A Children's Guide to Folklore and Wonder Tales

Course No. 2411
Instructor Hannah B. Harvey, Ph.D.
Professional Storyteller
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Course No. 2411
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What Will You Learn?

  • Hear your favorite stories, plus new and alternative versions, told by a professional story-teller.
  • Trace the common elements of folktales including rise, transformation, and explanation stories.
  • Discover how the same story evolves through time and place to adapt to the culture where it is being presented.
  • Reveal some of the hidden lessons that the folktales we've known all our lives have subtly taught us.

Course Overview

“Once upon a time…” Those four words bring us comfort, joy, and hope, as they start a plethora of stories that often end with “happily ever after.” We carry these stories in our hearts like dear old friends, turning to them for inspiration, courage, and entertainment—much in the same way as those who originally told them used them to pass the time and share lessons among family and friends. However, the stories we know now are not always the same ones that were told centuries ago, and were not always told for the same reasons.

Throughout this unique course, Dr. Hannah Blevins Harvey, a professional storyteller with a Ph.D. in Communication Studies, treats you to dynamic, theatrical, and engaging tellings of cherished tales from around the world. Join a mixed-age audience to hear many of your favorite and beloved childhood tales performed by an award-winning storyteller against a storybook-like backdrop as The Great Courses studio is transformed into magical settings. Additionally, you will be introduced to lesser-known stories as you take a cultural tour through ancient and contemporary time, as well as around the world, with stops in Greece, Egypt, Iran, India, Kenya, Japan, Russia, the Nordic countries, the Philippines, Australia, France, Italy, Scotland, Germany and more.

As a special bonus, Dr. Harvey also provides an exploration of the themes, questions, and evolutions for these stories, providing you and the children in your life with an intellectual perspective to think about and discuss.

Dr. Harvey unpacks more than 60 of our most beloved stories, fables, fairy tales, and songs from around the world—providing you with a fascinating, in-depth view into the history, context, and deeper meaning of the tales we know and love. As you travel through the catalogs of Grimm, Aesop, Hans Christian Anderson, Charles Perrault, Oscar Wilde, and so many more, you’ll gain profound insights into how and why these stories came to be. And these stories are more than “just stories”—they’re a powerful tool of folk culture. Folk stories are the wells into which we humans pour our deepest anxieties, our desires, our hopes—and problematic as they sometimes are, these stories continue to deeply resonate with us throughout our lives.

Why Tales Matter

“It’s been said that fairy tales are like the subconscious dreams of a culture—in them wells up all the desires, and anxieties, and experiences of cultural life. In these stories, all of the characters represent us, different aspects of ourselves,” claims Dr. Harvey.

Tales use powerful symbols to help us articulate our daily struggles, understand major life events, envision roles for ourselves, and interpret the world around us. As Dr. Harvey tells some of these tales to audiences (children from elementary and middle school and the adults in their lives), you will actually see how shared stories—wonder tales, fables, pourquoi stories, fairy tales, and magic tales—can draw a circle around listeners of all ages. You’ll understand how hearing stories in person can pull us closer to shared meanings, and to each other, too. The tales of our youth shaped us, and their lasting power will shape the children you share them with.

Just as important is that stories transport us into another world of fantasy and wonder—where characters do things we can’t do here. The words “once upon a time” transport us into “story time”—this is a “play” world, where there are rules, and yet anything can happen. In this “play” world we “work” out a lot of very genuine issues; we discover and try out roles, and discover the ingrained truths that we carry with us throughout our lives. Fantasy matters to us because the deep work of imagining possibilities happens here.

Supplementing the stories and insights provided by Dr. Harvey, child psychiatrist Dr. Zheala Qayyum, from Yale University’s Medical School and Department of Psychiatry, weighs in about the importance of stories, folktales, and imagination-building exercise in the healthy development of children, no matter where they live.

Untelling Our Favorite Tales

If you think you know the classic stories such as “Sleeping Beauty,” “Cinderella,” and “Hansel and Gretel,” then think again. This course provides you with illuminating surprises about how culture, language, and time have evolved folktales into the definitive versions you grew up with. “Stories are a lot like humans—we and they have to adapt to our circumstances, or we die,” Dr. Harvey explains.

