Looking for some free tales to use for close reading or classroom read-alouds? This roundup of short stories for kids has plenty of options. From quick fables with morals to old-fashioned fairy tales and folktales from around the world, this diverse collection offers something for any child. We’ve also included ways to use these short stories with kids, in the classroom or at home.
Note: Always be sure to read a selection through before sharing it with children. Some of these short stories for kids, especially ones written a long time ago, may not be appropriate for every audience.
Classic Fairy Tale Short Stories for Kids
“Cinderella” by Charles Perrault
“‘Do not cry, Cinderella,’ she said; ‘you also shall go to the ball, because you are a kind, good girl.’”
Why I love it: This is one of those short stories for kids that everyone probably already knows. This older version is a little different than the Disney movie, so ask kids if they can identify the changes. They can also have fun imagining what other items could be transformed to help Cinderella get to the ball!
“The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Andersen
“‘But the Emperor has nothing at all on!’ said a little child.”
Why I love it: This is a wonderful story for talking about peer pressure and being brave enough to stand up for what you believe in. Kids will also enjoy drawing the imaginary suit of clothes that the king thought he saw.
“The Frog Prince” by the Brothers Grimm
“And the princess, though very unwilling, took him up in her hand, and put him upon the pillow of her own bed, where he slept all night long. As soon as it was light, he jumped up, hopped downstairs, and went out of the house. ‘Now, then,’ thought the princess, ‘at last he is gone, and I shall be troubled with him no more.’”
Why I love it: Kids love this familiar story about a prince in disguise and a young girl who keeps her word even though she doesn’t want to. In this version, the girl doesn’t need to kiss the frog, but she’s rewarded anyway.
“The Gingerbread Man” by Anonymous
“Run, run as fast as you can! You can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man!”
Why I love it: In the original tale, the Gingerbread Man is eventually caught and eaten. This retelling gives him a happy ending instead. For a fun activity, let kids decorate and eat their own gingerbread people.
“Jack and the Beanstalk” by Anonymous
“Why, the beans his mother had thrown out of the window into the garden had sprung up into a giant beanstalk which went up and up and up until it reached the sky. So the man spoke truth after all!”
Why I love it: This story is a fun read, but use it to get your students thinking critically. Was it really OK for Jack to steal from the giant? Ask them to write an essay sharing their thoughts on the subject, or use it for a fun classroom debate.
“Little Red Riding Hood” by the Brothers Grimm
“‘But Grandmother! What big eyes you have,’ said Little Red Riding Hood.
‘The better to see you with, my dear,’ replied the wolf.”
Why I love it: This retelling of the well-known tale is a little less gruesome, since the hunter merely frightens the wolf into spitting out poor granny (instead of slicing open his belly). Talk with kids about ways they can keep themselves safe when they’re out in the world.
“The Pied Piper of Hamelin” by the Brothers Grimm
“He sounded his fife in the streets, but this time it wasn’t rats and mice that came to him, but rather children: a great number of boys and girls from their fourth year on. Among them was the mayor’s grown daughter. The swarm followed him, and he led them into a mountain, where he disappeared with them.”
Why I love it: Some say this is a true story, and whether or not that’s true, it definitely has a moral—when people make a bargain, they should stick to their agreement. Ask kids to think about what kind of music the Pied Piper might have played, and why both children and rats couldn’t resist it.
“The Princess and the Pea” by Hans Christian Andersen
“I cannot think what could have been in the bed. I lay upon something so hard that I am quite black and blue all over.”
Why I love it: This has long been one of the most beloved short stories for kids, and it’s ideal when you need a quick read. Then, grab some dried peas and see how thick a covering needs to be before students can no longer feel them.
“Puss in Boots” by Charles Perrault
“Puss became a great lord, and never ran after mice anymore, except for pleasure.”
Why I love it: All cat lovers know these animals can be pretty smart when they want to be. This one helps his poor master become a prince in a castle, all through his own clever tricks. Encourage students to come up with more creative ways Puss in Boots could help his master.
