25+ Best Classic Fairy Tale Collections for Your Home Library
Dive into the best classic fairy tale collections from around the world, from famous folklorists like Andrew and Nora Lang, Joseph Jacobs, and the Brothers Grimm. You’ll also find non-European fairy tale and folktale collections from authors like Yei Ozaki and Lal Behari Dey, and original fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen and George Macdonald. These fairy tales make perfect bedtime story reading for yourself or your kids!
Folktale and Fairy Tale Anthologies from Some of the World’s Most Famous Fairy Tale Collectors
I believe fairy tales should be an ingredient in your literary diet from before the time you can read for yourself, until deep into your old age.
There’s no need for fairy tales to be your favourite genre, but they should form part of the repertoire of books you read aloud to your children, and be something you return to for your own enjoyment at different seasons of life.
Fairy tales represent story at its most primal and instinctual level, and the character and story archetypes you find in fairy tales echo across every other type of literature. And fairy tales “do” the same thing for us as adults as they do for us as children: they serve up wonder and absurdity. Because of this, even though instruction is one of the most ancient functions of fairy tales, at the same time they never cease to delight, either.
For many of the fairy tale versions we know and read today, we can thank the famous folklorists of the nineteenth century, who saw the collection and curating of fairy tales as a means to preserve culture. Because fairy tales almost always have their genesis in oral tellings, writing them down helped to seal them against linguistic and socioeconomic changes, and dispersed regional tales to a world-wide audience.
I’ve gathered some of the best classic fairy tale collections in this post, both from authors who primarily sought to preserve culture (like the Brothers Grimm or Asbjørnsen and Moe) and from authors who were adding brand-new fairy tales to the canon, like Andersen and Macdonald.
Whenever possible, I’ve tried to choose illustrated editions of fairy tales that you would want to add to your home library or permanent collection. Pictures add so much to the imagination of fairy tales!
But, note that if you’re reading these fairy tale collections aloud to children, you may want to pre-read the stories first to see what’s age appropriate. We all know that the original fairy tales can be quite dark!
If you’re inclined to take a more scholarly approach to folktales and fairy tales, Jack Zipes is one of the most famous fairy tale critics, and has written multiple books on the study of fairy tales. I’ve also appreciated the work of Maria Tatar, as well as J. R. R. Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy-stories,” and C. S. Lewis’s book On Stories.
Best Classic Fairy Tale Collections for Your Home Library
Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals by Charles Perrault (1697)
One of the grandfathers of the fairy tale, Charles Perrault was a French statesman and aristocrat in the court of King Louis XIV. In 1697, he published a volume of eight fairy tales titled Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals: Tales of Mother Goose. (This is also credited as the first appearance of “Mother Goose” in literature.) Although Perrault’s tales became the source material for many later versions of stories like Puss in Boots and Cinderella, Perrault acknowledged that he drew on the earlier 17th-century writings of Giambattista Basile (who in turn drew on earlier sources and oral tales). In spite of the fact that Perrault didn’t invent his stories out of thin air, it’s clear that he exercised his own creativity and established the fairy tale as a literary genre.
Note: The edition I’ve linked to includes the famous woodcut illustrations by Gustave Doré.
Fairy Tales by Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy (1697)
Telling fairy tales was a popular pastime at the fashionable salon gatherings of 17th-century France, and most often the tellers–and writers–of these tales were women. A contemporary of Charles Perrault, Madame d’Aulnoy was the one who coined the term “fairy tale” when she published Les Contes des Fées in 1697. She followed up with a second volume of fairy tales, New Tales, or Fairies in Fashion (Contes Nouveaux ou Les Fées à la Mode) in 1698. D’Aulnoy had already written several travelogues and histories, but she is best remembered for the 25 fairy tales contained in those volumes.
Because d’Aulnoy styled her tales for an aristocratic audience, they’re full of lavish descriptions of the castles, clothing, and jewels that surround her characters. She wrote several stories using the Beauty and the Beast motif and including animal brides/bridegrooms; these tales would later inspire Gabrielle-Suzanne Bardot de Villeneuve’s 1740 novel Beauty and the Beast, which is the most commonly retold version.
Grimm’s Fairy Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, 1812 and 1857
Grimm’s Fairy Tales form the basis of many of the most popular fairy tales in Western culture. The tales were compiled by German folklorists and brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, and many are based on oral traditions that the brothers transcribed and edited. They published the first volume of their tales in 1812, including 86 stories. They added more stories to later editions of their work; the 1857 edition brought the count to 210 stories. As anyone knows who’s dipped into the realm of fairy tales outside of Disney, the Grimm stories are often surprisingly dark: the villains sometimes undergo violent deaths, and true love isn’t always a factor in marriage!
Note: The edition I’ve linked to includes illustrations by famous fantasy artist Arthur Rackham.
Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (1835 and following)
Although he’s best known for fairy tales like “The Little Mermaid” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” Danish author Hans Christian Andersen wrote over 150 stories, as well as novels, plays, and travelogues. Some of Andersen’s stories were based on older folklore, but one of the things that makes Andersen so unique in the world of fairy tales is that many of his stories were his own original creations, not retellings. There are many different collections of his works available today, so I would recommend finding one that contains gorgeous, appealing illustrations, and isn’t an adaption or “retelling” of the originals. Here’s an illustrated treasury of 8 of his most famous tales that might be nice for family read-alouds.
Norwegian Fairy Tales by Asbjørnsen and Moe (1841 and following)
Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe are two key figures in Norwegian literature, thanks to their work of preserving Norwegian cultural history in their collections of folklore. Inspired by the Grimm brothers of Germany, the two friends did field work collecting local legends and fairy tales across the mountains and fjords of Norway. They published their first small collection of tales in 1841, and when it was well received they followed up with larger volumes. The Grimms applauded the work, and it found many avid readers in England as well–including, many years later, fantasy authors like J. R. R. Tolkien. (Fun fact: Tolkien borrowed the name “Moria” from one of the stories to use in his own fantasy novels!)
As you might expect from a book of Norwegian fairy tales, Asbjørnsen and Moe’s stories are full of trolls, but also of princesses, magical animals, and the recurring “Ash Lad” character, a male version of Cinderella.
Russian Fairy Tales by Alexander Afanasyev (1855 and following)
One of the world’s largest collections of fairy tales was the work of Alexander Afanasyev, a Russian historian and author. Afanasyev used the Grimm brothers as an example, but his own documentation of the tales he collected was more detailed, carefully noting sources and regions. Afanasyev published nearly 600 stories in his folklore collection, so many translations and editions of his works today include just a sampling, among them favourites like the stories of Baba Yaga or the firebird. The Pantheon edition I’ve linked to has 175 stories and includes black-and-white illustrations. For a children’s library, this color-illustrated edition with 5 of Afanasyev’s most famous stories looks like a beautiful pick!
Fairy Tales by George Macdonald (1867 and following)
George Macdonald was a Scottish minister and author whose fiction includes both romances and fantasy novels. His short fairy tales, which include “The Light Princess” and “The Golden Key” are his own creations, and often have a surreal, dream-like quality. Macdonald’s tales are more “literary” than earlier fairy tales, employing rich symbolism and irony to illuminate deeper truths. Of his fairy tales, Macdonald famously said “I write, not for children but for the child-like, whether they be of five, or fifty, or seventy-five.”
I’ve pictured an edition that contains a broader selection of his fantasy, but this collection with classic illustrations and new introductory material looks fantastic, too!
Folk-Tales of Bengal by Lal Behari Dey, 1883
This collection contains 22 stories gathered from rural Bengal by Lal Behari Dey. Dey was a Christian pastor, journalist, and social reformer who wanted to record Bengali cultural history and contribute to the efforts of folklorists around the world. Dey drew on the stories he heard in childhood as well as local storytellers among the villagers he ministered to, and concluded that “I have reason to believe that the stories given in this book are a genuine sample of the old old stories told by old Bengali women from age to age through a hundred generations.”
Dey’s stories are full of magical fruits, shape-shifting demons, and royalty in exile who must regain their rightful place. First published in 1883, in 1912 a new edition was released with lush, colorful illustrations by Warwick Goble. If you can find an edition that includes the illustrations, I highly recommend that!
The Color Fairy Books by Andrew and Nora Lang (1889 and following)
One of the world’s most popular and influential collections of fairy tales is the Coloured Fairy Books series compiled by Andrew and Nora Lang. In all, there are 12 colored fairy books, which are part of a larger collection of 25 volumes in the Langs’ Fairy Books series. (Not all of the books in the series center around fairy tales; some include historical figures or excerpts from famous novels.) Beginning with The Blue Fairy Book in 1889, the Langs spent the next 25 years gathering stories from every inhabited continent, many of which had never been translated into English. They edited and retold the stories with a child audience in mind, although the books were popular with adults as well. Further establishing the series’ immense popularity were the luscious illustrations by Henry Justice Ford.
The Lang Fairy Books in order, including the 12 color fairy books, are as follows:
- The Blue Fairy Book (1889). Stories from Grimm, d’Aulnoy, Arabian Nights, Norway, and other sources.
- The Red Fairy Book (1890). European fairy tales and Norse mythology.
- The Blue Poetry Book (1891). Poems from British and American poets.
- The Green Fairy Book (1892). Includes stories from Spain and China.
- The True Story Book (1893). Stories from history.
- The Yellow Fairy Book (1894). Tales from around the world.
- The Red True Story Book (1895). Stories from history.
- The Animal Story Book (1896).
- The Pink Fairy Book (1897). Japanese, Scandinavian, and Sicilian stories.
- The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments (1898)
- The Red Book of Animal Stories (1899)
- The Grey Fairy Book (1900). Includes French, Italian, and German stories.
