When Le Billon's two daughters were 3 and 5, she tried to find children's books for them that would be the equivalent of the many American child-appropriate books. She asked for fairy tales in the bookstores, and was given translations of the famous Grimm and Andersen tales, but as many of us are aware, the average Grimm or Andersen tale would not be considered appropriate for such young children in America.
So she asked her native French father in law, "Back home, childhood is viewed as a really innocent time. There are lots of books about magic and make-believe. The French don't seem to have the same sorts of books."
Her father in law's reply was, "Kids aren't innocent. They're like little animals. If they aren't disciplined, they'll never learn to behave!"
Though that statement may seem shocking, it reflects the general attitude the French have about parenting, and about their children's entertainment. And the French are, in general, very loving parents-but they tend to parent more authoritatively (not authoritarian) then their American counterparts, who have grown more indulgent as a rule.
The book didn't go into more detail about the culture of childhood and what would be considered appropriate verses inappropriate in France, but it reminded me that the attitudes I have about fairy tales and children which I assume are "modern" are really very "American" as well. We often look at the historical emergence of childhood culture as a way of understanding how fairy tales would have been told and received differently in the time of the Grimms and before, but sometimes I forget that even among modern, similar cultures, there can be striking differences.
Maria Tatar and Jack Zipes-American fairy tale scholars
Even in the blogging world, I think most of us fairy tale bloggers are American (shout out to Amy Elize Brown of Asleep in the Woods, way to represent the Brits!). Even some of the biggest names in current fairy tale scholarship, like Jack Zipes and Maria Tatar, are American-with Marina Warner, another Brit, being an exception. Of course there's the whole language barrier, but it makes me wonder-what other books on fairy tale history and evolution are being published in other countries that we aren't aware of because they're not being translated into English? (Speaking as one of the, sadly, many Americans who is not fluent in any second languages). And my guess is that they would have very different opinions on many of the things we discuss-when it comes to evaluating different versions of fairy tales, and looking at the messages they contain, in addition to beliefs about child appropriateness.
Illustration-Eleanor Vere Boyle, "Wild Swans"
And this is just the difference between two relatively similar cultures-so often in fairy tale studies, European and American stories get lumped together under the term "Western"- so even outside of other major cultures, which we expect to have contrasting worldviews, we have to remember how vastly different each similar country's philosophies can be! Honestly, in this world of mass media and globalization, I tend to be very ignorant of how distinctly different two very developed countries can still be on such basic things as attitudes towards food and parenting. I would love to hear from readers and other bloggers around the world on this topic-how do people in different cultures handle fairy tales and telling them to their kids?