In our family reading over the years, we noted that a handful of stories stood far above the rest in almost every collection of fairy tales we read aloud together. We often wished that we had all the best stories from different collections together in one volume. So, after my children were all grown, I decided it was finally time to begin the project that had been in the back of my mind for two decades: to create a series of anthologies of the very best fairy tales to be enjoyed at different ages.
In a process that grew far beyond our original plans and took years to complete, this series became our Fairy Tales Too Good To Miss collection. Although we initially envisioned creating a single volume of 36 stories for each age, we found that there was more than enough material to prepare a second volume for each age, too! So ultimately, we compiled 12 volumes of stories, with 2 volumes for children of each age between years 5 and 10. (That’s 432 stories in all!)
In this rest of this post, you can read all about our quest to find the very best stories – or Fairy Tales Too Good To Miss – and what we’ve learned about selecting fairy tales to read aloud with your children along the way. Even if you don’t ever read our collections, we trust that the sources and guiding principles we used will help you in your own search to discover exceptional fairy stories from around the world.
Many years ago at my son’s Waldorf School, Joan Almon, coordinator of Alliance for Childhood and retired Waldorf kindergarten teacher, gave a presentation on choosing fairy tales for different ages. That night she not only shared a list of fairy tales suitable for different ages, but also offered some guiding principles that have informed my work in this area ever since. Those principles are as follows:
Another one of the criteria we used in selecting fairy tales for inclusion is that they should be wholesome stories, in which good is rewarded and evil punished. Several exceptions were made for well-known tales such as Puss in Boots and Big Claus and Little Claus. However, such stories were deliberately placed in collections for older children when discernment about good and evil is keener.
We found an invaluable resource in STORIES: A List of Stories to Tell and Read Aloud, a pamphlet compiled by storytellers at the New York Public Library, as well as in similar volumes from the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh and the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. Collectively, these sources listed hundreds of the fairy tales, fables, and legends that were beloved by storytellers and audiences alike. The stories we ended up selecting came highly recommended by scores of seasoned storytellers, and in this project, we feel privileged to have stood upon the shoulders of giants.
Well over half of the fairy tales in this series were collected in Europe in the 19th century by folklorists such as the Brothers Grimm (German), Asbjornsen and Moe (Norse), and Joseph Jacobs (English, Celtic), with a smattering of stories coming from Japan and India. The earliest were those published by Charles Perrault (France) in 1697. A surprisingly large number of the stories are literary fairy tales, including stories from Hans Christian Andersen, Howard Pyle, Dinah Maria Mulock, John Ruskin, George MacDonald, Andrew Lang, Wilhelm Hauff, Frances Browne, and Rudyard Kipling.
Each volume includes both color and black and white illustrations, and the illustrations in the Fairy Tales Too Good To Miss series are as diverse and captivating as the stories themselves. In preparing this series, we pored over illustrations from all around the world, with many illustrations coming from the U.K., some from Germany, and even one from South Africa, but with the bulk originating in the U.S.
Among the illustrators whose work is represented in the collections are Arthur Rackham, Howard Pyle, Jessie Willcox Smith, Walter Crane, Anne Anderson, Margaret Tarrant, Frederick Richardson, and L. Leslie Brooke.
The suggested ages are given in the description of each book but not in the titles or anywhere in the volumes themselves, so you can move through them at a pace that suits your child and their individual reading and listening abilities, and they will be none the wiser.
No, there is not. One might assume that the best stories are all in the first volume, with the second containing just the “left overs,” but this isn’t the case at all! We purposely put some of our very favorite stories in each volume, and arranged the stories in a careful sequence so there is a good variety for those reading straight through.
With 36 stories in each volume, there is a story for each week of the school year, beginning in the U.S. in late August and continuing until early June. The stories that have a strong seasonal component are sequenced so they will be read in the proper season (at least in the northern hemisphere), but if you’d prefer to jump around, any story may be read at any time!
All 12 volumes are available for purchase as ebooks at Yesterday's Classics. Print editions are not currently planned.
We hope you have as much enjoyment in reading these fairy tales as we had in putting them together!
First, fairy tales cultivate the imagination. Imagination enriches, adding a never failing charm to the dullest and most sordid surroundings and giving us the means of escape from the commonplace.
