You Can’t Catch the Gingerbread Man!

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Every year, we send a reader survey asking how we’re doing and what you like and dislike. This year, to coincide with our new fairy-tale series, Storyland Adventures, we asked for your favourite fairy tale. The plan was to weave it into this new world if any stories came through that we hadn’t already considered. This time round, even before the survey had closed, the clear winner was The Gingerbread Man.

Four years ago when we asked the same question Cinderella won by a long chalk. Meanwhile, that edible rebel, The Gingerbread Man, came fifth. We have some theories on The Gingerbread Man‘s steady rise in popularity and Cinderella’s slow decline. See if you agree.

Why The Gingerbread Man Is So Popular

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Sorry, Cinderella. You’ve been knocked off the top spot! Art by Cathy Delanssay.

  • The Gingerbread Man is often part of the KS1 English curriculum in infant schools. It also works alongside areas such as Design and Technology (baking gingerbread). It’s frequently performed by infants for parents, therefore, it’s a story the whole family knows from an early age.
  • It’s a great gender-neutral story. The Gingerbread Man is more biscuit than man, really. That means there’s no reason for either gender to be put off by the content. Furthermore, there’s no reason for teachers to reject it because it doesn’t appeal widely enough.
  • On the flip side, Cinderella has a strong female cast, which we’ve been told (by parents and teachers) can be off-putting to boys. Some parents and teachers have gone so far as to say that boys will reject the story completely. Though we firmly believe that stories should be and are for everyone, we often encounter adults rejecting female-foscused stories on behalf of boys. This is usually before they have even had chance to read them! This and a rise in gender-neutral stories could be why Cindy has got knocked off her throne.
  • Cinderella‘s fall in popularity also reflects the fact that we now have a more even split between male and female readers. When we first launched Storytime, our readership skewed more strongly towards girls.
  • On top of this, Disney’s live-action revamp of Cinderella has been and gone (2015), so she’s not quite as fresh in everyone’s minds. Though it’s also been a while since we saw Gingy in Shrek, the fact that he’s often part of the curriculum and constantly on sale in supermarket bakeries puts him in a slightly stronger position! (Given his popularity, I wonder why Disney has never done a full-length Gingerbread Man film.)
  • Finally, The Gingerbread Man has many elements that appeal to kids and parents. It’s a short read and is easy to learn off by heart. It’s a simpler story than Cinderella with a catchy refrain and repetition that’s great to read out loud – and join in with. It also features farm animals and has an easily adaptable ending. You can have the fox eating him or have him escape, depending on how much peril your child can stand. (More on this below!) All in all, it’s slightly more accessible for younger children than Cinderella. Plus the Gingerbread Man is a cheeky rebel, and kids love this.

When we run this survey question again in a few years, it will be interesting to see who’s at the top. Will Ginger keep his crown? Will Cinderella stay in the top ten at all?

To round off our thoughts on The Gingerbread Man, we thought we’d share some fascinating facts about the original story.

5 Facts About The Gingerbread Man

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The Gingerbread Man on our Storytime 52 Christmas Issue, with art by Giorgia Broseghini.

1. The Gingerbread Man began life in a different edible form. There are similar folk tales all over the world, starring balls of dough, bread and pancakes. They all predate the first Gingerbread Man story. Perhaps the ginger version became so popular as ‘The Fleeing Pancake’ isn’t very catchy. Why not make up your own version using the local delicacy of your choice?

2. The Gingerbread Man came from America. It seems that it first appeared in print in the popular St Nicholas Magazine in 1875, having been passed down from generation to generation to the writer.

3. Like all good folk tales, it has gone through many changes. In the first US version, the Gingerbread Man ran away from farmhands as well as animals. Plus there was no river to cross – he was just caught by the fox. He also didn’t say his famous “Run, run as fast as you can” taunt. In later versions, he is lured towards the fox when the fox pretends he can’t hear him. Later still, the river crossing is introduced.

4. The original US ending is still the best. Some may find it too dark, but the “Oh dear, I’m quarter gone, half gone, three-quarters gone and all gone!” ending, and “he never spoke again” is something of a welcome surprise in an age of watered-down peril. I’ve seen it acted out by reception age children who grinned from ear to ear performing this part of the story. It’s dramatic and satisfying. After all, the Gingerbread Man is a biscuit baked to be eaten – and you can always bake another one! But not all kids can stomach it. For those, there are many versions where he gets the better of the fox. In Storytime Issue 2, we honoured the original ending (you can get it from our shop).

5. The Gingerbread Man story might never have happened without Queen Elizabeth. Back in the 16th century, Queenie asked the royal baker to rustle up gingerbread biscuits that looked like her guests. This is one of the earliest records of gingerbread men. She wasn’t the only one at it – ladies of the court sometimes ate gingerbread versions of their husbands to bring them luck. It’s also thought that young maidens gave them as gifts to would-be partners, in the hope they would fall in love. Perhaps that’s why the story Gingerbread Man was running away!

 

To all The Gingerbread Man fans out there, we hope you’ve enjoyed seeing Ginger on the front cover of our Christmas issue. He’s the star of our latest Storyland Adventures along with a very special festive character.

This year’s Storytime survey has shown a notable shift in fairy-tale favourites in a remarkably short space of time. We can’t wait to see how it changes again in the future.

 

For now, all this talk of gingerbread men has made me hungry, so I’m off to catch one!

 

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Gingerbread Man working hard in his bakery in Storytime 52. Art by Giorgia Broseghini.