Please welcome the lovely and talented author Alexis York Lumbard that I had the pleasure of meeting at the recent National Social Studies Conference in Boston. She is sharing her favorite 10 Folktales for Kids from Around the World!
I have a problem. A book problem. You might call it an addiction. And though I appreciate all sorts of stories, my drug of choice is folktales.
My husband thinks that I am nuts. He has given me a quota. “No more books this month. Enough!” That is why I love cash—it doesn’t leave a trail. Cackle. Cackle. Stroking hairless cat.
Libraries are great enablers. I once requested so many books that it froze my account. Did you know that there is a maximum of books that one can request? (It is 30.)
Not only are folktales written with such high and beautiful language, but also they reliably contain substance. Substance and morals. Yes, morals.
I am not, of course, referring to those books that are dry and preachy, limited, or dogmatic. What I am referring to are those stories that convey in an engaging and imaginative manner the compelling goodness of goodness as such.
I don’t think I’m alone in wanting this. A recent article in the New York Times suggests that parents worldwide “place far greater importance on caring than achievement.” The article also suggests that children learn moral standards by observing them in live-action or by example, as opposed to being told how to behave. This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. But the great teacher inspires.” William Arthur Ward
Isn’t this precisely what folktales (and fairytales, fables, legends & myths) do? Are they not attempting to inspire us, right through the pages of a book, to take the path of goodness? Are they not demonstrating to us what might happen if we realize these qualities inside ourselves (inner-hero wake up!) or see these same qualities in other people (FYI—WNDB campaign)? To this end, folktales are limitless.
My latest book, Pine and the Winter Sparrow with illustrations by Argentinean artist Beatriz Vidal is a fable that derives from uncertain origins, though some sources attribute the story to the Cherokee Indians. Such is the fate of many oral tales—we don’t really know their true source.
What attracted me to the story was the original title—Why Trees Lose their Leaves. You see I live in New England, where the trees stand bare for most of the year. I also have a thing for birds. According to this ancient tale, it was a simple act of kindness towards an injured sparrow that determines the colors of winter. Only Pine remains green against the snow, evergreen evermore, for only Pine showed empathy. “All that I am and all that I have is yours,” he says to Sparrow. The message is so universal and so hauntingly beautiful that I simply had to celebrate (and share it) by putting pen to paper and reshaping it according to the whisperings of my own heart.
And speaking of sharing, I hope you enjoy the following list of folktales from around the world. The first five are for younger readers, while the latter five are for middle grades and up. Perhaps they will inspire you and your child to become, as Robert Lewis said, “YOUR OWN STORYTELLER.”
P.S. Robert penned the preface to Pine and the Winter Sparrow. He is a dear friend and a well-known (and very funny) storyteller of Cherokee, Apache, and Navajo lineage.
Ten Fabulous Folktales from Around the World
It Could Always Be Worse by Margot Zemach
Having endured a rather rough 2014, I’d like to commence this list with It Could Always Be Worse by Margot Zemach. Based on a Yiddish folktale, this story follows the woes of a man with little means, too many children, and a nagging wife. Having reached his limits, he seeks the advice of a local Rabbi, whose seemingly strange counsel results in total pandemonium. A lesson is soon learned and peace returns to heart and home. A title well worth its Caldecott honor. [picture book, ages 3 and up]
Gone is Gone by Wanda Gag
Speaking of nagging wives, what about clueless husbands? Prestigious Newbery winner Wanga Gag’s addresses the common query, “Who works harder?” in the brilliantly written Gone is Gone.
Fritzl is a farmer who lives with his wife Liesi and their newborn child. Fritzl works hard in the field and complains every day about how easy Liesi has it. Liesi calls his bluff and suggests they trade places.