In some cases, stories adapt to the location and cultures where they are being told, while still sharing the same motifs, plots, and lessons. Consider our beloved tale of “The Gingerbread Man”: In Norway and Germany the animated edible creature is a pancake—and the pancake runs away down the lane. In Scotland, it’s a “wee bannock”—or a roll. In Ireland, it’s a little cake. And in Russia, the story is about a loaf of bread that is possessed by a devil.

In other cases, time, translation, and the storyteller will make deliberate shifts in the premise of our well-known stories. Take a deeper look at “Cinderella,” one of the world’s oldest “magic tales,” dating back 7000 years, with Mah Pishani being one of the oldest versions. Dr. Harvey examines the many different versions of just this one story:

  • The French version of “Cinderella” by Charles Perrault is the one we are most familiar with in America. It is this version that introduces readers to the iconic glass slipper, which was not a component in earlier versions. In many other versions, the shoe is not a shoe at all, but a ring or some other object that the girl must fit into.
  • In Italy, the glass slipper is made of cork. It’s also not a slipper, it’s a chianiello—a special kind of courtly overshoe that well-to-do women wore to keep the mud off their nice shoes.
  • In other versions of the story, the evil sisters cut off their heels and toes to try to fit into the shoe—and they and the stepmother are rewarded for their treachery by being chased and pecked by crows in the end!

As you follow this one story from continent to continent, you also gain insights into the of significance of adding the glass slipper—a highly impractical yet ornamental detail that shaped the version of Cinderella we know. As she unpacks the meaning behind these symbols, Dr. Harvey introduces you to some amazing facts such as the speculation that Perrault got his source’s story wrong about the glass slipper. The French word for glass (verre) sounds and is spelled similarly to the French word for squirrel fur (vair), and some say he confused the two words! So, perhaps the French Cinderella should have worn a squirrel-fur boot!

Shared Themes and Motifs Around the World of Stories

Folklorists have found that the same story themes with the same “motifs,” or story parts, recur across cultures and across time. A system of classification was developed first by Finnish folklorist Antti Aarne in 1910, then refined by American folklorist Stith Thompson in 1928, and then further refined and diversified in 2004 to include stories beyond the European canon, by German folklorist Hans-Jörg Uther. For example: The Aarne-Thompson-Uther classification system (or ATU system) groups all Sleeping Beauties under tale type 410, and there are at least 22 different versions of this story across the world that resemble this tale type!

Some common themes across time and culture include:

  • Transformations: As the folk saying goes, “heroes are not born, they are made.” As examined in stories such as “Beauty and the Beast,” “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” and more, you’ll examine the theme of change and how it’s utilized in stories around the world to teach important rites of passage.
  • Explanations: Every culture has come up with its own stories to explain the hows and whys of life around us. Pourquoi tales are often about the natural world and explain how and why. Explore the whys in stories by Aesop and Kipling.
  • Good and Evil: In some tales, the distinction between good and evil is clear—or is it? Stories such as “The Brave Little Tailor” and “David and Goliath” demonstrate how even small characters, when good, can defeat evil giants. Dr. Harvey shows how even ancient tales challenged the use of “good” and “evil” as definitive traits by introducing you to characters such as Baba Yaga—an ambiguous character who defies classification. Baba Yaga stories connect back to Neolithic cultures who worshiped the Mother Goddess- a representation of both life and death (like a feminine Shiva in Hindu cultures).
  • Rise Stories: These rags-to-riches stories provide hope for change, showing a character move above their circumstances through luck, skill, or magic. “Cinderella” and “Puss in Boots” are two examples where someone utterly common is transformed into someone special.

Through time and across cultures, our stories resonate deeply with us all throughout our lives.

These tales use powerful symbols to help us articulate our daily struggles, understand major life events, envision roles for ourselves, and interpret the world around us.

