Good Fairy Tales, Fables, and Tall Tales for Catholic Kids

From ancient times onward, parents and grandparents have passed on their wisdom to the next generations through fairy tales, tall tales, fables, and cautionary tales. Each culture has its own special stories, such as the American tall tales, while other stories such as Cinderella are told by many cultures with their own variations. Here are some of my favorite picture book versions of fairy tales, fables, and tall tales both  old and new, renowned and little known, from around the world.


I love the gorgeous illustrations and Medieval manuscript letters in this beautiful version of Sleeping Beauty!


In this version of The Princess and the Pea, the queen and king get a slightly larger role than usual. The side banter between the queen and her son is amusing, and the illustrations take pride of place.


This beautiful version of Rapunzel is so vividly illustrated the witch may scare you! I think it uniquely captures the mixed love and hate the witch has for Rapunzel.


We enjoy this Spanish American version of the classic Cinderella story. Little Gold Star brings a Catholic flavor to this familiar favorite with Marian intercession taking the place of the fairy godmother.


My other favorite retelling of the Cinderella story is Jan Brett’s imaginative chicken-themed version: Cinders. The accurate depictions of a brood of bantam hens are amazingly detailed and gorgeous.


But, if you want the classic, simple Cinderella story, Marcia Brown’s Cinderella is what you’re looking for!


The charming illustrations in this edition of Little Red Riding Hood contrast with this rather dark cautionary tale. True to the original Grimm fairy tale, the wolf eats Red Riding Hood and her Grandma. But in the end, the woodsman cuts them out and saves the day!


E. Nesbit’s fanciful chapter books are favorites of mine, so I am happy to include her retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk on this list. She omits some of the more grisly details of the original tale, but adds in her unique touch with explanations of details such as why Jack’s shutters don’t work.


The Adventures of Brer Rabbit and Friends is a clever retelling of the Joel Chandler Harris Uncle Remus tales. My children love this collection of ten of Harris’ funniest tales, complete with plenty of onomatopoeia and wonderful illustrations on every page.


With The Firebird, you have at once a fairy tale and a ballet (by Igor Stravinsky). This version of the fairy tale contains both a depiction of the ballet and a gorgeous fanciful illustration on each page. Caveat that the evil wizard villain in the story is quite disturbing looking and might terrify very young children.


Another Russian fairy tale of the quest genre, the The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring has some of the most magnificently done illustrations. This tale is about an exciting quest and the winning of a princess, yet also raises questions about listening to your conscience versus blind obedience.


A third Russian folk tale we enjoy is The Magic Nesting Doll. On her deathbed, Katya’s grandma bequeaths her a magic nesting doll which contains animals that will help her break the spell which binds her kingdom in a dark, icy winter. This story has a touch of Narnia and a touch of Sleeping Beauty.


Arthur Ransome’s retelling of The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship: A Russian Tale deserves a place in any library. My children find this tale about how God watches out for simple folk both funny and inspiring.


The Legend of the Bluebonnet is a sad but beautiful story of self-sacrifice. A little Indian girl gives up her one cherished toy to save her people from famine.


The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush is an old folk tale about finding and pursuing your own particular calling. A young Indian boy feels more drawn to painting the scenes around him then joining in usual hunting activities of his friends.


We love our American Tall Tales, especially Steven Kellog’s fun editions of Paul Bunyan, Mike Fink, and Johnny Appleseed. His detail-rich illustration style brings a wealth of amusing tidbits to these already entertaining tales.


Stone Soup is an old French folk tale about some smart soldiers who outwit a village of selfish people. A lesson in sharing.


Tikki Tikki Tembo has a fun rhythmic cadence that children love. An old Chinese folk tale, it cautions against giving children very, very, very long names.


The Mitten by Jan Brett is a retelling of a Ukranian folk tale, complete with wonderfully realistic illustrations.


The Ugly Duckling is a favorite fairy tale from Hans Christian Anderson. The theme of not judging someone by their outward appearance has a timeless appeal, and Jerry Pinkney’s gorgeous illustrations bring this story to life in a powerful way.


The Pancake Boy is a fun Norwegian version of the tale Americans recognize more readily as “The Gingerbread Man.” In the Norwegian version, a pig devours the gullible Pancake Boy in the end!


Speaking of Gingerbread Baby, we love Jan Brett’s version of this favorite folk tale.


