At about the age of eight most children are beginning to move out of the imaginative realm of fairy tales and into the world of heroic action. The heroic period, typically lasting from ages eight to twelve, is an ideal time to read stories that sow seeds that will bear fruit in years to come. Thrilled by manifestations of physical bravery, a child in the heroic age craves action, physical action, and is riveted by "literature every page of which is colored by feats of prowess."
There is no finer adventure tale in any literature than that of Robin Hood, none more satisfying to children in the early heroic period. This statement often brings a cry of remonstrance, and the objection is made that there is danger in portraying an outlaw as a hero, or in picturing the allurement of a brigandish career. But Robin Hood an outlaw? He lived in an age of injustice when might made right. The man of the people was but the chattel of a king, with no rights his lord was bound to respect.
Bold Robin, in the depths of Sherwood Forest, devoted his life to redressing wrongs. He took from the oppressor and gave to the oppressed. He strove to stamp out injustice and tyranny, and his spirit is the foundation of the democracy that underlies every just government today. He was an outlaw, not because he was a criminal, but because he rebelled against the monstrous injustice of his age and strove to ameliorate the condition of the poor and downtrodden. In the time of Henry the Second he was hunted like a deer, but in the twentieth century he would be honored as a great reformer.
Robin's sense of justice appeals to boys and girls, and his fearlessness and kindliness awaken their admiration. They respond sympathetically to the story from the opening chapter, when he enters the forest and Little John joins his band, through the closing one where the hero of the greenwood goes to his final rest. If the tale is told with emphasis upon the true spirit of Robin Hood instead of with a half apology, it will prove wholesome food for the children and will help to make them juster, kinder, and more democratic men and women.
─ An excerpt from Educating by Story-Telling
by Katherine Dunlap Cather
There are dozens of ballads about Robin Hood. Here are the opening lines of one, as printed in Eva March Tappan's The World's Story: England, to pique your children's interest. Incidentally, stanzas of this very ballad are included in the second chapter of Stories of Robin Hood Told to the Children, recommended below.
ROBIN HOOD AND LITTLE JOHN
When Robin Hood was about twenty years old,
With a hey down down and a down,
He happend to meet Little John,
A jolly brisk blade, right fit for the trade,
For he was a lusty young man.
Tho he was calld Little, his limbs they were large,
And his stature was seven foot high;
Wherever he came, they quak'd at his name,
For soon he would make them to fly.
How they came acquainted, I'll tell you in brief,
If you will but listen a while;
For this very jest, amongst all the rest,
I think it may cause you to smile.
Bold Robin Hood said to his jolly bowmen,
Pray tarry you here in this grove;
And see that you all observe well my call,
While thorough the forest I rove.
We have had no spat for these fourteen long days,
Therefore now abroad will I go;
Now should I be beat, and cannot retreat,
My horn I will presently blow.
Stories of Robin Hood Told to the Children, as one of the titles in the Told to the Children series published by T.C. & E.C. Jack of Edinburgh in the early 1900s, works equally well as a read aloud for younger children and as independent reading for students at a fourth grade reading level. In her typical engaging prose, H. E. Marshall sets the Robin Hood stories in their historical context and relates key incidents in the chronicle of Robin Hood and his band of merry men.
In The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood Howard Pyle combines his considerable skills as illustrator and writer to produce a narrative that at the same time captivates and delights. He employs an "old English" idiom using archaic words such as "An" (for "If") and "Sith" (for "Since") in a style reminiscent of the ballads. While this make it a more challenging read (it is one of the "stiffer" books assigned in Year 2 of the Ambleside Online curriculum), it builds capacity for comprehending increasingly complex language, such as students will encounter in Shakespeare and others. Most families will want to read this book aloud, as it is suitable for independent reading only by children reading at a high level.
Reading any of the books about Robin Hood may inspire dramatic play centering around the figures inhabiting Sherwood Forest long ago. Watch for home-made swords or bows and arrows to appear, along with feathered caps and cloaks of forest green!
Or your child may become so fascinated by Robin Hood that he begins a collection of retellings of Robin Hood, and makes well-illustrated editions a priority.
Do you have a favorite retelling of Robin Hood to share? Or a story about how your child was influenced by hearing of Robin Hood and his band of merry men? Please tell us about it in the comments below!
Beatrix Potter has captured the minds and hearts of generations of children by creating a magical world for her readers. Her twenty-three little books are full of memorable characters, as well as unforgettable incidents. In her stories, she couples well-crafted text with exquisite illustrations to draw children in, keeping them mesmerized throughout the tale.
