Ah, this snow day is such a gift. From the window, the late afternoon sun makes it look like a summer day…that is until my eyes drift down to the blanket of white. It’s toasty inside and I’m primed to write my post . I remember snow days when my kids were young. Their rosy cheeks and smiling faces usually made up for the parade of puddles and array of wet boots, gloves and coats that decorated our house. I also remember wishing I knew of a way to pull the kids together in spite of their various ages and find something that was both fun and productive. Most of the time, I resorted to hot chocolate and movies to quiet the troops. Nothing wrong with that, but perhaps, next time you’re in that situation, you’ll remember the magic of fairytales.
Now fairytales have a bad rap. Many folks think they are ancient stories meant only for little kids. Not true! Folk and fairytales are an important part of our “cultural literacy”. Cultural literacy is nothing but a fancy term that refers to the body of literature that people in particular culture are expected to be familiar with. The log of stories we carry in our head enables us to “get it”, when someone says, “John has the Midas touch” or “Aunt Mary is like the Pied Piper”. When my daughter and I taught together, we were shocked to learn how few fairytales our seventh graders knew. We put our heads together and developed a unit designed to fill this gap. For several weeks, seventh graders read, wrote, watched videos, and performed reader’s theatre scripts involving a cast of characters from traditional tales. They loved every minute of it and we knew this heavy dose of “cultural literacy” would stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives.
If you’re looking for a way to engage multiple-age children at one time, you can’t go wrong with fairytales. There are many beautiful retellings complete with rich language and exquisite illustrations. Those by Paul O. Zelinski are among my favorites. Check out his versions of Rumplestilskin, Rapunzel and Hansel and Gretel. Of course, if you really want to work some magic, find a quality book of traditional tales and pair them with the funny fractured fairytales so popular today. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales, both by Jon Scieszka, are sure to give a chuckle. Kids also love stories by Trisha Speed Shaskan, such as Honestly, Red Riding Hood Was Rotten, and Seriously, Cinderella Is SO Annoying. Just google “fractured fairytales” and you’ll find a ton of other stories that switch up the characters, setting, problem or point of view from the traditional tale and create a new experience for all. They’re fun and get kids thinking (and hopefully talking… hint! hint!) about looking at a situation from various perspectives. No, fairytales are not just for little kids. Revisit this genre and see for yourself.
With many students, the inability is an ordinary occurrence. They just don’t get allusions because they have not been exposed to fairytales, tall tales and other texts that are part of our culture. Reading to kids builds this knowledge and provides a definite advantage. Let’s hear it for building “cultural literacy”.
Rita I loved your comment about “cultural literacy.” It is so true! There are so many idioms with references to fairy tales and mythology that are important for children to know for a deeper understanding of later literature- and what a fun way to approach it! Bravo!