Once upon a time there was a poor old woman who longed for a child.  Every day she prayed for God to give her a little girl or boy.

God saw how lonely she was, and He sent Elijah the Prophet to visit her.  Elijah put on his usual disguise as a merchant and traveled to the woman’s humble neighborhood.

When the woman went to market and begged the merchants for food, (she could no longer afford food of her own), all the ill-humored merchants shooed her away.  Dejected, she was about to leave the market when she noticed another merchant whom she had never seen.  As she walked over to him, she saw all he had were six brown dates drying in the sun.  “Could you spare just one?” she asked.

“Surely,” said the old man, “Take whichever you like.”

Five of the dates were little, but one was very large for a date, and that was the one she took.  “Thank you, kind sir,” she said, and she went on her way.

When the woman got home, she placed the date on the windowsill where  sunlight shone.   Looking at it, the woman quickly decided the date was too beautiful to eat, and she went out to see if she could find food elsewhere.

The sun continued to shine on the date until it was quite warm.  Soon it began to stir, and all at once it broke open and out popped a girl no bigger than the tiniest finger.  She wore a dress of many colors.  As she looked around, she saw that the house was quite bare and in need of cleaning, for the old woman’s broom had only a few straws left.

The first thing the girl did was lower herself out of the window with some string she had found.  Once outside, she picked some of the short grasses and tied the bundle together with a piece of straw.  “Oh, what a perfect broom!” she cried.

Back up the string and onto the windowsill she climbed, and then she started cleaning the house.  She swept from corner to corner, until the floor sparkled like new.

Meanwhile, the old woman was walking on the road, searching for food, when she ran into the very man who gave her the date!  He smiled and gave her a large olive.  She thanked him and he continued on his way.  The old woman went to eat the olive, but almost bit into a shiny gold coin!  She hurried after the old man to give the coin back, but he was nowhere to be seen.  The coin was hers to keep.  “What a lucky day!” she thought.

But she was even more surprised when she got home, for there was her house, all neat and shiny!  She couldn’t believe her eyes.  “Who did this?” she asked out loud.

“I did, Mother,” said a tiny voice.

The old woman looked around.  There on the windowsill, where the old woman had left the date, was the tiniest girl in the world.  The old woman blinked to see if she was dreaming.  “Did you call me Mother?”

“Yes, Mother,” said the girl.  And that is when the old woman understood that the kind old man must have been Elijah.  She hugged the tiny girl very carefully and asked her name.

“No one has given me a name,” she replied.

“Then I will call you Katanya, the little one,” her mother said.

Katanya and her mother lived happily together in their little hut, and they loved each other very much.  Katanya’s mother made a little bed for her inside a teacup, a fur hat from a bunny’s tail, shoes out of tiny nutshells, and dresses from rose petals.  But of all her clothes, Katanya loved the dress of many colors best.

Katanya helped her mother by sweeping out the house with her tiny broom.  She also cleaned between the boards of the floor, an easy task for someone so small.  While she did her chores, Katanya sang.  She had a voice as big and beautiful as a fully-grown girl’s.  Katanya’s voice filled the city with gladness, bringing joy to everyone who heard.

One day the prince was riding down the street when he heard a lovely song drifting from an open window.  He wished to meet the girl with this beautiful voice, and eventually, he did.  The king sent a servant to the house of the old woman and invited her to come with her daughter to the palace.

The next day, and many days after that, Katanya and her mother visited the palace.  Katanya became very close friends with the prince.  Finally, after many happy days together, they fell in love and were married.  Katanya became Princess Katanya, and at her wedding she wore her dress of many colors.  Her mother came to live at the palace, too, and they all lived happily ever after.


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A Jewish Thumbelina

Now it is time for another retelling.  The story, “Katanya,” is a Jewish story from Turkey that is very similar to “Thumbelina.”  I like both stories, but find “Thumbelina” much more interesting.  “Thumbelina” also had a few more negative implications to take out, but the fact cannot be ignored that both stories had the problem of love at first sight before I retold them.  That is a pet peeve of mine that I will always take out of fairy tales I retell.

