Fairy tales in Key Stage 2

Do we need to read and work with fairy tales in Key Stage 2? After my recent experience I say YES WE DO!

I have just finished delivering a cross curricular topic based on fairy tales. A bit reluctantly at first, because, naively I thought that the children would have done them to death in KS1 and the need to revisit was minimal. How wrong can you be?  Many children tended to know those fairy tales that had been heavily promoted by Disney and some of the younger children asked if Shrek was a fairy tale. They understood that there were many fairy tale characters in the film but their lack of knowledge of fairy tales meant that they could not recognise that the film was an amalgam of different tales. Yet, they are not alone in having a poor knowledge of fairy tales. I delivered a seminar to trainee teachers last year based on fairy tales and the lack of knowledge was palpable.  I had to tell a truncated version of a couple of fairy tales in order for the seminar to work.

As a result of this experience I have begun to put together a list of fairy tales that are that could be used in Key Stage 2 (children aged 7-11). Instead of just listing them I have divided them roughly into the different types of stories; love, wicked parents, wisdom and folly, beastly tales, quest and riddles, justice and punishment and rags to riches. Some stories will of course come under more than one story type.

A great to book to begin this topic was The Lost Happy Endings by Carol Ann Duffy with illustrations by Jane Ray. It has all the key elements of a fairy tale, an evil witch, a heroine (with six fingers), magic, contrasting settings and characters, conflict between good and evil, the evil character getting their just deserts in horrible fashion, the heroine fulfilling her destiny, a quest and last but not least a happy ending.

Beautiful languages complemented by intriguing illustrations are the key notes of this book. The fonts used to represent the different characters support telling from two different viewpoints.

Into the Forest by Anthony Browne

(love, quest and riddles)

Another book that I considered using to introduce the topic of Fairy Tales.

Not strictly a fairy tale book but it taps into the reader’s knowledge of fairy tales. In this tale we find that the main character is worried about the where about of his father who he thinks had disappeared without saying goodbye. His father’s missing status and the boys anxiety is underlined by all the come home stickers. Mum’s unexplained sadness adds to the feeling of abandonment. Mum puts his mind at rest by explaining that Grandma is poorly and that Dad has gone to look after her. To help the young boy sets off into the forest to deliver with some goodies in a basket for his Grandma. Off he sets carrying his basket and wearing red shoes. This time it not the wolf who the main character meets on his way to Grandma but a selection of well-known fairy tale characters that have problems of their own. They also ask him for what’s in his basket or he feels he should help them; unfortunately this is not to be. Plunging deeper into the forest he begins to feel that he is being followed and he remembers his Grandma’s tales of the wolf. Imagine his surprise when he saw a red duffel coat hanging in a tree just as he thought of his Grandma. Putting the coat he approached Grandma’s house. But, is the house safe? The ears attached to the cottages roof make it look as if he is walking into the waiting mouth of the wolf. Yet on entry, there is Grandma safe with his father.

Spells by Emily Gravett

(love, wisdom and folly, quest and riddles)

An amusing retelling of the Frog and the Princess from the point of view of a desperate Frog who wants to be a Prince, but, will he find true love. In this retelling the frog and his emotions are the main focus and the scene is set with the lonely hearts advert on the opening flap.

Upon finding a book a frog wishes that it was about boats and pretends to sail on a sea of torn pages. Not satisfied he then wishes it was book about castles and Princess to kiss. But in his present state of being only a small green frog this was not likely to happen, until, he discovers amongst the torn pages the title of a page ‘Spell to become a Handsome Prince’. Further hunting enables him to piece together strips of words and phrases that he uses to create instruction to make a spells. After casting the words and phrases into the cauldron and stirring three times the frog’s appearance undergoes a series of transformations, each transformation is created by the reader turning the top or bottom of the split page. The turning of the page also reveals another spell that transforms another part of the frog. Finally, he makes it and metamorphoses into the Prince he desires to be. In walks the princess and both of them pucker up, but, alas the Princess walks away disappointed and the frog is a frog again. Emily Gravatt has waved her magic again on a traditional tale, great made up phrases just ripe for chanting before producing that one word that describes frog’s latest outer skin.

The Princess and the Pea by Lauren Child and captured by Polly Borland

(love, wisdom and folly, quest and riddles)

Here we have another retelling of a well-known traditional tale but retold in a way that refreshes the story.

When the Prince comes of age his parents decide that he must do his Princely duty and marry. Although he agrees, the Prince lays down his expectations, whoever he marries has to be interesting. His parents have other ideas, as far as they are concerned his wife must have all the qualities of a traditional princess. Unfortunately the princesses who are invited to a ball not meet the Prince’s requirements. This is a modern prince who does not just rely on a proclamation, but, goes out traveling far and wide to find his princess but without success. He came to accept what his parents had said, that, not only don’t princess open their mail but that you had to wait for them to come to you.

All is not lost. Late at night, in a near-by treetop house, a young girl wakes and decides to go out to look at the moon. Fascinated by it she decides to try and look at it from the other side of a hill to see if it was more beautiful from there (Stepping on a pile of letters as she left her garden). Disaster struck and she gets caught in a rain storm and is forced to take shelter at the nearest dwelling, the castle. Where, the queen who has been forced to get up to greet this unwanted guest puts her to bed, in a bed that has many mattresses with a pea at the bottom.  At breakfast, good manners prevent the young girl from passing comment about the bruises she had sustained because of the pea. But, the Prince is smitten and declares his love for this extraordinary girl. His parents also voice their approval because the Queen had noticed that she fitted their criteria of a real princess, she had good manners and was easily bruised by sleeping on a pea buried at the bottom of a deep pile mattresses. So, as in all good fairy tales they lived happily ever after.

The Pea and the Princess by Mini Grey

(love, quest and riddles, and rags to riches)

A minor character becomes a major character in this retelling of a traditional tale.

Plucked from his comfortable but perhaps perilous home, the pea is on his way to becoming one amongst many who will grace the royal plate. But, fate intervenes and he is taken and presented as a precious object to the queen, who wishes to use his services.

At the same time the prince sets off on a quest set by his mother (who has had enough of him hanging around and not fulfilling his role) to find a bride. Despite the variety of girls he meets none come up to scratch. In desperation his mother advertises, her advert makes the front page. Unfortunately the candidates do not come up to scratch, they cannot feel the pea secreted in the bed.

Fate intervenes again when the daughter of the gardener who has grown the pea arrives at the castle door during a thunder-storm. The queen does not recognise her and promptly puts her to the test which she passes with the help of the Pea.

The illustrations add to the humour of this book. Have a look at the wallpaper and the queen’s eyes, in fact all things royal seem to have a connection with peas. It makes you wonder if the queen is not in fact a transformed pea herself.

East o the Sun and West o the Moon

(love, wisdom and folly, beastly tales, quest and riddles, rags to riches)

A Norwegian version of Beauty and the Beast that children really enjoy, they love spotting the parts that are familiar to them.

One day a bear turns up at the house of a poor husbandman and offers him a deal he finds difficult to resist. The hand of his youngest and prettiest daughter in exchange of untold riches. The deal is done and the girl reluctantly leaves with the bear and travels with him to a castle East o the Sun and West of the Moon. There she lives with him and grows lonely, so far away from home and friendship. The young girl persuades the Bear to let her see her family, he agrees to this, but, asks that she does not listen to her mother’s advice. Unfortunately she does not heed his request and follows her mother’s advice and spies on the Bear when he has transformed into a human prince. The enchanted prince is now doomed to marry a Troll princess and the young girl to return to her previous life. Determined to put things right the girl sets of on a quest to rescue him. On her way get help from the four winds and three hags she finds the castle where the prince is being held. Using the gifts given to her by the hags she obtains his freedom, and, the freedom of some other humans who had been imprisoned.

Great book if working on settings, there are three or four images that inspired the children I teach to write. The boys especially liked the illustration of the tower.

Me and You by Anthony Browne

(love, quest and riddles)

In revisiting the well-known fairy tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Anthony Browne presents the reader with two parallel lives that intersect briefly. As the tale unfolds we get an insight into the life of Goldilocks, a view-point that is not always explored.

The different life styles of the two main characters are emphasised on the opening page. We see Little Bear and Goldilocks with their backs turned, walking away from each other, one head is bowed the other raised high. The colours used further emphasize both status and emotions.

Set in modern times, the Three Bears live in a typical middle class detached house (the type you might find on housing estates built after the second world war) surrounded by a forest of telegraph poles, tower blocks and building cranes. As in the original story, The Three Bears set off for a walk while their porridge cools down enough for them to eat it. Little Bear plays on the benches whilst his parents walk up and down talking to each other about; their work, the car and the house. At the same time Goldilocks sets off from her home (a dreary terrace house) to the shops with her mother. Her attention is attracted by a stray balloon. She takes off after it and it leads her through a maze of back streets until she become aware that she is lost. In her attempt to retrace her steps and find her mum Goldilocks comes across the brightly painted house of The Three Bears. The door is open. Entering, she finds the porridge, eats it. Sits on the chairs and breaks one, finally falling asleep in the best bed of all. On their return, the bears discover what the intruder has done down stairs and set off upstairs to see what has happened up there. This time it’s Mummy Bear who leads the way.  The meeting of the Bears and Goldilocks is viewed from both points of view (shown over two pages). From Goldilocks viewpoint the bears are large, angry (apart from little bear) and looming over her, this is reinforced by the use of perspective and sepia. From the bear’s perspective Goldilocks is small, doll like and looks scared. Not staying to talk Goldilocks leaps out of bed, dashes downstairs and out into the street, watched by Little Bear (who wonders what happened to her) from the bedroom window and from the downstairs window by his parents. Goldilocks is finally reunited with their mother and in doing so she moves from the dark and depressing life into the loving warmth of her mother which is emphasised by Anthony Browne’s use of yellow light, a similar colour to the Three Bears House.

