I have never been a fan of Disney retellings. Well, maybe when I was ten. I do remember enjoying The Sleeping Beauty although LeAnne the Literalist even then was very aware that the little boy at her christening could not possibly have been the prince who woke her if she slept for a hundred years. And LeAnne, the Lover of Literature, strongly disapproved of the Disney Company completely changing the ending to Hans Christian Anderson’s “Little Mermaid” and refused to see The Hunchback of Notre Dame. But my aversion to such things is not necessarily shared by the children to whom I read.
This week someone gave me two boxes of used books. Although we are in
I put into the trash the books that were so fragile they would undoubtedly fall apart in the first set of eager hands. There was one about clothes whose author didn’t seem to realize that not all his readers had blond hair and blue eyes. Into the ‘too white’ stack went the European fairy tales with their fair-skinned, blond-haired princesses. I was about to bundle them into the box with the lily-white rejects when I remembered how popular the library’s copy of 101 Dalmatians in Zulu had been last week. I’m not sure where the children have seen them, but they seem to be familiar with all the Disney characters. Several of the fairy tales were in easy-to-read versions. Reading practice is a redeeming value, isn’t it? I put the fairy tales into the bins I carry to the centers.
Tuesday I read aloud the newly-donated, highly-illustrated book on Different Kinds of Snakes. As expected, the boys fought over it afterwards—that and the board book in the shape of a truck! But three little girls of about ten years of age, pulled their chairs close to the book bins, and read Disney’s Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty and the other fairy tales one after another, carefully sounding out the words. Wednesday a girl who looked about fourteen, pretended to tuck the worn copy of Disney’s Cinderella into her jacket to show me how much she loved it and wished she could keep it.
What is the attraction of European princesses? Part of it is no doubt the familiarity of the TV images. There is a certain satisfaction in being able to read for yourself the story you have already seen. The fairy-tale world has no more relationship to the reality of the children of Tembisa than to my reality growing up in
The children’s enthusiasm was fun to see. I went back to my reject box and pulled out another half dozen books. Hopefully I won’t warp their little psyches with the beauty=blond myth by letting them practice reading on a Disney fantasy.
[Although I hear from various people that they are reading my blog, on-line comments are rare. I guess I don’t write much that is controversial. Maybe some of you have some input on the appeal of European fairy tales to people of color, or why including them in my Tembisa book boxes is, or is not, a good idea. I’d love to hear your thoughts.]