The Power of Once Upon A Time

storytime magazine, stories for kids, fairy tales, once upon a time, early readers, reading for pleasureEarlier this week, I was getting all excited about our new Storytime issue (with stunning Sleeping Beauty artwork by Alessandra Fusi, above), when I stumbled upon a random social media comment that ruffled my editor feathers. “Sick of stories that begin with ‘Once upon a time?'” it said, and it went on to suggest how clichéd it was as a story opener.

Sorry, but I can’t agree. A phrase as loaded with promise as “Once upon a time” doesn’t deserve to be in the same sentence as the armchair critic’s favourite word: cliché. Yes, perhaps it is sometimes used without much consideration, but here’s what those four emotive words – “Once upon a time” – have come to mean to me, and I think, to many young readers too:


  • Excitement and anticipation – They tell you that magic and adventure lie ahead. And going back to the post I wrote on repetition, the more children hear or read “Once upon a time”, the more they come to associate it with great stories and reading for pleasure.
  • Comfort and reassurance – The story will be warmly familiar. It’s predictable in a positive way.
  • Being transported – There’s no need to question the reality of the story; you know you’re going to a place when or where anything is possible.
  • A sense of wonder – Disbelief placed firmly aside, you’re open to and appreciative of a fictional world of possibilities.


Once Upon A Time Magic

When we launched Storytime magazine, I made a conscious decision to begin every Favourite Fairy Tale with four potent words: Once upon a time.

As much fun as it is to be clever and kick off every story with an original or creative opening, I believe that “Once upon a time” are words worth honouring and passing down the generations. They deliver a special magic to children everywhere – the familiar and the fantastic – and this is no mean feat. So, when it comes to overused words in children’s literature, I think “Once upon a time” should earn a special dispensation – a free pass to the world of fairy tales!

And instead of casting it as the bad guy of story openers, we should be acknowledging it at home and in the classroom. Rather than telling kids (or adults, for that matter) that they aren’t allowed to use it, we should be saying, “Once upon a time is a brilliant way to start a story, but perhaps you could try something different today?”


10 Fun Fairy Tale Openers

On that note, I’ve pulled together 10 fun and creative alternatives, gathered along the way during hours of fairy and folk tale research. Hope these inspire you!

1. Once upon a daydream

2. Once upon a time and a time before that

3. Once upon a time – not yours or mine

4. Once upon a time and twice upon a time and all the times I can remember

5. Back when the world was full of wonder

6. Back in the days when pigs could fly

7. Long ago and far away

8. So long ago that no one remembers when

9. A long time ago or perhaps it was just last week

10. Before the world was round

You can download and print out some more familiar fairy-tale openers from our new, free Teaching Resources page to stick on your classroom wall. You’ll find them in our Fairy Tale Classroom Deco Pack, along with Once Upon A Time bunting, bookmarks, and lots of setting and character prints. Plus we have a whole pack of Fairy Tale Lesson Ideas too. We hope you find them useful!

Issue 20’s Sleeping Beauty, like all our fairy tales, begins with “Once upon a time” and so it shall be for evermore. Hope you enjoy this new issue! It’s packed with great stories for kids.

Until next time!