Honey… Honey… Lion! has all of Jan Brett’s trademark attention to detail and beautiful illustrations. In this African tale, Honey Badger learns the hard way not to be selfish and hog all the honey!


The 3 Little Dassies  is an African-themed version of the classic Three Little Pigs tale. Jan Brett uses vivid colors and a variety of desert creatures to bring this story to life in a new way.


Speaking of old tales, The Classic Treasury of Aesop’s Fables is a beautiful version of the traditional fables from the ancient world. Each fable has a wonderful painting to accompany it which captures children’s eyes while a parents reads the fable.


Though a pricey investment, My Book House contains an amazing array of folk tales, fairy tales, and legends from around the world.

Good Easy Readers for Catholic Kids

Have an emergent reader in the family? By definition, the text in an easy reader has to be very simple, but that’s no reason for the illustrations to be poor quality! Here are some great options of both readers from programs and fun, simple books which combine short and sweet stories with good quality illustrations. We use a combination of both types of books to provide plenty of practice for our young readers.

Note that these books are intended for emergent readers; if you have a child who is already reading chapter books fluently, check out my list Good Books for Catholic 8 to 9 year olds .

Books from Reading Programs


The All About Reading beginner readers are favorites at our house. There are several books in the series such as Run, Bug, Run!, The Runt Pig, and Cobweb the Cat. These are quality hardcover books which each include a whole collection of funny stories. Note that some older, used editions may be in black and white, so opt for a newer version if you want a color edition.

 

 

 


Seton Press has reprinted the Faith and Freedom Readers, a series of beautiful readers beginning with This is Our Family. These charmingly illustrated stories are sight-word style reading, which I find helpful to include along with the phonics-based books we typically use. Cheapest place to buy is from Seton directly: This is Our Family.

 

 

 


Speaking of sight words, remember Dick and Jane? Here is a great set of four beautiful hard-cover reprints of the classic Dick and Jane stories. These short, simple stories quickly inspire confidence in young readers.

 

 

 


The Little Angel Readers are part of a phonics based program available at Stone Tablet Press, but they can be used independently of the program for simple practice. They feature short, easy stories ranging from retellings of folk and fairy tales to Catholic-themed stories.

 

 

 

For Fun

We love The Princess Twins Series with their sweet illustrations, simple stories, and marvelous messages. Each story highlights a different virtue which Princesses Emma and Abby learn to model.

 

 

 

 

 


We all laugh at the adventures and misadventures of Charlie the Ranch Dog in these easy readers inspired by the Ree Drummond books.

 

 

 

 

 


Arnold Lobel’s popular Frog and Toad books make great easy readers. We also enjoy his other stories such as Small Pig and Owl at Home.

 

 

 

 

 

I dislike the illustrations in many of the Dr. Seuss beginner books, but others like these two by Mike McClintock are actually quite charming: Stop that Ball! and A Fly Went by .

 

 

 

 

 


Biscuit. Okay, yes, it is ironic that the title character’s name is not actually an easy word to read. But otherwise, these adorable books are very, very basic on the vocabulary with big font and only a sentence or two a page. We love the sweet illustrations in these stories.

 

 

 

Cynthia Rylant has written several great series of easy readers. Our favorites are the Mr. Putter & Tabby stories. Not only do these books offer lessons about friendship and kindness, they show children that elderly people can be funny, happy, sad, or lonely too. You will love kind-hearted Mr. Putter and his fine cat Tabby, and smile at his eccentric neighbor Mrs. Teaberry and her crazy dog Zeke.

 

 


We also find Cynthia Rylant’s Poppleton stories funny and enjoyable.

 

 

 

 

For Information


Have a facts-oriented child? Consider the DK Eyewitness Readers. They feature high-quality photos and four different levels of difficulty to choose from, and are available on a multitude of subjects. Most libraries have lots of these!

Good Picture Books about Lent and Easter for Catholic Kids

Thinking about Easter yet? Or concentrating on participating in Lent to the fullest? Here are some wonderful books to assist all ages in entering into these seasons of penitence and rejoicing.


The Story of Easter is a sweet little board book for the smallest children. It ties together spring, new life, and Jesus rising from the dead neatly, stressing that Easter is really about Jesus loving us through his death and resurrection.

 

 

 

 


The Easter Cave tells the Easter story in a simple, rhythmic style inspired by “The House that Jack Built.”

 

 

 

 

 


In The Easter Swallows, children see the Passion and Resurrection through the eyes of two kind little swallows.

