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  • Writer's pictureMegan Yoshino

Bright Idea: Teaching Literary Analysis Through Fairy Tales Part II

Have you read through part I to see what sparked this idea for teaching literary analysis through fairy tales? Read part I before you get started on part II.


Literary analysis. Just hearing it makes people feel anxiety and sweaty palms. It’s not easy to do. I start my kiddos young when looking through these lenses of literary analysis so they have years of practice before they have to master this type of noticing and thinking in high school.

Ready? In continuation, I’ll explain what I did with my fifth grader.

I gave him the choice to pick whichever fairy tale that interested him.

Most fairy tales have some unsavory human behavior in them and these weren’t the exception. Screen your fairy tales for younger kids. Ogres, attempted killings (think Snow White), revenge and one could say assault (kissing a stranger in their sleep without consent) is the danger that is found in many fairy tales. Pick a few that you've screened ahead of time to offer as choices.

My student picked Sleeping Beauty because of the familiarity with the Disney version. The Grimm version is the one that most aligns with the Disney movie. He noted the differences and similarities with the one he was familiar with. We could look at why a story element would change and what it could mean if it changed. We also looked at why a story element would stay the same and what that meant if the author kept it the same. Those elements were either important to society at the time or not, hence the change. This sort of deep dive into genre, author choice, symbolism, plot and anything else of notice is what allows for evaluation and analysis.

I gave my student the opportunity to write his own fairy tale re-vision. He chose Rumplestiltskin. He could write a re-vision, to change major elements to fit modern times or question and challenge a status quo. Or he could keep the story the same and change characters, setting, or time period in a re-write. My student re-wrote the story using animal characters. Instead of Rumplestiltskin, he chose a sneaky fox. He stuck to the idea of trebling (things occurring in 3s or sets of 3) and no names, to have a focus on plot and not individuality. And he did it. He understood that writer choice is very deliberate in choosing not to use names, keeping the trebling, and using characteristics, traits, and stereotypes of animals (the sly fox) to tell his story. He stuck to the same theme and moral of his story because he felt tricking people was not a positive behavior trait.

Pretty good for a kiddo, right? He’s on his way to mastering some pretty awesome writing skills and understood the assignment of author choice as very deliberate. Small win! These are the baby steps we take to learn to look and notice, then make meaning of the world. It's not an autopilot sort of response or habit.

It also requires students to learn to look through filters or "lenses" when they read or write. I mentioned this in part I. Having to study a story through a lens is like looking for clues. Filters like gender, cultural norms, or even names creates a foundation for critically studying a story and creating meaning.

Would you try this with your kiddos? Let me know if you give this a try.

Piece by piece, we can learn difficult concepts!

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