“Rumpelstiltskin” by the Brothers Grimm
“‘I will give you three days,’ said he, ‘if by that time you find out my name, then shall you keep your child.’”
Why I love it: Pretty much everyone in this story behaves badly in one way or another. Use it to learn more about characters and their motivation.
“Sleeping Beauty” by the Brothers Grimm
“A great many changes take place in a hundred years.”
Why I love it: After students read this well-known story, ask them to think about what it would be like to go to sleep today and wake up in a hundred years. What might the world be like? Or what would it be like for someone who fell asleep a hundred years ago to wake up today? How many things have changed since then?
“Snow White” by the Brothers Grimm
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”
Why I love it: This fairy tale has all the classic elements—beautiful heroine, wicked stepmother, handsome prince—plus a handful of helpful dwarves. It’s the perfect way to start a conversation about the dangers of envy and jealousy.
“The Three Little Pigs” by Anonymous
“Not by the hairs on our chinny chin chin!”
Why I love it: Fairy tales don’t get much more classic than this. Follow it up with a reading of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Sciesczka to hear the story from the wolf’s perspective, and have a conversation about point of view.
“The Ugly Duckling” by Hans Christian Andersen
“But what did he see there, mirrored in the clear stream? He beheld his own image, and it was no longer the reflection of a clumsy, dirty, gray bird, ugly and offensive. He himself was a swan! Being born in a duck yard does not matter, if only you are hatched from a swan’s egg.”
Why I love it: Whether you read the original text or a shorter adaptation, this story is one every kid should know. It will teach them that everyone should be proud of who they are, even if they don’t look or feel like everyone else.
Aesop’s Fables as Short Stories for Kids
“The Boy Who Cried Wolf” by Aesop
“So now, though he had not seen anything that even looked like a Wolf, he ran toward the village shouting at the top of his voice, ‘Wolf! Wolf!’”
Why I love it: This might be the most famous short story we use to teach kids about how important it is to tell the truth. Ask students if they’ve ever pulled a prank that went wrong, and what they learned from it.
“The Crow and the Pitcher” by Aesop
“But the pitcher was high and had a narrow neck, and no matter how he tried, the Crow could not reach the water.”
Why I love it: Aesop’s fable reads more like a STEM challenge—how can you reach the water at the bottom of the pitcher when your neck isn’t long enough? Try the same experiment with your students, using a narrow-necked bottle. Can they come up with any other solutions?
“The Fox and the Grapes” by Aesop
“The grapes seemed ready to burst with juice, and the Fox’s mouth watered as he gazed longingly at them.”
Why I love it: If kids have ever wondered where the phrase “sour grapes” comes from, this tale will answer that question. Talk about other idiomatic phrases, and do some research to find their origins.
“The Lion and the Mouse” by Aesop
“‘You laughed when I said I would repay you,’ said the Mouse. ‘Now you see that even a Mouse can help a Lion.’”
Why I love it: This fable reminds kids that they’re never too small to make a difference in someone’s life. Ask kids to share their own stories of times they helped someone.
“The Tortoise and the Hare” by Aesop
“The Hare was soon far out of sight, and to make the Tortoise feel very deeply how ridiculous it was for him to try a race with a Hare, he lay down beside the course to take a nap until the Tortoise should catch up.”
Why I love it: When kids need a reminder that they should always keep trying, turn to this famous story. Use it to teach growth mindset too.
“Two Travelers and a Bear” by Aesop
“Two men were traveling in company through a forest, when, all at once, a huge bear crashed out of the brush near them.”
Why I love it: When danger strikes, do you worry about yourself first or try to help everyone to safety? There are arguments to be made on both sides, so this one makes for an interesting debate or persuasive essay.
More Short Stories for Kids
“Anansi and the Pot of Wisdom” by Anonymous
“Every time Anansi looked in the clay pot, he learned something new.”
