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Ask The Green Mama: Are fairy tales still relevant today?

I read my son Thumbelina tonight—our first foray into the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales—and I found that I kept skipping sentences that I felt were sexist, exclusionary, not age-appropriate or not resonant. And this one is pretty benign….  How can we sustain the wonder and the spell of fairy tales for our children while still being aware of gendered stereotyping, exclusion and other negativities in the fairytale trope. How did you deal with fairy tales?


I let fairytales be fairytales. We read the classics such as the Grimm’s Fairtytales and Aesop’s Fables as well as adaptations such as the Barefoot Book series of Princess tales from around the world. And of course contemporary and more feminist Princess stories such as the Paper Bag Princess.

I also read a number of classics that have some dated ideas or language about particular groups. For instance, we have read and re-read Little House on the Prairie, with dated language and attitudes about both First Nations/Aboriginals as well as Black people. On the other hand, these books also have pretty enlightened moments about both groups especially as the series progresses. (And if you keep reading on to the “Rose” series, they track through all sorts of more modern issues including why these groups should be able to vote, etc.) By the way, in a recent story I wrote on books that change lives for EcoParent Magazine, a number of writers referenced children’s books as having been the most influential. By far the most referenced were the Anne of Green Gables series.

I feel that it’s very helpful for kids to see that our understandings and beliefs evolve. As individuals and as societies. We also discuss the issues we read about as a family in a way that fits our kids developmental needs and ages and our family values. Today we talked about Syrian refugees and I referenced First Nations issues, the holocaust, and the Tibetans we know that fled as children. They had references for all of these from either personal family stories or from literature, including the Little House books, American Girl books, and Sparkle Stories (particularly the By Thistle By Thimble series).

As a writer, I am very wary of over-censoring my children’s experiences while at the same time I believe that a child is only free to fully live the magic of childhood when protected: especially during the first seven to nine years. In many ways, fairy tales make that job easier. I turn off the radio around my children and shelter them from the news, yet I let them explore good and evil and basic moral tales through their imaginations and from the safety of a protected childhood.

Explore some of my favourite books that I have read to my children and have helped shape my parenting on the Green Mama virtual book store.


Photo: I was fortunate to get to see the amazing and provocative show  Tales by the photographer Sonya Hurtado at the V&A Museum of Childhood. This is her photo called Pinocchio Small Hearts. Visit her website to see more about this London, UK based photographer.