These days I write a monthly column for a neighborhood magazine in Winston-Salem. As a huge supporter of the literary non-profit Bookmarks (I am currently president of the board of directors) I cover all sorts of Bookmarks events from author visits to summer reading programs to our annual book festival. I’m going to start re-posting some of those articles here, for readers who may not live in my neighborhood but would still like to know about some of the cool things that can happen when books are involved. This is from the April column:
Do you remember the first time someone read you a fairy tale? I’ll bet many of you, like me, can’t remember the first time you met Cinderella or Red Riding Hood or Goldilocks. It seems as if we have always known them.
Everyone knows I love books, and there are thousands of fantastic books of fairy tales. I am especially fond of those from the golden age of illustration (the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries) by artists such as Arthur Rackham and Maxfield Parrish. But there is also something truly wonderful about telling a child a fairy tale. Just about all of us—parents, grandparents, or simply neighbors and friends of children—can remember the plot of a few fairy tales well enough to craft a bedtime story. When my daughter, Lucy, was a toddler, I used to tell her a highly modified version of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” in which the eponymous heroine was named, not surprisingly, Lucylocks. I especially liked the bit where she got stuck in Papa Bear’s recliner.
For more than ten years after I moved back to Buena Vista, I spent a lot of time with fairy tales as I wrote plays for third graders to perform at Summit School. From Twinderella to Porridgegate to Snew White, I was able to craft new stories out of familiar characters—and to third graders those characters of Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, of the three bears and the three little pigs, were always familiar, dwelling in some sort of cultural memory. To those we added, among others, Cinderella’s twin brother Bob, a septet of dwarves with names like Sloppy and Spiffy, and celebrity appearances by “characters” such as Sigmund Freud and Ludwig van Beethoven. Those plays have now been performed in thousands of productions by schools and amateur groups across the country and around the world, so I like to think I’ve had a small role in keeping fairy tales alive and perhaps giving children a fresh perspective on their favorite characters.
And that’s really the wonderful thing about fairy tales—because we know them so well, because they are simply structured yet rife with archetype, we can interpret them, illustrate them, adapt them, stage them, and embrace them in a nearly limitless number of ways.
On Sunday, April 23, we’ll have a chance to see fairy tales in action in a new way as the Winston-Salem Symphony and Paperhand Puppet Intervention (check out some of their amazing work at paperhand.org) collaborate on a Discover Concert for Kids called “Enchanted Fairy Tales.” Life-sized puppets, masks, and movement will combine with live music for an afternoon of magical delights. Visit wssymphony.org for ticket info.
The concert begins at 3:00 at Reynolds Auditorium, but you’ll want to show up at 2:00 for lots of family fun beforehand. Bookmarks will be on hand with author and illustrator Kyle Webster. Kyle designed last year’s Bookmarks Festival t-shirt (based on the cover of his delightful book Please Say Please). His illustrations have appeared in The New Yorker, Time, The New York Times, and elsewhere. He teaches Life Drawing, Portraiture, and Digital Painting at the UNC School of the Arts. We hope to see you there for a fairy tale afternoon.