For a while, I didn’t read a lot of fairy tales to my small girls. I avoid presenting them with content that represents violence, and there’s not much more violent than the Brothers Grimm–remember how the stepsisters REALLY try to trick the prince when he comes searching for Cinderella? Shudder.
We’ve been implementing some elements of the Waldorf style of schooling into our home, however, and one thing that’s emphasized in Waldorf study is the experience of myths, legends, and fairy tales–they speak to us as a people, tell who we are as a culture, and are especially relevant to the emotional language of children, both light and dark. They’re also, like the Earth is Our Mother series of books, seen as connective, showing children their place in their community as a whole. And it’s true that my girls love hearing these cross-cultural fairy tales.
Although their favorites are the Brer Rabbit stories and native tales from Australia, here are five good starter books to try out with your own budding myth-seekers:
Latin American Folktales: Stories from Hispanic and Indian Traditions–edited and with an introduction by John Bierhorst. There is a huge amount of tales to choose from within this volume, from all the Latin American countries and even from the United States. There are no illustrations, but briefer tales would be perfect for memorizing or performance.
The Pot of Wisdom: Ananse Stories–by Adwoa Badoe and Baba Wague Diakite. My girls love Ananse, the trickster spider. These Ananse tales from Ghana are not Americanized or modernized, which might make them difficult for very young children, but very valuable for even slightly older children to learn about a different lifestyle and different culture while they also experience the stories.
Tomie DePaola’s Big Book of Favorite Legends. These tales from around the world are obviously very amply illustrated by DePaola, and there are few words per page, as well, which is especially terrific considering that most books of myths, even those geared for young chldren, are VERY word-heavy. This book is a good starter book for a small kid not ready for the really authentic (read occasionally bloody) stuff.
All the Stars in the Sky: Native Stories from the Heavens–by C.J. Taylor. All of these tales from assorted Native American traditions deal with legends about the sky–the moon, the stars, the sun, various celestial events. A good choice for comparative religion work or for kids who are learning about astronomy or the constellations.
Legends of the Dreamtime–by Ainslie Roberts and Charles P. Mountford. My girls LOVE Australian myths, and my five-year-old will even often begin the stories that she dictates to me, “Once upon a time in the dreamtime.” The tales here are short, which is good, and are illustrated, which is also good, but they’re retold here by an anthropologist, which also means that they’re pretty dry and have lost a lot of the verve and vitality you’d see in a more authentic version.