Fairy tales have long been a way of sharing dark, painful, complex emotions through a story that’s safe to share with your kiddos. One of my earliest memories is of “The Little Match Girl” a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale.
In the story, a young girl who is unloved by her father is sent out to sell matches and is too scared to go home until she has sold them because her father will beat her if she does. The girl takes shelter in an alleyway and begins to light the matches to try and stay warm. As she gets colder, she sees visions of happiness in the match light, ending with an image of her dead grandmother, the only person to ever show her love. The little girl sees a shooting star, something her grandmother told her meant someone was dying and she keeps lighting matches to maintain the vision of her grandmother. As the last match flickers out, her grandmother carries the little girl’s soul to heaven, and her frozen body is found the next morning.
I can’t begin to list the number of lessons to be learned from this story, and the sometimes dark fairytales of Hans Christian Anderson are stories I now share with our children. They never fail to spark discussion and enable us to discuss otherwise difficult to raise topics.
- The Emporer’s New Clothes – pretention, truth, honesty, having the courage of your convictions
- The Ugly Duckling – Personal transformation, belief in yourself, bullying.
- The Nightingale – Naturalness & simplicity over the fabricated and complex
- The Red Shoes – Vanity, humanity, empathy
In recent years children’s literature and programming have generally become lighter, safer and less sophisticated but fortunately, there are still plenty of books and programs that take up Hans Christian Andersons baton and lead our kids gently through a maze of complicated feelings.
Lemony Snickets – A Series of Unfortunate Events
If you have seen the Jim Carey movie, you will have a feel for the Lemony Snickets books, but you won’t have the whole story. So far, the new Netflix adaptation does a much better job of sharing the entire tale with eight episodes in the first series covering the first four Lemony Snickets – A Series of Unfortunate Events books.
Beginning with the death of their parents in a mysterious fire at the family home, the story follows Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire as they are sent to live with their relative, the evil Count Olaf. The count wants only to claim the orphan’s fortune for himself, and the ensuing fight by the Baudelaires to discover how and why their parents died is inextricably tied into their flight from the constantly changing personas of their uncle.
The series is beautifully filmed in such a way that the settings could be anye=wher and during any period, and I am only slightly (OK then very) biased about the settings because the series was filmed here in Vancouver. Our eldest daughter ended up covered in hot coffee because of the production. She was at Granville Island Market and suddenly realised she had made passing eye contact with one of her heroes – Neil Patrick Harris (who is magnificent as Count Olaf). As a result, she was so shocked she dropped her coffee all down her front!
We have watched the series with the little ones and had all kinds of interesting discussions with them as a result just as we have had discussions about love, sex, sexuality, relationships, illness and death to name but a few subjects during other movies, TV shows, and books.
We have a list of episodes from One Day at A Time to watch in order to prompt discussions on other topics:
- PTSD – Safe At Home (Episode 2, Bobos and Mamitas)
- Immigration – Lydia’s Story (Episode 9, Viva Cuba)
- Family Economics – Are We Poor? (Episode 1, This is it)
- Sexuality – SPOILER – Coming Out To Abuelita (Episode 11, Pride & Prejudice)
- Environmental Concerns – Composting (Episode 2, Bobos and Mamitas)
- Religion – Skipping Church (Episode 3, No Mass)
All are available on Netflix as well as, well – why don’t you tell me what you would recommend for tough discussions with your kids? I’d love to hear what has prompted some challenging but educational discussions in your home.