Thematic Sheet


“It was a hard blow for me. But after all, what could I do about it? I continued on my way, in the midst of the transformations of the world, transforming myself. »
Italo Calvino

“It’s almost trivial to say it, but it must be stressed continually:
everything is creation, everything is change, everything is flow, everything is metamorphosis.»
Henry Miller


  • Who are you? says the Caterpillar. […]
    Alice answers rather shyly :
  • I don’t know, sir, who I am now. I know who I was when I woke up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.

This famous dialogue between Alice and the Caterpillar says more than a thousand words about what children can feel when their bodies grow, change and transform, and the perplexity that it causes. The continuous movement of life leads each one of us into a continuous metamorphosis to which we must adapt to find our place in the world. In nature, many animals undergo a metamorphosis, a complete change of form during their lives: the caterpillar becomes a butterfly, the tadpole becomes a frog… If snakes change their skin, boys change their voice to enter the adult world. Both species moult, to get out of a state that no longer suits them.

Metamorphosis acts, in the tales, as a permanent metaphor for these changes.


In fairy tales, one of the best known themes is that of the “animal fiancé”, such as in the Beauty and the Beast, the Frog Princess, the White Pussy, etc. Behind the animal appearance that makes love difficult, the suffering of the metamorphosed being is expressed. The encounter with another, capable of seeing beyond appearances, will allow a happy ending. But is everything so simple? What’s behind these animalities that man and woman have to overcome in order to unite? We think of the duality man/animal, good/evil…

In the tale Il Topo Re (The Mouse King), a princess has to marry a rat with a long stinking tail. After he disappears, she realises that this rat is the love of her life, and for this reason, she sets out to “search for the missing husband” (another well-known fairy tale theme), who turns out to be a handsome prince.

Also worth mentioning are Il Re Porco (The Pig King) by Giovanni Francesco Straparola, Il Serpente (The Serpent) by Giambattista Basile, and Le Serpent vert (The Green Serpent) by Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy.

Just like Psyche lighting the candle to see Cupid asleep (she had never seen him before), Belle discovers “the sweetest of beasts, the sweetest beast”: these stories underline the beauty hidden in each of us.

Another type of tale is Un vitellino come fratello (A little calf like a brother), in which the metamorphosis concerns the brother, not the husband.


Metamorphosis can also be a punishment due to bad behaviour or a curse caused by jealousy. In order to return to his original form, the hero will have to go through a series of tests to convince himself that he is worthy of being loved. In the tale Principessa Rana (Frog Princess), the heroine wins all three tests of spirit and skill, demonstrating that, despite her small green body, she is capable of great deeds and therefore worthy of recognition.

Illustrations by Grimm Twins


From immemorial times, metamorphoses have inspired poets and writers, on the side of fiction, with tales and myths, and on the side of reality, with legends, such as that of the werewolf, largely present in the form of lived testimonies.
Among the legends of the Middle Ages there is Merlin, whose favourite magic trick is metamorphosis. Able to metamorphose into all kinds of animals, he is able to experience this ability even once he has returned to his original appearance, to communicate with the animal world. Disney, with Merlin the Enchanter (1963) took up this idea with the incredible battle of metamorphosis between Merlin and the terrible Mim. Today, the character of Merlin came back with the figure of Dumbledore, Harry Potter’s headmaster and former teacher of metamorphosis.

Illustrations by Grimm Twins


In mythology, the metamorphosis undergone by the hero concerns his form and nature and marks a transition to a new stage of life. Could this be seen as a rebirth? Would the transformation allow the hero to reach a new self-awareness? We can ask ourselves this question.

Ovid’s famous Metamorphoses, an abundant epic poem, the founder of our western culture, never ceases to feed our imagination. They tell and reveal the origin of everything. Our language retains traces of these stories, with, for example, the word “echo”, coming from the overly talkative nymph Echo, in love with Narcissus. Narcissus himself gave us the word “narcissistic”. We should also mention the word “panic”, which owes its origin to the horrible appearance of the god Pan.
Warning or punishment, metamorphosis can also be a mean of escape and salvation. In the myth of Arachne told by Apuleius, the arrogant girl is punished for comparing her abilities as a weaver with those of the goddess Athena. Forever turned into a spider, she is condemned to weave her web indefinitely. At the opposite, the nymph Daphne asks to be transformed into a tree to escape the attentions of Apollo (whom Bernini masterfully depicts in a famous sculpture [illustration to look for]).

Our library

Stories to read :
La Principessa Rana (The Frog Princess)
Il Topo Re (The Mouse King)
Il Principe Zenzero (The Red Prince)
A Vitellino come Fratello (A little calf like a brother)
The Serpe d’oro (The Golden Serpent).

[to be adapted by each team according to the language]
In French :

  • The frog princess
  • The Mouse King
  • Arachné


  • These stories can encourage children to go beyond appearances.
  • Observe in class how the tadpole becomes a frog, or the caterpillar becomes a butterfly.
  • Take the children outside the classroom. Observe your environment: on the bark of a tree, through the shape of clouds, in a flower, from the shape of a pebble, what do you see? What do you imagine that what you see has been, or will become? The world is in constant transformation, it is a source of enchantment!