Yesterday at work, some children were unkind to another child with the standard ‘ I don’t want to be your friend’ line, which is hurtful. A standard adult response is ‘We are all friends here’ but we know this to be untrue. However, ‘We all try to be friendly here’ rings a truer bell and can be followed through with more success. After this conversation, a student and I looked through a great basket of books labelled ‘Friendship and feelings’ which was on the centre shelf. We found a few good ones and I wondered about telling the story of ‘The Ugly Duckling’, and said I would do it as a prop supported story the next day.
When I got home, I had second thoughts because the original is hugely long. Then I read a comment about it from wikipedia which made me wonder if it were an appropriate story after all.
Bruno Bettelheim observes in The Uses of Enchantment that the Ugly Duckling is not confronted with the tasks, tests, or trials of the typical fairy tale hero. “No need to accomplish anything is expressed in “The Ugly Duckling”. Things are simply fated and unfold accordingly, whether or not the hero takes some action.” In conjunction with Bettelheim’s assessment, Maria Tatar notes in ’’The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen’’ that Andersen suggests the Ugly Duckling‘s superiority resides in the fact that he is of a breed different from the barnyard rabble, and that dignity and worth, moral and aesthetic superiority are determined by nature rather than accomplishment. Not cool.
A third reservation arose when I thought about the word ‘ugly’. This word does not appear to be in the vocabulary of most four and five year olds wherever I have worked, and I certainly don’t want to be responsible for introducing such an insidious and cruel form of unkindness. So even the title had to be changed to ‘The Grey duckling’.. (more…)