 

 

 

 

 


The Legend of the Easter Robin: An Easter Story of Compassion and Faith is a charming story about compassion and trusting God. A little girl learns to trust God through uncertainty as her Grandmother teaches her the legend of the Easter robin.

 

 


There are many great versions of the Stations of the Cross for Children. Here is wonderful one for ages 5-10 from Word Among Us Press: Walking with Jesus to Calvary: Stations of the Cross for Children. For each station, there is a description of what happened, then a personal prayer to encourage the child to speak straight to Jesus.

 

 

 

 


Little Colts Palm Sunday is the perfect story to read on Palm Sunday. The author fancifully imagines Palm Sunday through the eyes of the colt that carried Jesus into Jerusalem.

 

 

 

 


Also perfect to begin on Palm Sunday, The Easter Story Egg is a book and nesting egg. Each day between Palm Sunday and Easter, your family opens an egg and reads the accompanying Bible verses and meditation.

 

 


Looking for the Easter story as recounted in the Gospels? Fiona French’s beautiful book Easter may be the perfect fit. She uses colorful pictures inspired by stained glass windows to bring the Passion and Resurrection to life in a luminous way.

 

 

 

 


Little Rose of Sharon is a poignant story which explores themes about true beauty and self-sacrifice. A vain little rose eventually chooses to give up all her beautiful petals to keep an egg warm, thus imitating the total self-sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

 

 

 

 


In this folktale retold, three trees dream about their future. Each tree finds its dreams achieved, but in a different way than they ever could have expected.The Tale of Three Trees is a lesson in divine providence and self-sacrifice.

 

 

 

 


Rechenka’s Eggs is a story about giving, friendship, and how eggs are a sign of the miracle of new life.

Review of “What Should Danny Do?”


Danny Product Shot

What Should Danny Do? is the first book in the new Power to Choose series by husband and wife team Ganit and Adir Levy.  I love so many things about this book, starting with the fact that “Danny” is inspired by their nephew, the real Danny. Ganit and Adir have four children themselves, and their experience as seasoned parents shows clearly throughout this clever story.

What Should Danny Do? is such a neat concept: a story which engages young readers by offering them choices which change the course of the story. One book with a very basic plot about the ups and downs Danny experiences on one summer day. But kids are fascinated with this book because every few pages, they get to choose what Danny does. And each choice changes the story completely. In essence, this is a story about free will explained in such simple terms a four or five year old gets it.

Danny loves superheroes, so his dad tells him he has a special superpower: the Power to Choose. As he goes through the day, he has many opportunities to use his superpower. Will he yell about not getting his favorite plate or ask politely if he can have it tomorrow? When his brother drops his snow cone, will Danny gulp his own down or choose to share? Your children get to choose for Danny and then flip to the page number corresponding to the choice to see the result.


Danny Book 1 Choice Box

I appreciated how the authors portrayed Danny’s parents. They are proactive and intentional in trying to teach Danny virtue. His Dad makes him a special cape to help him remember his power to choose. At the end of a bad day, they encourage him to think back on how his choices impacted his day. His mom suggests he sets up a lemonade stand to earn his own money to buy a skateboard.

Overall, our whole family loved this creative book. Though probably not intended to be Catholic, I think the concept of teaching young children about their power to choose, or free will, is in essence a very Catholic concept. I would judge this book is best for ages 4-8, though our 2 year old actually enjoys it too.

What Should Danny Do? is currently on sale on Amazon. Click here to check it out!

Review of “If You Give a Moose a Muffin”

I remember enjoying listening to my parents reading If You Give a Mouse a Cookie when I was young. So I bought several of the “If you give…” books by Laura Numeroff sight unseen. I was quite disappointed when I began reading them to my own kids.

I will admit that my little ones were instantly captivated by these books. Something about the short phrases on each page, the simple, sequential story, or the animals’ antics amuses children. However, I reluctantly had to conclude most of this series needed to disappear in the night from our bookshelf.

The original If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is tolerable in my opinion (though not handsome enough to be a favorite for me). The illustrations are not as realistic and beautiful as I might ask in an ideal world, but do have a certain cuteness. The story line is actually helpful in explaining sequences and causes to very little children. And I appreciate how the little boy tries so hard to clean up after the mouse throughout the story. Of course, the deeper theme about desire following desire in a cyclical fashion is way over the intended audience’s head.

