Grimm fairy tales are not for kids

Professional storyteller Priscilla Howe tells Brother Grimm fairy tales with a twist


Valeria Ortiz

The Seward County Community College library and Humanities Kansas sponsored a Lunch In the Library event on Oct. 16. Professional story teller Priscilla Howe was invited to tell Brothers Grimm tales. These tales are not the fairy tales you see on the screen, but they were originally written with gore and unexpected twists.

William Swanson, Reporter

The smell of hot, scrumptious pizza wafted through the air as college and high school students crowded around the library at Seward County Community College. They listened to guest speaker Priscilla Howe on Oct. 16 as she told Brothers Grimm fairy tales. 

As part of the Lunch in the Library series, Howe told four tales: “Juniper Tree,” “Cat and the Mouse,” “The Butter,” “Nixie in the Millpond,” and “The Feather bird.” She gave facts about the Brothers Grimm and how the tales they collected changed over time. The stories were not the fairytale often learned as a child but closer to the original—complete with gore and sordid twists.

“Through the years, storytellers like Disney have made these tales sweet and more children’s tales,” Howe told the audience. “The original tales were a lot more gruesome.”

Being a children’s librarian naturally lead me to read books to kids and story telling.

— Priscilla Howe

The tale of the “Juniper Tree” immediately accented Howe’s point. While this story painted the picture of a wicked stepmother, she was more so than usual. She cut off the head of her stepson, blamed her daughter and then put him in a soup. At the end of the tale, the stepson triumphed and came back to life.

As most squirmed in their seats from the unexpected gore of the story, Howe smiled and asked the audience if they’d like to hear another story? There was no hesitation from the crowd. They applauded and scooted forward to hear more.

Howe, who has been doing this for 26 years, wasn’t always a professional storyteller. Originally, she was an academic librarian at the University of Kansas.

“That wasn’t for me. I realized I’m not an academic and that I wanted to be a children’s librarian. Being a children’s librarian naturally led me to read books to kids and story telling,” Howe said.

While she was a children’s librarian, her colleagues invited her to tell stories to children at a local school. Although she was hesitant, she agreed to it.

“I told a story at that school and the kids really liked it. I was like whoa, this is really cool. I want to do more of this. So that was it-I was hooked,” Howe said.

She said it’s important to bring such activities to kids for their development when it comes to their reading and storytelling skills.


“We are storytelling animals by nature, and for kids [telling stories] leads to a bunch of pre-reading skills like sequence and structure. They also learn how to predict. I start to tell a story and they know where it’s going to go and they’ll yell it out. Adults don’t do that so much, thankfully,” Howe said.

Howe hasn’t just been traveling around the U.S. telling her stories to kids and adults, she’s been to four different continents over her career. She is planning a visit to China for the second time.

“I’m going to be telling stories to kids who are learning English. That’s mostly what I do when I go to other countries. I don’t speak any Chinese, but for this trip in specific, I’m going to be doing stories for preschoolers. Then, I’m going to be teaching preschool teachers how to tell the stories. That’s what I’ve done all over for kids from pre-k to high school. I’ve done that all over Latin America, Europe, Asia and the U.S.,” Howe said.

Although Howe’s been doing this for so long, she doesn’t plan on giving it up anytime soon.

“I’ve been doing it full time for 26 years. This is all I do,” she said. “I plan on doing this until they drag me out feet first.”

Howe’s presentation on “Grim for Grownups” was sponsored by the SCCC library and Humanities Kansas.