My preschooler has been really into fairy tales and folk tales these days, thanks in part to the Disney Princesses. Yes, she loves princesses because they are sparkly and wear pretty dresses, but it’s not just that–the weird, scary, magical nature of these stories really appeals to her.
As a parent, I have to admit that reading fairy tales with my daughter makes me a little uncomfortable. Do I really want to explain death, betrayal, kidnapping, jealousy etc. with my three year old (who repeats everything I say back to her teachers at school)? But at the same time–these books do introduce topics like those in a safe way, and for the most part these stories have a happy ending. Whenever we reach one that doesn’t, like some versions of the Little Mermaid, we talk about it.
Another thing–stories having different versions and different endings kind of confuses my daughter (since the Disney princess are really real since we met them in person (OMG!!!) at Disney World) but at the same time, it really intrigues her in a way I can’t explain. She gets this faraway look on her face when she’s really considering things.
Anyway, here are a few books we’ve checked out from the library that both of us have enjoyed (the first three were ones we had to read over and over):
The Beautiful Butterfly
Adapted by Judy Sierra; Illustrated by Victoria Chess
This book is about a butterfly who is courted by several singing suitors. She chooses a mouse, who soon falls into a pond and is swallowed by a fish. Everyone laments his loss with the poor, sad butterfly. The 3 y.o. LOVED this book. I had to read it to her approximately a million times. I’m thinking about buying a copy, she loved it so much. Apparently this is a combined version of several folk tales, changed a bit so there is a happy ending (the author includes an explanation).
Adapted and Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
Gorgeous illustrations accompany this classic Rapunzel tale. While yes, this version does include the whole prince is pushed off the tower and goes blind bit (which I hated as a kid), the preschooler finds the whole story fascinating. This book also includes an author’s note about the tale, which I enjoyed.
The Stonecutter: A Japanese Folk Tale
by Gerald McDermott
This story is about a man who makes a series of wishes in order to become strong and powerful, but things don’t quite work out the way he expected. I thought this one would would fly straight over the preschooler’s head, with its symbolic shape drawings and its very deep themes, but she really enjoyed it. We got the book + CD version from the library, which I enjoyed for naptime, since I could just hit repeat when she inevitably wanted to hear it again…and again…and again… (though, she preferred to hear it “in Mommy’s voice” so, oh well).
Full Belly Bowl
by Jim Aylesworth; Illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin
In this story, an old man is kind to a small magical being who repays him with a bowl that can reproduce whatever is placed into the bowl. As you would expect, complications ensue. The tale involves cloning kittehs and magic, so what’s not to love?
by Charlotte Huck; Illustrated by Anita Lobel
I absolutely loved this beautifully illustrated tale (a variant of Cinderella) though my daughter enjoyed the title more than the actual book. I’m not sure if it was just a tad too long for her to enjoy, or if she just got a little too caught up with wondering where the princess’s mommy was. But for whatever reason, she didn’t want to read this one more than a few times. Maybe in a couple years she’ll appreciate it as much as I did. (I also enjoyed the audio version for this one, though it was too long for the preschooler, I think–maybe it would’ve been better in the car?).