Once upon a time a mother was looking for fairy tales: she wanted her son to discover the land of spinning wheels, magic spells and talking animals.
She searched high and low for a collection of fairy stories to read aloud and was shocked not to be able to find all the ones she knew from childhood in one volume.
You'd think there would be a lovely book with all the classic stories in, wouldn't you? Well, as far as I could find, there isn't. There are plenty of books which feature a selection of famous fairy tales, but I wanted the whole lot!
So I started to do a tiny bit of research and discovered that the fairy tales I wanted actually come from different historical backgrounds. Many we know were written (some based on folk tales, others invented) by the French writer Charles Perrault in the late 1600s - his classics include 'Cinderella', 'Puss in Boots', 'Little Red Riding Hood' and 'Sleeping Beauty'.
Other fairy tales were later collected by the Grimm brothers in the early 1800s - as well as featuring some of Perrault's tales, they added German folk tales like 'Hansel and Gretel', 'Rumpelstiltskin', 'Rapunzel', 'Snow White' and 'The Frog Prince'.
Grimm tales tend to be quite violent and scary if you read them in the original - so not ideal for young children.
Then there are Hans Christian Andersen's beautiful, often heartrendingly tragic Danish fairy tales of the mid-1800s like 'The Little Mermaid', 'The Snow Queen', 'The Ugly Duckling' and 'Thumbelina'.
There are some wonderful collections of each of these fairy tale strands, like Philip Pullman's newly published retellings of some of the Grimm tales. And there are also modern fairy tales written by Terry Jones which make for imagination-filled bedtime reading.
Of course every world culture has its own folk tales and it's well worth exploring outside the Anglo-Saxon Christian tales, too, to rediscover, for instance, classics like 'Aladdin'.
But the best books I could find in terms of having the most tales all in one collection, and written in a classic and child-friendly (but not too infantile) style, have turned out to be Andrew Lang's Fairy Books. This is a series you might remember from childhood - starting with The Blue Fairy Book in 1880 and ending with The Lilac Fairy Book in 1910, this Scottish folklorist complied twelve books of fairy tales from around the world for children.
Today they are sadly out of mainstream print, but you can, as I did, buy the 1960s Dover editions second hand and in excellent condition online quite cheaply.
You don't have to get them all, of course. My must-haves are the Blue Book (which includes 'Little Red Riding Hood', 'Sleeping Beauty', 'Cinderella', 'Aladdin', 'Rumpelstiltskin', 'Beauty and the Beast', 'Goldilocks', 'Dick Whittington', 'Hansel and Gretel', 'Blue Beard' and 'Jack the Giant-Killer'); the Red Book ('The Twelve Dancing Princesses', 'Jack and the Beanstalk', 'Rapunzel'), the Pink Book ('The Snow Queen'), the Green Book ('The Blue Bird', 'The Three Little Pigs', 'The Three Bears') and the Yellow Book ('The Tinderbox', 'Thumbelina', 'The Steadfast Tin Soldier' and 'The Princess and The Pea').
The infuriatingly wonderful thing about fairy tales, though, is that there's always another one you remember from your own childhood and want to share with your children. 'Cap O'Rushes', 'The Pied Piper', 'Pinocchio', 'The Gingerbread Man', 'Three Billy Goats Gruff'...
Frankly, no one book collection has them all, so you have to keep on searching to live happily ever after, just like a fairy tale heroine.
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