History has left us with a wealth of stories that are valuable and entertaining to kids and adults alike. In the past, people looked to folk tales, fairy tales, and myths for guidance when facing trials and moral choices. Today, these stories can still help to guide children, who aspire to emulate the goodness found in the heroes and heroines in the tales they hear or read about.
Below, I’ve listed some books that I would recommend for kids.
‘The Story of King Arthur & His Knights’ by Howard Pyle
The legend of King Arthur is filled with tales of magic, bravery, loyalty, and honor. Good and evil are shown in stark contrast, and characters face tests and temptations that demonstrate their inner character. The full story of King Arthur is quite the undertaking to read, but a version by author Howard Pyle, “The Story of King Arthur & His Knights,” offers a retelling of the legend that is perfect for kids.
‘The Adventures of Odysseus and the Tale of Troy’ by Padraic Colum
The battle of Troy is among the best known of the ancient world. The story begins with Helen, the queen of Sparta, being taken by the Trojan prince Paris, and tells the story of the hero Achilles, of the Trojan Horse, and of vengeance, betrayal, and the fall of a kingdom. This story then leads to “The Odyssey,” where the ship of the hero, Odysseus, is blown off course into many adventures of magic, monsters, and otherworldly trials. This version for kids, “The Adventures of Odysseus and The Tale of Troy,” includes both stories, and is written by the famed author Padraic Colum.
‘The Golden Fleece: And the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles’ by Padraic Colum
The ancient Greek myth of the Golden Fleece tells of Jason and his group of Argonauts—the greatest warriors of the time—as they set out on a quest to find the legendary fleece of the gold-haired winged ram. The story includes Hercules and the famed poet Orpheus, encounters with mythological creatures from sirens to sea serpents, and is filled with wonders and adventure.
Some of the greatest tales about morals and virtues are found in ancient Chinese literature, and are unfortunately not well-known in the West. This collection of stories pulls from China’s 5,000 years of history and includes a selection of short stories that illustrate the virtues of filial piety, the causes and effects of good and evil, and tales of people who took efforts to refine their character.
Many people today may be familiar with sayings such as “Slow and steady wins the race,” “Do not believe everything you hear,” or “It is better to yield than to come to misfortune through stubbornness.” All of these sayings actually date back from around 2,500 years ago, from a Greek slave and hunchback by the name of Aesop, who through wisdom and good counsel obtained his freedom and rose to become an adviser to kings. His stories are collected in his famed “Aesop’s Fables.”
The original story of The Little Mermaid was about self-sacrifice, the ability to endure hardship, and the hope for an immortal soul. The actual story is unfortunately not as well-known as the version in popular culture, yet it can be found alongside many classics with good values and deep lessons from its author, Hans Christian Andersen. We recommend his full set of stories, found in “Hans Christian Andersen’s Complete Fairy Tales.”
Many kids and adults alike may be familiar with legendary Norse gods such as Thor, Loki, and Odin, but their knowledge of these figures is often based on popular culture, rather than the stories and legends of bravery, adventure, self-sacrifice, valor, and tragedy. They tell of Baldur, the most beloved of the Norse gods, of the creation of Valhalla as a heaven for warriors, and of the last battle of Ragnarok. This version from 1902 has a simplified retelling of the legends, perfect for young readers.
The Russians didn’t hesitate to show the contrast between good and evil in their stories, such as those about the witch Baba Yaga, who traveled in a cauldron and lived in a house on chicken legs. Heroes undergo tests of character; ultimately evil is punished and good rewarded. The Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library has a large collection of these stories (672 pages!) in its “Russian Fairy Tales.”
The folk tales from Sweden are filled with wonder, and are dark at times, but usually not without purpose. Many stories are about trolls, and there are others about gnomes, elves, changelings, and other fantastic creatures. “Swedish Folk Tales,” translated by Holger Lundburgh, brings together 29 of these stories, and features the unique art of John Bauer.
The Greek myths are filled with stories about moral choices, facing fears, love, adventure, and overcoming hardships. In this collection of 15 Greek myths from the Classic Starts Series for kids, we follow Theseus as he faces the fearsome Minotaur in its maze, learn about Icarus as he fails to obey his father, we learn of Pandora’s box and how troubles and hope entered the world, and many others. For those looking for a more complete collection of Greek mythology, we recommend “Gods and Heroes of Ancient Greece” from the Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library, but this version is a great place to start for kids.
‘The Tuttle Twins and the Golden Rule’ by Connor Boyack
The “Golden Rule” is one of the foundations of moral values in western society, teaching the principle that we should treat others as we would like them to treat us. Author Connor Boyack illustrates this in “The Tuttle Twins and the Golden Rule,” part of his series of books exploring concepts of morality, economics, and good governance.
In the first book of the Tintin series, Hergé sends his famed cartoon character to the Soviet Union, where Tintin witnesses the disinformation, deception, and human rights abuses of communism. The book illustrates very real issues in a way that kids can understand, as Tintin demonstrates courage and upholds justice while facing the wrongs he encounters. The full Tintin series is a pleasure to read, but we highly recommend the first of the graphic novels, “Tintin in the Land of the Soviets.”
Joshua Philipp is a senior investigative reporter at The Epoch Times.