I could nitpick about Numeroff’s later books. For example, the illustrations move from cute and calm to sometimes frantic, as in If You Give a Cat a Cupcake Also, does it bother anyone else how though cookies and milk is an American combination, apple juice and donuts just don’t really go together?

But the book that I really take exception to is If You Give a Moose a Muffin.

Look at this moose.

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Observe the sweater. (Or is it a bolero?) Take note of the daisy.

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Notice the stance. This is a moose who carries a clutch purse. This moose is … a girl, right?

But no. “If you give a moose a muffin, HE’LL want some jam to go with it.” (My italics)

So, we have a male moose wearing a girly sweater with a daisy in the pocket, standing like a girl, carrying a clutch. Am I the only one who prefers my milk and cookies, or muffins and jam, unaccompanied by a homosexual or transgender normalizing agenda?

This book did not find a home on our bookshelf.

Good Catholic Books for Catholic Preschoolers and Kindergartners 

Sometimes you want to make sure that you are providing enough specifically Catholic reading for your children. Here are my favorite books for gently beginning to teach the Catholic faith to our children.

For an introduction to the Bible, I like to use Maite Roche’s The Beautiful Story of the Bible. It is a greatly abbreviated and shortened picture Bible which covers some of the major Old Testament stories and the major events of Jesus’ life. I also use The Illustrated Gospel for Children to provide a more detailed account of the Gospel story. My kids are always enthralled by the comic strip style illustrations, which are tastefully executed.

For general Catholic faith formation, I read Little Acts of Grace, and for an introduction to the Ten Commandments, I read Living the 10 Commandments for Children, which has great practical examples to which little children can relate.

For an introduction to Mary and Marian devotions, we read Just Like Mary. I also love reading Take It to the Queen: A Tale of Hope by Josephine Nobisso as an opening to discuss how Mary intercedes for us to God.

For praying the rosary with preschoolers, I find it helpful to use a book with illustrations for each mystery they can examine, and meditations to read if you can with their attention span. Praying the Rosary with Mary is by a contemporary Italian artist and works well. If you prefer more classical art like I do, then try The Rosary in Art for Children, which is written in the first person as from Mary to the child.

We readThe Weight of a Mass: A Tale of Faith>  by Josephine Nobisso to introduce our children to the importance of the Mass. The baker in the story is awakened to the value of a Mass when all the goods in his shop prove to weigh less than a scrap of paper with “1 Mass” scribbled on it.

For more formal information about the Mass, and for learning the basic traditional prayers, we read Manners in God’s House: First Prayers and First Missal. This is a great book for a preschooler to take to church, with illustrations to help them follow along.

For an introduction to the saints, I like Ethel Pochocki’s Once upon a Time Saints. These are stories of less famous saints told in a fairy tale style which interests preschoolers. The lesson to be learned is that the saints were real people with real feelings, just like us.

Another good introduction to the lives of the saints, Saints for Boys: A First Book for Little Catholic Boys and Saints for Girls: A First Book for Little Catholic Girls are beautiful, hard cover books that make great gifts and are a favorite with my five year old. They include short, simple stories and illustrations of the lives of famous saints such as St. Elizabeth of Hungry and St. Dominic Savio.

We also loved Saintly Rhymes for Modern Times, a creative rhyming book that features modern saints such as Maximilian Kolbe, John Paul II, Chiara Badano, and Gianna Molla.

Honorable mention for books about saints should be given to Fr. Lovasik’s series. Picture Book of Saints and its sequels provide biographies and pictures of a large number of saints. Fr. Lovasik also has short paperback books on the rosary, Mass, and many other topics.

For general character formation, Devotional Stories for Little Folks from Catholic Heritage Curricula is wonderful. This book is a collection of short stories with lessons featuring a modern day family, the Peterson’s. There are even discussion questions included!

Aquinas Kids Little Books for Catholic Kids Box Set is an adorable little set of board books with simple text explaining topics like the spiritual works of mercy, corporal works of mercy, angels, and so on.

What Can I Give God?, Will You Bless Me?, and Can God See Me in the Dark? are three charming Catholic books by Neil Lozano which answer common children’s questions about God through simple retellings of parts of the Gospels. The sense of love and closeness emanating from the family in the stories is like a warm blanket wrapping around you and your child as you read.

Before I Was Me is the story of a baby discussing his purpose in life with God, who guides the little one to see his own importance.