When old-fashioned kids stories don’t work

I love reading stories to my daughter and she loves listening to them.  As a result I spend a lot of time at the library lending books that I can read to my daughter.  Of course now that she reads quite well herself, she does a lot of reading to me but still enjoys the night-time story that I read.  Anyway, I try to get the thicker story books which contain multiple stories so she doesn’t have to listen to a load of repeats (you know – like watching daytime television!) and usually this works out very well.

The last time I went to the library I couldn’t find too many of those multi story books and ended up coming home with some rather old-fashioned ones.  Now I don’t mind old-fashioned stories.  Usually they are pretty good and often preferable to some of the rubbish you get these days plus many of them have great morals built-in to them (an added bonus!).  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind many of the modern stories.  Many of them also have great story lines with morals instilled in them.  My daughter quite likes the Angelina Ballerina stories and there are some others that are very good indeed 🙂
Nevertheless I still enjoy reading the stories of old to her.  But I have to admit that there are times when these stories just don’t work.  Some fairy tales (quite a few in fact) can be rather scary for a young child.  Take the story of Red Riding Hood, for instance.  Now I am not talking about the watered-down version of granny getting locked in the closet.  I’m talking about the original, where granny is gobbled up and the woodsman hacks the wolf to bits with his axe.  Very gruesome I must say.  I haven’t  read this particular story to her (for obvious reasons).  Then there is the story of Hansel and Gretel and the story of the Pied Piper.  In one instance the children are taken to, and then left in, the woods.  Nice one.  And that’s only the beginning.  An old woman lures them into her house and tries to eat them (come on, that’s just gross) and in the second, no one loves their children enough so the Pied Piper lures them from their homes and away into a mountain never to be seen again (really?!!)

Okay, so the fairy tales of old weren’t meant for children but were told to them by nanny’s who tried to instill obedience through fear, ie: naughty children get taken away from parents and families – don’t ask me the point of Red Riding Hood because I have no idea what it could be although I am certain there would have been one as all stories of old appeared to have a point and if you are slightly less lazy than I am, you could Google it and let me know 🙂 That’s the fairy tales covered.

What about other stories of old?  Here I am specifically referring to the tales of some much-loved small animals with human characteristics… Yes, you guessed it: the many stories by Beatrix Potter.  I love these stories and have a great big book of Beatrix Potter, courtesy of my mother-in-law, and reading them again I actually found the stories to be quite funny and the various characters rather endearing.  My daughter loves these stories and was quite taken with Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny.  There are parts of even these stories, that took some explaining for my daughter to understand why the farmer was trying to eat the bunny and why the little ones were always getting spanked for everything…

Which brings me to the last set of stories I wanted to mention:  the stories of Rudyard Kipling.  Many of you will be familiar with his fables and fables are wonderful things that instill very precise moral values in children (we hope, well that is their intention anyway) but have you noticed how cruel many of them are.    I am thinking here of a story called The Elephant’s Child.  It is an enjoyable story and should, I think be taken in a light-hearted fashion – well Take it that way anyway.  And I actually had to laugh when I read it to my daughter with her wide-open mouth and saucer sized eyes.  If you have never read this story then I would recommend you do (it will only take up 5 minutes of your time).  You see, every single adult this elephant encounters gives him a spanking when he asks a question.  The point that Kipling is trying to make here, I think, is that children who get too curious end up in trouble and its best not to go looking for trouble (which is why all the adults spank him for doing just that) but this is in a day and age where, perhaps, children were not meant to be seen as wanting to learn or be clever about things.  Which comes to my reading of the story in this day and age.  And my daughter really could not grasp why adults were spanking the child without giving the child what he wanted – the answer to the simple question.  To her mind, the child went out seeking the answer for himself and getting into LOTS of trouble and she felt that surely if the adults answered the question in the first place, the child would not have gone out to seek the answer for himself.  I know, deep stuff for a seven year old right 🙂  Well, my daughter loves asking questions about the world and everything in it and the adults she is in contact with readily answer those questions so she really finds it difficult to relate to this story.  So I told her to forget about the ‘facts’ of the story (she loves facts.  I have to tell her at least one fact every night, usually about the ocean and all it contains…) and just enjoy it for what it is.  Once she got over that, she actually did enjoy it and even laughed at the end when the child got his own back and spanked all the adults!

So there are many children’s stories of old that are still really relevant today and still very enjoyable today.  I like to read my old childhood favourites to my daughter and I also like to read new, interesting children’s stories, that are probably more relevant to her but there certainly are those of old that don’t work and there are certainly plenty modern ones that are total nonsense 🙂

The main thing, I think, is to find those stories that your child enjoys so much that they will read them over and over and one day, when they have their own children, they will seek out those same stories to share with them 🙂  Happy reading everyone!

Copyright  © 221012 by Karen Payze



  1. A long time ago, I read a book called The Uses of Enchantment, by Bruno Bettelheim (sp?)Not sure how much of his discourse I would agree with today, but he defends this kind of story (Red Riding Hood and company) as a way for children to understand the real world in a subliminal way. Might want to check that out. If I didn’t have so much porch reading to get through these next few years, I’d re-read it myself. ; )

    • Sounds interesting 🙂 thanks!

  2. n1

    Hi, can i ask you something? I’m looking for children books with “scary” animal illustrations like the big bad wolf (or a fox) eating pigs (or seven kids or Red Riding hood or birds in Chicken Little) or being pictured with a fat stomach. Could be any other animal as well. I need it for my research I’m doing. Have you seen any book of this sort? Any sort of help is appreciated. Thanks in advance.

    Great blog, by the way!


    • Hmmm, illustrations that are scary in children’s books…I think you will be hard-pressed to find any. You can try the library, maybe some of the older children’s books will have some, or ask your librarian. They would probably know 🙂 Good luck with your research!

  3. I think in some cases they were parenting tools used to keep their children seen but not heard–sad really.

    • So true 🙂

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