Fairy Tales Too Good To Miss

by Lisa Ripperton
February 7, 2019

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.

What criteria were used for selection?

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:

  1. Setting. The more familiar a setting, the younger the child the tale is suited for. Tales with unfamiliar settings, or tales that shift from one setting to another are better suited for older children.
  2. Mood. Tales for younger children should be light-hearted and cheerful. Tales in which characters suffer sorrow or grief are more appropriate for older children.
  3. Problem or obstacle. In a story for young children, the problem or obstacle should be simple and easily overcome. For older children, problems and obstacles can increase in number and complexity. The more ominous and dangerous the task, the older the child should be.
  4. Complexity. Simple stories that have few characters and unfold in a predictable manner are better suited for younger children, while stories with complicated plots, numerous characters, and unexpected happenings should be reserved for older children.
  5. Length. In general, stories for younger children should be shorter. However, longer length stories with a lot of repetition, such as the tale of Henny-Penny, are not problematic. While stories for older children may be short, the stories with more challenging obstacles typically take longer to reach a conclusion.

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.

Where do the stories come from?

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.

How are the collections illustrated?

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.

How do I know which age each book is intended for? And what if my child is developmentally out-of-sync with his age?

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.

Is there any difference between the two volumes for an age?

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.

When is the best time to read these stories?

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!

Where and in what format are these collections available?

All 12 volumes are available for purchase as ebooks at Yesterday's Classics. Print editions are not currently planned.

A final note

We hope you have as much enjoyment in reading these fairy tales as we had in putting them together!

​Purchase Ebooks at Yesterday's Classics

First Set

Second Set

Writing Beyond the Essay

by Rebecca Ripperton
​February 4, 2019

Our next recommendation for helping students organize their writing is to have them write beyond the traditional argumentative essay. While knowing how to organize essays is important, we also recommend that students craft structured pieces outside of formal essays. These other forms may be less academically traditional, but they require no less care and attention. And even though these creative assignments will likely require at least as much organizational effort on the part of the student, this sort of writing often feels much more open and accessible to middle and high school students.

This kind of project gives students the opportunity to learn about a form synthetically by working through it for themselves. They may also have the chance to approach their work with clearer vision.  (Ideally that vision will be unclouded by any of the frustrations that often dog the argumentative essay.) I often find that students resent working with a thesis and topic sentences because it feels stifling and even prefabricated. With a more “creative” assignment, however, they can venture into – what is to them – a wide and yet unfamiliar territory. Experience working within different modalities can also improve a writer’s organizational dexterity. Eventually they will learn to use the restrictions of a structure to their advantage.

What are some examples of writing beyond the essay?

Instead of assigning students 5-paragraph essay after dreaded 5-paragraph essay, consider implementing a new kind of assignment. Ask them to write an additional scene for a play, a newspaper article, legal briefs, or a radio broadcast. Other ideas include political speeches, a letter from one character to another, a debate between characters, or something else altogether!

To give you more ideas: when I was in 10th grade, I remember writing metered monologues for an English class. These monologues were from the perspectives of supporting characters in The Odyssey such as Telemachus and Nausicaa. In order to write them, I had to structure my writing carefully, with a clear sequence to the thoughts. Each monologue included an opening, a progression of ideas, a climax, and then a resolution. Not to mention the challenge of writing in dactylic hexameter!

I once wrote (and delivered!) a sermon on the Parable of the Sower while studying the Gospels in high school. It was so different from writing an analytical essay, and in many ways more challenging. But, I also found myself much more eager to write it and to think through my argument carefully. It was intriguing simply because it was something other than what I was accustomed to writing. The form was both well known and simultaneously so foreign to me. I had heard many sermons before, but never once attempted to write one prior to that assignment. It was an extremely demanding yet exciting project.

How do I incorporate this sort of project into my lessons?

You can certainly ask students to write on more focused prompts, too. As an English teacher, I once had 7th graders draft short “legal briefs.” The topic was Mark Antony’s guilt or innocence in regards to the assassination of Caesar while reading Julius Caesar. The students argued whether or not Antony was guilty in Caesar’s death, essentially answering a yes or no question. The students loved this particular assignment, and approached their pieces with remarkable care and creativity.

Before the 7th graders wrote their legal briefs, we did create one example as a class on a book we had read earlier in the year so the students had an idea of what to aim for. I also gave them specific guidelines as to the number of reasons and textual references they would each need in their individual brief. They knew that they would also need to write a compelling opening to their argument, as well as a sound closing. The most thorough and convincing brief on either side of the argument would be read aloud in a mock trial – an extra incentive to do well!

The students were far more thorough in their reasoning for this exercise than they would have been if I had asked them to write a short argumentative essay, and not only that, we all had a blast during the process. Of course I still asked them to write short argumentative essays throughout the year, but this assignment was a great way for them to write something that was both highly structured and immensely enjoyable for all of us.

Share your experience

Please let us know in a comment below what your most memorable non-essay writing assignment has been to date or what unconventional writing projects you hope to undertake with students in the future!

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