Reasons to read and tell fairy tales

Why we shouldn’t be afraid to tell fairy tales

Fairy tales often get a bad press. They have been criticised for a range of reasons: too gory, too full of magical thinking, bad role models for girls and more. Reading Fairy’s Charlotte Raby explains why you should tell fairy tales to your child.


Fairy tales teach your child about how stories work

They create patterns of language and structure that are explored in book after book. Being fairy tale literate affords your child a vast ocean of story, one that they will draw from throughout their reading life. Experiencing a wide range of fairy tales will help your child learn to read, build a rich vocabulary and encourage them to write imaginatively.

Fairy tales teach your child to listen

Author Philip Pullman suggests that we should all have a few fairy tales that we know by heart to tell our children. A tale told is a tale remembered. One of my dearest memories was of being told fairy tales when I stayed with my grandparents. A fairy tale should be told as opposed to read aloud, it requires participation and a fairy tale can change: its details are in the hands of the teller.

One fairy tale can be told multiple ways

I was told the same fairy tales differently by my maternal and paternal grandparents. Grandpa Squirrel liked a woodcutter to come to the rescue of Little Red Riding Hood, whereas my Oma preferred a more feminist interpretation: Little Red had to sort out the wolf herself with the help of some washerwomen.

Either way the wolf got his comeuppance and the grandmother was beyond hope. Her death never bothered me. The differences in the two stories delighted me. The wolf’s demise was a triumph either way.

Fairy tales are often innately fair

Goodness is rewarded – it might take time but the kind and persistent prevail and the greedy and cruel are punished. (Except if you are old and then you might just get caught in the crossfire – see the grandmother in Little Red!)

There is a fairy tale for every age

Choosing your fairy tale is key. Young children adore the repetition of traditional tales like The Gingerbread Man and the Little Red Hen. They are fascinated by Rapunzel’s golden hair, Hansel and Gretel’s bravery and Cinderella’s gorgeous gown, but each of these stories can become more nuanced and more morally ambiguous if you choose them to be. Equally I have had eleven-year olds on the edges of their seats when I told them Bluebeard (not a story I’d ever tell a young child!)

Original fairy tales are an antidote to Disneyfication

The real fairy tales have strong male and female characters who have to make choices. There are as many female characters who rely on their wit and courage to save themselves as there are gallant princes.

Fairy tales are alive in every culture

The Cinderella tale can be found in most countries around the world. Each version shows us cultural diversity yet at the same time underlines the need we all have to tell stories about family and love.

Make fairy tales your own

When you learn a fairy tale it’s yours to tell and you can bring it out anytime you need to soothe or entertain. My grandparents handed down their versions of fairy tales to me from their parents and so on. Rekindle that tradition and tell fairy tales to your children, so that they can in turn hand down fairy tales to theirs.

Mother Reading Book

Telling fairy tales gives children a strong foundation for reading for life.

Read more about why and how we should tell fairy tales

Three fabulous books we recommend to start you off:

Philip Pullman

Magic Beans

Grimms Fairy Tales

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