Being tucked safely into bed and having mom read before sleeping was a treasured evening ritual which set a foundation for a love of books and storey telling. Like most small children I was introduced to fairy tales, which were spell-binding and significant for both known and unknown reasons at many levels. A favorite was Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Reflecting on this tale, it first appears to be simple. Upon pondering, the fairy tale becomes complex and meaningful memories emerge.
To a very small child, a little girl explores a bear‘s family’s home. She discovers three bowls of porridge on the table. Poppa bear’s porridge is too hot, Momma bear’s porridge is too cold, and baby bear’s porridge “is just right”. She eats all of baby bear’s porridge. Goldilocks finds three chairs in the living room. She sits in each chair and discovers that Poppa bear’s chair is too hard, Momma bear’s chair is too soft, and baby bear’s chair “is just right”. She enjoys sitting in this comfortable chair and the chair breaks. She sees three beds in the bedroom. Lying down on Papa bear’s bed, she learns it is too hard. She tries Mommy bear’s bed which is too soft. Finally, trying baby bear’s bed Goldilocks quickly learns that it “is just right”. Goldie Locks falls asleep.
The three bears return. Poppa bear says, “Someone has been eating my porridge.” Momma bear states, “Someone has been eating my porridge.” Baby bear declares, “Someone has been eating my porridge and ate it all up!” They check the living room. Papa bear utters “Someone has been sitting in my chair” followed by Mamma bear’s commenting, “Someone has been sitting in my chair.” Baby bear cries out, “Someone has been sitting in my chair and it’s all broken!” The three bears check the bedroom. Poppa bear observes that someone has been sleeping in his bed as does Momma bear. Baby bear shouts, “Someone has been sleeping in my bed and there she is!”. At this point Goldilocks awakens, sees the bears, and runs out of the house.
To the very young child, the story conveys an adventuresome child exploring, discovering that while there are adult things which are not “just right” for children, there are things that are “just right” for a child. She also learns that she ventured into a place that is not safe or where she is afraid and manages to escape. The reader is left to complete the story.
At times, this story was read with no discussion. When older, reading would be interrupted by questions such as, “Why was Goldilocks in the woods by herself? Where were the adults to keep her safe? Why would the bears leave their home for a walk with breakfast on the table? Why are bears living in a house?…they live in dens”. The story led to wonderful discussions. With maturity and a deep love of children’s books, this and other fairy tales and hundreds of other books were read to younger siblings, to children when babysitting and to children in child care. The fascination of the tales sometime conveyed meanings not discussed and sometimes included significant conversations.
Reflecting upon this specific fairy tale, it seems that the declaration, “It is just right” by Goldilocks may have been an early awareness of, and commitment to, children’s needs being different from those of adults, that an environment appropriate for children is a right. A vivid memory of saying I had another ending to the story occurs. The new ending proposed was that rather than running away, Goldilocks and the three bears became friends and she would visit them. This reflects my commitment to understanding and respecting other beings, including animals.
Using literature to convey morals, safety, and openness to inquiry are powerful realms of conveying important ideas and opening dialogue. Sometimes the story in and of itself is enough. Pondering the long-term impact of children’s literature (and this story in particular) underscores the value of reading books and storytelling to children – even in this technology-driven culture – perhaps especially in this culture. Those of us who work with and for children might enjoy and benefit from reflecting upon books which had an impact and how that impact provided a foundation for some of our professional beliefs and priorities. It can be a fascinating journey. The reader is invited to make his or her own reflective journeys in remembering books that were enjoyed as children.
Carol S. Kelly is Professor Emerita at the Department of Child and Adolescent Development at the California State University, Northridge, and is a representative of FICE-USA to FICE-International.