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Kindergarten Fairy Tale Unit: Part 1

These are my first thoughts on how I would structure a fairy tale unit for kindergarteners if I were a teacher.

We would start out our fairy tale unit by watching at least one film adaptation of a fairy tale each day.  We would watch the movie during the period which is normally devoted to listening to audio books, and at the end of the day, which would be our  usual story time period, I would read the children a non-Disney version of the fairy tale we just watched.  An alternative would be watching these movies during lunch so as not to take up independent reading time.    Once all the fairy tales with Disney adaptations are watched and read, we would move on to non-Disney feature length film adaptations.  The only two such adaptations I know are Warner Brothers’ “Thumbelina” and multiple film versions of “The Snow Queen.”  I think all the other non-Disney fairy tales only have short film adaptations.   When this is the case, I would show my kids a short film adaptation of a fairy tale during either lunch or our usual audio book time and then read them a book version of the story.  Then, if there is still time, we would watch another short film adaptation afterwards, and I would read a book version of the second fairy tale at the end of the day.  This we would continue until all fairy tales have been read and watched.  There are seventeen in all, and here is the list:

  1. Snow White
  2. Sleeping Beauty
  3. Cinderella
  4. The Little Mermaid
  5. Beauty and the Beast
  6. Rapunzel
  7. The Frog Prince
  8. Jack and the Beanstalk
  9. The Three Little Pigs
  10. The Three Billy Goats Gruff
  11. Thumbelina
  12. The Snow Queen
  13. The Ugly Duckling
  14. Hansel and Gretel
  15. Rumpelstiltsken
  16. Little Red Riding Hood
  17. Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Once all these fairy tales have been read and watched, I would let each child pick out his or her favorite.  Then everyone would have the opportunity to select a book version of the story and use it for book sharing (see previous post).  If the movie versions are watched during lunch, then children can start looking at fairy tale retellings and picking their favorites during reading time right at the beginning of the unit.  Since there would most likely be more kids in my class than there are well-known fairy tales, I would make sure the school libraries are well stocked with many different non-Disney book versions of these stories.  That way, no matter how many children pick the same story, each child could present a different version.


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Kindergarten Book Sharing

If I taught kindergarten, our main reading period would be mainly for listening to audio books.  We would have sets of books and audio recordings so that the children could listen to the books at individual stations while reading along.  This would allow them to hear the story while reading the words, something young children often try to achieve by reading aloud.  If everyone did this at once, though, no one could concentrate!

If today’s kindergarten teachers are anything like mine, they often try to solve this problem by saying, “Read with your eyes, not your voice.”  Trying to read silently and looking at the pictures didn’t work for me when I was in kindergarten, and so I got very little out of the time our teacher gave us to look at books.  I’m sure this is true for other five and six-year-olds, especially if they’re verbal learners like I was.  I think audio books are a workable solution for both verbal and visual learners, though, because while verbal learners can focus on the words while they listen to the story, visual learners can focus on the pictures.

Audio books are not the complete answer when it comes to teaching kindergarteners to read.  They also need to be given opportunities to read books aloud.  Since I agree that quiet reading time is not the right time to do this, children need to be given other opportunities to do so.  That’s why instead of quiet reading time, which, in my opinion, kindergarteners are too young for, they should have read along time with audio books as well as a weekly activity called Book Sharing.

Book sharing would have two periods each week.  These periods would be at the beginning of the week so that kids would have the weekends to prepare with their parents.  On Mondays, book sharing would involve each child reading a book to the rest of the class.  This book would be selected by the child from the list of audio books he or she read along to the previous week.  In order to keep track of these books, there would be a circle time period at the end of each day where I, the teacher, would talk to the children about the books they read.  Since the children might not remember the titles of every book they read, I would encourage them to describe what each book was about.  Hopefully by most of their descriptions, I would be able to determine which books each child read.  I would then list the books and add to the list each day after circle time.  At the end of the day on Friday, I would review with each child the books he or she read that week and help him/her pick out one to share with the class.

