese fable about a poor flower seller who gets a gift. Read this to children to reinforce the idea that it’s always good to say thank you.
I love reading Conejito, MacDonald’s folktale from Panama. Conjejito runs into a few obstacles when he goes to visit his Tia Monica on the high mountain. They all say “Oh Conejito! I think I have found my lunch!” but he and his Auntie outfox them all. You’ll be humming: I have a sweet old Auntie, my Tia Moncia. And when she goes out dancing, they all say ‘Ooo la la!’
Mabela the Clever is MacDonald’s retelling of an African story that will entertain you and your child. Mabela may be the smallest mouse in the village, but that doesn’t matter because her father has taught her to be clever. When the cat comes to invite everyone to join the secret cat society, the mice line up with Mabela in the lead. In the end, she leads them all to safety.
And, finally, please check out The Squeaky Door as retold by MacDonald. Grandma tucks little boy in tight. She turns out the light. And he’s not scared. No, not him! But when Grandma shuts the door, SQUUEEEEAK! Who helps little boy? This story is based on a Puerto Rican folk song ‘La Cama’ and is pure joy!
Check out these and many other fantastic folktales from your library so you and your children will be intelligent — just like Einstein. Also, look for the folktale edition of Everett Public Library’s Book Bites which is broadcast on television between shows, on Everett TV Channel 21. It It is also on the City of Everett You Tube Channel.