Einstein Recommends

by | Mar 15, 2024 | Articles

There once was a story told of a woman who dreamed of her child growing into a renowned scientist. She approached Einstein and asked him, “What should I do to increase the intelligence of my child?” Einstein hesitated, and then responded quite simply, “Read him fairy tales.” The woman thinking him to be facetious laughed and said, “Very well, suppose I have read him fairy tales. Then what?” And in quick reply Einstein responded, “Read him more fairy tales.”

What value could these seemingly silly, even bizarre, tales have in our children’s lives? Einstein understood the power of fairy tales. Fairy tales are filled with imagination and problem solving. Imagination and problem solving are the basis for every scientific theory or discovery ever made.

Fairy tales help children think about possibilities that are beyond their own experiences. The prince trapped in the body of a frog requires an enormous leap of imagination. A child’s experience will inform him as to what a frog looks like, possibly feels like, how it moves and where it lives, but a child cannot know from experience what it is like to live inside the body of an amphibian.

Fairy tales encourage children to think about solutions to problems that they have never before encountered. How can the Three Little Pigs build a house safe enough to withstand the gale-force “puffs” of the big bad wolf?  How can Hansel and Gretel survive the dangerous but near-sighted wicked witch? How can Rapunzel escape from the top of that tall, unreachable tower? Fairy tales stimulate children to apply logic to situations that are brand new.

The influence of fairy tales has been felt worldwide for generations. The Grimm brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm, were linguists by profession rather than storytellers. Their compilation of Grimm’s Fairy Tales in the 1800’s was part of their research to study a principle they called “Grimm’s Law.” This “law” asserted that sounds in one language correspond to specific, consistent sounds in other languages. Their work was based on the realization that fairy tales are pervasive in all countries throughout the world. The story of Cinderella, for instance, has a least 700 variations. The earliest written version of Cinderella is the Chinese tale of Yeh-hsien, dating back to the ninth century.

The fairy tales we share with children, however, are not limited to stories collected by the Grimm brothers. The stories we share with children should be ones we’ve critically considered — ones that resonate more fully with varied cultures and belief systems and demonstrate values we care about like gender equity.

Interested in tales that originate from non-Eurocentric storytellers?

Neem the Half-Boy by Idries Shah is an Afghan tale about a prince who is born a half-boy. The story is spun with a cast of characters that include a queen, a wise man, a dragon, fairies and, of course Prince Neem who longs to become whole.

The Girl and the Wolf by Katherena Vermette and Julie Flett is an Indigenous tale that features the wolf as a central character. But in this story the wolf is not big and bad. Instead, the wolf is mystical, and poses questions that help a lost girl find answers and truths within herself that guide her home.

Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas by Natasha Yim and Grace Zong is a modern retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears in which Goldy Luck and the three pandas are getting ready to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

Throughout the centuries and around the globe, fairy tales have been extremely influential. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was only possible because he could blend logic, problem solving and imagination to understand time and space in a whole new way. The telling of fairy tales helps children experience innovative thinking – thinking that may stimulate our future scientists, theorists, and philosophers.