Best traditional tales books for kids
Whether you like your fairy stories traditional or twisted, retold for modern readers or classic, the perfect length for bedtime reading or in book form, our selection is packed with great options. Introduce your primary-school child to some tales as old as time – and fall in love with some new favourites, too.
We all have our favourite traditional tales, and every culture has its own classics. This collection of 17 beautifully illustrated stories from around the world includes stories you'll be very familiar with (The Boy who Cried Wolf, The Gingerbread Man and The Little Red Hen) as well as ones that aren't so well known (Tam Lin, Baba Yaga and The Fisherman and the Genie). The short format and colour pictures make these tales of giants and genies, witches and fairies an excellent bedtime reading choice.
Mixed Up Fairy Tales by Hilary Robinson and Nick Sharratt(£7.99, Hodder Children's Books)
Construct your own silly "traditional" tales with this interactive, split-page spiral book (there are 1728 possible combinations, so the whole family can have a go!). What would happen if Goldilocks grew her hair long before falling asleep for a hundred years? Would she be woken by a hungry wolf or the Frog Prince? This 100,000 copy bestseller has been followed up by a sequel, Favourite Mixed Up Fairy Tales, if you want to make even more laugh-out-loud combinations.
The Jolly Postman by Allan Ahlberg & Janet Ahlberg(£12.99, Puffin)
Once upon a bicycle, so they say
The Jolly Postman came one day...
A charming, clever read that's as much fun for grown-ups as it is for kids! The Jolly Postman delivers letters to fairy-tale characters, and you can open envelopes and check in cards to see them for yourself. There's a letter of apology from naughty Goldilocks, a postcard for the giant from Jack, an invitation, a birthday card and a solicitor's letter (to the granny-devouring wolf, from Little Red Riding-Hood!). A classic you'll look through again and again.
Girls save the day with courage and strength in this collection of stories from around the world. Meet Gretel and Hansel (Germany), Tamasha and the Troll (Zanzibar), Tokoyo and the Sea Serpent (Japan), Chandra and the Elephants (India), Sea Girl and the Golden Key (China) and The Snow Queen (Denmark). Vibrant, striking illustrations complete each story.
Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl(£7.99, Puffin)
Irreverent, gruesome and very, very funny, Revolting Rhymes is a Roald Dahl classic (Be warned: It's no ordinary Once upon a time). You'll never read a fairy tale the same way after you'll hear about Cindy whose heart was torn to shreds, Goldilocks (a nasty thieving little louse) and Miss Riding Hood, proud owner of a "lovely furry wolfskin coat"... In this edition all Quentin Blake's iconic illustrations are reproduced in full colour.
Once Upon a Wild Wood by Chris Riddell(£12.99, Macmillan Children's Books)
An affectionate, playful, funny fairy tale mash-up from celebrated author and illustrator Chris Riddell, perfect picture book reading for traditional tale lovers. Little Green Cape meets lots of familiar characters on her way to a Wild Wood party – and helps them overcome a number of familiar challenges! Packed with details to discover, this is a book to pore over and savour.
The Once Upon a Time Map Book by B G Hennessy and Peter Joyce(£5.99, Candlewick Press)
A vital book for navigating in the land of traditional tales: explore Aladdin's kingdom, the Giant's lair at the top of Jack's beanstalk, Neverland and Oz, Snow White's Enchanted Forest and more. On each fold-out map there's a compass, quadrants with letters and numbers and a key with local routes so you'll be able to find your way through the story.
Grimm Tales: For Young and Old by Philip Pullman(£9.99, Penguin)
Every home should have a book of classic traditional tales; for this collection, award-winning Northern Lights author Philip Pullman has chosen his fifty favourite stories from the Brothers Grimm and retold them for a modern audience. Classics like 'Rapunzel', 'Snow White' and 'Cinderella' are accompanied by lesser-known tales such as 'The Three Snake Leaves', 'Hans-my-Hedgehog' and 'Godfather Death', with expert commentary on each story's background and history.