Join us to discover a collection of stories that will lift your heart, haunt your dreams, and challenge your expectations.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    “Sleeping Beauty”: Once Upon a Time
    Get introduced to folktales and the various classifications as Dr. Harvey introduces you to the wide world of folklore. You’ll hear the 1697 Charles Perrault version of “Sleeping Beauty”—one that you may not be familiar with—and take a deep dive into the meaning behind the symbolism and the importance differences between this story and the Grimm version we are more familiar with. Dr. Zheala Qayyum, from Yale University’s Medical School and Department of Psychiatry, provides some deep insights about what folktales mean to children. x
  • 2
    “Beauty and the Beast” I: The Sleeping Prince
    Dr. Harvey introduces you to a Norse tale called “East of the Sun, West of the Moon.” The major components of this story can be found in similar tales from Spain and Ancient Greece, and you’ll find familiar elements in two well-known French traditional tales. This story introduces us to the theme of transformation—a theme that is both scary and exciting, and is a common in folktales to help us understand how we grow and change, and to teach the lesson that looks can be deceiving. x
  • 3
    “Beauty and the Beast” II: Being Brave
    Dive deeper into the use of transformation in stories as Dr. Harvey presents a version of “Beauty and the Beast” based on the classic French story recorded in 1756 by Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont. Compare that version to the German story by Ludwig Bechstein in 1847 called “Beauty’s Stone Sisters.” Dr. Qayyum provides some additional insights into how the theme of transformation can provide beneficial lessons for children as they grow. Dr. Harvey concludes this lesson with an Ancient Greek tale called “Cupid and Pysche,” which demonstrates how bravery can be the root of transformations. x
  • 4
    “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”: Transformations
    Continuing with the theme of transformation, Dr. Harvey introduces you to a variety of interpretations of the classic story “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” starting with an 1896 composition known as a “symphonic poem” by Paul Dukas and notes Goethe’s poem from the 1700s. She provides the original story from the first century Egypt and treats you to “The Doctor and His Pupil” from France, with insights why we enjoy transformation stories. x
  • 5
    “Cinderella” I: If the Shoe Fits
    There are many versions of “Cinderella,” and Dr. Harvey takes you through the Italian tale by Basile called “The Cat Cinderella” and Perrault’s 1690’s French version. She walks through the similarities in motifs, with both stories focusing on a “rags-to-riches theme” and an “if the shoe fits” conclusion, but notes not all versions of this story had the iconic glass slipper. Dr. Harvey provides several eye-opening insights as she examines the differences between older versions of this tale and the ones we know today. x
  • 6
    “Cinderella” II: Baba Yaga and Goddessesa
    With the French and Italian versions of “Cinderella,” Dr. Harvey presented a classic “rise” tale, but “Cinderella” is the one of the world’s oldest “magic tales” with many versions, interpretations, and morals. In this lesson, Dr. Harvey introduces the Russian character of Baba Yaga, who is like characters we know from both “Cinderella” and “Hansel and Gretel.” “Vasilisa the Fair” follows the traditional “Cinderella” story, but with many twists and offers the idea that there can be ambiguity in folklore characters, rather than having them represent the absolute points of good or evil. x
  • 7
    “Cinderella” III: The Mooing Godmother
    “Cinderella” stories go back 7000 years, and Mah Pishani is possibly one of the oldest. This Iranian story provides a very different take on the same themes you’ve become familiar with. Unlike the bickering evil step-sisters, this version is about finding connection with family and community—in particular among women—and about love that stretches beyond the grave. x
  • 8
    “The Brave Little Tailor”: Giants!
    Why do we love toppling giants? Stories such as David and Goliath resonate, giving us hope that we can overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. Dr. Qayyum discusses this phenomena as Dr. Harvey shares two stories: “The Legend of the Chocolate Hills” from the Philippines, and “The Little Tailor,” adapted from the 1857 version by the brothers Grimm, which itself was adapted from the 1557 story called “Der Wegkurtzer” by Martinus Montanus. Dr. Harvey notes how the original tale came to fruition during a period when we looked towards reason and power to solve our own problems, rather than believing in superstition and divine intervention. x
