February 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Fairy Tale Programming Is Alive and Well


Fairy tales get a STEM infusion in activities at the Orange County Library System (OCLS) in Orlando, FL.

Fairy tales are dead, right? I mean, other than the princess empire that dominates movie land, fairy tales just don’t exist anymore.

Of this I was absolutely certain—that they were deader than the Grimms. Sure, sure, there are plenty of kiddo and YA novels borrowing from fairy tale land (Adam Gidwitz, I’m looking at you…) But fairy tale library programming, in my expert opinion, was extinct.

Turns out, it is a good thing I am not an expert in fairy tales—because I was wrong. Not only are folk and fairy tale collections still pulling their weight on our shelves and in classroom curriculum, but they continue to pop up in programming, often in new and creative ways. Prepare to be inspired.

At the Joliet (IL) Public Library, staff feature the folk and fairy tale collections, along with corresponding fractured fairy tales, in a display called “Trail of Tales.”  Colored duct tape “trails” on the floor lead readers from the circulation desk at the front of the room to the various areas of the collection—just like the fairy tales.

At the Brooklyn Public Library’s Pacific Branch, a focus on African folktales for Black History Month will feature Anansi the Spider tales. Down in Fairfax County, VA, children will celebrate “National Tell a Fairy Tale Day” on February 26th after school at the public library by making crowns, wands, and listening to fairy tales.


The witch’s house from Hansel and Gretel takes up residence at the Matheson Memorial Library in Elkhorn, WI. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Wharton

The Auburn (AL) Public Library hosts a monthly “Fractured Fairy Tales” program for primary school age children, featuring the traditional tale being read alongside its fractured retelling.  Cynthia Ledbetter, programming specialist in youth services there, says that this month, the focus would be on Sleeping Beauty—followed by Snoring Beauty by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallan and illustrated by Jane Manning (HarperCollins, 2014), and Waking Beauty by Leah Wilcox and illustrated by Lydia Monks (Puffin Books, 2011.) “We scan the books and create a power point, then turn the lights down and project them onto the wall,” she says. It creates a cozy, fairy tale like setting that the kids really seem to enjoy.”

At a private K–8 school in San Francisco, fifth graders explore fractured fairy tales with school librarian Melissa McAvoy. “We get at authorial intent, point of view, and literary techniques,” she says. “It also sets us up for a later nonfiction unit on change maker biographies.”


At the Cotsen Children’s Library at Princeton University, students design their own Cinderella ball gowns. Photo courtesy of Pop Goes the Page/Dana Sheridan

Sue Giffard, a librarian at the Ethical Culture School in New York City, often incorporates myths and folktales into the 3–5 grade curriculum, where she has provided “a kind of traditional literary background for the social studies curriculum: the Lenape and Iroquois nations in third grade; the Maya and ancient Egyptians in fourth grade; the ancient Greeks in fifth.” (See Giffard’s SLJ article “Heroes and Monsters: Tales from Around the Globe.”)

Book discussions and fairy tales seem to go hand in hand, proven by those librarians running successful book groups with children of a variety of ages.  An after-school story time/book discussion group largely focused on reading and discussing folk and fairy tales at the Richmond (CA) Public Library. Sheila Dickinson, the children’s librarian there, shared that “I found this story time as book discussion a great way to share the under-used treasure trove of fairy tales and folktales in the library’s collection. They really got the kids thinking and talking!”

At the Benicia (CA) Public Library, librarian Allison Angell runs a book club for second and third graders that occasionally focuses on folktales and fairy tales. Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by Johns Steptoe, (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1987) for example, was a recent selection.  “A few years ago, I did a book club in which everyone chose a different variant of Cinderella, and then we talked about how they were all similar or different,” she shared. “It was fascinating!”

Looking for a multi-age range twist for your program? At the Rocky River (OH) Public Library, Children’s Librarian Heather Macalla has tween volunteers perform an interactive story time of traditional and modern folk and fairy tales to younger children—usually in grades K–2.  She explained that “the older children break out into small groups and act out/read aloud fairy tales with crafts and puppetry for the younger children at four different stations around the room.” With more libraries looking for volunteer opportunities for tween patrons, this type of interactive program is easy to replicate.

Jennifer Wharton, youth services librarian at the Matheson Memorial Library in Elkhorn, WI, and creator of the blog In Short, I am Busy, organized a fantastical fairy tale adventure  that lured patrons to different stations throughout her library—including crafting stations, and a fairy tale scavenger hunt throughout the library that led participants to their final destination—the witch’s house from Hansel and Gretel.

pigs need a new home

Participants in the “Pigs Need a New Home” Fairy Tale STEM Challenge at Orange County Library System.

Moving fairy tales into the STEM realm, the Orange County Library System (OCLS) in Orlando, FL was the recent recipient of a Curiosity Creates Grant from ALSC, supported by Disney. Assistant Manager Mira Tanna explained how OCLS’s curriculum specialist, Nicole Suarez, designed a six-part series that correlated with Common Core standards. Each session featured classic fairy tales, and participants helped their favorite characters solve their problems with a STEM twist:

The programs were offered to children ages 6–12 at seven branch locations of OCLS.

Over at the wildly creative blog Pop Goes the Page, Dana Sheridan, education and outreach coordinator of the Cotsen Children’s Library at Princeton University, has had fits of fun with fairy and folktales lately. For starters, how about a program where students design their own Cinderella ball gown, using nothing but recycled materials? Talk about imagination and creativity getting married at the library! Families were greeted by a court jester, “who asked them to guess the characters from six fairy tale riddles. Identify them all and you won your choice of three puppets,” Sheridan explains in her blog post about the event, which also includes the six riddles.


Photo by Nicholas Kropp

All this talk about fairy tales has made me nostalgic, so up the stairs to the home office I tread, where I found my copy of Charms and Changelings—an anthology of 15 fairy tales from around the world, collected and retold by Ruth Manning-Sanders. It was one of the books I fell in love with as an elementary school reader many, many moons ago.

I think it is time for a re-read, as I start to think about plans for some new fairy tale themed programs and book discussions to try at my own library. Thanks to the librarians who proved me wrong—just the  “happily ever after” ending I hoped for.

Lisa G. Kropp About Lisa G. Kropp

Lisa G. Kropp is the assistant director of the Lindenhurst Memorial Library in Lindenhurst, NY, and a forever children’s librarian.

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  1. Elizabeth Mabey says:

    If you’re looking for fractured fairy tales for a Spanish-language program, try the “Habia Otra Vez” series from Everest, by Yanitzia Canetti. Rhyming verse and humorous illustrations tell variations such as “”Caperucita Descolorida” and “La Fea Durmiente.” These are a big hit in my bilingual immersion elementary school.