The illustrations as usual add another dimension to the books, enabling the reader to bring their own experiences to the story. I thought it was interesting how the life of Goldilocks is broken down into six sepia images on each page but the illustrations of The Three Bears are in colour fills the whole page. The juxtaposition of the pages adds to the feelings portrayed by the images. The use of sepia to depict the life style of Goldilocks really suggest how

The juxtaposition of sepia and colour images really emphasise the different social classes occupied by the different characters.

Links with fairy tales is further emphasized on the first page, with the use of three’s (the number 3 on the gate post and three bear shaped balls on the fence), and what’s that wolf doing.

Cinderella, The Fairytale FILES by Alan Durant illustrated by Ross Collins

(love, wicked parents, wisdom and folly, and rags to riches)

The story of Cinderella told from a different angle. Inspector in chief Rumple Stiltskin ESQ has been asked by Cinderella prospective in-laws to investigate her background to make sure that she is a suitable match for their son. Rumple Stiltskin carries out an extensive investigation and sends regular reports plus evidence that eventually establishes what we all know. Cinderella is a suitable match for Prince Charming.

If you want to tackle traditional tales in a different way with KS2 children then this might be the book for you. It’s written from the point of view of another well-known traditional tale character; supports writing for a purpose, show how fairy tales can be used to support writing newspaper articles, letters, invitations and report writing including witness statements.

Yeh-Shen the Chinese Cinderella Retold by Ai-Ling Louie illustrated by Ed Young

(love, wicked parents, wisdom and folly, and rags to riches)

This version of Cinderella has all the basic events and characters we know and love but set in the context of early Chinese society. When the beautiful Yeh-Shin’s mother dies her father remarried a woman who already had her own daughter. Tragedy struck again and Yeh-shin’s became an orphan living with a stepmother who did not like her and who treated her like a slave. Her only friend was a fish who she had shared her food and thoughts with over the years. This was no ordinary fish; its bones are magical, and they come to the aid of Yeh-Shin, proving her with rich clothes and fine gold shoe to enable her to go to the local festival. As in our version of Cinderella, Yeh-Shin loses her shoe and all her new finery disappears. The prince searches for her and discovers her true identity and things end happily after for Yeh-Shin but not the stepmother and stepsister who were sent to live in a cave where they met their demise.

The Korean Cinderella by Shirley Clime

(love, wicked parents, wisdom and folly, and rags to riches)

Another retelling of this traditional tale, but, this time set Long Ago in rural Korea. As in our Cinderella a young girl’s widowed father remarried and brings into their happy home a wicked stepmother and step sister Peony who ill-treat the heroine Peach Blossom. She is made to carry out all the chores and dress in rags. Despite all this Peach Blossom grows into a beautiful girl with a good heart which in senses her stepmother who intensifies her cruelty. Yet help is at hand for Peach Blossom in the guise of a Togkabis (A goblin who may or may not help humans.) who sends three different creatures, a frog, some sparrows and a big black ox, to help her. The ox is her final help and his help enables her to attend the local festival which is attended by a young magistrate who had found a straw slipper abandoned by its beautiful owner. He had decided that the beautiful owner the slipper would be his bride and the festival was his chance to find her. Thinking she was inflicting more hurt Peony singles out Peach Blossom when a shout goes out that the magistrate is looking for a girl who recently lost her straw slipper. The reuniting of the shoe led to the marriage of Peach Blossom and the Magistrate much to the disappointment of the Stepmother and Stepsister.

little red hood by Marjolaine Leray

(justice and punishment)

An edgy retelling of a traditional tale, the heroine takes on a much more assertive role and gets the better of the wolf, using her brains. The author skilfully concentrates on the point at which little red hood and the wolf first meet and develops the encounter. There are no other distractions, just them. There-by ensuring that we focus exclusively on their relationship.

We first meet little red hood as she is walking towards the wolf, either ignoring him or perhaps because of the wolf’s size and build, she may think he is a tree. The wolf decides that dinner cannot wait so captures her, places her on an object that makes her nearly as tall as him and enters into a dialogue. This is where he makes his mistake. And a doctored sweet is his undoing.

I really enjoyed the sparseness of the text, the combination of the traditional and modern language and the use of different coloured fonts to indicate which character is speaking. The illustrations are expressive and I think convey the characters personalities. I also loved that fact that little red hood came prepared.


About booksfrommybookshelf

I am a passionate reader of children's books (Primary aged) with a particular interest in picture books. I am always on the look out for children's books at are written by authors from other countries. I am also keen on technology and try to keep abreast of what is happening in a fast changing world. At present my day job is to support teachers and local authorities in the Yorkshire and Humber region (UK), which I really enjoy. Another aspect of my work is to present nationally developed work for the National Strategies. With economic cuts my job will terminate in Spring next year and I may be carrying out independent work based around high quality picture books. My other interest include my allotment, knitting and last but not least my family. My Twitter name is Orlama.
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