Just one more fairy tale

This is the first post in the Nourishing Little Readers series, which will run on Fridays at Heart Mama. I want to use this space to review children’s books and talk about reading with children.

In our house, walls are lined with books, and we spend hours, some days, ensconced on the couch, reading book after book after book. Just one more. Just one more. We read picture books and classics, like Wind In The Willows, Pippi Longstocking and Alice in Wonderland. My husband reads books in Dutch.

Lately, my daughter and I have been sitting in bodies of water (the lake, the bath), facing each other, telling each other imaginary tales. We weave worlds from our imagination. She pulls an invisible book from the invisible shelf – Read this one. What’s it about? and she listens and asks questions and makes changes. Just one more, she asks, as the bath gets cold.

Her favourite tales are Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White. We read so many books, but she so often asks for the classics. They are more than classics; they are archetypes; stories told by peasants in the middle ages. Stories that carried messages, passed from mother to daughter to granddaughter, like wisdom. Children sitting in bodies of water – Just one more.

I think I read my favourite Edenland post last week. The Red Shoes. She wrote about her red shoes, and about lying in bed with her sons, telling them the original story of the red shoes. She reminded me that the fairy tales we know are watered down.

The real stories were full of dark themes, complex, dark humanness. When the story was still passed lip to lip, it was Snow White’s mother, not her step-mother, who wanted her dead. Snow White was only sixteen; a ripening, sexual being. Snow White’s mother felt threatened by her sexuality. The Queen demanded that a huntsman take Snow White into the woods, and bring back her liver and her lungs as proof of her death. The huntsman couldn’t bring himself to do it, and brought back the liver and lungs of a boar, which the Queen ate.

Snow White lived with the seven dwarves who made her clean their house and cook as payment for their protection. The Queen attempted to kill her daughter three times. When she eventually succeeded in killing Snow White, the handsome prince found her coffin. His kiss dislodged the poisoned apple, which had stuck in her throat, and Snow White awakened. They married, and the mother was punished for her evil deeds. She was made to dance for hours in heated iron shoes, until she burnt to death.

There are different versions. Mostly gruesome. Mostly heeding a warning. Be ware of your jealousy towards your daughter.

When Little Red Riding Hood was a peasant tale, the little girl wearing a red cape was seduced into her grandma’s bed by the wolf, who ate her. Grandma didn’t survive. Red Riding Hood didn’t either. In other versions, she led the wolf into believing she needed to go to the toilet, and escaped. Little Red Riding Hood was first written down by French author Charles Perrault. In his version, Riding Hood was tricked and killed by the wolf. The story became a moral tale; a warning not to talk to strangers, and to warn villagers of the dangers of the forest.

These stories are tepid when they make it into our children’s books, though there is horror enough. Grandmas are still eaten by wolves. Girls are still led into the forest to be killed by hunters. My just-three-year-old lays against me on the couch. Just one more. Why isn’t she horrified?

These stories carry darkness. Maybe children aren’t afraid of death. Maybe it is something we learn to be afraid of as we age.

My daughter recites fairy tales. Her gaze fixes as her mind draws from the Three Little Pigs, Snow White, Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks. The characters and events merge. Her versions are sweet and kind. Her little pigs build houses for the wolf after he tries to blow theirs down. Her Goldilocks leaves porridge for the three bears. I wonder about the morals to her stories.

Just one more, she says.

Do you read fairy tales to your children? Do you read the Disney version? Or glide over the horror, hoping your little one won’t notice? What is it about fairy tales that grip little imaginations?

{Linking with Grace for FYBF on With Some Grace}

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The enchanted place

Ernest Shepard from The House at Pooh Corner

From In which Christopher Robin and Pooh come to an enchanted place, and we leave them there, in The House at Pooh Corner by A.A.Milne.

“Pooh, when I’m – you know – when I’m not doing Nothing, will you come up here sometimes?”

“Just Me?”

“Yes, Pooh.”

“Will you be here too?”

“Yes, Pooh, I will be really. I promise I will be, Pooh.”

‘That’s good,” said Pooh.

“Pooh, promise me you won’t forget about me, ever. Not even when I am a hundred.”

Pooh thought for a little.

“How old shall I be then?”


Pooh nodded.

“I promise,” he said.

Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out a hand and felt for Pooh’s paw.

“Pooh,” said Christopher Robin earnestly, “if I – if I’m not quite – ” he stopped and tried again – “Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won’t you?”

“Understand what?”

“Oh, nothing.” He laughed and jumped to his feet. “Come on!”

“Where?” said Pooh.

“Anywhere,” said Christopher Robin.

So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.

*   *   *

I don’t know why…pregnancy hormones, perhaps…but reading this chapter, the final chapter in the collection of Pooh stories, to Elka the other night, I began to cry. My chest constricted, and as I read, I fought back the tears, until I couldn’t contain them and I was sobbing like I haven’t sobbed in years. Elka sat closer, one hand on my arm, her big brown eyes focused on me intently.  Mama, are you OK? she asked. Do you need Dew Tea* to make you feel better? I couldn’t stop. She, Pooh, Christopher Robin, the book, everything. I couldn’t stop.

What was it, other than the pregnancy hormones that made me cry so?

I have been thinking about it ever since.

Perhaps is was just the pregnancy hormones.

But perhaps, it was the end of Winnie-the-Pooh & The House at Pooh Corner, only my favourite storybook ever written. I had never read this far into the collection of Pooh stories, so perhaps I was taken aback that it actually did end at some point…that those stories didn’t somehow miraculously continue into infinity, like I somehow imagined they would. All things, even the best thing, must end. Maybe this is why I couldn’t hold back tears.

Perhaps it was because every time the relationship between Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh is referred to, I well up. To me, their friendship and their love for each other is so perfect. Well, you laughed to yourself, “Silly old Bear!” but you didn’t say it aloud because you were so fond of him, and you went home for your umbrella. Their friendship is built on trust and respect. On affection. On warmth. Maybe this is why I cried.

Perhaps it was because, behind the words of this final Pooh Bear chapter, lies a metaphor. A metaphor that represents ageing, and the leaving behind of childhood. The fact that imagination and childish dreams and the desire to do Nothing can’t continue forever, and we must all at some point enter the land of Reality. It is only on visiting our Enchanted Place that we can return to our childhood imaginations, like visiting an old friend for a cup of tea and realising that your friendship will never be as it was when you were young.  Maybe I cried because, at some point, we all have to grow up.

Or, perhaps it was just the pregnancy hormones.

Am I the only one in the world who loves Winnie the Pooh this much? What about you? Will you join me? And do you ever cry like a hungry and under-slept toddler when reading a children’s book out-loud? 

Please join me at the Heart Mama community on Facebook.

{linking with Grace  for Flog Your Blog Friday and Bree for Flash Friday at Twinkle In The Eye}

*Dew Tea refers to the bottle of warm milk and water that Elka drinks, lying on our laps, touching our face. Her comfort.