When my littlest granddaughter turned three, I shared numerous books with her about the number three, amazed at how often it appears in literature and culture.
Three is significant in religious stories. Christianity has the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Three Magi bring gifts to the baby Jesus. Jesus prays three times in the Garden of Gethsemane and rises from the dead on the third day. Peter denies Christ three times.
In Taoism, the number three stands for heaven, earth, and human. The Hindus have Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Many Mahayana Sects end their chants with three calls to Amida Buddha. Buddhism has the three gems, The Buddha, The Dharma, and The Sangha.
The number three is featured in numerous nursery rhymes and songs. The Three Little Kittens lose their mittens. Three Blind Mice lose their tails. The black sheep provides three bags of wool. Sing a Song of Sixpence talks about the King, the Queen, and the maid. Wynken, Blnken, and Nod sing you to sleep. There are three proposed solutions to stop London Bridge from falling down. Little boys and little girls are each made of three things, either frogs and snails and puppy dogs tails or sugar and spice and everything nice.
Three characters or three events are common in fairytales and folktales. The Queen has three chances to guess Rumpelstiltskin’s name. The woman searching for her husband, in East of the, West of the Moon, gets three gifts. It is on the third cry for help that The Boy Who Cried Wolf is ignored. Jack takes three trips up the beanstalk. The Shoemaker leaves clothes for the elves on the third night. A genie will grant three wishes. Goldilocks invades the home of the three bears. Three Billy Goats Gruff cross the troll’s bridge.
Protagonists often have to answer three riddles correctly. Heroes have to undergo three trials. It is usually the third son who succeeds in the quest. Wikipedia lists twenty fairytales that begin with the words “The Three”.
Stories have a beginning, middle, and end. Even time itself is divided into three parts, the past, the present, and the future.
For the rest of this month, I will be exploring the number three in children’s stories. I have used this myself. The Dawn’s End New Adult books are a trilogy: Nightfall, Poisoned, and Outworld Apocalypse. In the early young adult novella Terror at White Otter Castle, three friends form the triangle of power.
I have also used this in picture books. Rayne Shines uses three complainers, the father, the mother, and Rayne. In No More Red, three negative things happen to Amy before she decides to wish red away. The pattern of three is also used in Too Quiet, Too Noisy.
There’s something satisfying about the number three. Have less and it feels unfinished. Have more and it feels like too much. Three is perfection.
Here’s a parenting hack about the number three. If your preschooler is unable to hold down her baby finger with her thumb in order to show three straight fingers, teach her to do this way. You can even say, “being three is okay.”
Read all the books on a rainy day? Get active and play bean toss with painter’s tape on three triangles, rectangles, or squares (not recommended for carpets. Don’t leave it on for more than two days.