Fairytales for young children that subvert traditional male and female roles may not be making the impact that authors or teachers intend, according to a small-scale study in Wigan.
Janet Evans, a literacy consultant with the City of Liverpool, read and discussed Robert Munsch's feminist picture book The Paper Bag Princess with a class of 36 eight and nine-year-olds.
Before reading the book, children were asked what a scenario involving a princess, a prince and a dragon would be. Most subverted convention by suggesting an evil prince being bested by a dragon who saves the princess. But not one child thought the princess could save herself.
After hearing the story pupils showed surprised indignation that it went against convention by having the princess take on the role of hero, rescuing the prince from the dragon and then giving them both short shrift.
But most unexpected was the way many seemed preoccupied with less important aspects of the story, such as why the paper bag didn't get burnt when exposed to extreme heat. This literal approach to the fairytale misses the point of the book.
Evans concludes children need an awareness of the genre they are reading before they can appreciate that a format has been turned on its head.
Contact Janet Evans, 36 Chestnut Drive, Pennington, Leigh, Lancs WN7 3JW