The Fairytale Hairdresser and Cinderella by Abie Longstaff(£6.99, Picture Corgi)
There's no better hairdresser than Kittie Lacey in all of Fairyland – no tangle is too troublesome for her, and no frizz too fearsome! The "further adventures" of favourite traditional characters in the Fairytale Hairdresser picture book series will be loved by young readers who appreciate the play on the original stories, as well as the charming, glittery illustrations (to be examined carefully to find all the references and details!).
Fairy Tale Play: A pop-up storytelling book by Julia Spiers(£16.99, Laurence King Publishing)
A miniature theatre in easy-to-store book format, this intricate pop-up play book offers four traditional tale scenes (from The Little Mermaid, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Ali-Baba and the Forty Thieves) and the stories that are set in them, to read and act out. A hands-on way to direct the fairy tale narrative your own way!
Hansel and Gretel: An Interactive Fairy Tale Adventure by Matt Doeden(£5.46, Capstone Press)
How would you like to see Hansel and Gretel's story end? Here's your chance to decide with an interactive, choose-your-own-adventure-style version of the classic tale! If you enjoy being the storyteller there's a whole series of Interactive Fairy Tales, so you can choose how Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel and Jack (of Beanstalk fame), among other well-known chracters, live their story.
The Restless Girls by Jessie Burton(£14.99, Bloomsbury Children's Books)
A fierce, feminist and bold retelling of the traditional tale of the 12 dancing princesses from best-selling author Jessie Burton (The Miniaturist); inspire your child with a story of strong women who use their imaginations and ingenuity to live life to the full and be truly free.
#Goldilocks: A Hashtag Cautionary Tale by Jeanne Willis(Free, Vodafone)
"There was a girl with golden hair who used her mobile phone to share her photos and her videos; no harm in that, you might suppose."
So begins the story of 21st-century Goldilocks – laugh-out-loud funny, beautifully illustrated and incredibly relevant to today's children. Produced by Vodafone Digital Parenting, #Goldilocks: A Hashtag Cautionary Tale is available to download for free. A brilliant way to communicate an important e-safety message with age-appropriate humour, this will resonate with parents and children alike.
Power to the Princess: 15 Favourite Fairytales Retold with Girl Power by Vita Murrow(£12.99, Lincoln Children's Books)
What if princesses didn’t marry a prince and live happily ever after? This girl power anthology collects 15 favourite fairytales, retold for a new generation and starring princesses are smart, funny and kind. Themes including self-image, confidence, LGBTQ rights, friendship and disability are covered in stories which highlight the actions of true heroines who try to help others, are open to learning new things and look for ways to add meaning and purpose to their life.
If you love stories about princesses who are bold, true to themselves and determined to live a life of adventure and purpose, Eight Princesses and a Magic Mirror by Natasha Farrant also features feminist princess tales.
The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson(£6.99, Usborne Publishing)
The House with Chicken Legs is a magical modern reimagining of the Eastern European folk tale of Baba Yaga. Twelve-year-old Marinka faces a lonely destiny as a guardian of The Gate between the living and the land of the stars. The only people she meets are dead and they disappear when her grandmother Baba Yaga guides them, with warmth and kindness, in a nightly ceremony, acting as a kind of midwife of death. She dreams of a normal life and making friends, but her house has chicken legs and is always on the move...
The Little Mermaid by Geraldine McCaughrean(£12.99, Orchard)
Author Geraldine McCaughrean and illustrator Laura Barrett bring Hans Christian Andersen's classic stories, loved by children for more than 150 years, to a new generation with beautiful silhouette artwork and wonderful storytelling. Both The Little Mermaid and The Snow Queen will be reread, pored over and become bedtime-story favourites.
Future Fairy Tales: Reading Beauty by Deborah Underwood(£12.99, Abrams & Chronicle)
Fantastic, futuristic fairy tale retellings (Interstellar Cinderella is also available) will charm young readers with brave heroines, star-studded settings and heart-warming happy endings. When a fairy's curse – a death-like sleep via paper cut! – threatens to banish stories from her kingdom, it's up to space princess Lex to break the spell and bring books and reading back to her people.