  • 9
    “Jack and the Beanstalk”: Archetypes
    Many scholars believe that the beanstalk in “Jack and the Beanstalk” is a reference to the Tree of Life, which is one of our most iconic global images. In Hinduism, The Tree of Life is known as the Eternal Banyan Tree (the Akshaya Vata). In Islam and Christianity, it is the one tree that God ordered humans not to eat—Christianity extends this image into the New Testament when Christ the immortal is nailed “to a tree” (making the cross a tree that brings eternal life). Dr. Harvey presents these insights and more through the telling of “Jack and the Beanstalk” and the Norse myth “Yggdrasil The World Tree.” x
  • 10
    "Hansel and Gretel": Ogres
    Folklorists believe that stories like Hansel and Gretel may have begun during the Great Famine in Europe, during the late Medieval age, about 700 years ago. We may be familiar with the classic German version portrayed by the Grimm brothers, but Dr. Harvey shows us how the Scottish version has something else living in the house in the woods as she shares both “Hansel and Gretel” and “Mollie Whuppie.” Both stories introduce the themes of triumph and besting evil powers. x
  • 11
    “Rumpelstiltskin”: Naming Our Fears
    In this lecture, Dr. Harvey presents several stories that come from all over the world, each of which explore the power of naming. Starting with classic story “Rumpelstiltskin” from Germany, collected by the Grimm brothers in 1857, you’ll also hear an Egyptian creation myth, a Judeo-Christian creation myth, the Egyptian story of Ra and Isis, and “Peerie Fool” from the Orkney Islands, which pulls elements from Norse and Scottish folklore. x
  • 12
    Tom Thumb and Thumbelina: Little Heroes
    “Tom Thumb” is grounded in oral folklore, meaning it was passed through the ages verbally as the storytellers could not read or write. Dr. Qayyum discusses the joy in reading stories out loud. Dr. Harvey shares J.O. Halliwell’s poetic version of “Tom Thumb” as well as a Hans Christian Andersen’s “Thumbelina” and discusses the differences between traditionally defined folktales and stories written by literary authors. x
  • 13
    “Emperor’s New Clothes”: Looks Can Deceive
    Just like the lessons learned in the stories Dr. Harvey covers in this lecture, the stories themselves can be deceiving, too. Dr. Harvey first shares the Hans Christian Andersen story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and then “The Happy Prince” by British playwright Oscar Wilde. Both stores are often mistaken for oral tradition folktales, yet were literary tales by one author. x
  • 14
    “Town Musicians of Bremen”: Unwanted Animals
    Dr. Harvey and Dr. Qayyum discuss the use of how animals in oral folklore often stand in for humans and why this technique can make it easier to recognize the lessons or points of each story. You’ll hear the story of “The Town Musicians of Bremen”—a tale that has been so prolific and retold through so many forms of art that in Bremen you can find a statue to the storied animals. Dr. Harvey also looks at how various cultures such as Germany, India, and the Netherlands both treated and depicted older characters. She concludes with a “Japanese Wisdom Tale.” x
  • 15
    “Puss in Boots” and “The Frog Prince”: Fitting In
    Well before his debut in Shrek, “Puss in Boots” was making a name for himself in the Panchatantra. Considered one of the most influential written records of oral folklore, this Indian collection of more than 700 animal fables and folk stories dates back more than 1700 years ago, features a cat who serves as a magical helper and tries to make his fortune in a king’s castle, and has spawned hundreds of versions. Dr. Harvey shares a French version from 1697, as well as “Iron Heinrich”—or “The Frog Prince”—from Grimm. x
  • 16
    “Three Little Pigs”: Third Time’s a Charm
    Dr. Harvey looks at the power of numbers in folktales, specifically the magic of three and seven (three pigs, seven dwarves), citing Orion and his three-starred belt who chases the seven Pleiades sisters. She notes how even the story formats are broken into threes: Beginning, Middle, and End. She shares the stories of “The Three Little Goslings” (the Italian version of the German “Three Little Pigs”) and “The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs,” which is also a Grimm story from Germany. x
  • 17
    “The Little Red Hen”: Formula Tales
    Repetition and patterned verse are often the backbone to some of our most beloved tales. Known as formula tales, these stories are easy to retell as we know what to say and expect. Dr. Harvey presents a wide-range of formula tales including, “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” from Norway, Joseph Jacob’s “Henny Penny” from Australia, “The Gingerbread Man,” Mary Dodge’s 1874 classic “Little Red Hen,” and “The Three Bears” which was written by English poet laureate Robert Southey and therefore lends itself to being a cante tale. x
  • 18
    “How the Camel Got His Hump”: Pourquoi Tales
    Many fictional stories—from ancient myths and creation stories to folktales—are an attempt to explain why things in the world are the way they are. Some of the most famous pourquoi tales come from Aesop and Rudyard Kipling. Dr. Harvey shares several pourquoi tales from around the world, including Kipling’s “How the Camel Got His Hump” from his “Just So Stories” published in India. She also shares an African-American tale “Why the Rabbit has Long Ears and a Short Tail” and the 1929 Norse story “Why the Sea is Salty.” x
  • 19
    Lions and Tigers and Bears: Fables
    We may never have heard of a certain slave from a household in the Greek city of Phrygia if not for his charming use of morals in folktales, but Aesop has made a name for himself. Dr. Harvey presents several of his tales, including “The Tortoise and the Hare,” “Androcles and the Lion,” “The Stone in the Road,” “The Fox and the Wolf,” and “Belling the Cat.” She also shares Kipling’s “Camel Poem” and “How the Hamster Got his Tail,” a Kenyan story about why hamsters have small tails. x
  • 20
    “Snow White”: Beauty and Handsomeness
    Beauty plays an integral part in many folktales and both Dr. Harvey and Dr. Qayyum weigh in on why beauty matters, how beauty is akin to as power in many stories, and how, as these stories got retold and rewritten (by men), the roles men played became more heroic while the roles women played became designated to looking lovely. Using Grimm’s “Snow White” as a lens to examine the use of beauty and instruments of femininity, Dr. Harvey explains how these stories are often metaphors for life and what is happening in our real worlds and cultures. x
  • 21
    “Rapunzel”: Maiden/Mother/Crone
    Femininity is once again examined, this time with a focus on the roles women play in stories. Dr. Harvey shares a combined (and more family friendly) version of “Rapunzel,” pulling from Grimm’s German version and Basile’s Italian version. Looking at the triad of Maiden/Mother/Crone and Warrior/Father/Sage, Dr. Harvey shows how stories reduce and distill all our life experiences into simple symbols; in such stories, each component is represented by a separate character even though we rarely experience such defined periods of existence. x
  • 22
    King Arthur and Winnie the Pooh: Heroic Quests
    Continuing with the triad theme, Dr. Harvey uses this lecture to explore the role of the masculine hero, comparing the actions, motifs, and quests of King Arthur and Winnie the Pooh as she shares “Merlin, Arthur, and the Two Swords” and “Christopher Robin Leads an Expotition to the North Pole.” Through this lecture, Dr. Harvey defines the category of legends and discusses how fictional accounts based on true-life historical figures (or sometimes even made-up ones) gave birth to the American tradition of Tall Tales. x
  • 23
    American Tall Tales and Folk Songs
    Dr. Harvey jumps into the 20th century to demonstrate how Tall Tales reinforce the ideals of the cultures where they were born. For example, many of America’s well-known Tall Tales deal with characters from the wild west and carry themes of expansion, colonization, and progress. After sharing the stories of “Pecos Bill,” “Katy Goodgrit” and “Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox,” Dr. Harvey delves into how ballads and folksongs served as a voice of concerns from those who couldn’t speak. She presents “The Ballad of John Henry” and “The Ballad of Casey Jones.” x
  • 24
    Happily Ever After: How Our Stories End
    Dr. Harvey reviews the fundamentals of storytelling and expands on common themes that can be found across tales that span time and location, such as protection of family, being resourceful, demonstrating bravery, overcoming entrapment, rising from a diminutive state to become a mighty hero, and more. She also recounts the common characters and locations found in stories through the ages. She shares her favorite tale, “The Wonderful Pot” from Denmark, and concludes with a Scottish tale called “Death in a Nut.” x

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  • Download 24 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
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  • Download 24 audio lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE audio streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
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  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 192-page printed course guidebook
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  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
  • Closed captioning available

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  • 192-page printed course guidebook
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  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

Hannah B. Harvey

About Your Professor

Hannah B. Harvey, Ph.D.
Professional Storyteller
Dr. Hannah B. Harvey is an award-winning teacher, an internationally recognized performer, and a nationally known professional storyteller. She earned her Ph.D. in Performance Studies/Communication Studies at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she was also a teaching fellow. While teaching at Kennesaw State University, she received an Honors Program Distinguished Teacher award and an Alumni Association...
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A Children's Guide to Folklore and Wonder Tales is rated 3.9 out of 5 by 22.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved the Presentation I bought this course to learn more about folklore and was pleasantly surprised by how the stories were presented. Not only were the tales and lessons discussed, but they were also told.
Date published: 2019-10-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from this is aimed more at children than me, if I knew that I would have picked something else
Date published: 2019-06-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good story - did not like style of story telling This course is for the 4 - 10 year old person. I expected more sophisticated lectures & deeper information. I like the stories & how she pulls them together. I have the audio version & use an earpiece. She snores, growls, grunts, snuffles, & make many gross noises. I found them distracting & unnecessary. Maybe a 4 year old likes them. She did talk about groupings of stories & cultures. I expected more of that. This is not for adults.
Date published: 2019-05-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful story-telling and insights This is a nice balance of storytelling of tales that I have not heard before (and very good storytelling at that) with insight into the themes behind the story. I have the audio only version, and from the sound of it, the video would bring even more to the listening. I do not feel deprived however. Overall, a quality buy.
Date published: 2018-12-27
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Great Idea - Failed Delivery I was thrilled to see this course offered and sincerely looked forward to listening to the stories and learning about the background. And while the presenter has tons of credentials, this did little to give her the skills of being an actual story teller. Her presentation was so affected with over-acting and directives throughout the storytelling that it served more as a distraction than an inhancer to the actual story.(I'm sure that wasn't the intent). (I listened to it with a small audience of children, all of whom asked if we could listen to something else instead, so I'm not off in this impression.). I hope the story teller finds a way to showcase the story instead of personality, because these stories have so much to give.
Date published: 2018-12-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A formula that works well for me I haven't finished this course yet and I've only listened to about half the lectures once through. I've tried retelling a couple of the stories to my six year old and she was transfixed. Immediately before this course I listened to the storytelling course by the same lecturer and I must admit I phased out of a lot of that. I also wanted to reach out to the lecturer and suggest she looks up Crofting on Wikipedia (not just fishing, actually fishing isn't even mentioned) and to note that "repeater" is the French verb used to mean rehearse not just what they say in Morocco - but I found no direct means of contact - hence adding here. Anyway, back to this course. As I say right up my alley. The formula "works for me" because I listen to these while walking between home to train station and train station to office (dodging Manhattan traffic) so I can only be purely auditory - no video and no following along written notes at the same time. I appreciate the telling and retelling of related currently available versions of the same underlying story. Overall I find a very thought provoking and enjoyable experience.
Date published: 2018-11-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting but you can't please everyone I listened to the audio version of this course so don't know what I missed in the visuals. It was a valiant effort to both tell the stories to children and to provide adults with background information and some scholarly insights. I wasn't quite sure what to expect but think that focusing either on the story telling or about the tales (for adults) might have worked better. I learned a lot about the stories themselves and for the most part liked their telling. I was put off by some of the story telling because the efforts at using the English version of foreign language accents often slipped into unfortunate stereotyping. It would have been better to just stick with the language (English) of the storyteller. As for myself, I think it might have been more enjoyable for me to dip in and out of the course rather than going straight through it which became tedious. But I did enjoy hearing how the children responded to and participated in each story.
Date published: 2018-09-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from In general I enjoyed this course, and I found the alternative versions of familiar stories fascinating. I did find the sound effects to be unneeded and distracting, and the background music sometimes drowned out the story. I would have preferred the stories to be presented just "bare". My recommendation would come with a warning.
Date published: 2018-08-20
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