Growing great stories

posted in: 2. Illustrators and Authors | 15

For the last couple of weeks our bedtime stories have come from Magic Beans: A Handful of Fairy Tales from the Storybag. This is an anthology of tales, some well known (Rapunzel), others less so (Cockadoodle-doo, Mr Sultana!) told by a rich choir of voices. You can choose from Anne Fine, Jacqueline Wilson, Malorie Blackman, Philip Pullman, Alan Garner and Michael Morpurgo amongst others – it’s rather like being in a sweetie shop, trying to decide which story to savour each evening.

As if that wasn’t enough, each tale is accompanied by black and white illustrations from wonderful illustrators including Ian Beck, Debi Gliori, Nick Sharratt and James Mayhew. It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?

The selection of stories really is super. They vary in content and style, and as you’d expect from master storytellers, these retellings are wonderful to read together, aloud or alone. My personal favourite is Tony Mitton’s The Seal Hunter, told entirely in rhyme.

And although the stories are what really matters I have to admit that the book itself was a slight disappointment; it promised so very much with its stellar cast of authors and illustrators, but the physical production of the book didn’t mirror the quality of what was contained within. The black and white illustrations are rather meagre, and bleed right to the edge of the page, giving the edge of the book a rather scruffy look. Perhaps I shouldn’t complain as the stories are so lovely, and we’ve had so much fun reading them together, but I can’t help feeling this book could have been one of the stars in the Christmas firmament had it been a little more beautifully produced.


M herself came up with the idea that the stories we read each night were like magic beans – planted at bedtime, by the morning they had grown into something else, something new in M’s head as she played out the story and made it her own. This gave me the idea of making some magic beans which really would grow in to stories so I made a little pouch and filled it with dried butter beans I’d painted gold. On each bean I wrote a single word.

One morning the girls came down to find this purse on the table.

They opened it up, chose three magic beans and planted them with a wish.

The next morning they came down to see whether the magic had worked, and lo and behold…

…the beans had grown into stories based on the three words on the beans.

And once the stories were read and laughed over, three new magic beans were chosen to plant with the wish for more stories next breakfast time.

It’s been a magical week reading new stories together over breakfast!

Whilst I prepared the magic beans, and the girls later planted them, we listened to:

  • Magic Beans by The Fairy Tale Pops
  • Magic Beans by Jamie Barnett
  • Fairy Tale Lullaby by Elizabeth Mitchell
  • Fairy Tale Blues by The Fuzzy Lemons

  • Other activities you could be inspired to get up to having read Magic Beans include:

  • Planting a fairy tale garden, using plants named after fairy tale characters. Birds and blooms has some ideas on plants to use, and I love the idea of these fairy tale seed kits from Uncommon Goods.
  • Writing a joint family fairy story in the manner of the game of Consequences
  • Making the 12 Dancing Princesses inspired by Just Deanna – the 12 Dancing Princesses is one of the stories featured in the Magic Beans collection.

  • What’s the fairy story you last read? Can you recommend any illustrated fairy story anthologies you think are exceptionally special?

    Disclosure: I received my copy of this book from the publisher. This review, however, reflect my own and honest opinion.

    15 Responses

    1. Stacey

      What a fun idea! I want to make my very own magic beans! The gold paint makes them seem extra special, doesn’t it?!

    2. choxbox

      This is unbelievable! Just last night I was going back and forth over ordering this book and was looking for reviews and even thought I’d write to you to ask if you’d heard of it! The list of authors looked great, but was not sure beyond that.

      Think I’ll go ahead and get it. And your ideas – they always beat the idea in the book itself! Can you adopt me, at least my children?!

      Going to shamelessly copy it, thanks!

    3. Zoe

      Hi Stacey, yes the gold turns them into genuinely magic beans!!

      Haha Choxbox! Isn’t that funny. I really love the retellings in this book (and perhaps I should point out that they have nearly all been previously published in 1998 – it looks like they were put in an anthology then, though I can’t be sure from the details provided in the back of the book), and as a readaloud at bedtime they are great – just the right length to read one before turning out the lights.

      I suppose I was just a little disappointed because one’s expectations are raised when you see the list of contributing illustrators, and I don’t think the illustrations do them justice.

    4. Zoe

      Hello Susan! Yes, you’re right, the Lucy Cousins anthology is lots of fun – I gave it to the girls’ school last year as M’s birthday book gift.

    5. Zoe

      hi Library Mice, I have to admit we haven’t read as many fairy stories as I’d like – somehow going from picture books to chapter books we’ve missed out sharing fairy tales together (apart from those that we’ve read in picture book format), so reading this collection was a really very lovely experience.

    6. Marta's Mum

      This is great!!! I’m going to copy you!! 🙂
      My daughter loves stories, she will be more than happy to do this! I’m sure she will love plant magic beans every night! 🙂 Thank you very much for these suggestions… It’s a good alternative of the advent calendar…what do you think??

      • Zoe

        Thanks marta’s Mum – yes definitely a good advent alternative, though I don’t know if I could write a new short story every night for my kids! Maybe we could alternate it – the kids could write one one night and then me the next.

    7. Ali B

      What a wonderful idea! Well done, M. My favourite anthology is Berlie Doherty’s collection, illustrated by Jane Ray. I covet the new Alan Garner collection and Jan Pienkowski’s Thousand and One Nights, though.

    8. Marta's Mum

      Yes, it’s true! Now it’s late for me to make it, ins’t it? Next Christmas i will do it, for sure! Thank you again for the suggestion!

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