Yet most of us only read The Tale of Peter Rabbit and stop there, having finished a mere fraction of Beatrix Potter’s works. We did slightly better in our family, but still managed to read together only five out of the fifteen books we recommend below. We began with The Tale of Peter Rabbit and read it over and over again. Once that story was exhausted, we continued with The Tale of Tom Kitten and The Tale of Benjamin Bunny. After that it was The Tale of Jeremy Fisher. We read each of these stories several times before finally moving on to Appley-Dapply’s Nursery Rhymes. This book of short rhymes continued to be a family favorite for a number of years. And — with their harmonious marriage of illustrations and text — reading Beatrix Potter's tales brought the adults in our family as much joy as it did the younger listeners.
We do recommend that you eventually read all fifteen tales showcased here to your children. But it's important to start with a simpler tale, no matter at what age you begin.
The Tale of Tom Kitten is a fine one to start with, as is The Tale of Peter Rabbit. In The Tale of Peter Rabbit, there is a greater element of suspense, so some do prefer to read that story first to ensure their child's engagement. You may want to wait to introduce The Tale of Benjamin Bunny and The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies until later, as both are sequels to The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
If you wish to select a book based on the animal(s) your child is most interested in at the time, The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle features a hedgehog and The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse a wood mouse. Appley-Dapply Nursery Rhymes includes poems about mice, rabbits, and hedgehogs, as well as moles, and guinea pigs.
Diggory Diggory Delvet!
A little old man in black velvet;
He digs and he delves—
You can see for yourselves
The mounds dug by Diggory Delvet.
This next group of tales offers lots of action-packed drama for children who are ready for it:
This final group of Beatrix Potter books have stories that are considerably longer and more involved. Many readers, however, consider these stories to be her best.
Children will find the unfamiliar words and phrases they encounter in the Beatrix Potter titles to be delightful. For instance, take the well-known passage in The Tale of Peter Rabbit, where “Peter gave himself up for lost, and shed big tears; but his sobs were overheard by some friendly sparrows, who flew to him in great excitement, and implored him to exert himself.” The words “implored” and “exert” both contain elements of onomatopoeia, a literary device which children can intuitively understand. You can almost hear the begging in “implored” (which takes an eternity to say with the long “o”). And the great effort in the first syllable in “exert” followed by the sudden push in the final “t”.
Children can frequently grasp the meaning of such words and phrases from the context and soon use them in meaningful settings.
Annis Duff reports in her “Bequest of Wings” that a couple of days after reading The Tale of Peter Rabbit to her young son, she “found him one morning, crouched on the rocks by the water, peering anxiously at one of his little boats that had got washed in under a log, and saying ‘I implore you to exert yourself.’ ”
In the following chapter, Duff affirms her belief that “all words belong to children. They choose them for their own use by the simple process of taking possession of the ones they need to express what they want to say. If children do not hear speech that has variety and liveliness, and if their books do not have unfamiliar words tucked in like bright surprises among the everyday ones, how in the world are they ever going to accumulate a store of language to draw on, as new experiences and sensations increase the need and desire to communicate with the people they live with?”
Beatrix Potter sprinkles polysyllabic words sparingly in her prose but frequently enough that young listeners will find plenty of new words to make their own!
Purchasing a copy of The Classic Tales of Beatrix Potter may be tempting. After all, it contains all 23 stories in 384 pages in an 8.5 x 11 volume weighing 3 pounds. But, we do recommend that you buy the little individual volumes instead.
In these smaller volumes, there is typically text on one side of each page spread and an illustration on the other. At approximately 4" x 5 1/2" and weighing 4.6 ounces, each little book fits easily into small hands, so your youngsters can scrutinize the pages to their heart's content. And with such stunning illustrations, the odds are high that they will want to!
NOTE: Beatrix Potter had a sheltered childhood, schooled only by governesses. The one bright spot in the year were the summer holidays spent in Scotland and the Lake Country. Each year she and her older brother Bertram brought home with them plants, including flowers and leaves, as well as insects and other animals. These she then sketched in nature notebooks. With so much time at her disposal, she was able to attain a high degree of excellence in drawing and painting. Among the pets she had in London were a pair of mice, a rabbit, and a hedgehog, allowing her to render them from life. No wonder her illustrations of those creatures are so life-like!
Children who take the opportunity to examine the illustrations closely will discover lots of additional details. These details often supplement the story, perhaps by showing an action not described in words. Alternatively Beatrix Potter might have drawn a look that sheds light on a character. No doubt children are also implicitly absorbing some sense of what good art is, a yardstick by which they can measure other works of art later.
One sure mark of a book resonating with a child occurs when ideas from it surface in his imaginative play. This mark may be evident in his drawings, or when language from the book appears in his speech. The Beatrix Potter books frequently have such an effect on children who experience them over and over again in their early years.
Did we omit any of your favorite Beatrix Potter books from our list of recommended titles above? Or do you have a story to share about how a Beatrix Potter book affected one of your children? Please share in the comments below.