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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 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?
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.
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