In this episode we celebrate Hans Christian Anderson’s birthday and look at fairytales from around the world. Plus we discuss the true happily ever after we have in Christ.
Books Discussed in This Episode:
Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion, leading to teachable moments with our kids.
Last week was Hans Christian Anderson’s birthday. And in honor of that, I thought we would talk about fairytales today. I want to start with Hans Christian Anderson since it was his birthday. And there is The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Anderson, which is illustrated. And it is a paperback, very reasonably priced. There are some other versions of his stories that are not as inexpensive. So I want to share this one with you because it is so reasonably priced and has illustrations. They’re black and white drawings. It’s very nicely done. If you don’t remember which fairytales he wrote, The Emperor’s New Clothes is one of his more famous ones. The Princess and the Pea, The Snow Queen, The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, The Little Match Girl, The Red Shoes, and The Ugly Duckling is one of his stories. These are some of his stories that we’re familiar with. So if you want to look into reading some of those to your kids, know that typically when Disney takes a fairy tale from whatever land or whatever tradition it comes from, they change the tale. They change the meaning of the message of the story. They change the ending of the story many times. There’s lots of details that are changed. Just be aware of that. If you’re used to only Disney versions of fairytales, and you pick up a fairy tale book, I would pre-read the story before just jumping in with my kids, because sometimes there might be some things you want to leave out, or maybe you want to get the Little Golden Book version of the story instead of the original. One thing about the difference between Grimm’s and Hans Christian Anderson is Anderson was a Christian, and his stories have more of a biblical undertone to them. They have a biblical message of morality. They come from a Christian worldview. Grimm’s–Not so much. So just be aware of that as well. Now, of course, I enjoy getting the Scholastic retelling of most of these stories and variations of them. So shop around. I’m going to share some of my favorites with you today. I think we can have a lot of fun with fairytales.
I love the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes. I love it because you have this child who tells the truth, who isn’t going to bow to all the politically correct attitude of all the people in the land. And he stands up and says, “You know, you’re in your underwear, King.” Then the King’s foolishness is revealed, but I love the honesty of the child. Let me read a little bit of the ending of this particular story. “The Lords of the bed chamber, who were to carry his Majesty’s train felt about on the ground as if they were lifting up the ends of the mantle and pretended to be carrying something for they would, by no means betray anything like simplicity or unfitness for their office. So now the emperor walked under his high canopy in the midst of the procession, through the streets of his Capitol and all the people standing by, and those at the windows cried out, ‘Oh, how beautiful are our emperor’s new clothes? What a magnificent train there is to the mantle, and how gracefully the scarf hangs.’ In short, no one would allow that he could not see these much admired clothes because in doing so, he would have declared him himself, either a simpleton or unfit for his office. Certainly none of the emperor’s various suits had ever made. So great an impression as these invisible ones. ‘But The emperor has nothing at all on,’ said a little child. ‘Listen To the voice of innocence,’ exclaimed his father. And what the child had said was whispered from one to another. ‘But He has nothing at all on,’ at last cried out all the people. The emperor was vexed for. He knew that the people were right, but he thought the procession must go on now. And the Lords of the bed chamber took greater pains than ever to appear holding up a train although, in reality, there was no train to hold.” So it ends kind of just with the truth. And yet they continue on with the status quo.
The Illustrated Treasury of Christian Anderson’s Fairytales: The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, The Princess and the Pea, and Many More Classic Stories is illustrated by Anastasia Archipova, and these illustrations are beautiful. So if you’re wanting a text that has really beautiful illustrations, then I would recommend this one, just for the pictures. The stories are the same, but the pictures are really lovely.
