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Multimedia Moment: Exploring Fairy Tales from Long Ago

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This post was written by Tom Bober, the Library of Congress 2015-16 Audio-Visual Teacher in Residence. Over the course of his year at Teacher in Residence, Tom will be writing regular posts exploring different aspects of audio-visual materials in the Library’s collection and their use in the classroom.

What makes a fairy tale a fairy tale? Many students in younger grades read them. They both listen to them and study them as a class. Fairy tale recordings in the National Jukebox can help students explore common elements of fairy tales, which can give them a grounding for deeper study.

These recorded fairy tales, published about a century ago, might contain words or phrases that children are unfamiliar with or be written in a complex style. Listening to recordings makes the stories more accessible for some students.

To explore elements of fairy tales, students can listen to the recording Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

It begins with the recognizable fairy tale phrase, “Once upon a time.” Students may notice talking animals as a second element common to fairy tales. The repeated number three, another feature in some fairy tales, occurs in the three bears themselves and three items of the bears that Goldilocks encounters.

Students can also discuss the lesson to be learned in the story. Does Goldilocks learn a lesson by the end of the story or is it only meant to be learned by the reader? What evidence is there in the recording to support your answer?

Once they are familiar with fairy tales, students can explore fractured fairy tales, versions that change one detail – the character, setting, plot, or point of view – of a traditional fairy tale.

An example of a fractured fairy tale is Denslow’s Three Bears, published about a decade before the 1912 National Jukebox recording. After listening to the original tale and reading Denslow’s version, students can identify that “one thing” that has changed, that the girl decides to clean up the bears’ home instead of eating their food and sitting on their furniture, and discuss how that changes the story. (For insights into Denslow’s purpose in changing the story, take a look at the back cover of the book.)

Denslow’s Three Bears, 1903

Detail from back cover, Denslow’s Three Bears

Author and former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Jon Scieszka, describes his idea for a fractured fairy tale.

My daughter’s favorite story was, ‘The Gingerbread Man.’ You know the one where the gingerbread man runs around and he smells so good everybody wants to chase him. She made me read that story… and I wondered what would happen if the lady ran out of gingerbread then she’d make him out of something else like really bad smelling cheese. And then nobody chases him.”

During another National Book Festival visit, Scieszka sums up the idea of creating a fractured fairy tale. “It’s just one thing that changes but it changes everything.”

Students can put themselves in Scieszka’s shoes by listening to the recording of Gingerbread Boy. What one element of the setting, plot, character, or point of view could be changed? How would it change the rest of the story?

After identifying the elements of a fairy tale as well as its moral, students can create their own fractured fairy tale. What one fairy tale would you like to explore with your students?


Comments (2)

  1. Thank you for this enjoyable post and good ideas for younger students!

  2. I so enjoyed looking at the Three Bears story and it made think a lot of creative possibilities. Here in WV though you would need to be careful as bears do walk though our yards frequently. Believe method are not friendly to people and children. Therefore the role of imagination and wishful thinking in fictional stories would need to be stressed.

    It is also interesting to see how the stories have changed over the years. A good middle school lesson idea.

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