Many of the best children’s books retell or borrow from fairy tales. Children’s author Teresa Heapy talks about her relationship with fairy tales and offers top tips to parents.
Which fairy tales were told to you as a child?
I was lucky in that my parents read to me a lot when I was little. I also remember having the Ladybird books of fairy tales and reading and re-reading these when I was small until they nearly fell apart – particularly Cinderella and Puss in Boots. When I was a bit older, I loved The Glass Slipper by Eleanor Farjeon, which gives the Cinderella characters more depth. (I’ve just remembered that book! I must go and re-read it!)
Did you prefer tales told or tales read aloud?
For me personally, stories are more associated with books than tales told. (This has resulted in my refusing to read books on an e-device, so our house is stuffed full of books!) Having said that, I think fairy tales are so powerful and such a part of our culture that they almost seep into you without your knowing quite how, why or when you first heard them. And that is a result of constant tellings and retellings.
Did any fairy tales scare you? How did you deal with that?
I remember being terrified of the Queen in Snow White – but she does get her come-uppance in the end! I think that a bit of a scare is a good thing in fairy tales. They teach you – in a safe place with someone’s arm around you – that scary things may happen in life, but that, with friends around you and courage in your heart, you can triumph over the darkness, and find your way out of the woods.
Did you continue to read fairy tales as you got older?
Maybe not read, but revisited…for many years I’ve loved Stephen Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods, which gives fairy tales characters a voice – with all the complication, argument, fear and joy that real life brings. (I saw the original production on Broadway when I was a teenager!) You can click here to read my blog on it! I’ve recently read Philip Pullman’s wonderful, dark, plot-driven version of Grimm’s Tales which is brilliant. I now refer back to this whenever I’m writing a new Very Little story, to take me back to the roots of the story.
Which are your favourite fairy tales?
It has to be Little Red Riding Hood – I love her bravery! And Cinderella will always be close to my heart. I think that Ladybird book version is engraved somewhere inside me.
Which fairy tales are your children’s favourites?
It’s hard to say, as they now know the Very Little versions so well and are constantly telling me their own versions of Very Little fairy tales! They love Little Red, Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk.
Your first book was about Little Red Riding Hood. Why did you choose her first?
I had the inspiration for the book when watching my daughter – then 2 years old – looking at some Doctor Who Top Trumps cards. She came across the werewolf – who is pretty scary – and said, delightedly “Foxie!” So that got me thinking – what if a Big Bad Wolf met a two year old? Would he eat her up – or quickly fall into line?
What did you want to tell your readers about Little Red?
That she’s brave, assertive and resourceful. And – in my version – like any two year old, she loves her Mummy and can get tired and emotional!
Tell us about Cinderella – she is much younger than the character in the fairy tale.
As for Very Little Red Riding Hood, Very Little Cinderella is only two years old, and has very firm opinions on how things should be. I often find myself having – er – ‘discussions’ with my own children about clothing choices, and I wanted to put some of this into the Fairy Babysitter’s efforts to give Cinderella a suitable dress for the party (which she obviously rejects!)
Which other fairy tale do you think needs to be rehabilitated? How would you change it to suit modern readers?
I’m particularly keen on versions of fairy tales which give the female characters a strong role! I am currently working on a version of Very Little Rapunzel with nits! I’d love to explore Very Little Goldilocks or Very Little Jack and the Very Big Beanstalk – there are so many wonderful tales to explore! I’m also a member of my local community panto group, who do a new panto fairy tale each year. Last year, I played Jack in Jack and the Beanstalk. This year, I’m playing Betty the housekeeper in Sleeping Beauty and I can’t wait to tell the story, panto-style, to packed audiences! (Oh yes I can!)
What top tips would you give parents to make story time and fairy tales special?
Don’t forget to point out things in the pictures as these add so much to stories. I’m a big fan of silly voices, which keep me interested and awake (though sometimes I get told off by my children because it’s not the ‘right’ voice!) Add your own touches and memories to stories – ‘remember when we…’ Snuggle up and enjoy it – even if you are reading a story for the 100th time!
I still read to my children (who range in ages from 7-12) when I can and it’s such a special part of the day. They don’t want picture books so much any more, though, and I miss that. So I have to get my fix reading my own books in schools and festivals!
Reading Fairy would like to thank Teresa Heapy for her interview with us. We have shared Teresa Heapy and Sue Heap’s Very Little picture books with many pre-school children and they are always a hit!
Click here to read our last blog post on why you should share fairy tales with your child. And next week, we will be looking at another playful interpretation of a traditional tale. What happens when a crocodile gets inside a story of The Ugly Duckling? All we can say is “Open Very Carefully”!