We’ve all grown up with storybook myths. The concept of happily ever after is just a natural law as far as those of us who were brought up on a diet of fairytales are concerned.
But there are plenty of stories to be told. There are plenty of ways we can infuse joy and wonder and the love of reading into little ones, without perpetuating these myths…
Here are the top 5 storybook myths and some tips on what you can read instead…
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Storybook Myth 1: Beauty Equals Blonde Hair and Pale Skin
Conjure up a fairy princess or a great beauty from famous children’s books. Rapunzel, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty. They are all thin, most of them have blonde hair, they are all white. Children have been told this is what beauty looks like, through these stories for decades. And of course we all grow up into adults and we know beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, in all colours in all different ways. So why do we choose, during the most formative years to tell children something different?
When their minds are at the most receptive, we could be introducing them to fiercely independent female characters, of all different skin and hair colours. We could be celebrating intelligence, ingenuity and humour as beauty in the stories we share with them.
Get them in the habit of seeing beauty everywhere with some of these brilliant books
Izzy Gizmo, Zombierella, Once Upon a World Fairytales
Storybook Myth 2: The baddies are the ones with disabilities
We could all describe a pirate and in most descriptions they would have a hook for an arm and a wooden leg and an eye patch. Remembering how invisible disabilities are in children’s books, this is bad for children’s understanding.
If they never meet another storybook character with a disability, it would be completely understandable for children to be fearful when encountering physical disability in real life. It’s unnecessary and fixable.
Avoid sharing books where the single scariest thing about the baddies are a physical difference or a medical condition or a limb difference.
There are some brilliant books available where a disability is incidental to the storyline, not part of the plot.
Amazing by Steve Anthony, Nappy The Pirate Baby, Just Because by Rebecca Elliott
Storybook Myth 3: Heroes are physically strong (and white)…Big strong boys don’t cry.
So many of the male characters in stories have big square jaws, leap into dangerous situations, without a care for their own safety, and rescue princesses. They’re handsome and muscley and demonstrate their strength through a six pack and great sword fighting.
What if we didn’t give young boys this as something to aspire to but we used children’s stories to encourage kindness and empathy in our boys? And we showed them stories where men cry and have words for all of their emotions?
It would be great for all our children to see that strength is sometimes quiet. That being strong is being an ally or being true to yourself and that’s also to be praised and celebrated.
The Invisible Boy by Patrice Barton, Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, Clive is a Nurse
Storybook Myth 4: Happily Ever After equals heterosexual love and marriage.
We all love a happy ending but they are, unfortunately, in themselves a myth. Happily Ever After is often when the hero and the heroine fall in love and get married. Of course this is fine in some stories, but as the ending to most children’s stories? We can do better… It creates a not very realistic thing to aspire to that isn’t for everyone. We don’t need to tell children that there is one universal thing, good for everyone and that happiness is the end goal.
We need stories that don’t always have a hero and a heroine – sometimes they can have two heroes, two heroines. Sometimes nothing heroic happens at all. Sometimes the end can happen when a problem is solved or something new is created. There are so many stories that don’t involve living happily ever after. Here are some suggestions.
Aalbert and Aalfred, Cinderella and her techno slippers, Leon and Bob
Storybook Myth 5: Stepmothers are all evil.
This one. There are over 1.1 million children living in families with a step somebody…Blended families are so common, but yet…try finding a stepdad doing childcare in a picture book. Try finding a nice kind stepmother who looks after the children in a loving and gentle way in a story. You’ll struggle. We will always welcome female baddies but evil stepmothers? We’ve seen enough of them.
See my appearance on BBC Breakfast on this very topic.
I’d love to hear your recommendations of any children’s books featuring blended families. I really need to add to my collection.