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>I don’t need a story tonight, but thanks.

>The New York Times has picked up on the story about British mums and dads disdaining fairytales. The Times reporter adds a concern of her own: “My own question about these tales — Brother Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Disney (original and adapted) — has always been: where are the mothers?” I would tell her but am afraid I would swipe my answer completely from an essay forthcoming in the March Horn Book called “The Adventures of Mommy Buzzkill” by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. Look for it.

But the person who scares me more than all the wolves and witches put together is one of the Times commenters:

As much as I love books, I’m making up stories for my four year old niece instead of reading books. It sharpens my imagination, makes bedtime more exciting for both of us and enables me to control content. Often it is interactive too–sometimes I invite my niece to make up new characters or decide on the ending.

I think we need to challenge ourselves to rely less on existing stories in favor of homespun, age-appropriate content for our little ones.

I think I would find it very hard to sleep with that person in my house.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Kristi(e) says:

    >On the one hand, I’m all for creating stories that allow children to become active participants and use their imagination. On the other, this lady is a control freak and a half! I have nightmarish visions of these children growing up similar to the stereotype of homeschoolers presented in the beginning of Mean Girls.

    rely less on existing stories in favor of homespun, age-appropriate content for our little ones.
    Really? How about finding books written by published authors that are age appropriate? Does that no longer work? Damn, I’m out of a job then.

  2. >This is straight out of the “there are no good children’s books so I decided to write one myself” camp. UGH!

  3. Anonymous says:

    >The four key words: “enables me to control.”

  4. >This explains it! I was approached by one of our trashier current affairs programs to comment on this topic last week. Fortunately I had my work phone turned off (I was on holidays) and I missed the call, so wasn’t tempted… these things never turn out well. Now I know what sparked their sudden interest in the topic.

    Couldn’t agree more about the scary “you will listen to my stories and only my stories” aunt. Pity the poor niece!

  5. Magic Chef says:

    >As much as I love good food, I’m making up dishes for my four-year-old niece instead of relying on the usual rules of good taste. It uses up all the leftover food in my refrigerator, makes dinnertime more surprising for both of us and enables me to keep her from eating any sugar or fat whatsoever. Often it is interactive too–sometimes I invite my niece to throw in whatever she wants or leave out an essential ingredient.

    I think we need to challenge ourselves to rely less on existing foods in favor of homespun, inedible foods for our little ones.

  6. Roger Sutton says:

    >Yeah, and the only person I want “making bedtime more exciting for both of us” is George Clooney.

  7. >”Yeah, and the only person I want “making bedtime more exciting for both of us” is George Clooney.”


  8. >surely that personwas fishing for an offer from a publisher or an agent

  9. >Whoa–before we get our collective knickers in a twist (what do you think of THAT, dear Roger?)let me remind you. Fairy tales have ALWAYS been retold. When speaking of the old ballads (and it is true of the fairy tales, too) Sir Francis James Child mentioned the three categories of tellers: “the blind beggar, the nursery maid, and the clerk.” Meaning the blind beggar to stand for performers who change stories as they judge the audience who will be paying them; the nursery maid making moral judgments about what her charges should and shouldn’t hear (sound familiar); and the clerk writing the stories down and changing them to suit him/herself.


  10. Anonymous says:

    >Don’t they all live happily ever after! (That’s only in Fairy Take and not real life!)

    I found it interesting that an American book is the number one Bedtime book chosen by British mums and dads.

  11. >I confess I do make up bedtime stories for my kids sometimes, but they usually run along the lines of “Once upon a time there was a little girl named Eleanor who would not sit still to get her hair brushed so she was eaten by a bear. The end.”

    They don’t go over as well as a good old CHARLOTTE’S WEB . . .

  12. Kelly Fineman says:

    >Ooh – that commenter IS scary. Far scarier than dead mothers and stepmothers. More like the Other Mother.

  13. >Just to stand up for the oral tradition here, I use both. My kid gets a book and a made-up story every night. I’m also an occasional amateur storyteller-about-town. You wouldn’t believe the number of kids (and adults) I run into who are amazed that stories can be told without a book handy. It’s also interesting how many adults are afraid to tell stories because they “won’t get it right.” Hey, if you can’t remember how it goes, change it! That’s what beggars and nursemaids (thanks Jane Y.) have been doing for, like, ever.

  14. Roger Sutton says:

    >I’m all for making up stories; I was just wondering just whose needs were being met by the storytelling experiences recounted by the commenter.

    That’s a whole huge issue, though–witness the number of picture books devoted to telling parents how much their children need them.

  15. >Didn’t most children authors started out telling their own stories to children? If I am wrong, I believe the author of Peter Pan got his story from the kids when they made up stories together but I could be wrong.

    Anyway, This girl isn’t her mother so you have nothing to worry about unless she has custody.

    oh and I don’t see the harm of fairy tales at all (At least most of them anyway). They can teach children a lesson about life. Like Red Riding Hood could teach a child not to talk and give out information to strangers (as Red Riding hood told the wolf where her grandma lives)

    ~~deafgirl with bad writing skills (I was born severe, nearly profound deaf, since birth so please excuse my grammars)

  16. jimmyprell says:

    >Sorry to comment late, but I have no problem at all with the mother who enjoys making up her own stories with her children. In fact, I think it’s great. And I don’t see it as being ant-book at all. A control freak? Because she expressed a desire to control content? As a parent, I’m always “controlling of content” delivered to my children, ages 15, 8, and 8 — in books, TV, movies. Remember that the woman professes to love books. She’s calling on people to use their imaginations, to spend time thinking up and discussing stories with children, getting them to respond creatively. I just don’t get what makes her scary.

  17. Anonymous says:


    I think what makes here scary are the words “instead of.” If she had said “in addition to” or “sometimes,” then, eh.

    Probably also scarier if you’ve ever gone through a slush pile.

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