Classic literature. Living books. Fairy Tales…
If any of these phrases describe your homeschooling experience, you will inevitably come face to face with a very large book containing the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen.
If you are committed to reading unabridged literature (and Charlotte Mason would want you to be…ahem…;)) then you will probably find yourself asking the same questions I did…
1. Do I need to read every tale?
2. How do I know which ones to choose?
Well I will state the obvious in saying, no, you do not have to read every single story Andersen wrote to thoroughly enjoy his work. I can help you out with point two as well because we just finished our time with the master of tales.
Hans Christian Andersen’s stories have remained in popular circulation for over 100 years despite the fact that he did not want to be remembered for these “trifles” (as he referred to his fairy tales). He wanted to be remembered for his more “serious” works. I couldn’t tell you the name of one of his plays or novels but I can assure you that his “trifles” have become powerful character-building stories in our home. I happen to consider that quite serious.
His stories are originals – inspired by stories and myths told to him as a child as well as themes from Danish history – unlike the Brothers Grimm who collected popular tales and passed them on. Andersen’s stories are charming, full of message and purpose without being “moralistic”, and his language is so rich and full of imagery you can’t help but get absorbed into it.
“You must know that as soon as the king and all the court are gone in to the town, the flowers run out of the garden into the castle, and you should see how merry they are. The two most beautiful roses seat themselves on the throne, and are called the king and queen, then all the red cockscombs range themselves on each side, and bow, these are the lords-in-waiting. After that the pretty flowers come in, and there is a grand ball. The blue violets represent little naval cadets, and dance with hyacinths and crocuses which they call young ladies. the tulips and tiger-lilies are the old ladies who sit and watch the dancing, so that everything may be conducted with order and propriety.”
– from Little Ida’s Flowers
So how did I choose?
I began with the list provided on Ambleside Online and then read through each of their selections myself before reading them to our boys. This is a good practice to get into. The older the kids get, the more I need to read ahead of them. This not only allows you to catch anything that might not sit well with your family and values but also prepares you to discuss the story. It’s a good opportunity to explain archaic vocabulary and illustrations.
Must-Read Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen
- Little Tiny or Thumbelina
- The Ugly Duckling
- Little Ida’s Flowers
- The Old House
- The Happy Family
- The Conceited Apple-Branch
- The Pea Blossom
- The Beetle Who Went on His Travels
- The Pen an the Inkstand
- The Little Mermaid (we didn’t actually read this one because the boys thought it would be too sad, but I included it because it is such a classic. Gorgeous language but VERY different from the late 80s animated version…spoiler alert, it is a cautionary tale without much of a happy ending).
- The Little Match-Seller (see the note above…proceed with caution with sensitive or young children)
- The Buckwheat
- The Nightingale
- The Emperor’s New Suit
- The Princess and the Pea
These fifteen stories will give you and your children a good appreciation for Andersen’s tales and allow you to marinate in beautiful language. He wrote well over 100 stories so if you are hooked after these fifteen, by all means read on! We plan to revisit Andersen when the boys are older and I’m sure we’ll add new stories that were just a little too much for them this time around.