My daughter loves books, wants me to read to her every night before she goes to bed. It’s something I started doing when she was very young because I wanted her to love reading, which, to my utter joy, she’s showing signs of.
She wants me to begin every story with “one day” or “once upon a time” and they all must end with “happily ever after”. Only then am I allowed to switch off the light, after which she flops on her tummy and closes her eyes, almost as if she’s trying to picture it all again in her mind’s eye.
But, the trouble is that most fairy tales I tell her are fraught with all sorts of evil and dark elements. And this is something I have wondered about often, why, for one, must stories for little children be full of stepmothers? How terrible it is to tell a two year old that when a little child’s mommy dies, the evil step mom tries to kill her or makes her work in the house. But, one might argue, that there’s always a happy ending. Really? What is that? Oh! the handsome prince. So, all these terrible things happen to Cinderella, but in the end a prince charming, who’s floored by her beauty, marries her and that’s a happy ending. Now, there’s nothing wrong with stories and I do not want to over react for the sake of it, but it amuses me how so many of them end this way!
Or , then there are those where even if the parents are alive, but poor, like Hansel and Gretel’s parents, they lead them into the dark woods and leave them there. Imagine what a little kids thinks when you tell him or her that.
A few days ago, my daughter asked me to tell her the story of Snow white, but when I started reading it to her, I was not sure I wanted to tell her that Snow white’s mommy dies, so I sugar coated it somehow. She asked me what a step mom was and I tried telling her in the best way I thought possible for a two year old to understand (I don’t lie to her, mostly, when she asks me something, I may give her an abridged version but I try not to lie). She didn’t quite understand, but didn’t inquire further, so I let it pass.
But then yesterday she found Hansel and Gretel and told me to read it to her – the cover had little children and a house made of candies on it, so it appealed to her. When I started reading it, (I told her that the kids got lost in the woods, not that the parents left them there) and got to the part about the witch, she looked at me in fright and told me to shut the book. Then she cried and cried and said that she never wanted to see that book in the house, that I should give it to some “other baby” as I tell her when I want her to look after her things! And I know that there is a moral there in the story about not going into strangers’ houses and so on, but I think I can teach her that anyway, without such tales!
I’ve decided to put these fairy tales away, and since I have other books for her too – I’d also bought the Panchtantra stories some time ago – I now read those to her, and she loves them. But every now and then she’ll ask me things like why the wolf wanted to eat Red Riding Hood, or where Cinderella’s mommy was…
Each child is different and I think before reading these stories to them one must think whether they’ll be affected by them or not. And frankly, a lot of kids would be, I mean who likes to be told about witches, wolves and evil mothers? Not kids for sure. I wonder what they were thinking when they wrote such stories for kids.