Why I love it: Kids may know about Anansi from the popular book Anansi the Spider, but there are lots of tales about him in West African folklore. In this one, Anansi thinks he knows everything, but a child has something new to teach him. Explore more Anansi tales here.
“The Apple Dumpling” by Anonymous
“A bag of feathers for a basket of plums. A bunch of flowers for a bag of feathers. A golden chain for a bunch of flowers. And a dog for a golden chain. All the world is give and take, and who knows if I may have my apple dumpling yet.”
Why I love it: When an old woman sets out to trade her basket of plums for some apples, her quest takes a few twists and turns along the way. In the end, though, she manages to make many people happy, not just herself. Practice sequencing by having kids try to remember all the trades the woman makes, and the order she makes them in.
“The Blind Men and the Elephant” by Anonymous
“SIXTH BLIND MAN (feeling the tail): This elephant is not like a wall, or a spear, or a snake, or a tree, or a fan. He is exactly like a rope.”
Why I love it: Six blind men each feel a different part of an elephant, and each comes to his own very different conclusions. Written as a very short play, this classic tale opens up all sorts of discussion opportunities about seeing the bigger picture.
“Bruce and the Spider” by James Baldwin
“But the spider did not lose hope with the sixth failure. With still more care, she made ready to try for the seventh time. Bruce almost forgot his own troubles as he watched her swing herself out upon the slender line. Would she fail again? No! The thread was carried safely to the beam, and fastened there.”
Why I love it: This famous little tale is almost certainly a myth, but it’s one of the most well-known stories about King Robert the Bruce. The lesson about not giving up fits perfectly when you’re talking about growth mindset.
“The Elephant’s Child” by Rudyard Kipling
“But there was one Elephant—a new Elephant—an Elephant’s Child—who was full of ’satiable curiosity, and that means he asked ever so many questions.”
Why I love it: Many kids will recognize themselves in the Elephant’s Child and his (in)satiable curiosity. After you read this one, have students come up with stories for the way other animals got their unique features. How did the giraffe get its long neck? How did the turtle get its shell? So many possibilities!
“Paul Bunyan” by William B. Laughead
“When Paul was a boy, he was fast as lightning. He could blow out a candle at night and hop into bed before it was dark.”
Why I love it: Paul Bunyan is an American folk hero, larger than life (literally!). This roundup of the legends surrounding him has many of the most famous tales. Encourage kids to think about what they’d do if they were as big, strong, and fast as Paul.
“The Empty Pot” by Anonymous
“In six months, the boy who grew the best plant would be the one to win the contest. He would be the next to sit on the throne.”
Why I love it: This story can teach kids a lesson about honesty, but it’s also got a STEM project built right in. The emperor’s royal seeds wouldn’t grow because they’d been cooked first. Have kids try their own experiment to see if they can get peas that have been cooked to sprout!
“The Little Engine That Could” by Watty Piper
“I think I can. I think I can.”
Why I love it: When little ones learn early on to believe in themselves, they’ll be willing to try their best at anything. Have kids tell their own stories of times they did something that seemed impossible at first when they kept on trying.
“Fifty-Cent Piece” by S.E. Schlosser
“As he caught her, the husband looked into the ruin and saw a burnt table with a shiny fifty-cent piece lying in the center.”
Why I love it: A spooky story that isn’t too gory, this one’s a perfect read in the season leading up to Halloween. Challenge kids to write their own ghost stories next.
“The Four Dragons” by Anonymous
“The four dragons flew back and forth, making the sky dark all around. Before long the sea water became rain pouring down from the sky.”
Why I love it: The four dragons in this Chinese tale want to help save the people from drought. When the Jade Emperor won’t help, they take matters into their own hands. Ultimately, they become the four major rivers of China. This is a great opportunity to get out the globe or pull up Google Earth and learn more about China’s geography.
