Home > Bilingualism, Child Development, children's literature, Family Life > Bye-Bye, Brothers Grimm and Bambi…for Now

Bye-Bye, Brothers Grimm and Bambi…for Now

I loved Brothers Grimm stories, I grew up with them. Little Red Riding Hood, The Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel, my childhood would have been so different without them. I can’t remember how old I was when I leafed through those books, or maybe even read them (if that was at the time when I was able to read), over and over again. I was there, part of those pictures, part of those pages; more than thirty years later, I remember the illustrations, I remember the tone of that world.

When my mother sent us Brothers Grimm stories (and some other stories in Serbian, such as Bambi), I read them to Andrei. Since he was one and a half, maybe two. On and off. There were months when he cared for “those” books, and there were months when he didn’t.

 

The other night he pulls two books from “that” pile. Hansel and Gretel. And Bambi. I start reading. In Serbian. Andrei understands quite a bit, but I usually follow his facial expressions, and if I think he looks confused, I usually repeat the sentence in English, ask him if he knows what specific words mean, provide the English equivalents if needed, and then we move on.

So I read Hansel and Gretel. The second sentence into the story: the two children overhear their parents saying that they are going to take the children into the woods and leave them there to fend for themselves. ¬†Andrei looks confused so I provide the translation, cringing. I go on to remind him that this is just a story, and that in real life people don’t do that (well, only rarely, but I don’t say that), they love their children and they cannot imagine their life without their children.

While I am saying this, several thoughts come into my mind: The reality-fiction line is really blurry for my four-year-old boy. His separation anxiety is still pretty strong so we frequently have to remind him: We will be back. You have fun with your friends, and mommy and daddy will be back in a few hours. Does Andrei really need to hear about parents abandoning their children? Now, when we are still working through his separation anxiety issues?

We get through Hansel and Gretel, I convince him that witches don’t exist in real life, only in books, but as soon as we put the book down, Andrei puts Bambi into my hands. We read about Bambi’s zest for life, (Andrei has always loved Bambi), but then – there is that terrible morning when hunters show up. Not good, I know. What are they doing?, Andrei asks. Why are they killing animals?

I don’t know much about hunting, I don’t like hunting, but I know that there must be a way to somehow justify hunting, although not in the world of a four-year-old, so I am not going to even try. Why did they kill the mother?, my son asks for the third time, tears in his eyes. Someone should come to kill them.

Okay, this is a complex question: Is violence a way to fight violence? I respect my four-year-old son’s sense of justice. Maybe, I say, and continue to read…until we get to the fire scene…somehow we get to the last page, and my son immediately turns the book back to the hunter scene. Why did they kill the mother?

 

I talked to him, although I can’t quite remember what I said. That sometimes people kill. Maybe something else. So many thoughts went through my head: When do you teach your kid about the real world, violence, greed, and all? I guess not at the age of four.

We have read sad books before, and Andrei got teary-eyed here and there. I thought that it’s important to expose children to all sorts of different emotions, sadness included, so they know how to live with the emotion until the emotion dissolves.

That night, after Andrei fell asleep, I put many of Brothers Grimm stories away. Bambi too. For an indefinite period of time. I know we will go back to them. I think these stories are important. But we might need to wait a few years.

 

Have you introduced your kids to Brothers Grimm stories? What was your experience?

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  1. December 4, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    I tell my 4 year old heavily bowdlerized/edited/changed versions of classic stories. He’s 4 1/2 and our version of “Hansel and Gretel” has the kids getting lost while exploring and finding a FRIENDLY witch who gives them a magic pot that makes food, and they help feed their town with it, for instance (http://brigidkeely.com/wordpress/2013/03/27/hansel-and-gretel/). There’s a place in the world for darker stories and complex themes, but my kid’s just little, and needs comfort.

    Are there any specific fairy tales or kids books in Serbian that you’d recommend? I’d like for my husband to be able to read to our child in Serbian (and for me to get more practice in the language) but I don’t know what to get. We have a lovely little Serbian-import bookstore near us, so we could order through them.

    • December 7, 2013 at 12:00 pm

      That’s a great idea! My son and I sometimes collaboratively make up stories, but I’d never tried to tie them (at least not consciously) to any classic stories. Thanks for providing the link to your blog!

      There is a ton of folk stories (narodne bajke) in Serbian, but my four-year-old son is way too young for them. We have a lot of Brothers Grimm stories and Aesop’s fables. We also have the Mali Plavi Zec series books (in Serbian, but not by a Serbian author), Peppa series books and Noddy series books. Peppa and Noddy books are based on the Peppa and Noddy cartoons, which I don’t like, but these books (particularly Peppa) include very simple language, short sentences and are great for a beginner. The problem I see with many other stories in Serbian we have is wordiness and plot elements that are difficult for a four-year-old to understand.

      Also please provide some info about the store you mentioned in your comment, if you can – it sounds like a great resource!

  2. December 14, 2013 at 12:59 am

    We live in Chicago and aren’t too far from the physical location of http://bubamaraknjizara.com/ . My husband’s father is from Montenegro but all the kids were born and grew up in the USA. They had a very small amount of kids books in Serbian. My husband is really unfamiliar with Serbian/Montenegrin folktales and mythology (other than historic stuff). I’d really love to find Brothers Grimm type stuff that is Serbian/Montenegrin instead of German (or French, or Irish, or etc). I figure pretty much every literate culture has books for little kids, there MUST be books in Serbian suitable for a 4 year old. But while I’m pretty good at selecting books in English, I can’t do that in Serbian (and figure that muddling through really basic kids books would help me with that, too).

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