The first volume of the first edition of Grimms' Fairy Tales, published in 1812, was a very small book, 6 inches high by 3 1/2 inches wide—about the size of the display on my Kindle.
The book's publisher, Georg Reimer, advertised it as a family read-aloud, and also as a book that would help children learn to read. The book would fit nicely into small hands. The letters are clear, and the space between words and between lines is generous.
This page is from a copy owned by the Brothers Grimm. It shows the beginning of "Hänsel und Gretel." The handwritten note above the title belongs with the preceding tale, "Nasty Flax Spinning," and indicates that Jacob and Wilhelm heard that tale from Jeannette Hassenpflug in 1812. Other handwriting marks changes the brothers want to make in the next printing.
I've almost finished the manuscript of my book about the Brothers Grimm and their tales.
I love this self-portrait by Ludwig Grimm. It's so lifelike, I imagine I might run into him today in Portland.
Ludwig's more famous older brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, also loved to draw. But Ludwig had special talent. He studied with the painter Philipp Otto Runge, and became a well-known artist and teacher.
Ludwig Grimm drew portraits of his brothers and their friends, and also illustrated the 1825 children's edition of Kinder- und Hausmärchen—Grimms' Fairy Tales.
I can't claim credit for the heart of this story, just for discovering it in an old book of folklore and retelling it for children. This a folktale from Cameroon, Africa, about a bully of an elephant who wins wrestling matching with other large mammals, then falls victim to one of the smallest. It deserves to be reread and reheard for the wisdom it contains.
Read by Bob Kaminski.
It's never too early to start thinking about Krampus, the dark side of Santa (or Saint Nicholas, as in this photo from Austria).
Santa brings goodies in a sack, Krampus puts you in the sack.
For parents, Krampus was a useful bogey: "Be good, or else Krampus will carry you off!" Krampus was especially useful during long, cold winters in remote villages where children were cooped up in the house for weeks at a time and adults struggled to get them to behave. Was it cruel to warn them that Krampus would come and punish them? To reinforce the fiction of Krampus, masked figures would appear in winter parades. They visited homes to ask parents which children had been naughty and which had been nice. That way, parents could defend their children from Krampus and play the good guy.
Do unto ogres . . . . This is a very nasty ogre from Charles Perrault's "Petit Poucet" (Histoires ou contes du temps passé, 1697). Seven brothers arrive at this ogre's door after their parents lose them—on purpose—in the woods. Seven boys? What a coincidence! This ogre has seven daughters. But dinner, not marriage, is in the offing. The ogre feeds the boys and tucks them into a bed next to his daughters' bed. The youngest boy, Petit Poucet ("Little Thumbling") notices that the girls wear golden crowns. When the ogre leaves the room, Petit Poucet puts the boys caps on the girls, the girls' crowns on boys. After dark, when the ogre comes to slit the throats of Petit Poucet and his brothers, he feels their heads, and slits his daughters' throats instead. Eager to destroy the children of strangers, the ogre destroys his own family.
A miller dies, and all he leaves his youngest son is a cat—but a very smart cat. Puss has a plan to transfer the property of an odious ogre to his master. He lays the trap carefully, then tricks the ogre into showing off his power to change size and shape. Can the ogre turn into a fierce lion? Yes, and he does. But can the ogre turn himself into something small—a tiny mouse? More vain than cautious, the ogre takes the bait, and down into Puss's stomach he goes.
Perrault's "moralité" at the end of the tale (I did not make this up): "There is a great advantage in receiving a large inheritance, but hard work and ingenuity are worth more than wealth acquired from others."
Ogres in folk and fairy tales go by many names: troll, giant, zim, raksasa—on and on. Every culture has stories about big bullying brutes who threaten ordinary people. Through folktales, storytellers have passed along accumulated wisdom about this character type.
Take "Jack and the Beanstalk," for example. The giant lives in the clouds, high above everyone else. He hoards gold. He shouts nonsense ("Fee, fi, fo, fum!). He threatens ("I'll grind your bones to make my bread"). He might seem invincible. But wait! Storytellers encourage listeners (especially children) to think like Jack, to use their skills and their wits. Jack is nimble and quick. The giant is slow and bumbling. Jack's ace-in-the-hole is that the giant's wife is on Jack's side, right from the beginning. She sympathizes with her husband's victims—she is one of them. Perhaps some day storytellers will tell tales of the donald.
I love folktales where a heroine or hero goes on a quest and meets just the right helpers along the way. These popular tales send a clear message—go after your dreams, don't worry that you are too young, too old, too small, or too weak. You will find friends who will help you. You will be stronger together!
Tasty Baby Belly Buttons is about a girl who was born magically from a watermelon, much to the delight of a childless couple. It is a variant of the well-known Japanese tale of Momotaro, blended with another classic, The Melon Princess. I found this unusual version in a volume of academic folklore and spun it out into a picture book.
How to bring down an ogre? The melon princess, Urikohime, takes her dog, and a pheasant, and a monkey on a mission to defeat some baby-stealing ogres. She and her companions are so small that their attacks on the ogres cause the bullies to bash, bop, and stomp themselves into submission.
The recording below is by my friend, Jeffrey Allen. Text is copyright 1999 Judy Sierra.
The smooth, rubbery surface of the basketball court near our house attracts many young chalk artists, and there are usually a few creative hopscotch patterns scattered around. When I see a kid in the process of drawing, I ask if she actually plays hopscotch. "No," is the common answer. "I just like making them." Sometimes I see children jumping along through the squares, but never using a stone or bottle cap marker.
I recall playing hopscotch as a kid. An important part was finding just the right marker—flat, not too heavy, not too light—and every player's had to look different.
Folklorists and anthropologists saved sketches and observations of traditional hopscotch games. It's fun to bring them back to life. Kids are excited to be playing games other kids invented long ago and far away. A group of two, three or four players is best.
This PDF file is free to download. It includes ten different hopscotch games. Feel free to share it informally—pass it along!
I am a children's author and folklorist based in Portland, Oregon. Before I became a full-time writer and speaker, I was a children's librarian, then a puppeteer and storyteller. I received my Ph.D. in Folklore and Mythology Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles.