We’re quite vocal about our belief that all reading is good reading. When it comes to getting children reading for pleasure, there’s no such thing as fact versus fiction. We think fiction is a wonderful thing, of course – we make a whole monthly magazine out of it. Equally, non-fiction is a factual and edifying feast for brains young and old. But what really interested us this month is where fact meets fiction. Our Storytime Issue 26 folk tale, The Green Children of Woolpit, is a fine example of this.
This is a folk tale that has survived for over eight centuries. Scrappy historical records ‘prove’ the sudden appearance of strange green children in Suffolk. It has just enough evidence and eccentricity in it to feel true and, most tantalisingly of all, it remains an unsolved mystery. (Though the general consensus is that the children were speaking Flemish and earned their green tinge through eating a poor diet.)
The real pot of gold in this story, as in all folk tales or legends that carry a grain of truth, is being able to tell the story and then surprise your listener with the fact that it might be true. This is where you’ll witness the power of fact meets fiction – wide eyes, gawping mouths and stacks of questions. Kids love ‘true’ stories more than you realise – the idea that the impossible could be feasible is hugely appealing.
Putting realism before fantasy
In fact, psychologists from Yale and Oklahoma Universities in the USA conducted a study testing whether a group of adults and children aged 4 to 7 preferred stories with magical, make-believe content or stories based on real people, facts or events. You might be surprised to hear that kids largely went for the stories based on reality, and it was the adults who preferred fantasy.
Why is that? It could be that young, inquiring minds prefer stories with an element of truth because they’re eager to learn more about the world around them. Or perhaps they respond better to something they can relate to. It might be that they are already exposed to so much imaginary play with toys and friends, and make-believe characters in films, that truer stories make a welcome change.
Introducing fact meets fiction
Offering stories with some realism could be as simple as choosing bedtime reads that feature kids your children can connect with (there’s more of this type of story coming in Storytime from early next year), reading child-friendly biographies or, as in The Green Children of Woolpit (who were just ordinary kids who got lost and happened to be green), it can come from folk tales and legends based on real people or historical facts.
When you think about it, isn’t it more thought provoking and inspiring for a child to discover that the hero or heroine in a story was or is a real person rather than hearing that the invisible man/flying superhero/mega-robot boy doesn’t exist – and probably never will?
We are by no means discrediting the crucial role fiction plays in the development of imagination and childhood literacy (we make Storytime, after all). We’re merely championing the power of fact meets fiction in stories – and recommending it as part of your bedtime story mix. We know we’ll be considering it a lot more when we plan Storytime in future.
Fact meets fiction stories to try
For now, here are some more fact meets fiction stories we think you’ll enjoy.
1. Saint George and the Dragon – The dragon was almost certainly a metaphor, but many believe that Saint George was real. He was a brave soldier born in Turkey or Palestine who fought in the Roman army and challenged the emperor when he refused to give up his Christian beliefs. (Read it in Storytime Issue 2
2. King Arthur – There’s still a lot of debate among historians about whether this legendary ruler existed. Many are convinced that there was a brave Arthur. Whether he was a king or not is unsure. Believing that he existed certainly makes the stories more enjoyable for children. (See The Sword in the Stone in Storytime Issue 13 and look out for The Lady of the Lake in Storytime Issue 28.)
3. King Midas – There really was a King Midas who ruled over part of Turkey (then called Phrygia) in the late 8th century BC. There may even have been three of them. It’s doubtful that he could turn things to gold, but he was wealthy and good at trading with Greece. Perhaps this is where the myth came from? (See The Midas Touch in Storytime Issue 8.)
There are also lovely truths and histories hidden behind our Lucky Pedlar story from Storytime Issue 2. As well as the Mermaid of Zennor from Issue 4, the Wise Folk of Gotham in Issue 18 and our Saint Nicholas story in Storytime Issue 27.
When fact meets fiction, it adds another layer of richness to a story, and kids are smart enough to spot that.
More soon and happy reading!