“The fairies came flying in at the window and brought her such a pretty pair of wings” (from The Water-babies: A Fairy Tale for Land-babies, by Charles Kingsley and illustrated by Warwick Gobel)

Miss Missy’s School Book I: A Pack of Farm Dogs Starts a School by Marica Bernstein.

Illustrated by Caroline Cooper. Old Schoolhouse Road Publishing.

Dear Readers & Writers,

Have you ever heard this old saying?

The best way to learn a subject is to teach it.

I am doing some advanced research for the fourth Miss Missy’s School book which is tentatively titled, Missy’s School’s Out for the Summer. I want to learn about the differences among Folklore, Fables, and Fairy-tales. I’d like to learn their histories, as well, and read some of the more famous examples, and some forgotten ones, from each genre.

I have a lot to learn about these, and I thought we could get started together.

Let’s begin with the dictionary definitions.

Folklore. A broad term for the traditional customs, superstitions, stories, dances, and songs of a group of people that have been passed down through the generations without being written down. (Though the stories and songs may well have been written down at some point in time.)

Wow. That group of things included in folklore is far too large. I’m only interested in the stories. Fortunately there’s a term for those.

Folktale. A story passed down through word of mouth, and partially modified or changed by successive re-tellings, before being written. The category Folktale includes legends, fables, and fairy stories. Many folktales involve mythical creatures and magical transformations.

Look! We’ve learned something already. I wanted to learn the differences among folklore, fables, and fair-tales. But it looks as if the last two are different kinds of the folktales of folklore. I also note that is says, “many involve,” not “all.”

Fable. A brief tale in verse or prose that has a moral lesson. Fables usually anthropomorphize animals or inanimate objects, they are the main characters of the story. They usually conclude with an epigram stating the lesson to be learned.

Aesop’s Fables are the most famous. We talked about one of them at The City Cat and the Country Cat Kid Blog post. It inspired that little story you can read.

Fairy-tale. A story involving characters and events that are not possible in the real world. They are usually set in the distant past, with magical characters or imaginary creatures like giants, dwarves, and talking animals.

Do you have a favorite fairy-tale?

A dictionary is a great place to begin doing research on a topic you want to learn about. But we want to learn so much more. In the next Kid Blog we’ll dig a little deeper into Folktales, Fables, and Fairy-tales.

To end this blog post, let’s talk about The Water-babies: A Fairy Tale for Land-babies by Reverend Charles Kingsley, first published in 1868. It’s the story of a little boy named Tom who lived in middle of the 1800s. Tom is a chimney sweep–he crawls into the chimneys of rich peoples’ houses to clean out the soot. It’s a dirty job, and he is always tired and hungry. One day he accidentally finds himself in the room of a little girl who lives in the house. She thinks he is a thief and is so scared she screams, and he is so scared he runs away with lots of people chasing after him. By the time he approaches a stream, the people are no longer following, but Tom is so hot and tired that he slips, hits his head, and falls into the stream. That’s when his adventures as a water-baby begin.

Under water he meets all sorts of exotic creatures, and the fierce Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid and the motherly Mrs. Doasyouwouldbedoneby who together will determine his fate.

It’s such a wonderful story that many outstanding artists have beautifully illustrated it. Look at these pictures. Do you think the same artist drew them all?

“He looked up at the broad yellow moon…” was by Jessie Willcox Smith (1863–1935).

“Tom found that the isle stood on pillars…” was by Warwick Goble (1862-1943).

“Caves and bridges was by Harry Theaker (1873-1954).

“Tom was so lonely” was drawn by Mable Lucie Attwell (1879-1964).

All four of these illustrators read the same story. But they envisioned Tom and his underwater world quite differently. It’s a little bit like people hearing the same story, but retelling it differently, isn’t it?


The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Chris Baldick. Oxford University Press, Oxford. 1990. 

The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature. Humphrey Carpenter and Mai Prichard. Oxford University Press, Oxford. 1995. 1984.

The Water-babies: A Fairy Tale for Land-babies. Charles Kingsley. Macmillian, London. 1868.

Notes for grownups.

1) I cannot recommend this more highly to you. It is a beautiful story with some very deep lessons. Kingsley is a lovely writer, and well-versed in many topics. School children of the time may have fully appreciated his often lengthy side-bars and off-topic chats with readers, but it is doubtful that 9-12 year olds today will. They will thus find it something of a slog. See #4 for a solution.

2) The book is famous for its illustrations, and there are several beautiful editions with different illustrator’s works on the used book market. I believe Alibris ID 16613953413 is a reproduction of a 1912 illustrated edition with notes explaining things mentioned in 1 above.

3) An unillustrated annotated edition was edited (and notes written) by Richard Kelly (2008).

4) There is an inexpensive out-of-print abridgment of the tale by G. Mercer Adam (editor; 1905). At roughly 7×9, it comes in at 104 pages.

5) If you’re considering a new paperback, please be sure to read the reviews. Some editions do not contain illustrations.

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Miss Missy’s School Book I: A Pack of Farm Dogs Starts a School by Marica Bernstein.

Illustrated by Caroline Cooper. Old Schoolhouse Road Publishing.

Ages 7 and up. Grownups love it, too!
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