Second, fairy tales broaden the mental horizon. Many a child whose daily life seems of the narrowest and most prosaic kind, has found through the fairy tale all the wonder and mystery of
"Songs the sirens never sung
Shores Ulysses never knew."
Third, fairy tales deepen and enlarge a child's emotional experience. He thrills with pride as the little tailor gets the better of the giant; he holds his breath in suspense as the last mantle is thrown over the eleventh swan brother, he shudders before the locked door in Bluebeard's Castle; and as a result, he is all his life more sensitive to the appeal of "brave romance," wherever he may find it.
Fourth, fairy tales develop a sense of humour. Some children possess this sense in a much higher degree than others. This is apparent to the story-teller who often finds one child listening without a smile to the tale that has drawn a series of appreciative chuckles from others. For the child who takes life seriously, perhaps a little anxiously, or for the stolid youngster, such stories as the The Three Sillies, Lazy Jack, Mr. Vinegar, or Hans in Luck are all excellent training in the perception of humour. Nearly all the old folk tales, and, in particular, the Drolls (to which class belong the four tales mentioned) are full of a vigorous and spontaneous humour. Uncle Remus's genial fun awakens a ready response. The literary fairy tale, when really excellent, is invaluable. It is often said that a child cannot fully appreciate the clever fooling of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, but while he is eagerly following Alice's adventures he is laying, unconsciously, the foundation for an appreciation of humour in literature. Kipling's Just So Stories, have a similar value. Howard Pyle's fairy stories in The Wonder Clock, and Pepper and Salt, are full of humour and are told with a delightful drollness, irresistibly appealing. Stockton's stories, The Bee-man of Orn, The Clocks of Rondaine, and others, are full of a humorous fancy. Thackeray's The Rose and the Ring belongs to the older children, who are leaving the fairy tale age behind them. They can appreciate its delightful absurdity without being puzzled by its burlesque quality. Of this book Andrew Lang said that he thought it "quite indispensable in every child's library, and that parents should be urged to purchase it at the first opportunity, as without it no education is complete."
Fifth, indirectly and without preaching, fairy tales teach the child many priceless lessons. Teaching by parable is a time-honored method. Children especially need concrete examples, not abstract generalizations. Many are the lessons of truthfulness, temperance, courtesy, and generosity which the fairy tale brings home, while the qualities of greed, cruelty, and laziness are held up to ridicule. To a child there are no shades in conduct, bad is bad, and good is good; hence, the clear black and white of the old fairy tale is peculiarly satisfying. The prompt dispensation of reward and punishment appeals to his sense of justice. If the adult has forgotten how he felt as a child when he came to the end of the fairy story, let him reread the conclusion of Martin Chuzzlewit. Mr. Pecksniff, with "a disconcerted meekness on his face . . . enormously ridiculous," Mr. Pecksniff completely unmasked by the old man he would have tricked and wronged and, moreover, laid flat on the floor by a blow from this same irate old gentleman's stick, while Martin, Tom Pinch, Mary, Ruth and Mark Tapley stand by as witnesses of the discomfiture of hypocrisy, gives us the same pleasurable sensation, as did the summary disposal of the wicked step-mother.
Sixth, fairy tales counteract certain unfortunate tendencies of modern life. The constant bustle and hurry, the daily papers with their glaring headlines, the theatrical bill-boards and moving picture posters, the moving pictures themselves, all tend to make the modern child more sophisticated than the young person of an earlier day, and to keep him living at a high tension. He will crave the dramatic fairy tale, therefore, but however full of giants and ogres and exciting rescues of princesses this tale may be, the atmosphere is a healthy one, neither morbid, nor vulgar, nor encouraging precociousness.
Seventh, there is no better introduction to poetry. In the letter to Coleridge quoted above, Lamb says: "Think what you would have been now if instead of being fed with Tales and old wives' fables in childhood, you had been crammed with geography and natural history!" The atmosphere of the fairy tale, its "high hill among the trees of the forest, where the fox and the hare bid each other good night"; its talking beasts and flowers; its lakes and mountain caverns prepare a child for the magic of the great poets. "We cannot all hope to be classical scholars, but all may be steeped in folk-lore and heroic romance in childhood, when the imagination is fresh and keen and so acquire a share of the old-world culture."
An excerpt from Introduction to the Use of Books and Libraries
by Fay and Eaton