Now just a little bit about Hans Christian Anderson. He lived in Denmark, his dad was a shoemaker or cobbler, and his mom also had to work because they were so poor. And then when he was around 11 years old, his father passed away. And so his mom really had to work to raise her son. And so he grew up quite poor in a very tiny house. When he was older, he did move to the main city and he tried acting. He tried singing. Hans grew up to be Denmark’s most famous storyteller. His tales have been translated into so many different languages around the world. In his stories we do actually see some of the details from his real life, which is kind of interesting. If you read about his real life, his biography, you’ll see some of those details show up in his stories, which makes sense. And he was born in 1805 and died in 1875. He wrote poetry, plays, novels, and books, and traveled throughout Europe. He has around 150 fairytales and stories that he wrote during his lifetime. One of my favorites of his as a child was The Princess and the Pea. And I think that is just such a fun story. I just always loved that, that she could feel that little pea under the mattress so far down.
Then we have the Grimm’s fairytales and just our other basic fairytales we’re used to. And as I was saying, I love to get the different versions of fairytales. So one of my favorites is Cinderella because it has been told and retold so many different times in different settings. And also some of them supposedly are fairytales brought from other countries. I never know if they’re really from the other country or just were adapted to fit the other country, but they still are fun to read.
One of the silly ones I really like is called Prince Cinders by Babette Cole. And this one is where the main character is a young man. He’s a scrawny little Prince and his brothers–he has three big hairy brothers who, you know, all the girls find very handsome. And so they tease him all the time and he is just like Cinderella cleans the house and everything, but he tries very hard to get muscles. And he has a fairy godmother of sorts. It says she’s a dirty fairy who fell down the chimney. And so she comes down and she’s going to help him. And so she casts her little spell and changes a tin can into a car, but it’s still a toy-sized car. Then she tries to help him look handsome and big and hairy and strong. And she turns him into like a gorilla. And then she tries to give him a beautiful suit, and it turns out to be a swimsuit–a striped old-fashioned swimsuit. And so now he’s a big, hairy ape in a striped swimsuit. And so the story goes on from there. And he does wind up with a princess because she thinks he’s brave because as he turns back into the Prince, she thinks he’s scared away the big, hairy ape. So it’s really cute. It’s a funny story. I highly recommended it. It’s totally absurd. And I think your kids will enjoy it.
Another one I love is Princess Furball, retold by Charlotte Huck and illustrated by Anita Lobel. And supposedly this is more true to most of the Cinderella stories around the world. It’s a little bit different than the traditional “trying on the shoe” and all of that. And in this story, she’s very clever. She’s very smart and winds up winning the love of the Prince. He respects her for her ingenuity and for her wisdom and for all that she does. So that’s kind of a cool, cool thing. Let me just read the first of this to you.
“Once Upon a time, there was a beautiful young princess whose hair was the color of pure gold. She was frequently lonely and unhappy for her mother had died when she was a baby and her father paid little attention to her. Luckily her old nurse who loved the princess as a mother, loves a daughter, saw that she was lonely and allowed her to run and play with the village children. And some days the princess visited with the cook in the large kitchen and learned to make soap and bread and cakes. Yet the nurse never forgot that the young girl was a princess. She taught her the manners of a lady and arranged for tutors to instruct her in reading, writing, and dancing. And so the princess grew to be strong and capable and clever besides being beautiful.”
I love that. I love that this is a girl that is not just a princess waiting for her Prince to rescue her from being a handmaiden, doing chores all the time, but that she is clever. She is smart. She basically learns what to do to make things happen, to benefit her life and to be the person she should be.
There is a book called Cinderella Stories Around the World: Four Beloved Tales, Multicultural Fairytales. And this is by Cari Meister and illustrated by Carolina Far’as. So in this story, in this volume, we have a story from aboriginals in Canada. We have the story from China, Egypt, and France. So the Cinderella we traditionally know in America is the French version. And so that’s one in here and then Little Burnt Face: A Fairy Tale from the Micmac Tribe of North America in Canada is in this book. And then Yeh Shen: A Chinese Fairytale. You can also read it. And this one is different in that. I mean, it’s similar, but she has instead of a fairy godmother, she has a magic fish and she loves this fish and it winds up dying because of the evil stepmother, but his spirit is still with her in his bones. We have Rhodopis: An Egyptian Fairytale, and it starts out, “Long ago, pirates, kidnapped a beautiful girl from Greece. They sold her as a slave to an old master in Egypt.” And so she’s originally, the Cinderella is originally from Greece, and you have a little bit of Greek mythology woven into the Egyptian fairytale about the God Horus. A falcon steals her slippers and brings them to the Prince. And he knows he must marry the person who owns these slippers. He finds her and marries her. So it’s a little bit different and definitely brings in the Greek mythology, and all four of those have the same basic idea that there’s a young woman who’s mistreated. And she winds up getting the eye of the Prince somehow and becomes the princess. The thing about fairytales, they’re usually a battle between good and evil and truth and lies. And that stays pretty true, no matter what country’s fairytales you’re reading. They are moral stories that teach us the right from wrong and the good from the bad.
