If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales – Albert Einstein

Once upon a time, people began telling stories around the fire. The stories were as deep and dark as the woods where talking animals, elves, fairies and other enchanting characters lived. As time passed, the stories were collected and written down. Many were made into movies. And then parents began asking: what is it about fairy tales? Aren’t they too violent and scary for impressionable children? And are Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Cinderella good role models? But that was far from the end. No matter how politically incorrect stories about evil stepmothers, damsels in distress, and cannibalistic old women may be, fairy tales are here to stay. And that’s a good thing, say the experts. “They work through so many personal and cultural anxieties, yet they do it in a safe, ‘once upon a time’ way,” says Maria Tatar, a professor at Harvard College who writes about, and teaches classes on, fairy tales. “Fairy tales have a real role in liberating the imagination of children. No matter how violent they are, the protagonist always survives.”

Indeed, as scary as many of these stories sound to parents, many scholars view them as helping children work through anxieties they can’t yet express. The famous writer and child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim believed fairy tales are important to children’s development because the main characters – many of them children themselves – demonstrate pluck, and the ability to triumph over adversity in a world of giants and cruel adults. But, will the gruff world represented in many fairy tales be too scary for your little one? “A parent is usually the best judge of her or his child’s ability to handle the stories, “ says Patte Kelley, Head of the Children’s Department at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh. Below are some ideas of which story when, by age.  A good gauge is by the way that the conflict is depicted and by the complexity of the tale.

Young Three Year Olds – Nature stories and simple stories about daily life in the home and garden these are many times “made-up” from daily life. Children under three years old do not just imitate, they explore.  They absorb every aspect of their environment – so stories about their daily life will meet their developmental needs.

Older Threes and Four Year Olds – Love very simple, sequential stories.  At this age, the child loves repetition.  A story that has a repetitive nature is candy to their ears!  And in fact, is building auditory processing. Stories like The Giant Turnip, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Mitten, The Gingerbread Man, Sweet Porridge

Four Year Olds and up enjoy a little more complexity but not too much drama. At four years old, the young child is now aware of conflict on a conscious level.  Stories with simple conflicts and easy resolutions delight their need for order in the universe; and good always wins!So The Billy Goats Gruff, Stone Soup, Little Red Hen and The Three Little Pigs

Five Year Olds can handle stories that have more challenge with good and evil plus more detail. Stories like Little Red Riding Hood, Rumplestiltskin, Jack and The Bean Stalk, Hansel and Gretel, and The Golden Goose

Six Year Olds are now ready for characters that have suffering in their journey. Rapunzel, Cinderella and the Bremen Town Musicians are prefect for this age.

Of course, the real test for any children’s story isn’t whether it bolsters psychological resilience or has roots in pre-Christian Europe; it’s whether it enthralls its audience and makes them beg for more. Most fairy tales cast spells on kids, engaging their imaginations in ways modern authors can only dream of. So get out your storybook, and prepare to read happily every after.