“Goldilocks and the FOUR Bears” by Andrea Kaczmarek
“Nobody ever talks about me. I don’t know why, because I am the most important bear in the story. I am Grandma Growl, but everybody calls me Granny G, and I am the best porridge maker in the world.”
Why I love it: Hear the classic tale from a new perspective, told by a character you never even knew existed! Use this as inspiration to have kids add a character to their own favorite tales, and tell the story from their point of view.
“Haunted” by Harris Tobias
“‘Just because a house is haunted,’ he said, ‘doesn’t mean you can’t live there. The trick is making friends with the ghosts, learning to get along with them.’”
Why I love it: Need a not-so-spooky story for Halloween? This tale of ghosts who love to bake fits the bill. Kids can write their own stories of making friends with ghosts instead of being scared of them.
“Henny Penny” by Anonymous
“So Henny-Penny, Cocky-Locky, Ducky-Daddles, Goosey-Poosey and Turkey-Lurkey all went to tell the king the sky was a-falling.”
Why I love it: In an age when people are quick to spread rumors as fact, this old European folktale is more meaningful than ever. See if kids can think of times when they heard a crazy rumor that they believed at first, even though it turned out to be completely false.
“How Gimme the Ax Found Out About the Zigzag Railroad” by Carl Sandburg
“Then the zizzies came. The zizzy is a bug. He runs zigzag on zigzag legs, eats zigzag with zigzag teeth, and spits zigzag with a zigzag tongue.”
Why I love it: Kids will get a kick out of all the Z sounds in this silly little story about why some local railroad tracks run in zigzags. Use it to teach about alliteration and consonance, and ask kids to draw their own pictures of the zizzies.
“King Midas and the Golden Touch” by Anonymous
“Suddenly, he started to sense fear. Tears filled his eyes and that moment, his beloved daughter entered the room. When Midas hugged her, she turned into a golden statue!”
Why I love it: Teach kids to be careful what they wish for. Ask them to make a list of wishes, then talk about ways each of them could ultimately go wrong. Have them write their own version of this short story.
“The Kite That Went to the Moon” by Evelyn Sharp
“‘I have everything in the world in my bag,’ replied the little old man, ‘for everything is there that everybody wants. I have laughter and tears and happiness and sadness; I can give you riches or poverty, sense or nonsense; here is a way to discover the things that you don’t know, and a way to forget the things that you do know.’”
Why I love this: This whimsical tale takes two small children on a voyage to the moon and back, as they follow an enchanted kite. Pair it with a crafting session where kids make their own kites to fly.
“The Monkey and the Turtle” by José Rizal
“A monkey and a turtle found a banana tree on a river. They fished it out and because each wanted the tree for himself, they cut it in half.”
Why I love it: A monkey and a turtle each plant half a banana tree, but only the turtle’s grows. The monkey offers to harvest the fruit but keeps it all for himself. But the turtle has plans of his own! This folktale from the Philippines is actually an allegory about the Spanish colonizers’ treatment of the Filipino people.
“Mouse!” by Michał Przywara
‘How dare you?
What insolence is this?’
Such a cheeky little mouse
defying me in my own house,
I simply cannot stomach this at all.”
Why I love it: This clever little story is told using a triangular number sequence that dictates the number of words per line. Challenge students to write their own tales using a pattern or sequence of some kind.
“The Proud Rose” by Anonymous
“Once upon a time, there lived a proud rose that was incredibly proud of her beautiful looks. The only disappointment it had was that it grew beside an ugly cactus.”
Why I love it: It’s hard to imagine a flower being a bully, but that’s exactly what happens in this story. Fortunately, the cactus doesn’t let the rose stop it from being kind.
“The Sword in the Stone” by T.H. White
“Whoever pulls out this sword from this stone is the true king of England!”
Why I love it: This quick retelling of the familiar tale covers all the high points. Follow it with more of the Arthurian legends or a viewing of the classic Disney film.
