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Childcraft: Folk and Fairy Tales

Posted on Thursday, August 27, 2009 in children's books

Photo of illustration for title page for Childcraft Folk and Fairy Tales

I’m not sure where I learned most of my traditional children’s tales. Now, when someone mentions “Sleeping Beauty,” I think of Disney’s version. Don’t you? For “Cinderella,” I think of the TV version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical with Lesley Ann Warren. And then I think of Disney. I don’t think of the stories in this volume.

Photo of Three Little Pigs illustration by Shirley Spackey for ChildcraftNow if you mention “The Three Little Pigs,” that’s a different story. I immediately remember the unusual illustrations by Shirley Spackey. Then I have a more contemporary memory of changing the story slightly when re-telling it for my nephews. I liked to make it the story of the three pittle ligs and tell how the big wad bolf would threaten to “puff and huff or I’ll hoe your blouse in.” (I learned to use spoonerisms by watching Grandpa Jones on “Hee Haw.”)

tomtittotThe other illustration that I vividly recall is of Tom Tit Tot. That “little black thing” scared the pee-wadding out of me (to use a phrase I learned in childhood.)  I now realize that “Tom Tit Tot” is basically the same story as “Rumpelstiltskin.” The story is scary, too. Just because you did something stupid, your parent’s vanity or some big man’s greed could lead to you being locked in a room with only a spinning wheel and some flax.

The stories in this volume are the canon of English literature for children. Our shared knowledge of these stories allows authors to make use of the tales in new ways. I actually think I enjoy Fables, the graphic novel series, much more than I did the stories I heard as a child. Niel Gaiman’s “Snow, Glass, Apples” story is deliciously thrilling and disturbing. Stephen Sondheims’ Into the Woods is like a candy cane treat. But they wouldn’t be so enjoyable if I didn’t get all the references.

I got into a fight once about one of the stories I read in here. I was wrong, but so were my friends. We fought over a drawing I made of the Rapunzel story. I remember the lead character’s mother starting out pregnant and with a desire for rutabagas. It was her husband’s journey into the witch’s garden to get her some that earned her the witch’s ire. My friends insisted there was no pregnant lady in the story. Well it’s implied that she is pregnant. She believes that she’ll soon have a child and everyone knows pregnant women have strange cravings. But it wasn’t for rutabagas, it was for rampions. I’d never heard of such an herb so I must have changed it in my head. For some reason, the risk the young husband took for his wife and his willingness to sacrifice his future child, was the heart of the story for me. Not the hair thing in the tower.

Photo of Tom Hill's illustration for the "Hansel and Gretel" story in ChildcraftSometimes I’m amazed that children don’t have a greater fear of step-mothers. In these stories they never want to feed or clothe their step-children. And fathers, while in nursery rhymes always strong and helpful, have no power in the face of the fairy tale step-mother. My mother, who married a widower with two children, was terrified of her new role because these stories haunted her.

I’m sure there are tales in this book which don’t frighten or alarm little kids. But I think it’s notable that I don’t remember those. Those didn’t capture my imagination. So what if Rose Red and Snow White were the closest of sisters, kind to everyone, and end up with lots of treasure? That does not make their story memorable. It’s the evil dwarf who makes that story worth reading.

I just read the Jack and the Beanstalk story and it’s not the same as I remember. I thought the goose that lay the golden egg was in it; I didn’t know that was from Aesop’s Fables. The giant’s fowl with an oviduct problem was a hen. I don’t recall anything of a fairy who lost her powers and allowed the giant to kill Jack’s father. I don’t recall Jack making three visits to the giant’s house. I think I know the story from old cartoons instead of this book.

The volume ends with Aesop’s Fables. I remember these stories, but not with the same intensity as the fairy tales. I only liked them because they were short, had animals in them, and you could always guess the moral.

A while back my husband read a few of Grimm’s fairy tales out loud to me. He picked ones we didn’t know and they seemed totally outlandish and ridiculous. I wrote my own modern versions of two of them:

Fairly tales just beg to be re-told.

MORE on the Childcraft collection:
Poems of Early Childhood
Storytelling and Other Poems
Folk and Fairy Tales
Animal Friends and Adventures
Life in Many Lands
Great Men and Famous Deeds
Exploring the World Around Us
Creative Play and Hobbies

  1. […] vacuum. MORE on the Childcraft collection: Poems of Early Childhood Storytelling and Other Poems Folk and Fairy Tales Animal Friends and Adventures Life in Many Lands Great Men and Famous Deeds Exploring the World […]

  2. I remember these stories and illustrations. I was also frightened by the image of Tom Tit Tot. But I loved all the books. We had the set with the gray clot cover. I wish I had them back.

  3. Hi, I’ve really enjoyed your web site having found during my search for what I believe to be the Childcraft 1961 edition that features the volume with Folk & Fairy Tales and ends with Aesop’s Fables. The volume I had as a child had a red and white cover. Do you have any idea where I purchase this particular volume? Thanks, Don

  4. Thanks Don. I found my set at a thrift store. I think you can find them on e-Bay.

  5. HI

  6. Thanks for posting the images. We had this set of Childcraft books growing up and they were a joy for me and a world of learning. I love all the illustrations. They spoke to me and I am now an artist. I started learning to sketch by tracing the white outlined images on the inside red covers. These images bring back so many memories and helps me remember what a great part they played in who I am.

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