Fairytale Basics: Hansel and Gretel

Of all the fairytales I’ll be covering, I find this one the most disturbing. The story typically follows the theme where the poverty stricken parents choose to abandon their children in the dark forest, and the children find their way to a gingerbread house where a witch imprisons them with the intent to fatten them up and eat them.

This is truly dark stuff! I always reassure my students that their parents would never ever consider abandoning them – that parents would starve themselves rather than let their children go hungry. But I’m going to be brutally honest here: history has shown that parents haven’t always thought that way. There are accounts of parents murdering their children during extreme famines, either to cannibalize or at least to trade to another family so neither has to eat their own children. The rationale that historians give for this way of thinking is that childhood mortality was quite low, and the parents could fend for themselves (as opposed to young children) and would eventually have more children to replace them. Many ancient cultures did not see children below certain ages as “people” yet, so maybe it made it easier to make these hard decisions.

Whatever the thinking, this is one of those classics that has left an indelible mark on our culture.

I’m going to start 1st grade off with the James Marshall version:

I imagine they will already have the basics of the story in their minds. We will follow up with a fun one, again from Corey Rosen Schwartz:

I don’t have a title picked to read to 2nd grade, but I did go ahead and read the Rika Lesser retelling with marvelous classical illustrations by Paul Zelinsky:

I asked the class for a volunteer to tell me the story quickly from memory. I was quite surly when one of our ESL students, who emigrated from India, was able to tell me the story. They did notice that Hansel and Gretel were left in the woods twice – most thought it was just once, and the differences in the makeup of the house. Most kids say candy or gingerbread but in this version the house is made of loaves of bread with sugar windows and pancakes for shingles on the roof.

There are a lot of different versions of this story available, and here are a few that I have at school:

This whole series is popular at my school! Nice third grade level picture books.

This is part of a whole series of early chapters that present three versions of each story from around the world.

I love Neil Gaiman, and the dark black and white brushstroke illustrations in this retelling really give a sinister feeling to the forest.

This is the first book in Adam Gidwitz’s trilogy. I have had it on my “to read” list for too long.

I didn’t realize this was a retelling until I did some online research. I brought it home right away when I figured it out.

Another very notable retelling if this story is by Garth Nix. It’s called Hansel’s Eyes and can be found in a short story collection:

If I found the original story disturbing, then this version horrified and terrified me. The story is in modern times and the witch doesn’t want to eat the children, she plans to harvest their organs. I don’t know why this scares me more than cannibalism, but it does. You can read a great write-up on it here at Through the Twisted Woods.

And just for fun, click here to watch Bugs Bunny’s attempt at Hansel and Gretel.

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Fairytale Basics: Red Riding Hood

I’m going to be writing a series of posts about fairytales, nursery rhymes and fables. The reason for this is that the teachers in the 3rd grade rooms have noticed a considerable lack of knowledge of what most Americans would consider the “basics”. You can’t expect students to compare and contrast a modern story to fairytales they’re unfamiliar with. And we’re not talking obscure ones; it’s the ones most of us grew up with. Often if the kids do know the story, they know the happy-smiling-Bird-singing Disney version. So, I came up with a plan to help.

The plan is pretty simple. Introduce the basic stories in 1st grade (usually not the full original gory versions), then reinforce with a fun version. The next year they will hear another story that expands on or parodies the original. And in 3rd grade, we can with read a fractured version or if possible, the oldest most detailed one I can find.

So today I’ll share with you the first in our experimental plan: Red Riding Hood.

James Marshall’s many fairytale retellings are illustrated in funny ways (there were 9 cats in Red Riding Hood’s kitchen and they all looked like they were up to no good), but they tell the basic story. Now my 1st graders were sure they knew this story but most were outraged that the wolf eats Red in this version….hmmmm, maybe they don’t know it as well as they think.

Since the first book was pretty short, I followed it up with Corey Rosen Schwartz’s retelling. The wolf earns a black belt, sure it will make it easier to prey on the weak, but wouldn’t you know, Red has a black belt too. This is part of a series that includes the Three Little Pigs and Hansel & Gretel (so we will talk about them later.)

My 2nd graders loved Diane and Christyan Fox’s book. The cat (who I think is a library teacher in disguise) attempts to read the story of Little Red Riding Hood to the dog, who asks A LOT of questions. Granted, they make sense, which makes it even funnier, but I truly empathize with the cat as it loses its patience.

In 3rd grade, the kids got to watch the Scholastic DVD if Ed Young’s Lon Po Po.

I chose the video because it presents the illustrations (that won the Caldecott) beautifully, and I like the actor’s voices. The kids liked it a lot but were surprised that it wasn’t more like the European version they are used to. It even reminded us of The Three Little Pigs a little.

Those are the versions I plan to use, but I also put out multiple versions of the story -and quite a few other tales- mixing them with chapter books, picture books, graphic novels and middle grade novels.

Not sure why this one appeals? Look at the artwork! Sybille Schenker’s paper it’s are breathtaking!

Grown-Up books!

One of the drawbacks to having a friend who loves to read as much as I do is that she takes me to dangerous places like libraries and book clubs. Thanks a lot, Southern Today Gone Tomorrow.

She invited me along to her book club last week and I figured I could handle one grown up book a month (I am swamped with plenty of other projects with deadlines). Before we went back to the meeting, we stopped to say hi to some of my old coworkers at the desk and damned if I didn’t walk away with two books before even getting the book club book!

Conversation with my old coworkers turned toAbraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter of all things. It was a great book and I enjoyed the movie.

I was shocked when the librarian told me there was a second book!!! Well, I had to have it. I really liked how Seth Grahame-Smith wove the fiction into the real history of Lincoln’s sad life. My library friend said the second book follows Henry, Abraham’s friend (and vampire) through major events in American history.

Again, I’m pointing out that libraries are dangerous places. In the process of grabbing The Last American Vampire I happened to see Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy on the next shelf down.

Except there were 4 books!!

Now, not everyone enjoys zombies. Or even post-apocalyptic books, but this series is amazing. Grant’s characters are well conceived and the entire post-rising world she has created is well thought out and intelligently written. There are plenty of suspense, conspiracies and espionage along with the zombies–but the books are not overly gorey or hyper-focused on the weaponry. To say I was ecstatic about Feedback is putting it lightly. I’m going to have to read her Parasite series ASAP.

And finally, yes, we made it to the book club. I didn’t get to read last month’s selection, but the discussion makes me think I should.

This month we are reading The Alice Network about a female spy ring during World War 1. It’s not my typical style, but isn’t that what book clubs are for?

I have finished Feedback and plan to start The Alice Network next…along with some family related projects, crochet for commissions and friends, and preparing for two children’s literature classes this summer. Libraries are dangerous places.