Rumpelstiltskin is a story from the Brothers Grimm. In the story, a miller claims that his daughter can spin straw into gold. The king demands that she prove it. She is locked in a room full of straw, despairing, when a funny little man comes in and offers to do it for her. For three nights this scenario is repeated. On the third night, the girl has nothing left to give the little man in payment, so she promises to give him her firstborn child. She marries the king and when their first child is born, the little man shows up. The queen, having forgotten all about the deal, pleads with the little man, and he agrees to let her keep the baby if she can find out his name. This also repeats for three days, and in the end the queen is able to find out his name and keep the child.
There are several good picture book versions of this story. Those by Paul Zelinsky and Paul Galdone are two of our favorites. We also like Rumpelstiltskin’s Daughter by Diane Stanley, and Multiplying Menace: The Revenge Of Rumpelstiltskin by Pam Calvert and Wayne Geehan for extensions on the tale.
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- The University of Pittsburgh has a collection of similar stories from around the world. My personal favorite is Tom-Tit-Tot, because it is funny and makes the character of the girl’s parent (a mother, in this story) more sympathetic. Evaline Ness has done a picture book version of Tom Tit Tot, and it would be a very good one to compare with “Rumpelstiltskin.”
- Marilyn Kinsella has done a retelling with several rhyming sections for the younger kids to join in on. It has links to a nice study guide.
- This story includes so many dramatic moments and different emotions that it would be a great time to use some Emotions Puppets.
These are just paper circles with feelings faces, glued onto ice cream spoons.
We put the word for the emotion on the back. Let each child make a set for him or herself, and have them hold up the emotion they notice in the story as they listen to a second reading.
Once the class has heard or read and understood the story, give them a chance to retell it.
- As a class, decide how to break the story up into episodes or scenes. Divide the kids into groups and assign each group an episode. Give them a bit of time to consider how to tell their part of the story. Then have each group in turn tell their part. The first group can begin with “First…” and then each group thereafter can use a transition to introduce their section. This can be a good way for young students to practice thinking in chronological order, and a good way for the older ones to practice transitions.
- Reader’s Theater is a great way to extend the lesson for older students, and this version casts Rumpelstiltskin as a hard-boiled private eye. Perform it and then challenge students to write their own take on “Rumpelstiltskin” in a different genre.
Moving on to cross-curricular connections…
- Have the youngest writers draw pictures and label them with “first,” “next,” or “second,” etc.
- Names are a central point in the story. Introduce research skills with a simple task: have students find out what their own names mean or why their names were chosen, and write a paragraph about it.
- Fairy tale parents are pretty casual with their children. Challenge your class to write a Q and A column on parenting for the Fairy Tale Times. “Q: I incautiously promised my firstborn child to a magical being. What should I do? A: There’s a lot of that going around…”
- Gold is amazing stuff. It is beautiful and imperishable, and you can make a great range of things from it. It is no wonder that people have prized it throughout history. But it used to be that people also tried to think of ways to make it. The field of study that focused on finding “the Philosopher’s Stone,” which could turn base metal into gold, was called alchemy, and it was the forerunner of our modern chemistry. If your class finds that funny, remind them that turning plants into thread or oil into soap — both of which people can do — are no less likely on the face of it that turning lead into gold.
- “The Old Alchemist” is a Burmese folktale about turning base elements into gold. It also includes a father and his daughter and a marriage. Compare it with “Rumpelstiltskin.”
- The Minerals Information Institute has a lesson on the history of gold and its relationship to human history.
- Visit the county fair or Sheep to Shawl and see someone spin. Not practical? The Joy of Handspinning has lots of spinning videos. Start here for a look at the history of textile science and technology. This is a good intro to the topic of invention, how technological change affects humans, and the connection between science and economics.
- “Rumpelstiltskin” has a lot of character issues going on. The miller brags about his daughter, and gives her up to the king out of cowardice and/or greed, depending who is telling the story. The king greedily uses the girl’s supposed skill to amass wealth, and is cruel to her, though just how cruel depends on the version of the story. The girl makes a promise she doesn’t intend to keep, and we could say that she shows a lack of initiative for drifting into the situation, dishonesty for hiding Rumpelstiltskin’s part in the solution, and lack of judgment for marrying the cruel and greedy king. Rumpelstiltskin’s motivation is a little mysterious, but he is definitely bad-tempered. On the other hand, the miller is proud of his daughter, the girl is trying to save her father, the king is a man of his word, and Rumpelstiltskin is at the least hardworking and skillful. Challenge students to decide which of the characters in the story shows the best behavior and which the worst. This is an excellent opportunity for discussion, comparison, the use of graphic organizers, and the persuasive essay.