“The Tale of Peter Rabbit” by Beatrix Potter
“‘NOW, my dears,’ said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, ‘you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden: your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.’”
Why I love it: Beatrix Potter’s sweet tales are beloved, but this is the one that has really endured. Pair it with one of these terrific Peter Rabbit activities.
“The Pumpkin in the Jar” by Anonymous
“The soldier’s orders were to tell the maiden that the jar was from the king, and that she was to put an entire pumpkin inside the jar. The soldier was also to tell the maiden that she should not break the jar under any circumstance. Both the jar with the small opening at the top and the pumpkin must remain whole.”
Why I love it: Before you read the end of the story, stop and ask kids if they can figure out how the maiden managed to get a pumpkin into a jar without breaking it. See how fast they can come up with the right answer!
“Rainbow Bird” by Eric Maddern
“Bird flew around each tree putting fire into tree’s core. This way a tree could be used as wood to create fire.”
Why I love it: Learn the Australian Aboriginal legend about a greedy crocodile who wouldn’t share his fire, and the Rainbow Bird who outsmarted him. Look up the Aboriginal Dreamtime and learn more about their art and culture.
“Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” by Rudyard Kipling
“Rikki-tikki did not care to follow them, for he did not feel sure that he could manage two snakes at once. So he trotted off to the gravel path near the house, and sat down to think. It was a serious matter for him.”
Why I love it: Reading this story is like watching a nature documentary unfold on the page. Have kids do some research on the mongoose and its relationship with cobras in real life.
“Stone Soup” by Anonymous
“He pulled a big black cooking pot from his wagon. He filled it with water and built a fire under it. Then, he reached slowly into his knapsack and, while several villagers watched, he pulled a plain gray stone from a cloth bag and dropped it into the water.”
Why I love it: Want to teach kids to work together and share? This is the short story you need. Ask kids what they’d bring to put in the pot of soup themselves.
“The Story of the Chinese Zodiac” by Anonymous
“He reached out his paws and pushed his friend the cat into the river. The cat was swept away by the whirling waters. That is why there is no cat in the Chinese calendar.”
Why I love it: This short little tale manages to answer two questions—why there’s no Year of the Cat and why cats and rats can’t be friends. After reading it, try to imagine how the other animals in the calendar managed to win their spots.
“The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams
“‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’”
Why I love it: This is one of the most classic short stories for kids of all time! Let kids bring their own favorite toys to share with the class, and have them write or tell stories about what would happen if they became “real.”
“Weighing the Elephant” by Anonymous
“‘Very well,’ said the Emperor with a smile. ‘Tell me how to weigh the elephant.’”
Why I love it: Read this traditional Chinese tale right up to the point where the young boy reveals his idea for weighing an elephant without a giant scale. Ask kids if they can come up with the solution before continuing to the end of the story. You can even try out the correct method as a STEM challenge.
“Why the Koala Has a Stumpy Tail” by Mitch Weiss
“Just then, Tree Kangaroo had a plan. He remembered back to the last dry season when his mother excavated a hole in a dry stream bed.”
Why I love it: Look up pictures of the tree kangaroo and koala, then read this Aboriginal legend explaining why the koala’s tail is so much shorter. What other unique Australian animals can kids learn about and share with the class?
“Winnie-the-Pooh Goes Visiting” by A.A. Milne
“Pooh always liked a little something at eleven o’clock in the morning, and he was very glad to see Rabbit getting out the plates and mugs; and when Rabbit said, ‘Honey or condensed milk with your bread?’ he was so excited that he said, ‘Both,’ and then, so as not to seem greedy, he added, ‘But don’t bother about the bread, please.’”
Why I love it: This silly old bear has been delighting children for decades, and there are dozens of short stories for kids about him and his friends. This one has a little built-in moral about greed. You can also ask kids to brainstorm their own ways to get Pooh free from Rabbit’s front door.
Looking for more short stories for kids? Check out this roundup geared toward the middle school crowd.
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