- The Violet Fairy Book (1901). Stories from Romania, Japan, Serbia, Lithuania, Africa, Portugal, and Russia.
- The Book of Romance (1902). Medieval and Renaissance stories.
- The Crimson Fairy Book (1903). Stories from Hungary, Russia, Finland, Iceland, Tunisia, and the Baltic.
- The Brown Fairy Book (1904). Stories from American Indians, Australian Bushmen, African Kaffirs, and from Persia, Lapland, Brazil, and India.
- The Red Romance Book (1905). Medieval and Renaissance stories.
- The Orange Fairy Book (1906). Stories from Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, Uganda, American Indians, Punjab, and Europe.
- The Olive Fairy Book (1907). Stories from Turkey, India, Denmark, Armenia, and the Sudan.
- The Book of Princes and Princesses (1908). Stories of historic figures.
- The Red Book of Heroes (1909). Historic figures and role models.
- The Lilac Fairy Book (1910). Stories from Portugal, Ireland, and Wales.
- The All Sorts of Stories Book (1911). True stories, tall tales, and myths.
- The Book of Saints and Heroes (1912). Stories of historic figures.
- The Strange Story Book (1913). True stories, ghost stories, legends, and famous short stories.
Celtic Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs (1891)
An Australian-Jewish author and historian, Joseph Jacobs was one of the premiere folklorists of his day. He contributed scholarly articles on folklore as well as compiling multiple collections of fairy tales. One of his best-known collections is the unique Celtic Fairy Tales, containing stories gathered from Gaelic-speaking regions like Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Cornwall, Brittany, and the Isle of Man.
In addition, Jacobs wrote More Celtic Fairy Tales, English Fairy Tales and More English Fairy Tales, Indian Fairy Tales, and Europa’s Fairy Book.
Old Indian Legends by Zitkala-Ša (1901)
Zitkala-Ša (Red Bird) was a Yankton Dakota writer, musician, and activist who compiled Old Indian Legends to preserve the folklore of the Sioux tribes. Her work helped to introduce a wide readership of English-speakers to these Native American tales for the first time. The book contains 14 stories which feature giants, monsters, warriors, and the trickster-spirit Iktómi.
Japanese Fairy Tales by Yei Theodora Ozaki (1908)
This classic Japanese fairy tale collection includes twenty-two stories of dragons, sea serpents, magic animals, demons, princesses, and even the go-to wicked stepmother! Ozaki was biracial, and wanted to introduce Western children to the Japanese stories of her childhood. Ozaki’s own life had a bit of a fairy tale element to it. The daughter of a Japanese nobleman, Ozaki refused an arranged marriage and went out into the world to “seek her fortune” as a tutor and secretary. After beginning her writing career, her mail was frequently mixed up with that of Yukio Ozaki, the mayor of Tokyo, although they were not related. Yei and Yukio finally met each other in 1904, and decided to get married!
Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino (1956)
Iconic Italian author Italo Calvino compiled 200 regional folk and fairy tales for this volume, meant to serve as an Italian equivalent of the Brothers Grimm. Among the tales are variants of the archetypal Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella stories, as well as many lesser-known tales of peasants and royalty, saints and the Devil, impossible tasks and magical items. Calvino used many dialects and sources for his collection, but also drew on the work of three notable folklorists: Giovanni Francesco Straparola from 1550, Giambattista Basile’s bawdy 1634 Pentamerone, and Thomas Crane’s 1885 Italian Popular Tales.
Have you read any of these fairy tale collections? What are your favourite fairy tales?
More Posts for Lovers of Fairy Tales and Fantasy
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- 7 Middle Grade & Young Adult Fantasy Series to Treasure
- Vanitas Symbolism in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
- Best Fantasy Book Recommendations
Beautiful list! Thank you, Elsie!
Ah, this is a post after my own heart! Several of my favorite illustrated collections are the Arthur Rackham edition of Grimm’s that you mentioned, the Dover Calla edition of Andersen’s fairy tales with illustrations by Edmund Dulac, and “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” (a collection of Norse tales), illustrated by Kay Nielsen.
Thank you for sharing your expertise here! I will have to keep an eye out for those for our collection!
What a great list! I’ve read the French collections for class; Grimm, Andersen and Macdonald for fun. I’ve also read some Russian and Celtic collections although maybe not these. When I saw the challenge category I thought I might try one of the Lang color fairy books but there are so many! And some of the other books sound interesting too. We have been reading some older Newbery books and Tales from Silver Lands and Shen of the Sea might fit in this category. But my favorite fairy tales are the familiar Cinderella, Rapunzel and Beauty and the Beast and their variations and retellings.
Those would fit! Thank you for mentioning them, as I’d like to add them to my own reading list–especially Silver Lands. And isn’t it interesting how many different variations of those popular classics there are? It seems like there are Beautys and Cinderellas all over the world!