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Who’s afraid of the big, bad fairy tale?

Once upon a time, before bedtime, parents read a story to their children. But numbers are on the decline – with many parents preferring to stick their kids in front of the TV or a DVD.

Jim Eldridge photo
Jim Eldridge

A poll of 2,000 parents by TV channel Watch found that many are not reading traditional fairy tales before bedtime.

Instead they have decided to opt for more modern classics such as The Gruffalo and The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

The poll found that nearly half of parents refuse to read Rumpelstiltskin or Rapunzel to their children because they featured kidnapping and executions. A third said that Little Red Riding Hood – where the grandmother is gobbled by a wolf – had left their child in tears.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears was thought to condone stealing by some parents, others thought that Jack and the Beanstalk was “too unrealistic,” while the term “dwarfs” in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was thought to be unsuitable.

Even Cinderella raised concerns among parents, as 52 per cent thought it outdated because the main character is a young woman doing housework all day.

A quarter of parents also said they wouldn’t consider reading a fairytale to their children until they had reached the age of five, as the stories prompt too many awkward questions.

Steve Hornsey, general manager of Watch, which carried out the survey to mark the launch of US drama Grimm, said: “As adults, we can see the innocence in fairy tales, but a five-year-old with an over-active imagination could take things too literally.”

Author and scriptwriter Jim Eldridge lives at Bowness-on-Solway and has been writing children’s books for years.

He has had 70 books published which have sold more than two million copies. He has had over 250 TV and 250 radio scripts broadcast.

Jim is also the creator and writer of Radio 4's long-running King Street Junior, CBBC TV's sci-fi drama Powers, and was a key member of the writing teams on The Ghost Hunter and Julia Jekyll and Harriet Hyde, as well as many more TV and radio series.

He started reading at an early age as his mother worked as a cleaner in his local library in London. She would take him to work with her and leave him to browse the children’s books.

He said: “I picked it up by looking at picture books and pointing at words. I started reading when I was three. Today, the habit of reading to children is falling.

“My own view is that the results of this survey are nonsense. I think children love being frightened and they always have done. Children like nothing more than a good, exciting story with a good villain. Dr Who is a modern, updated version of a fairy tale.

“It’s so important for children to be able to read. I read recently that many five-year-olds who start school do not understand how a book works.

“Many of them have never seen a book and if this is the case then they won’t know how to use it or what the words on the page mean.

“After the riots last year I read a report that said that 60 per cent of 11-year-old males had a reading age of seven. That is all part of not being read to, or reading for pleasure.

“Parents should read to children because this forms a bond with them. The last thing they will remember at night is being comforted by their parents by being read to. It helps build a good relationship.

“If you can’t read then you can’t get a job and you can’t read election manifestos.”

On Tuesday , Jim will be talking to children at Stanwix School about his Disgusting Dave books and The Trenches.

He said: “Whenever I work with children I don’t do readings. I like to get them involved and so I make my sessions interactive.”

Fletchertown mum Teresa McCall, 35, regularly reads to her 10-month-old daughter Imogen.

As a child she was a fan of Enid Blyton books, particularly Malory Towers.

She said: “You try to recreate your own childhood and do things with your children that your parents would do with you. My family read to me when I was little and I do the same with Imogen.

“I think it’s important to read to your kids and all of the stories like Little Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks and the Three Bears are classics.

“If I ever thought that the content was unsuitable then I might leave it out but these stories have been told for years.

“Even though Imogen is still very young I do read to her. Stories before bed are the norm. I think it’s important. Her favourite at the moment is the Musical Gruffalo. She loves that – anything with pictures and colours.”

And they all lived happily ever after...

Have your say

i cant believe what i have just read, with all these new computer games and tv programmes fairy tales are exactly that fairy tales millions of people have had them read to them over the centuries it is too much of a nanny state please please do not stop reading your children fairy tales its part of growing up

Posted by anon on 21 February 2012 at 09:46

I have a son at primary school and was very disappointed when he brought home the new pc version of the 3 Billy Goats Gruff.
My lad plays Knights and Dragons with his Castle and this always deteriorates into a violent 'battle' between the Knights and the Dragons with the victor being decided seemingly at random by my son.
Irrespective of how much we water down these stories the children will always want to explore the darker side of things, it is up to us, the parents, to guide them along their way in a balanced and sensible manner not some book editor or politician who thinks we are incapable of such a thing.

Posted by Craig on 21 February 2012 at 07:26

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