Book sharing periods on Tuesdays would involve each child doing a presentation on his or her book.  Each presentation would include an art project and an oral description of what the book is about.  Students would be able to choose whether they want the art project to be simple drawings or something more elaborate.  Either way, the child’s parents would need to help him or her find a way to make the art project and oral presentation compatible with each other over the weekend.

Every Friday, I would make sure each child selects a book before he or she goes home.  Then I would e-mail a notice to every kid’s parents explaining which book their child selected and what his or her options are for preparing a presentation.  It would be important while doing this to customize each e-mail, suggesting which type of art project each child might enjoy.  They would all have the whole weekend to practice reading their books aloud (which they would borrow for the weekend) as well as one extra night, Monday, to prepare their art projects and practice their oral presentations.

Inevitably, the art-loving kindergarteners would do more elaborate projects than the kids who prefer to run around and play games.  That’s why I would accept both simple drawings and more elaborate works of art for the book sharing projects.  I would also give the more action-oriented kids the opportunity to create games based on the stories they read.  This would be very helpful for them, since it is often the kids with high energy that have the most trouble enjoying books.  The opportunity to create a game based on a book would show them how much fun reading can be.

While doing art projects based on books would be a purely individual endeavor, coming up with a game based on a book would definitely be a group project.  For that reason, I would wait until October, when everyone has shared at least four books and listened to many more, to have anyone who’s interested help come up with a game.  Once I’ve rounded up everyone who’s interested, I would have them each select their favorite book that they read and/or shared back in September and describe a brief idea on what kind of game they can play based on it.  After I have helped narrow down the games based on how feasible they are, everyone would get to vote on which book and game combination they want to do.  The game would be described and practiced multiple times in PE until the kids are playing it and following its simple rules satisfactorily.  Since PE would be every day in my curriculum, there may be time to create more than one game in October, in which case the class would vote on another book and game combination once they have played the first a few times.

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New Category

This is my first post in Fairy Tales in the Classroom: Ideas For Teachers.  Here you will find all sorts of ideas I have had on how a fairy tale unit can be taught to kindergarteners or first graders.  While the first post in this category will not be specifically on fairy tales, it is a prerequisite to the first idea I’ve had on teaching a fairy tale unit.

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Once there was a woman who longed for a child, and finally, her wish was granted.  A fairy gave her a seed, which she planted in a flower pot, and grew into a wonderful flower.  It looked like a tulip, only much prettier.  One day the woman was so overcome by the flower’s beauty she kissed it, and the bud opened.  There, sitting inside the flower, was a beautiful girl no bigger than her thumb.  The woman loved her new daughter very much and called her Thumbelina.

Thumbelina and her mother spent many happy days singing and playing together until one day, a toad heard Thumbelina singing, and she was determined to capture her as a wife for her son.  That night, she snuck in through Thumbelina’s window and snatched her in her little walnut shell bed.  Then she brought her to the foul-smelling swamp where she lived.

Knowing Thumbelina wouldn’t want to marry her son, the toad placed her on a water lily leaf, making her unable to escape.  While the toad prepared for the wedding, Thumbelina awoke and saw where she was.  Seeing she could not escape, poor Thumbelina began to cry.  She cried even more when the toad and her son approached, saying she had to marry this hideous creature.

After the toads left, fish gnawed at the water lily’s root, breaking the leaf free.  Thumbelina took a stem as an oar and rowed away from the toads!   She had many great adventures rowing down the stream, meeting fish and many other creatures.  These adventures lasted the whole summer, but when autumn came, a fish gave her a warning:

“Winter is coming,” he said.  “The stream will become very cold, and if you fall, you would soon freeze to death.  You’d better row your leaf to land and find shelter before autumn ends!”  Thumbelina was frightened, for she had fallen into the water many times, but the water was warm and pleasant then.  Heeding the fish’s warning, she rowed her leaf to the bank and climbed up onto dry land.

Once on the land, Thumbelina wove herself a bed from blades of grass and found a leaf for a blanket.  This is where she slept, and she ate honey from the flowers and drank dew from leaves.  When winter came, all the birds flew to warmer places Thumbelina had never seen, but longed to travel to.  All the trees and flowers wilted, and even her leaf blanket shriveled up to nothing.

