Monday, August 4, 2014

Lessons from the Fairy Tales

Molly and I are on day 311 of our read aloud streak. I have been reading to her everyday for 311 days straight. We have read 18 books so far together. Molly has been very much into fairy tales lately. She has a book of Hans Christian Andersen stories that she pulls out every so often and now she is reading from these fairy tale books that were mine when I was little. Sometimes she enjoys reading a story from start to finish in one sitting instead of a whole chapter book.


During the school year, I watch very little TV. By the time the kids get home from all their sports, eating dinner, and then getting ready for the next day, it is time to go to bed. But recently we got Netflix and being that's it's summer, I've watched a few series that I have heard are good. I've seen commercials for the series Once Upon A Time and tried to watch it a couple of times, but it is one of those series that you need to watch each week to understand what's going on. I've tried to DVR series before, but by the time I get a chance to sit down (or lie down in bed) to watch something, I usually fall asleep and by the time I get around to it, it's already the next week and a new episode and I just never seem to keep up. 

But now that we have Netflix, I can watch at my own pace and so I thought Molly and I could watch Once Upon A Time together since she has been so interested in fairy tales. 
We are loving it! Every time a new character is introduced, she tries to figure out which fairy tale character he or she is. She has gone back to my old fairy tale books to reread the original stories to refresh her memory or read the story for the first time if she hasn't read that story yet. The other day, Molly came to me and asked if we had any chapter books that are based on fairy tales. I told her we could look through our book shelves.

This is what we found!

Years ago if you were to ask me what genre I enjoyed reading the most, I would have said realistic fiction and historical fiction. I never would have answered fantasy. It is not what I would have grabbed off the shelf of a bookstore or the library. But since Molly and I have started this read aloud streak, I have noticed that most of the books do have fantasy in them. We have read four Mary Poppins books, fantasy, Roald Dahl books, fantasy, The Wizard of Oz, fantasy, The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland, fantasy. We have only read a few books that are realistic fiction but I have really enjoyed these fantasy books we have read. 

Back at the end of the school year, Molly's teacher told me that they were starting their fantasy unit in language arts and asked me to bring in some books for a read aloud to introduce the lesson. When I started researching a bit, this whole genre of fantasy, I realized there are all these sub-categories of fantasy, many, many sub-categories. So to try to make it simple for Molly's fourth grade class, I broke it down into three categories: high fantasy, low fantasy, and portal fantasy. 

High fantasy takes place in an alternate world, there really isn't anything of this world in the story. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings would be a great example. I never read it. Again, I always though I didn't like fantasy.

Low Fantasy is set in our ordinary everyday world with some magical elements sprinkled throughout the book. Molly and I read A Snicker of Magic, and Savvy. I really enjoyed these books.

Portal Fantasy takes place in our everyday world and an alternate world. There is some sort of portal between the two worlds. The Wizard of Oz, The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe are all example of portal books. They all start out in this world, but the main characters all find themselves in an alternate world through a portal. 

The TV series Once Upon a Time is a portal fantasy. The fairy tale characters have been cursed from their world and are now in our world. The show goes back and forth between present time, in our world, and then flashbacks to when they were in their fantasyland. What I love about the series is that the two villains are Snow White's evil step mother and Rumpelstiltskin. We hate these characters. They are mean and evil, why wouldn't you? But little by little, you learn about their background and why they are the way that they are. It's a little bit like the play Wicked. We all grew up scared of the Wicked Witch of the West, but the play explains how she got to be the way that she is, you start to empathize with her. You start to understand her. 

And shouldn't we all do a little more of that? I wonder if adults had a little more empathy for each other, maybe the world would be a little bit gentler. It's all in the point of view, we need to understand more that no one side can be completely right and the other side completely wrong. Molly and I just finished listening to the book The Julian Chapter. It is Julian's point of view from the book Wonder which is an awesome book about bullying and empathy and a whole lot of good things with great discussions to be had with your children. Each section of Wonder is written from a different point of view. Every one is represented, except the bully, Julian. The Julian Chapter is his story. We listened to it during the car ride to Ocean City this past weekend. I did not feel sorry for Julian, it does not excuse him from the things that he did in the book Wonder, but you do start to understand him better and as an adult, and a parent, it made me think about ways to teach kids kindness because Julian truly didn't understand what he did was first.

Right now, Molly and I are reading Rump. It is Rumpelstiltskin's story. We are only up to chapter three, but we already can empathize with him. The first line is, "My mother named me after a cow's rear end." Think about it, the kid doesn't have a chance with a name like Rump. Molly has been reading these fairy tales that are hundreds of years old. We are reading books and watching a TV show that are based on these stories from hundreds of years ago. There must be a reason why these stories have stood the test of time. They lead us to use our imagination, to add on to the the stories, to come up with prequels and sequels. There are lessons to be learned.

I have learned two things this summer from our reading; first, I like fantasy, low fantasy and portal fantasy and fair tale fantasy. The second, is that the more you read books, especially ones that have good vs. evil themes, ones with a definite bad guy, that bad guy is never exactly what they appear to be, there always is a reason for the way that they are, and if we could just apply that to the real world, to that grumpy person we just met in the mall or the lady that yelled at you in the grocery store, that maybe before we judge them, we take a moment to think that maybe this person is having bad day and that we should

Kindness Counts!