Blocks and Fairy Tales


Miss C, my three-and-a-half year old granddaughter,  and I were in the playroom, with Sarah and Duck on, building towers with the traditional cubic alphabet blocks.

Emily, my daughter and the mother of Miss C,  is the queen of tag sales, so the bin containing the blocks represents booty from three different sales. Two sales produced the sort of blocks that can be bought at any toy store, fresh and new with painted numbers or letters on two opposing faces, and simple line drawings of various things — from sports equipment, to animals, to plants, to machines — on the remaining four faces.

But some of the blocks are older and larger.   The exposed wood is darkened with time, the paint faded and nicked.  Interestingly, their use is limited to either forming foundations or else they must be used only with themselves as they do not fit in with the newer blocks, which are smaller.

Sarah and Duck is a program that some might not find acceptable. Sarah seems to live alone with her duck. She has friends. John is a Japanese boy with a pet flamingo. The Ribbon sisters wear sunglasses and play with ribbons while plate girl carries a plate with her constantly. Scooter boy never rides his scooter.

Her only adult friend is Scarf lady, a grandmotherly figure who knits constantly.

But not all of  Sarah’s friends are  human. She interacts with inanimate objects, as well as with the moon and a rainbow, food and insects.

The creators tell us that “creativity and friendship” are one of the main themes of the program. Sarah is open to, and reacts kindly toward, all.

In other words, Sarah is much like a child from fairy tale, one of the most traditional literary forms. The characters are as fantastic as any found in traditional tales, from Beauty’s Beast to Baba Yaga. Sarah’s talking shallots are no more unusual than Jack’s magic beans, or the animal guides or magic objects found in traditional children’s literature.

What Sarah and Duck does is clothe the fairy tale, or what the Brothers Grimm called household tales, in modern dress.

The show is innovation based on tradition.

As are the little wooden cubes. Children love to build, to pile objects upon each other to create towers. And while the more contemporary blocks might not fit with the older blocks, so, too, older ideas sometimes must sometimes be replaced by newer ones, unless, of course, like the blocks themselves, they form a strong foundation.

And so Miss C and I watch and listen to Sarah as she solves problems and explores possibilities, while we work on how to make a tall tower that will not fall down.

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