Friday, February 21, 2014

Reading: Fairy Tales by ee cummings

The newest cover of Fairy Tales
Three years after his death. four poems written by ee cummings for his daughter surfaced and were published in a compilation aptly titled Fairy Tales.  While the earliest edition of this book are quite valuable, newer publications are affordable and readily available from booksellers worldwide.  I enjoyed reading these four tales, as they are different than other fairy tales I have read and also rather comical.  Although I am not familiar with cummings' body of work, I know it is quite extensive and was unaware that he had created these delightful stories for children. 

In Fairy Tales, four of cummings' tales have been reproduced.  The first tale, "The Old Man Who Said Why," tells about a fairy that lives on the farthest star and solves problems for his other fairy neighbors.  He lived there for millions of years without growing old.  The fairies dined on foods like "star petals" and "air-flowers."  (Don't those just sound like fairy fare?)  One morning, millions of angry fairies come to visit him with complaints about the man on the moon who always ask "why!"  The lead fairy tells the others to leave their troubles under the apple tree, and he himself visits the questioning man.  Every time the fairy tries to explain the purpose for his visit to the old man, the man asks, "Why," and becomes younger each time until he eventually falls to earth as a newborn.  The second tale, "The Elephant and the Butterfly," features an elephant who does nothing all day long and a friendly butterfly.  One day, the butterfly decides to visit the elephant's home, where they wait out a rainstorm inside.  After the storm, the elephant asks the butterfly if "you love me a little," and the butterfly says, "No, I love you a lot!"  The two friends then journey down to the butterfly's home, where the elephant says he will come to visit everyday.  They are friends forever after that!  The next tale, titled "The House That Ate Mosquito Pie," tells about a sad, lonely, and abandoned house.  When a lone bird arrives singing a beautiful song, the house feels happy and cleans itself up!  Finally, a family discovers the freshly pampered home and wants to move - but the house makes a ruckus of noise and frightens the family away, leaving the house and the bird to live happily ever after.  The final story, "The Little Girl Named I," is written in a conversational tone with a storyteller and a responder who responds to the storyteller's questions.  The little girl named I travels through the valley asking animal after animal if they will come to tea with her.  All of the animals say no.  When the little girls sit down in front a pond and sees her own reflection, she asks a little girl named "You" to tea, and the girls dine on bread and jam while sipping tea.

As a teacher, I believe my students would love these stories for the unique tales that they tell.  They are written especially for children, who will enjoy the word play in "The Little Girl Named I" and the budding friendship between the elephant and the butterfly.  I also imagine the summarizing activities my students could participate in, from oral re-tellings to book jacket summaries, due to the obvious story elements in each tale.  As an adult, I enjoy these stories because I am forced to wonder how ee cummings would desire his fairy tales to be interpreted.  Embedded within each tale seems to be a greater theme, which is the case for most fairy tales!  In the first tale, I feel that cummings is emphasizing that curiosity - as seen in the man on the moon - is the key to staying young.  The second story seems to be suggesting that those who have no friends may often need someone to open the door, just like the butterfly did for the elephant, in order to build an everlasting friendship.  I also imagine that this might be hinting that friendship can be created between the most unlikely of pairs.  Butterflies are small and fragile, and elephants are rather large, but the butterfly and elephant care for each other and become eternal friends despite their differences.  The third tale seems to suggest that the quality of a friend is better than the quantity and again emphasizes that friendship can be made in the most unlikely of pairs.  The final tale suggests that one can never be lonely with imagination.  Of course, these are just my interpretations of the tales!  I am not sure how my students would perceive them, but it would be interesting to juxtapose the tales and see what we can learn from them and from each other. 
The original cover of Fairy Tales

The illustrations in ee cummings' most recent edition of Fairy Tales, published in 2004, are drawn by Meilo So.   These illustrations are bright, vivid watercolors.  Her illustrations are full-bleed and separate from pages containing text.  These drawings appear ethereal and somewhat abstract.  A little bit of research taught me that illustrator John Eaton created drawings for the first editions of the book, published in 1965 and 1975.  These illustrations appear to be sketched and pale in color.  While original illustrations are often the most beloved, the updated drawings cater to current audiences without omitting meaning from the original tales, thus I prefer the vibrant illustrations and think that my students would, too. 

The sweetest aspect of Fairy Tales is that these stories were written by a father for his daughter.  They are original tales, while still sharing aspects commonly seen in other fairy tales, such as concrete story elements, a theme, and magical characters.  I am excited to introduce my students to a famed American author with these stories.  For more information about introducing your students to fairy tales, click here!

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