Chapter 1 – Finding Your Story

Exercise 1 

Exploring Pictures

Step One—Find Your Pictures

Now that we’ve had a look at what fairy tales are, let’s begin to explore what fairy tales are to you.

Some form of wonder has brought you here, some interest in fairy tales. Or perhaps you were just drawn to an image from a fairy tale. So let’s start with a question:

What is the picture that comes to mind when you think of fairy tales?

WRITE just one line that expresses what you see going on in the picture. Start your line with the words, “I see…”

For example,

“I see Rapunzel leaning out her tower window.”

Does another picture come to mind? Or perhaps several?

WRITE a line for each picture that comes to mind.

 For example,

“I see the tin soldier flying down the gutter on his paper boat.”

“I see Hansel and Gretel tiptoeing to the witch’s candy house.”

“I see the little match girl striking a match in the dark.”

You may not know where a picture comes from. You might just get an image, a “mirror flashing in the dark,” or a “king wandering in a dark wood.” That’s fine too.

My Example of a Picture

Here’s my picture:

I see Jack in Jack and the Beanstalk. His hands are full of shining beans.


Step Two—Choose a Picture

CHOOSE a single picture to focus on.

LOOK more closely at it. What else do you notice going on in the picture? You don’t need to know the story at this point, just use your imagination to see into the picture.

WRITE down every detail that comes to mind.

SKETCH the picture out if you want.

My Example of a More Detailed Picture

I notice that the beans in Jack’s hands are different colors and sizes, and they’re lit from within in a very unusual way.

I notice that Jack is not very old—maybe about nine.

When I step back to see more in the picture, I notice a few other things.

Jack is standing in the butcher shop.

I see the butcher with his bloodstained apron. The butcher has just given Jack the beans.butcher

Step Three—Find the Story

Now that you’ve brought your picture to light, go and FIND the story that your picture comes from.

Hint: Fairy tales are pretty easy to access. Most of the classic ones are on the Internet, and libraries have large collections. If you don’t know the story to which your image is connected, use the WonderLit Story Finder. Search for key words. For example, “lost king,” or “mirror.”

When you find the story that contains your picture, READ it from beginning to end.

After you’ve read the story, WRITE down other things that you’ve discovered are going on in the picture.

What I Discovered about Jack and the Beanstalk

I found my picture of Jack in a Scottish version of Jack and the Beanstalk, written in 1820.

I read the story and learned all sorts of interesting details about Jack and his circumstances. He’s in a butcher shop, alright, but there’s a whole lot more going on!

The butcher won’t take the cow. He tells Jack that she’s too lean, and he scolds Jack for mistreating her. The language is pretty extreme.

Butcher with cow in window

“Your cow, you young prodigal dog! is worth nothing; you have starved her until she would disgrace the shambles; and, as to milk, no wonder that you and your mother have been starving while you were depending upon that supply. One ill turn deserves another, and receives it just as surely as one good turn deserves another!”

When the nasty butcher finally deigns to give Jack the beans, he does so saying, “They’re the oddest I ever saw, not one of them being, either in color or shape, like another.”


on Exploring Pictures

What do you know now that you didn’t know before?

When you have read the story and you have fleshed out what is going on in the scene, there are often surprises. What we imagine is happening in a picture may not be what is actually happening in the story.

For example, I always assumed that Rapunzel was crying for help from her tower window. But when I read the story, I discovered that she wasn’t crying—she was singing! That completely shifted my image of Rapunzel.

There are also emotional depths in the picture that will come out when you have read the whole story. You will know what led up to the moment that is depicted in your picture, which in turn will make the scene more meaningful.

Take a few moments to reflect on your scene. What do you now know that you didn’t know before? How do you feel about it?

What I Now Know About Jack

It seems very unfair that Jack gets so much scolding. He doesn’t seem to be at fault in any particular way. And the scolding is quite abusive. First his mother puts him down for being lazy and worthless. Then the butcher scolds him for mistreating the cow. Even the narrator has a scolding tone. Poor Jack! My heart goes out to him.