Disrupting Fairy Tales


When my children were young, once they became very familiar with a story, one of my favorite activities was to read the book making changes to the characters or the situation. The Stepmother in Cinderella became kind and caring, Little Red Riding Hood was portrayed as mean and ungrateful, and Snow White didn’t live happily ever after, but was disgruntled because she had to keep looking after the dwarves and cleaning their house.

Bourke (2008) has used a similar idea to encourage students to become more critical readers. These are some of the strategies:

  • Encourage students to put themselves in a particular character’s shoes. If you were the Troll in the Three Billy Goats Gruff how would you feel? Why did the Daddy Gruff and Mummy Gruff send Baby Gruff across the bridge first? If you were Daddy or Mummy Gruff what would you have done?
  • Compare and contrast the same fairy tale told from two different perspectives. This may be from how the story is told or the type of illustrations used, including color and concepts associated with color (e.g., white=good, black=evil), depiction of characters, etc.
  • Comparing different fairy tales with similar themes.
  • Discussing if events could have happened differently. In Jack and the Beanstalk should have Jack returned the beans and re-acquired his cow? Why? Who is more in the wrong – Jack (who disobeyed his mother and stole from the giant) or the giant (who is portrayed as the villain)? Discuss and create alternative endings. What else would need to change in the story if there was a different ending? If there was no magic involved, how would Cinderella get to the ball?
  • Help students rewrite a familiar fairy tale in which they transfer the power to a different character, change a critical event, portray the character’s personality differently, etc.

Some more ideas for creating fractured fairy tales:

  • Redefine the characters – The wolf helps the lost Little Red Riding Hood find her way home.
  • Modify the theme – Rapunzel cuts off her own hair and uses it as a way to escape rather than waiting for a man to rescue her.
  • Swap the setting – Little Red Riding Hood takes place in a city and the wolf is a thief.
  • Change the conflict – Jack befriends the giant.
  • Change the ending – The Gingerbread man doesn’t get eaten.
  • Switch the point of view – the stepmother treat Cinderella harshly because she doesn’t want her to grow up selfish.
  • Combine two or more fairy tales – Little Red Riding Hood Meets the Three Bears, Snow White and the Three Little Pigs, etc.


Bourke, R.T. (2008). First graders and fairy tales: One teacher’s action research of critical literacy. The Reading Teacher, 62(4), 304–312. https://doi.org/10.1598/RT.62.4.3


Comments are closed.