Book review – Top Ten Fairy Stories by Michael Coleman

books, reviews

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

After my last read, I had every intention of reading a proper book but I also needed to write a second book post this week. Of course, when I say “proper book”, I don’t mean to suggest that children’s books aren’t proper but that they aren’t exactly age appropriate. It has been nice revisiting my youth again though. This was another book in this series that I’d already read and it was probably the first time that I’d seen the dark and gory side to fairy tales. I was probably more aware of the Disney version where everyone lives happily ever after. It will no doubt have rocked my world to discover the disgusting origins to these well known stories. But does it still live up to my memories?

Fairy tales are weird. They have been rewritten so often that it’s easy to forget where they came from. We’re so used to the Disney versions of these tales where all the good girls grow up to marry the handsome prince. Of course, these stories are old and were initially written as warnings for young children. This meant that there had to be consequences. Consequences that would often involve them being killed or almost killed by some evil being. A being who was, more often than not, related to them by blood or by marriage. Clearly, somewhere along the way, the power that be decided that children were too delicate to hear the real endings to these tales so they were watered down. Michael Coleman wants to make sure young readers get a chance to hear them as they were meant to be heard.

Top Ten Fairy Stories is a collection of 10 familiar fairy stories presented in their true form. This could mean as they were originally told or as they were most commonly told. Afterwards, it offers all of the edits that were made to the tale over the years so the reader can see how it ended up as the story they are more familiar with. The stories are also accompanied by an interesting array of facts relating to fairy tales. The great thing about this series is how many fun and interesting ways they find to retell these tales. We see Jack, of the Beanstalk fame’s school reports and hear Mr Big Bad Wolf tell her children a bedtime story about their father. As a child, I really enjoyed the retelling of Hansel and Gretel as a crime reenactment TV show and the newspaper articles discussing Beauty’s marriage to the Beast.

I will be honest, this part of the series doesn’t seem quite as much fun as the others and the sections dedicated to facts feel particularly dry. However, it does tackle the stories in a fun way and manages to bring in the gory elements without being too over-the-top. After all, I was probably still something of a wimp when I first read it and it didn’t me any lasting damage. I’d say that the darker elements are the perfect thing to get readers interested. This is the perfect book for a younger reader who doesn’t really care for fairy tales and is bored by love stories. There’s actually a refreshing lack of romance within these pages.

It is also another of those books that will teach children without them even realising. Not only is this a great resource for literary history but for general history as well. You will read about the tradition of telling stories and how they were changed from country to country. At the same time, you will learn about superstitions and religious beliefs of the past. Fairy stories were influenced and used by plenty of different sections of society and used different aspects to get their desired message across. So, this is not just a fun read but it is also a worthwhile one. It also comes with a few handy quizzes and plenty of fun illustrations to keep your kids engaged. What more could you want?

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