Poor, freezing Thumbelina searched a cornfield for shelter.  Suddenly, she found a small door just her size.  She knocked, and a little field mouse answered.

“You poor creature!” said the mouse.  “Please, come out of the cold and have some lunch with me!”  Thumbelina came inside and saw the field mouse had a very nice home.

“If you help me keep house and tell me stories,” the mouse said, “then you can stay here all winter long.”  Thumbelina was most grateful for this, and she gladly did as she was asked.

Thumbelina lived happily with the mouse until one day, a mole came to visit.

“You will like this mole very much,” promised the mouse.  “He is very rich and learned.”  Rich and learned he was, but Thumbelina did not like this mole at all.  He lived in darkness all year round and hated birds, sunshine, flowers, and all the other things she loved and missed.  The mole, however, liked Thumbelina very much, and secretly wanted to marry her.

One day as the mole gave Thumbelina and the mouse a tour of his home, the three of them found a bird lying lifeless in the passage.

Thumbelina knew the mouse and mole disliked birds, but seeing this swallow lying in the passage made her very sad.  The bird looked like he might just be sick, not dead, but Thumbelina dared not help him while the mole and mouse were watching.  She promised to help him at night when they slept, even though he could not hear her.

That night, Thumbelina crept over to the bird and covered him with a hay blanket.  She rested her head on his soft feathers and heard his heartbeat.  He was alive, just greatly weakened by the cold.

The next morning, Thumbelina returned to the bird, who was beginning to stir.  He wanted to leave this dark place and fly in the sunshine, but, as it was still winter, Thumbelina promised to take care of him if he stayed.

Thumbelina kept her promise, and when spring arrived, the bird bid her farewell and flew back to his nest, after giving Thumbelina a special whistle she could call him with.

The following autumn, Thumbelina needed the bird’s help.  The mole had asked her to marry him, and the mouse insisted she say yes.  Not wanting to marry this creature, Thumbelina took the whistle and called for her friend.  Down he flew, and, since he was about to fly to a warmer place for winter, Thumbelina climbed on his back and went with him.

When they got there, the swallow showed Thumbelina to a palace where he and other swallows lived.  It was surrounded by flowers, and the swallow told her to choose a flower for her home.  She was just about to do so when suddenly, the flowers opened!  One by one, out flew delicate little people with wings!  They were just Thumbelina’s size, and many of them looked a lot like her.

“These are the flower fairies,” explained the swallow.  “They will welcome you and help you find a flower to call your own.”  The flower fairies did exactly this, and they fashioned Thumbelina her own pair of wings so she could fly around with them.  Very glad to be in this beautiful place full of little people like herself, Thumbelina lived happily ever after.

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My First Retelling

I have discussed fairy tales, and now it is time to retell one.  After discussing “The Little Mermaid” last week, during which I mentioned “Thumbelina,” I  thought I’d discuss that story.  When I reread it, though, I not only remembered how much I loved the story (not the Don Bluth film) as a child, I also realized that unlike many other fairy tales, there is very little in it that I dislike, or at least nothing a good retelling can’t fix.  So instead of discussing this fairy tale, I decided to retell it, leaving out all the parts I don’t like, emphasizing the parts I do, and maybe even taking liberties here and there.

Feel free to read the original story at this link: http://hca.gilead.org.il/li_tiny.html.   This will give you a better idea of which parts of the story I don’t like and help you see how the story can be retold without them.  It will also give you an idea of my favorite parts, and I’d love to discuss each other’s favorite parts of this story.

My retelling is relatively short; I have a longer version saved on my computer.  I decided to post the shorter version because I would like to eventually submit fairy tale retellings to Spider, a children’s literary magazine, and they only accept stories that are 1000 words or less.  While I may eventually publish the longer version as a picture book or in my own fairy tale collection, I have a better chance of publishing it in Spider first, so this is the version I would like to post so people can critique it before it is submitted.  That said, any critiquing you can do of this retelling will be much appreciated.

With no further ado, I will post my retelling, but first, here is a link to Spider for anyone who is interested: http://www.cricketmag.com/SDR-SPIDER-Magazine-for-Kids-ages-6-9

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