Folktales in Curriculum Resources – can you have too many?

Folktales on display

The Curriculum Resources collection contains over 1200 books of folk and fairy tales in a section of their own, arranged mainly by country of origin.

The countries represented in the Folktales section range from Australia to Zimbabwe and Armenia to Zambia. There are books of Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman mythology and collections by theme such ‘The Sea’ or ‘Princesses’. There are also traditional tales for older and adult readers such as Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales for Old and Young and Jack Zipes’ edited collection of feminist fairy tales Don’t bet on the Prince. These resources sit alongside hundreds of enticing picture books which showcase the work of both traditional illustrators such as Arthur Rackham, Errol Le Cain and Charles Keeping and some of our best known contemporary book illustrators, including Anthony Browne, Shirley Hughes, Jane Ray and Charlotte Voake.

Initially a visitor might wonder ‘why have so many folktales in the collection?’ The answer is that they are the gift that keeps on giving. They represent a rich seam of absorbing and often – but not always – familiar plots, perfect for adaptation, reinterpretation and even subversion that can be put to multiple uses in the classroom. For evidence of the enduring appeal of these stories consider Disney’s animated film Frozen, inspired by Hans Andersen’s The Snow Queen, and the same author’s The Tinderbox used to chilling effect in the Kate Greenaway and Carnegie Awards short-listed Tinder by Sally Gardner, illustrated by David Roberts.

The use of traditional tales to address gender issues is another example of the generous nature of these stories. Our collection includes, for example, Sally Pomme Clayton’s Amazons! Women Warriors of the World and Robert Leeson’s Smart Girls and Smart Girls Forever. (Smart Girls ‘rescue brothers, lovers, husbands. They fight their way into – and out of – outlaw bands. They become rulers of distant cities and even outwit the Devil himself’. Check out Smart Girls Forever, illustrated by Axel Scheffler at Folktales 398.2 LEE if you would like to know more…)

Folk and fairy tales have long been a field of academic study in themselves and our library includes writing in this area by, for example, Marina Warner and Jack Zipes. However our collections also highlight the roles folk and fairy tales can play in the classroom: in literacy and storytelling, drama improvisation and critical thinking, language teaching and more.

Most of all these are powerful stories, often told with humour and frequently beautifully illustrated. They can show young readers both rewardingly familiar plots and unimaginably different worlds, real and fantastic. Can you have too many? Not in my book!

Folktales x 4

About Sally Perry

Curriculum Resources librarian at UCL Institute of Education Newsam Library and Archives
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