Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Enchanting our students with the Grimm's Tales (ages 7 to 12)

Our 4th and 5th grade students have become enchanted by the Grimm's Tales this fall, and I am absolutely delighted. We are reading Philip Pullman's Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm aloud and talking about the ways these classic stories sink deep into our culture.
Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm
by Philip Pullman
Viking / Penguin, 2012
available from
your local library
audiobook available
Fairy tales gripped me when I was a child, pulling me in with their simple plots, holding me with a few choice vivid details and always providing satisfaction as the wicked characters get the consequences they deserve. Philip Pullman retells the classic tales from the Brothers Grimm with clean simplicity and a storyteller's charm.

Our students are loving Pullman's retellings. They are fascinated to hear some of the longer versions, comparing the different versions they've heard to this one. Hansel and Gretel doesn't just end with their killing the witch. They finally return to their father, who is overjoyed at their return.

My students have noticed that they want to keep finding out what happens next, even though they already know many of these stories. Part of this is due to Pullman's masterful storytelling, but part is due to the way the stories tap into our hearts. I think it's very related to Maria Tatar's concluding comment in her New Yorker review:
"From fiction, (Pullman) tells us, we learn about good and evil, cruelty and kindness, but in ways that are always elliptical, as the text works on us in its own silent, secret way. “‘Thou shalt not’ might reach the head, but it takes ‘Once upon a time’ to reach the heart,” he once observed. Fairy tales began as adult entertainment—stories told just for the fun of it. But with their exacting distribution of rewards and punishments, they also increasingly tapped into the human urge to derive morals from stories, In his own fiction, as well as in these retellings of the Grimms’ fairy tales, Pullman tells stories so compelling that he is sure to produce in the reader the connection—both passionate and compassionate—that Nabokov called a little 'sob in the spine.'"
I'm excited to listen to the audiobook, narrated by Samuel West (available on CD or download). As the New York Times review points out:
"These stories make great bedtime read-alouds for children who can handle a little gore. (They’re short-attention-span theater: Deliciously bloody, but not really terrifying...) The original tales weren’t for children, of course; they were for everyone."
I'm looking forward to seeing how the audiobook does in holding our attention. Even more fascinating is the prospect of listening to a few tales several times to commit them to memory. In a fascinating interview with teacher Monica Edinger, Pullman encourages teachers to tell these stories to children, instead of just reading them. Hmmm... maybe, just maybe, this is something I can try to do.

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books


  1. Great review. I just finished McNeal's Far Far Away, which features the ghost of Jacob Grimm, many of the fairytales and a plot straight out of the brothers Grim. (Yikes!) It's for middle school kids, but may generate interest in the originals, so it's great to have a fresh new compilation.

    1. Thanks! I just finished Far Far Away as well. I found it interesting, but the climax was too disturbing for my taste. I wonder how kids will take the combination of fantasy, fairy tales and realistic suspense in that... Let me know if you share it with any kids - I'm interested to see what they think of Far Far Away!