Einstein on Fairy Tales

When I taught fourth grade, I assigned my students a nonfiction book report.  To my surprise, one little girl did her report on Cinderella.  When I told her Cinderella was fiction, she protested, “But I found it in the nonfiction section of the library!”

Intrigued, I asked the school librarian.  “Yes,” she informed me, “fairy tales are shelved in nonfiction!”  I was incredulous.  She went on, “Since they were passed down orally, we don’t know they aren’t true.”  I’d been outsmarted by my student!

According to Albert Einstein, that little girl may have grown up to be a great scientist.  There is a story about a woman asking Einstein what she could do to help her son grow up to be like him.  “Read him fairy tales,” Einstein answered.   The woman assumed he didn’t understand.  She explained that she wanted her child to be a very intelligent scientist.  Einstein responded, “Read him more fairy tales.”

There you have it—permission from a genius to read your child the fun stuff!   Who knew?  Einstein championed a children’s book world!

I’ve been asking myself what might have prompted Einstein’s answer to that parent.  Could it be that his own mother read him fairy tales?  In theory, if it worked for him, it could work for another child?  I don’t know. 

I think the largest reason for his answer is that he believed there is more to this world than people can see and touch.  Fairy tales teach children to imagine, to think outside of the assumptions of this world, to believe in the impossible!  Didn’t Einstein have to do just that to develop theories about time travel, about atoms, about theoretical physics?  Boundless thinking is key–from Cinderella to the theory of relativity!

Let’s pull out all our favorite fairy tales to share with our kiddos!  If you’d like a suggestion for a place to start, my boys and I are enchanted by Paul O. Zelinsky’s versions of Rumpelstiltskin and Rapunzel.  Cynthia Rylant wrote a beautiful retelling of Cinderella, and Alison Jay’s The Twelve Dancing Princesses is dreamlike.  If you have very young children, start with Mary Engelbreit’s Nursery and Fairy Tales Collection.  She smooths over the really scary parts.

P.S.  I have come to love the fact that fairy tales are shelved in NONfiction.  It lends so much hope to the world! 🙂





2 thoughts on “Einstein on Fairy Tales

  1. Dear Carol, thank you for sharing this wonderful Story with us. If Einstein took his inspiration from fairy tales, so us. Yes, there are so much things to discover in this world, things that only imagination can show to us.

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