I love the fact that in The Beauty and the Beast, that the main character sees beyond the beast to the heart of the man, she learns who he truly is. And she brings out partly the kinder part of him. And she’s willing to do this as a sacrifice to save her father’s life. And so there’s a lot of redeeming qualities for The Beauty and the Beast. And then this one called The Dragon Prince is a Chinese Beauty and the Beast tale. And it’s by Lawrence Yep. And illustrated by Cam Matt. And in this story, she, the main character, is one of seven daughters. And she has such integrity and beauty. This stays true for the account of this story. This story is really a story of betrayal and truth and true love. And it is really an interesting tale. There are some similarities between our version of Beauty and the Beast, but it is quite different from the American version. And I think you would really enjoy it.
One of my other favorite stories is not as well-known, and it’s based on a Grimm’s fairy tale. And it’s called The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold and illustrated by Ruth Sanderson. The illustrations in this book are beautiful, and it’s retold by other people as well. This is the version that I have. It is a story of the sisters, these 12 sisters, princesses. They basically lie to their father, and the farm boy finds out the truth, but it is a very nicely done story. And the princess of the 12 that is the most honest and genuine of heart is the one who winds up marrying the farm boy who winds up becoming King someday.
Now we have also Classic Fairytales, Volume One by Scott Gustafson. And this is a very nicely illustrated version of fairytales and retellings of the fairytales. We have some of the classic folk tales like Goldilocks and Red Riding Hood, but you also have Snow White, Tom Thumb, Hansel and Gretel, Frog Prince, Rumpelstiltskin, Cinderella, Puss in Boots. So these are just retellings of the old stories we’re familiar with, but the illustrations are very nice in this book.
And then I want to share–I would call this a modern day, Christian fairy tale by Max Lucado: With You All the Way illustrated by Chuck Gillies. It’s an allegory based on the gospel, based on walking as a disciple of Christ and listening to his words and his voice. And it’s just a beautiful story.
And there is one book that is called Treasure in the Tales: Finding the Gospel in Fairytales by David Swain. And it says, “Help your children understand the gospel and biblically related themes through the lens of their favorite fairytales.” In honor, of Hans Christian Andersen, since he wrote The Ugly Duckling, we’re going to look at what this book says about The Ugly Duckling. He says, “Let me start this chapter by encouraging you to read Hans Christian Anderson tail, The Ugly Duckling. Google it. In fact, stop reading this book now and read the 1844 version. I will do my best to summarize, but it truly is a striking story worth contemplating. Essentially, this is a story about identity. Who are you? What do you believe to be true about yourself? What is your purpose?…His rescue comes in the form of a peasant whose family frightens the duckling so much as to drive him to escape into the misery of surviving a desolate winter on his own. In addition to physical hardships, he is the constant recipient of words from others that inflict violence upon his soul. ‘Yes, But he is so big and ugly.’ ‘The others are very pretty children,’ said the old duck, ‘all, but that one. I wish his mother could improve him a little.’ Even his brothers and sisters are unkind to him and say, ‘Oh, you ugly creature. I wish the cat would get you.’ And his mother says she wishes he had never been born. ‘You Are exceedingly ugly.’ Unfortunately, as the duckling is bathed in the insults of others, he begins to embrace what they are saying as he starts to insult himself. ‘I Will fly to those Royal birds, he exclaimed, ‘and they will kill me because I am so ugly. Kill me,’ he said. The poor bird by the end of the story, defeated, broken, and resigned to his ugliness. He heads toward the beautiful swans with the expectation that they will kill him. It was then that he realizes he is a swan himself. On a positive note: The duckling in this story exhibits an amazing level of resilience and perseverance in the midst of external chaos in his life. However, toward the conclusion of the tale, it is the internal chaos in his mind that convinces him, that his life is not worth continuing. Sadly, the story resonates with life in so many ways who hasn’t felt alone or accused or insufficient. Does anyone else hear voices of criticism? Sometimes the loudest voice is the one inside your own head. Even now I have many voices of doubt and condemnation in my head. ‘This Chapter is poorly written. No one is going to read this book. Is it really worth the time I am spending?’ Here’s my favorite: ‘You are neither an author, a fairy tale writer, nor a pastor. And you have nothing of value to say.’ Ouch! Words have power to shape the way we think about ourselves and can impact our identity. If we heed the voices of criticism often enough, they will persuade us to believe things about ourselves that may not be true. So how do we respond to these voices in a healthy way? Before answering this question, we need to examine how and where we are placing our identity.” So it goes on from there and he talks about the message that we can have and what our true identity is. And so it’s kind of an interesting take on fairytales. And I think it would be great for us to read as parents and then to discuss it with our children. He asks at the end of this chapter, he asked the parents, “In what ways have you witnessed the perversion of physical beauty by our culture? How do you try to live counter-culturally on this issue?” And then for the kids, he says, “Have you ever been made fun of for how you look? How did that make you feel? How does knowing that Jesus loves the entirety of who you are right now make you feel? Would you rather have someone love you for how you look or for who you are?” So I find this book intriguing. It’s worth reading, especially if you enjoy reading fairytales with your kids, it gives you a way to really open up some awesome conversations with your kids and to really talk about what these stories are saying. Some fairytales are ugly because they’re revealing the ugliness of the human heart. We see that in Pinocchio. We see that in The Little Mermaid. We see it in The Ugly Duckling.
For our devotion today, I wanted to read Grace for the Moment from September 10th, “Beyond Our Imagination.” Since fairytales are all about imagination and wild stories, I thought it would be fun. “Ecclesiastes 3:10, ‘I saw the hard work God has given us to do.’ It doesn’t take a genius to know that we want more than this earth can give us. We wish for a place free of pain and hunger free of sickness and tears and loss. And sometimes we find ourselves asking why is life so hard? So God gives us moments of joy, the loving hug of a parent, the comfort of a true friend, the warm sunshine on our back. These are his gifts of hope to us like tiny slivers of light breaking through the window of heaven. God gives us three glimpses of joy to give us hope and keep us going. He is saying to us, if you think this is good, just wait and see what I have for you in heaven. As Paul quoted, ‘No one has ever imagined what God has prepared for those who love him,’ 1 Corinthians 2:9. What an amazing verse. Do you see what it says? Heaven is beyond our imagination, even in our most creative moments, in our wildest dreams, we cannot imagine the wonder and perfection of heaven. Growing in Grace: Comparing our joys on earth to the joys of heaven is like comparing a flashlight to the sun. Turn on a flashlight outside at night. Yes, it will light a bit of your way, but in the morning, check out the sun. It lights up the whole way. There’s just no comparison.” And in the same way the ideas of fairytales with their happily ever after and their fairy princesses and their fairy godmothers does not even come close to comparing to the joy we have in Jesus Christ and the hope we have in a future in heaven with him, that will be our true happily ever after.
Thank you for joining me today for “Books that Spark,” a podcast, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions. I hope these stories bring back great memories for you, and that you can have some wonderful times of laughter and joy and reading and sharing these old stories with your children.
You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
(Psalm 16:11, NIV)
Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.
Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.
Her blog posts are published each Thursday and discuss living as a disciple of Christ while discipling our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ.
For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com
Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.
Her motto is “Growing older is inevitable; growing up is optional” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.