Comparative Literature for Kids

imagesOne of the at-home learning activities my kids have been most invested in and most enthusiastic about has been my kid-friendly version of comparative literature: taking one fairy tale and finding as many versions  of it as we can find.  This includes not only looking at different authors’ but also different illustrators’ takes on the standard tales.  Sometimes, we even discover clever retellings of the stories that draw attention to their absurdities.

My kids have loved this approach to fairy tales, and it offers so many points of departure for discussing the stories and how they are told.

  • Is there a reason why the bad guy is a bad guy?
  • Does the story give any motivation?
  • Are the good guys always good?
  • Do girls always have to be princesses?
  • Do boys always have to be the heroes?
  • How does the author change the original story?
  • How does that change the message?
  • Why are so many kids in stories orphans?
  • Why is the forest always scary?
  • Is the animal a helper or an enemy?
  • How would the story be different if an animal told it?
  • Which illustrations do you like best?  Why?
  • How would you change this story?
  • How would you illustrate it?

Including movies in this comp. lit mix gives you a lot more to talk about.  With Maleficent out now, it’s a great time to dig out “Sleeping Beauty” again, both the tales and Disney’s original animated movie.  I loved watching it with my kids and talking about what a difference it makes to tell the story from the antagonist’s point of view.  I loved how they reference Disney’s illustration of Maleficent with those magnificent cheekbones!  I loved how we finally get a motivation for a terribly two-dimensional Disney demon.  The movie gave us so much to talk about in terms of stock characters and how it’s so much more interesting when the story is not just about good vs. evil.

Here’s what has worked for me and my boys.

For kids up to age six, decide on a fairy tale, and go to the library and find as many different illustrated picture book versions as you can.  This worked wonderfully for us with boys of different ages, because each child will spot different things and be attracted to different aspects of the books.

imgres-2For kids from six to ten, go back to the original versions from the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault, Andrew Lang and Hans Christian Andersen.  Some of these are much more creepy and violent than their Disney incarnations!  Some you’ve never heard of.  Philip Pullman recently published his tellings of the stories of the Brothers Grimm, complete with information about the origin and adaptations of the stories and why some have lasted longer than others.

Fairy tales are so elastic, they even lend themselves to including tweens and teens.  If you read the picture books to all the kids, middle grade readers can go off and read books like The Grimm Sisters, or for mature readers, Angela Carter’s retellings in The Bloody Chamber.   For movie adaptations for older kids, there are recent movie version of Red Riding Hood and Snow White and the Huntsman.

Here are some  other great retellings to share:

  • Philip Pullman retells Cinderella from the point of view of one of the rats who got changed into horses in I Was a Rat.  Funny.
  • The Sisters Grimm series of nine middle-grade novels by Michael Buckley tells the story of two girl detectives in the land of Everafters.  Addictive.
  • A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz is the first of a trilogy that retells the story of Hansel and Gretel for middle grade readers.  Page-turners.
  • Sweetly by Jackson Pearce also retells Hansel and Gretel for young adults.  About to find out….  Just ordered it.

Can you suggest any other retellings?  (Honestly, I’m hopeless.  I’ve added a dozen books to my wish list while writing this post and looking at these lists.  Hennepin County LibraryGoodreadsEpic Reads.  )

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13 thoughts on “Comparative Literature for Kids

  1. Wow, I love the mind map diagram! It’s great! And of course your whole post is really interesting ☺I love the way literature is so interconnected. It’s truly fascinating!

  2. Loved the idea! Thank you very much for sharing.
    Kids and literature is a hell of a topic to approach. My kid is just getting started in spoken language, but I’ve been wondering how to bring this about for a while already.
    I’ll take you up on it, if I may.

  3. This looks like a wonderful introduction to point of view in literature. Everyone involved in a story has a different perspective–translates well to Real Life experience as well!

    • I don’t think 2 is too young at all! They love illustrations at that age, and she may be able to let you know which are her preferred images. I know my guys had favourite board books that they always wanted at bed time. See if she has a preference for one style of illustration over another.

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