Sometimes well-meaning people stop me and say they don't understand why anyone still reads fables to kids. They claim fables just aren't relevant in today's fast-paced world and since kids don't get the meanings anyway, why bother? After recovering from the initial shock, I typically smile and then explain why I believe fables are so critical for kids, especially in today's turbulent world.
This month, as we celebrate the work of co-authors Mitch Weiss and Martha Hamilton, better known as the storytelling duo of Beauty and the Beast, I want to take a few minutes to explain why fables are so important and how they provide so many benefits for the next generation.
When someone says the word fable, most of us immediately think of Aesop and possibly flashback to a popular fable like The Tortoise and the Hare. Fables are a type of folktale passed down through generations of retelling in the oral tradition. Generally, a fable is identified by three distinguishing characteristics:
1. Characters are animals or inanimate objects that act like humans.
2. The story illustrates a moral lesson, frequently included at the end.
3. The story is brief, usually no more than two to three pages in length.
Classic fables are not only highly entertaining, they also play an important role in highlighting and demonstrating character traits. For centuries, fables served the crucial role of communicating a shared history, reinforcing a culture's values and calling attention to important traditions.
Although fables typically employ animals to portray characters, the fact that these stories are passed down over generations in different cultures, highlights the diversity of our world. By experiencing stories from different cultures, children can discover valuable insights about another group's values, beliefs, history, practices and customs.
When children learn about other cultural traditions, it broadens their view of the world. In fact, it isn't unusual for fables to stimulate children to learn more about their own cultural traditions or become curious about their family's heritage and personal history.
As authors Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss write in their book, 40 Fun Fables: Tales That Trick, Tickle and Teach, "By reading fables we can learn some of the great truths that have been passed down through the ages." Fables are also full of references that we will hear throughout our lives, such as "the boy who cried wolf," "sour grapes," and "a wolf in sheep's clothing."
Fables can also help us clearly see human foibles and shortcomings that might not be as easy to recognize if the characters are human. As a result, kids gain a better understanding of their immediate surroundings, as well as the people, behaviors and situations they may encounter. When kids see the consequences of poor decisions in a fable, they can develop a better understanding of how to handle challenging circumstances and possibly apply those lessons in their lives.
The brevity of fables is another benefit for young children. In today's world where attention span is shorter than ever, the concise and targeted nature of fables makes them very appealing to kids, especially emerging readers who can completely read one and sometimes three or four stories during a single reading session. It is much more satisfying to read a story through to completion in one sitting, rather than stop halfway through and have to remember the plot, the characters and the settings two days or even a week later.
As you can see fables not only help pass along moral lessons, they have a number of benefits for kids and can be used in a variety of ways to help young and emerging readers:
1. Learn about other cultures
2. Model character traits
3. Appreciate other traditions
4. Explore new ways of seeing the world
5. Discover a love of stories
When kids explore fables like those included in 40 Fun Fables: Tales That Trick, Tickle and Teach, Noodlehead Stories or our Story Cove picture books, it's helpful to keep in mind that even during periods of turmoil, these tales continue to pass along timeless truths from a range of cultural traditions.
Last but not least, maybe the most important reason for sharing fables is simply because they're fun! Even though these stories were originally intended to model a moral lesson, they're also meant to be humorous, with whimsical characters and plots that are quite clever. Remember, if fables weren't so engaging, they wouldn't have survived hundreds and in some cases thousands of years, so pick up a book of fables and share the fun!