Melissa Levis, NYC-based mommy rocker and founder of Moey's Music Party, recounts how a bedtime reading ritual with her son led her to question the messages our children's fairytales are sending. Read on for her tips on how to rewrite these classic stories to make them fun and inspirational.
One of my many parenting pleasures has been reading my favorite childhood books to my son. Ferdinand, Caps For Sale, Eloise, Babar -- all these stories feel as magical now as they were when my mom read them to me. But when I picked up my well worn anthology of fairytales, our lovely bedtime tradition screeched to a halt. In the words of Madeline's Miss Clavel, "Something wasn't right."
Little Red Riding Hood bothered me. As a professionally trained dramatist, I saw "the woodsman" as the ultimate arbitrary ending and deus ex machina. Who was this woodsman? Where did he come from? How convenient that he came sauntering through the woods just in the nick of time to rescue our poor damsel and her granny...
My son was 3 at the time and had just started taking Tae Kwon Do. I loved watching him in his pint-sized white gi doing Bruce Lee style kicks and punches. It gave me the idea to rewrite Little Red Riding Hood. In my version, just as the wolf pounces:
"Little Red was quick
She gave him a judo kick
'Hi-ya, hi-ya, hi-ya!' she said, 'Take that you wolf!'
The wolf ran to his den
He never bothered her again
And that, my children, is the happy end."
Not only is this a more satisfying conclusion because the protagonist becomes the hero, but also it gives children the empowering message that they can rescue themselves.
The next story on my hit list was The Princess and the Pea. I understood the prince wanted to marry a 'true' princess, but the qualities that determined her princess-ness seemed flat-out bratty and spoiled. I wanted to create a modern, low-maintenance prince who valued kindness and generosity over being dainty and fragile. In my version, he sings:
"A pea beneath their mattress makes these girls say 'ouch?'
The princess I will marry will sleep on a pull-out couch.
And indeed, he finds true love with a virtuous princess, who says:
"There are so many homeless children -- toss them a crouton
Give 20 mattresses to a child. I'll sleep on a futon."
I am especially proud of my takes on Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and The Frog Prince. As a parent, I relished the quiet of nap time, but Sleeping Beauty fell asleep for 100 years -- now that is just too long! I want to break the passive myth of waiting around to be rescued. I want girls and boys to know they can wake themselves up with their own magical kiss. As I sing in the chorus:
"I'm no helpless maiden
And the big, wide world is awaitin'!"
Like The Illiad and The Odyssey or The Bible, fairytales are part of an oral tradition. They are living tales that are passed down from one generation to the next, one author to the next, one parent to one child. It is my deepest wish to inspire parents to let the words jump off the page and adapt these stories to celebrate and reinforce your wishes for your children.
As I sing in the finale:
"Once upon a time a girl became a princess
Once upon a time a boy became a prince
And as they played they made up their own endings
And guess how they've been living ever since?
They live happily ever
After with laughter all the way
Happily ever after, sing and play
Melissa Levis, better known to NYC-area kids and parents as the Moey behind Moey's Music Party, released her Parents' Choice Award-winning CD/DVD, Happily Ever Moey! A Fairy Tale Lark in Central Park, a collection of 15 musical, modern takes on famous fairy tales, in May. Leivs, who transitioned from an Off-Broadway songwriter to a "mommy rocker" thanks to the birth of her son, hosts children's music classes in Central Park and at The New York Junior League in Manhattan and performs kiddie concerts throughout the NYC area.
Once you've conquered fairytales, bring your children's favorite books to life by taking them on a Kid-Lit Tour of NYC