________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 18 . . . . January 15, 2010


Fairy Tales in the Classroom: Teaching Students to Write Stories with Meaning Through Traditional Tales.

Veronika Martenova Charles.
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2009.
262 pp., pbk., $34.95.
ISBN 978-1-55455-020-3.

Subject Headings:
English language-Composition and exercises-Study and Teaching (Elementary).
Creative writing (Elementary education).
Fairy tales.


Review by Reesa Cohen.

**** /4


There are countless books and studies devoted to the fairy tale genre.

Fairy tales have been examined in the fields of history, anthropology, sociology, psychology, linguistics, and other disciplines. They have served as an inspiration for artists, poets, musicians, and filmmakers. The stories are still with us today, permeating our culture in various forms. their motifs are used in advertisements, television commercials, marketing campaigns, and and in some video games. Any parent or teacher can attest that the stories still hold children mesmerized.

Charles proves that, despite the digital age and the barrage of multi media, storytelling today is alive and healthy in classrooms as a form of literary expression. What's even more important is that she has written a dynamic and useable resource to demonstrate this. Just reading the forward by Besty Hearne is a revelation in itself because Hearne brings her own considerable experience of teaching children's literature at the academic level in examining the value and use of this book. Hearne recognizes the valuable work Charles has accomplished with this book, and she reminds educators that fairy tales can be so effective when they are used "as creative springboards into writing, art and other areas of curriculum."

     Veronika Charles is very familiar with this territory, being an award-winning children's author of folklore, with such books to her credit as The Crane Girl, Necklace of Stars, Maiden of the Mist and The Birdman.

     What began as Charles's graduate thesis to explore how folk tales might impact children today has become a well documented book which not only explores this genre thoroughly, but one that also gives teachers a proven method to encourage creative writing and drawing in early years classrooms.

     As a former instructor of children's literature, I fully agree that there is so much potential to the use of this genre in today's classrooms, and Charles successfully mines this opportunity by providing background to and understanding of folklore. She begins by sharing her very personal journey, details her love of tales inspired by her Czech heritage, indicates the background to her own wonderfully written fairy tales, and writes about her visits as an author to schools. It was during one such visit that she was impressed by a creative teacher-librarian who encouraged her students to use one of Charles's stories to design a story of their own. This led to the design of Charles's extensive research study which centers around the re-telling and re-creating of fairy tales. Her investigation involved 700 students, in 23 classrooms, in 15 schools of "diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds."

     Charles does not waste time in featuring the importance of using fairy tales in the classroom and lists six factors that indicate their importance. Of special interest is her contention that an interactive approach which uses graphic symbols can even impact the difficult-to-reach students, such as those with autism or attention deficit disorder.

     She then invites readers, if they wish, to advance to Chapter 10 for further exploration of her classroom method and where they will find ready-to-use materials for their students. But skipping chapters 2-9 would be a real shame! Why? Because the reader would miss so many highlights of this well-written work, such as: the relevance and power of tales; the forms of this genre; why children are captivated by these tales; the author's work in the classroom; different types of tales and their use; integrating tales into the curriculum with follow-up initiatives. Her comment that "perhaps Fairy Tales can be viewed as a large buffet table, where individuals pick what they are hungry for at the moment" shows the versatility of this genre. In this part of the book, Charles pays tribute to educators and writers who have explored this territory before, who have inspired her and who have helped guide her way in this research study. She gives special space to Vladmir Propp who has led her to a deeper understanding of the structure and sequence of fairy tales that are referred to as "actions." From this perspective, Charles created a set of extensive pictographic symbols to represent the action/sequence of a fairy tale. The purpose of these symbols is the uncovering of the structure of a story by mapping it out and then using these "actions" to create a new class story. This is the heart and core of Fairy Tales in the Classroom, a classroom approach to "story-building" which is student-drive, inventive, open-ended , flexible and allows for spontaneity. She believes that "inventing stories offers a natural transition into more formal writing tasks." To allow for more individual expression, students were encouraged to respond to any part of the story through a drawing. Throughout the book, there are many samples of children's full colour drawings which reflect different lifestyles, homes, and families in their class-created stories.

     Charles readily admits that finding stories to use in this procedure can be time-consuming, and she includes an anthology of tales that could be used initially to replicate her procedure in grades 2 and 3 classrooms. She also discovered that the process doesn't work as well with older students because they tend to be more reality-based.

     Teachers and instructors at the academic level might wonder at how little attention is paid to other important elements in the genre, such as characters, style of writing, setting, or cultural aspects of a folk tale. And on first reading, what also seems to be missing is other amazing ideas for extension with this age group, such as dramatizing or story theatre, or comparisons of different versions of the same tale, that can equally engage a child's imagination. But Charles is not trying to cover the waterfront in this category of children's literature. Although the author points to several imaginative ideas for integration, the focus is on creating and writing as a group and on the structure and recognizable motifs in specific kinds of Fairy Tales. There is an impressive amount of research and information in this useful book. The teacher is provided with detailed steps to carry through the process with several examples using different types of tales. Besides the anthology of tales, Charles includes a complete set of reproducible symbols, guiding questions for creating new tales, and further notes to accompany some of the tales. This kind of practical detail can be helpful to the practitioner in implementing this technique.

Highly Recommended.

Reesa Cohen is a retired Instructor of Children's Literature and Information Literacy at the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.