Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Fairly Odd Tales

Fairy tales are an important part of our collective heritage. The Frog Prince, Red Riding Hood, Cinderella - these legendary tales provide entertainment, escape and a unity of understanding. They are a shared experience that crosses many cultures and continents.

J. R. R. Tolkien, author of the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, asserted that fairy tales are supremely suited to, “giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy.” Read his essay, “On Fairy Stories,” for some insight into the origins and use of fairy tales.

Read fairy tales by the brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson with your family. Fairy tale literacy enables your children to take part in the Great Conversation.

Then branch out and have a little fun with some delightfully irreverent books like these, which gleefully spoof the classics.

The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot
by Margaret McNamara
Schwartz & Wade Books, 2011
ages 3 and up

Three aliens go out into the universe to seek their fortunes and are pursued by a whooshing, beeping giant robot who threatens, “I will crack and smack and whack your house down.”

The dark reaches of our starry solar system provide an eye-catching backdrop for cute green aliens and an impressively fierce robot. Great looking and silly, this book is an out-of-this-world lampoon of the Three Little Pigs.

Falling For Rapunzel
by Leah Wilcox
Puffin, 2003
ages 3 and up

Poor Rapunzel in her tower is having a bad hair day. Her diffuser doesn’t seem to be doing its job, and neither does her maid - clothing and accessories litter the floor and there’s underwear on top of her computer.

A handsome prince hears her whining and calls to her, but confused Rapunzel cannot hear him correctly and instead of letting down her hair, she tosses all sorts of ridiculous items out the tower window.

The rhyming couplets are charming and the acrylic and paper montage illustrations pop with cheery humor. This is a fun Valentine’s Day tale, as it ends with romance and practicality.

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales
by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
Viking, 1992
ages 6 and up

From title page to end papers, this wacky book is the ultimate example of fairy tales gone berserk. Deranged illustrations and delirious font changes are strong indications that stories such as, “Little Red Running Shorts,” and “Jack’s Bean Problem,” are going to be quite unorthodox and extremely silly.

Theatre IV is putting this one on stage at the Empire Theater from February 17 to March 18, 2012. I haven’t seen it, but director Billy-Christopher Maupin kindly shared a script so I can tell you that it is very much like the book - outlandish and rowdy.

This show is either going to be a blast or a bomb; my guess is that it will be a rollicking good time. The folks at Theatre IV are brimming with talent and their productions are always top-notch. If you saw "A Year With Frog and Toad" over the holiday, then you already know how great Theater IV really is.

A few words of caution before bringing the very young: the show will be confusing if a child isn’t already familiar with the classic fairy tales, and the word “stupid” is used quite a lot. It is always in reference to the tales and not used to insult characters, but still can be strident for those who have taught young children that “stupid” is a bad word. There’s also the use of “flippin’” once, which, let’s face it, is just a substitute bad word. And, be aware that one character is aptly named Cow Patty Boy.


The Practical Princess
by Jay Williams
Parents Magazine Press, 1969
ages 5 and up

Hard to find, but well worth the search, this book is a true gem. When reading it to schoolchildren, I find that boys and girls alike are highly entertained by this story. Even a year later they still tell me, “I really like that princess story.”

The fable seems rather typical at first: a dragon moves in and demands that the princess be sacrificed to him, or he will destroy the kingdom. So now we expect a prince to enter the scene and save the day.

But in this tale, the lovely, graceful and practical Princess Bedelia must save herself with her quick wits. “Use your common sense,” she says, “He’s just asking for me because he’s a snob.” Bedelia has her gaudiest dress stuffed with straw and a hundred pounds of gunpowder, and heaves it down the dragon’s throat. No more dragon problem.

But all is not peaceful in Arapathia, because of Lord Garp of Istven, a crafty, greedy man with a face, “like an old napkin.” He threatens war if Bedelia doesn’t marry him. Princess Bedelia’s clever thinking saves her kingdom and herself, and also rescues Prince Perian from Lord Garp’s evil spell. 

With strange and wonderful pictures by Friso Henstra, this storybook is as good as it gets.

M.D. Clark appreciates the value of Aesop's fables, but finds them frustratingly short and cannot sink her figurative teeth into them.

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