This is the first post in the Nourishing Little Readers series, which will run on Fridays at Heart Mama. I want to use this space to review children’s books and talk about reading with children.

In our house, walls are lined with books, and we spend hours, some days, ensconced on the couch, reading book after book after book. Just one more. Just one more. We read picture books and classics, like Wind In The Willows, Pippi Longstocking and Alice in Wonderland. My husband reads books in Dutch.

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Lately, my daughter and I have been sitting in bodies of water (the lake, the bath), facing each other, telling each other imaginary tales. We weave worlds from our imagination. She pulls an invisible book from the invisible shelf – Read this one. What’s it about? and she listens and asks questions and makes changes. Just one more, she asks, as the bath gets cold.

Her favourite tales are Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White. We read so many books, but she so often asks for the classics. They are more than classics; they are archetypes; stories told by peasants in the middle ages. Stories that carried messages, passed from mother to daughter to granddaughter, like wisdom. Children sitting in bodies of water – Just one more.

I think I read my favourite Edenland post last week. The Red Shoes. She wrote about her red shoes, and about lying in bed with her sons, telling them the original story of the red shoes. She reminded me that the fairy tales we know are watered down.

The real stories were full of dark themes, complex, dark humanness. When the story was still passed lip to lip, it was Snow White’s mother, not her step-mother, who wanted her dead. Snow White was only sixteen; a ripening, sexual being. Snow White’s mother felt threatened by her sexuality. The Queen demanded that a huntsman take Snow White into the woods, and bring back her liver and her lungs as proof of her death. The huntsman couldn’t bring himself to do it, and brought back the liver and lungs of a boar, which the Queen ate.

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Snow White lived with the seven dwarves who made her clean their house and cook as payment for their protection. The Queen attempted to kill her daughter three times. When she eventually succeeded in killing Snow White, the handsome prince found her coffin. His kiss dislodged the poisoned apple, which had stuck in her throat, and Snow White awakened. They married, and the mother was punished for her evil deeds. She was made to dance for hours in heated iron shoes, until she burnt to death.

There are different versions. Mostly gruesome. Mostly heeding a warning. Be ware of your jealousy towards your daughter.

When Little Red Riding Hood was a peasant tale, the little girl wearing a red cape was seduced into her grandma’s bed by the wolf, who ate her. Grandma didn’t survive. Red Riding Hood didn’t either. In other versions, she led the wolf into believing she needed to go to the toilet, and escaped. Little Red Riding Hood was first written down by French author Charles Perrault. In his version, Riding Hood was tricked and killed by the wolf. The story became a moral tale; a warning not to talk to strangers, and to warn villagers of the dangers of the forest.

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These stories are tepid when they make it into our children’s books, though there is horror enough. Grandmas are still eaten by wolves. Girls are still led into the forest to be killed by hunters. My just-three-year-old lays against me on the couch. Just one more. Why isn’t she horrified?

These stories carry darkness. Maybe children aren’t afraid of death. Maybe it is something we learn to be afraid of as we age.

My daughter recites fairy tales. Her gaze fixes as her mind draws from the Three Little Pigs, Snow White, Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks. The characters and events merge. Her versions are sweet and kind. Her little pigs build houses for the wolf after he tries to blow theirs down. Her Goldilocks leaves porridge for the three bears. I wonder about the morals to her stories.

Just one more, she says.

Do you read fairy tales to your children? Do you read the Disney version? Or glide over the horror, hoping your little one won’t notice? What is it about fairy tales that grip little imaginations?

{Linking with Grace for FYBF on With Some Grace}

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