Tag Archives: fairy tale



Where and what can a home be? Some of Ms. Ellis’ answers are conventional (for example, a nest), others are pure fantasy (see the picture above). Her drawings are deceptively-simple and peaceful–perfect for before bed. But what gives the boys the most pleasure is that every double-page spread in this book contains a dove. Sometimes the dove is easy to spot. Sometimes it is very well hidden. The boys always love finding it.

Author: Carson Ellis
Illustrator: Carson Ellis

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe


I’m going to assume you know the plot of Wardrobe, given its status as an extremely widely-read, acknowledged classic of children’s literature. You may not know, however, that there is much controversy over which book in the Narnia series should be considered the first one. I started our journey to Narnia here, as Mr. Lewis did midway through the last century, because I think starting with the later-written prequel, The Magician’s Nephew, ruins the mystery and magic of Wardrobe.

I wasn’t sure how Wardrobe would work as a read-aloud and was pleasantly surprised to find it worked beautifully. Reading it aloud took much less time than I had expected and my oldest was very interested throughout.

First caveats:

Most adults know the Narnia books have a very Christian subtext, but most children (judging by my son and my childhood self) do not notice, at least with the early books in the series. A lion that dies to redeem the sins of others and then comes back to life? Carry on! It is no stranger than a magical chocolate factory staffed by oompa loompas or a father who goes out for some milk and is delayed by aliens, pirates, vampires, and space-traveling-talking dinosaurs. Whether you love that or hate the subtext, some familiarity with Narnia is is necessary for cultural literacy (for example, without Narnia, the excellent His Dark Materials trilogy wouldn’t make nearly as much sense). There is a bit of obvious sexism in this book, but it is not outrageous, particularly for the time period in which it was written.

Further caveats (with spoilers):

I’m not sure how far we’ll venture into this series together; I read Wardrobe early on as a child and really enjoyed it, but checked others in the series out of the library out of order and got deeply discouraged by The Magician’s Nephew (which I thought explained things that needed no explanation and just wasn’t terribly interesting) and then The Last Battle (which, among many other issues, has the Problem of Susan; nearly universally unsympathetic and one-dimensional characters; and an apocalypse, in every sense of the word, that destroys Narnia) and gave up on the series. But I recently read the third book in the series, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (which was sent to me through a shipping error), and think my oldest would love it (although it comes with some caveats of its own, which I’ll detail if it ever gets its own entry) so I’ve ordered Prince Caspian to see if we should read it before Dawn Treader.

Final caveat:

Make sure your child is old enough for this book and this series; when good and evil battle things out in Narnia (and they do at least once in each of the Narnia books I have read) the details are vivid and the outcomes can be very, very grim.

Author: C.S. Lewis
Illustrator: Pauline Baynes

The Reluctant Dragon


“Don’t worry, Father. It’s only a dragon.”
“Only a dragon?” cried his father. “What do you mean,
a dragon? And how do
you know so much about it?”
“I just do,” replied the boy. “You know about sheep, and
weather, and things.
I know about dragons. I always said that
that was a dragon cave. I always said it ought to have a dragon.
In fact, I would have been surprised if you told me it
got a dragon. Now, please, just leave all this to me. I’ll stroll
up tomorrow evening and have a talk with him.”

Stories of dragons rarely fail us; although this story is quite long (albeit slightly edited in this version), it is very charming and my youngest frequently requests it.

Author: Kenneth Grahame
Illustrator: Inga Moore


Dragon Stew


. . . a shabby young
man came trudging up the road toward the
castle. He had patched knees and elbows, and
the feather in his worn hat was bedraggled,
but he had a merry grin, and he was whistling
a gay tune. When he saw the long line of people,
he asked a soldier, “What’s going on?”

“The king’s looking for a new royal cook,”
the soldier replied. “The cook with the most
unusual recipe will get the job and will live in
the palace off the best of the land!”

“Wouldn’t that be wonderful!”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the soldier.
“Cooks don’t get along with the king. He tells
’em what to do, puts things in their pots–he
all but does the cooking himself.”

“You don’t say?” said the young man, and
he got into line.

Much like The King of Pizza, this book begins with a monarch that loves food but is never satisfied with it. And once again, after some twists and turns, everyone ends up happy (including the kids it is read to). The illustrations, by Ms. Hyman, are very good and particularly interesting when you compare them to her later (much more detailed) illustrations for Saint George and the Dragon.

Author: Tom McGowen
Illustrator: Trina Schart Hyman

The Lady & the Lion


Once upon a time, a merchant asked his three daughters
what he should bring them from the city. The first asked
for pearls, the second for gold, but the youngest longed for
a singing lark. The merchant found a gold necklace and a
bracelet of gold, but there were no songbirds to be had for love
or money that winter.
He turned towards home, sorry to disappoint his youngest
daughter. The road took him past a fine castle, with a grand
garden full of spring flowers in spite of the winter snows. At the
top of a laurel tree, a lark sang.

