The great benefit of working with traditional tales and fairy stories is that the children are usually already experts in the field. This provides a wealth of opportunities to explore narrative story-telling, art and drama. For this multi-book project, I would use ‘The Lost Happy Endings’ by Carol Ann Duffy as the central text; following this, there are many opportunities to branch out to explore other related texts:
– The Tear Thief by Carol Ann Duffy
– The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Eugene Trivizas and Helen Oxenbury
– Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole
– The Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch
Central text – The Lost Happy Endings
This is a captivating tale about Jub, keeper of the stories, and her quest to retrieve the lost happy endings to all the stories after they have been stolen by a wicked witch. The children of the world are crying as their are no more happy endings, so Jub must act! The reason for choosing this as a central text is that, during the quest, Jub encounters many of the most familiar fairy tale characters. This offers the opportunity to branch out from the central text, at a later date, whilst maintaining a meaningful, contextualised link for the children’s’ learning.
Setting the scene
To really engage the children with this project, I would employ some good old fashioned awe and wonder! Easily recognisable sections from fairy stories could be copied and cut up. These could be crumpled and then left all around the room for the children to discover, possibly with clues mixed in to lead them to a copy of The Lost Happy Endings. Alternatively, familiar objects from fairy stories could be found around the school; little red riding hood’s cape, goldilock’s porridge, Jack’s magic beans etc.
When studying The Lost Happy Endings, the fact that stories have been broken up into extracts could support focused work on extracts of stories and sentence level skills. For example, the story writing process could be developed gradually by focusing on extract openings, build-ups and resolutions. There is great scope for short burst writing and slow writing, as the children could be asked to write their own narrative for specific sections/pages of Jub’s quest, as she reassembles the lost endings.
The book also lends itself to some excellent character work. The description of the bird-like witch sitting high in a tree, with Jub looking into her nest is spine-tingling. The description of the witch is both breath-taking and grosteque….from experience, children love it, especially the fact that she is smoking a pipe! To extend this, children could be asked to do some character writing focused around other well known traditional tale characters…the witch, Malefiecent, from Sleeping Beauty is a particularly potent character (you could even link in the original and modern Disney film versions as inspiration).
An additional fun task would be for the children to provide each other with their own ‘lost happy endings’ as inspiration for story writing. Each child would write a traditional (or non traditional!) ending to a story on a piece of paper. These would then be mixed up and redistributed to different children, with the challenge of writing the story that came before each particular ‘lost happy ending’.
The Tear Thief If you wished to create a short author study through this unit, the use of Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘ The Tear Thief’ would be perfect. This beautifully illustrated, heart-breaking story tells the reader about the Tear Thief; a fairy who collects the tears of children. She prizes tears of true sadness – I want reveal the ending here as its is one of those special literary moments that you need to experience for yourself.
Other related texts
All the other texts, identified above, are incredibly fun, alternative takes on the traditional fairy story format. Within the books you will find Tom-Boy princesses, Princes in distress, frightened little wolves and terrifying pigs!
A study of these short, engaging stories would be a great starting point for children to write their own alternative fairy stories…perhaps Little Red could become a wolf-hunter or Granny could become a global manufacturing magnate, as shown in the excellent animated film Hoodwinked!
As an additional branch to this fairy story literary tree, the Story Spinner DVDs and App contain a brilliantly atmospheric oral story which paints a very different, much darker version of Little Red Riding Hood in 3 parts. Each part of told from a different point of view and provides an excellent model for both oral storytelling and powerful narrative for older KS2 children!
I would love to hear what you all make of these traditional tales with a twist and I am sure you will have fun making your own!