While the boys show polite interest in The Magic Nesting Doll, by the same author and illustrator, they adore this book (which combines and reworks elements of The Singing, Springing Lark; Beauty and the Beast; and East of the Sun, West of the Moon). They each want a copy of their own and I can absolutely see why. (It is gorgeous. Plus, lions and dragons and griffins. Oh, my!) My oldest enjoys pointing out the plot follows the Frozen principle of getting to know someone before marrying them and my youngest repeatedly (forcefully) requests it as a bedtime story.

Author: Laurel Long and Jacqueline K. Ogburn/The Grimm Brothers
Illustrator: Laurel Long

The Magic Nesting Doll


Once upon a time a girl named Katya lived with her grandmother
at the edge of the forest. They worked hard and loved
each other tenderly, until one day the old woman fell ill.
She called Katya to her side and said, “Little pigeon, my time is
near. Soon you must make your own way in the world, but I have
a gift that will help you.” She took a little matryoshka, a nesting
doll, out of a small box. The doll was smooth and bright, painted
in the likeness of the grandmother with apron and kerchief.
Katya started to open the doll.
“Stop!” said the old woman. “Not yet. If your need is great,
open the doll and help will come. But you may only do so three
times. After that, the magic will be gone. Keep the doll and
remember me.”

After her grandmother dies, Katya goes out into the world where she is told that:

“Ever since the Tsarevitch fell under a wicked spell that turned him
into living ice, it is always winter without thaw, night without moon,
and dark without dawn.”

Can Katya’s magic and courage break the spell, saving the crown prince and the kingdom? While there may not be much suspense (at least for an adult reader), getting to the answer is a pleasure. The story feels like a classic fairy tale, with an interesting Russian flavor, and Laurel Long’s illustrations are utterly beautiful (as in her The Twelve Days of Christmas). Although the boys enjoy this book, they do not reach for it as yet.

Author: Jacqueline K. Ogburn
Illustrator: Laurel Long

Saint George and the Dragon


In the days when monsters and giants and fairy folk lived in
England, a noble knight was riding across a plain. He wore heavy
armor and carried an ancient silver shield marked with a red cross. It
was dented with the blows of many battles fought long ago by other
brave knights.

The Red Cross Knight had never yet faced a foe, and did not even
know his name or where he had been born. But now he was bound on
a great adventure, sent by the Queen of the Fairies to try his young
strength against a deadly enemy, a dragon grim and horrible.

This is not a short read aloud and it is (unsurprisingly) quite gory. But it is interesting and strange and has dragons. The boys love it.

Author: Margaret Hodges/Edmund Spenser
Illustrator: Trina Schart Hyman

Cupid and Psyche


Several fairy tale archetypes originate with the Greek myth Cupid and Psyche (including, especially, Beauty and the Beast). This beautiful version by a mother-daughter team (don’t judge this book by its cover; it is much more compelling inside) draws from the best parts of several ancient variants and retains the darkness and interest of the myth. The boys are fascinated with it.

Author: Charlotte Craft/Thomas Bulfinch/Lucius Apuleius
Illustrator: Kinuko Y. Craft

The Iron Giant


The Iron Giant came to the top of the cliff.
How far had he walked? Nobody knows. Where had he come
from? Nobody knows. How was he made? Nobody knows.
Taller than a house, the Iron Giant stood at the top of the
cliff, on the very brink, in the darkness.
The wind sang through his iron fingers. His great iron head,
shaped like a dustbin but as big as a bedroom, slowly turned
to the right, slowly turned to the left. His iron ears turned, this
way, that way. He was hearing the sea.

His eyes, like headlamps, glowed white, then red, then
infra-red, searching the sea. Never before had the Iron Giant
seen the sea.
He swayed in the strong wind that pressed against his back.

He swayed forward, on the brink of the high cliff.
And his right foot, his enormous iron right foot, lifted – up,
out, into space, and the Iron Giant stepped forward, off the
cliff, into nothingness.


Down the cliff
the Iron Giant
came toppling,
head over heels.


I’m not sure how I missed this book for so long. It came out over forty years ago, but I had never heard of it before the (quite good, very different from the book) movie came out in 1999 and never read it until this week. This is one of the first times I’ve read a book with my oldest that I was really reading along with him–a book that I had never read before. Luckily, we’re in complete agreement–it is great–especially for reading aloud.

Perhaps it is a good thing I waited so long; the 2010 design and illustrations by Laura Carlin are captivating. I’m not particularly found of her illustrations of people, but they are completely overshadowed (in a good way) by her thoughtful spacing of the text, her portrayal of the Iron Giant, and her introduction of the space-bat-angel-dragon.

This book has been called both a tall tale and a fairy tale. Although neither label is wrong, they are a bit surprising; I would call The Iron Giant an excellent introduction to science fiction.

Author: Ted Hughes
Illustrator: Laura Carlin


Jack and the Bean Tree


This variant on Jack and the Beanstalk is a pleasure to see and read. Although we found it after Jack and the Fire Dragon, it is the first tale in the series. My youngest loves it even more than Fire Dragon; my oldest loves them both “to infinity.”

Author: Gail E. Haley
Illustrator: Gail E. Haley