If you’ve ever stayed home with the kids, then you’ll love this folktale. The kids will think it’s funny too. And for more about the proto-feminist origins of this awesome book go to Maria Popova’s fabulous site—Brain Pickings. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
Turtle’s Race with Beaver by Joseph Bruchac
Who doesn’t love Joseph Bruchac, an Abenaki children’s book author, poet, novelist, and storyteller? In Turtle’s Race with Beaver Joseph teams up with his eldest son James to produce a picture book full of fun and charm. Based on a Senecan Indian version of the classic “Tortoise and the Hare” sort of tale, this version is a great read-aloud for a classroom setting. Divide your students into two camps—one that shouts for Beaver, the other for Turtle. The room will be noisy, but the kids will love it. “BEAVER, BEAVE …. TURTLE, TURTLE!” [picture book, ages 5 and up]
The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse by Helen Ward
Helen Ward is one of my favorite children’s book illustrators. Her style highlights, with profound and beautiful detail, the noble features of even the most common animals. Ward puts a creative twist on this old Aesop fable, setting the story in the 1930s during the festive Christmas season. I’m a country mouse. What about you? [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Stone Soup by Jon J. Muth
Award-winning artist Jon J. Muth transforms this European classic into a Chinese folktale. Three Zen monks, tired and hungry, pass through a war-ravaged village. People hide their food and keep to themselves until they witness the monks stirring their stone soup. Muth’s version is a truly refreshing take on a not-uncommon tale. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
The Arabian Nights by Wafa’ Tarnowska
Barefoot Books has published dozens of high-quality folktale collections, but this is one of their best. Ok, fine, I’m a bit partial. Some of my happiest years were spent in the Middle East (I lived in Cairo and Amman). I also admire a feminine voice. You see, Arabian Nights is a collection of stories within stories—told from the lips of a female storyteller—the mythical and ever-wise Shahrazade. Retold and translated by Lebanese author Wafa’ Tarnowska, this magnificent collection contains eight stories from the original. [folk tale chapter book, ages 8 and up]
The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales by Virginia Hamilton
Every American should own this book. Within its pages are 24 folktales masterfully retold by Virginia Hamilton, an author who has won nearly every accolade a writer could dream of—the National Book Award, Newbery Medal, the Hans Christian Anderson Award, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. To top it off the book is adorned with illustrations by the Dillions, a husband and wife team whose art is truly otherworldly. Need I say more? [picture book, ages 4 and up]
The Day It Snowed Tortillas by Joe Hayes
This is storyteller Joe Hayes’s signature book. With colorful characters and unexpected twists, old Mexican and South American tales come to life. My favorite story is Pedro & Diablo. It has a cemetery scene that will leave you rolling on the ground in laughter. Principles conveyed through humor truly stick! Loved it. [bi-lingual in Spanish and English chapter book, ages 10 and up]
Chinese Fables: The Dragon Slayer & Other Timeless Tales of Wisdom by Shiho S. Nunes
Winner of the 2014 Aesop’s Prize for Children’s and Young Adult Literature, this book has an excellent preface that details the history and nature of traditional storytelling in ancient China. With 19 thought-provoking stories and absolutely stunning illustrations, I found myself staying up late one night to finish the entire collection! It has a wide range of themes that showcase human nature at its best and worst. [advanced picture book, ages 8 and up]
The King With Horse’s Ears and Other Irish Folktales by Batt Burns
This book caught my daughter’s eye while browsing at Barnes & Noble. She noticed the word “Irish.” This is, after all, her second year of Irish Step Dance. But I am so glad that she twisted my arm into buying it. From brave warriors with magical skills to monster dogs and lovable leprechauns, this wonderful collection has a little bit of everything. A great sample from Sterling Children’s Book’s “Folktales of the World” series. [folk tale chapter book, ages 10 and up]
I hope you enjoy the list above and perhaps my own adaptations of folktales, including Pine & the Winter Sparrow and two from the Middle East– The Conference of the Birds (a Persian story) and When the Animals Saved Earth (an Iraqi animal-rights fable)—both illustrated by the magnificent Demi (she too suffers from a folktale addiction) and published by with Wisdom Tales Press—a company that values substance and beauty from all over the world.
Long-live Folktales (and fairy tales, fables, myths, legends, and tall tales too)! Amen. Uh-huh! (Threw that one in for you Ashley Bryan fans.)
More Great Folktales From Around the World
The Ghoul by Taghreed Najjar, illustrated by Hassan Manasra
This is a folktale to start a discussion about bias and fear. Hasan is a brave boy who decides to face the feared Ghoul that his village is terrified of. When he finally meets the Ghoul, he finds that the Ghoul is equally scared of humans. They decide to become friends and the villagers realize that they shouldn’t let fear interfere with celebrating their differences. [picture book, ages 3 and up]
The Clever Wife: A Kyrgyz Folktale by Rukhsana Khan, illustrated by Ayesha Gamiet
Kyrgyz Republic, also known as Kyrgyzstan, is located in Central Asia and was part of The Silk Road. In this folk tale, the young leader, the kahn, poses three riddles to determine his wife. Danyshman is chosen for her wise answers but she promises not to share her wisdom with anyone but the king. She disobeys to save the life of a man but then must use her wits to save her marriage. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Little Lek Longtail Learns to Sleep by Bette Killion, illustrated by Beatriz Vidal
From the Thai rainforest, an Argus Pheasant hatches from an egg. His mother names him Little Lek Longtail. Because the rainforest has many predators, Little Lek is afraid to sleep. As he studies the creatures in his world, he realizes that they use their talents to help themselves. At bedtime, Little Lek figures out a way to use his longtail to keep him safe. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Signed Multi-Book Giveaway: 3 Winners!
To win signed books by Alexis York Lombard, please fill out the Rafflecopter below. There will be 3 winners
Two lucky winners will win a signed copy of Pine and the Winter Sparrow!
Pine and the Winter Sparrow by Alexis York Lombard
Have you ever wondered why pine trees stay green all winter long and don’t lose their leaves like other trees? According to an ancient legend attributed to the Cherokee Indians, it was a simple act of kindness towards an injured little bird that earned pine trees this very honor. Retold by award-winning author Alexis York Lumbard, this story invites readers to experience a world where trees and birds speak and interact with each other, and which shows us that no act of kindness and sharing goes unrewarded. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
One lucky winner will win all of Alexis York Lombard’s books!
Pine and the Winter Sparrow
The Conference of the Birds
Lavishly illustrated by award-winning illustrator, Demi, this magical and inspiring story of the adventures of a flock of wayfaring birds in search of their king will delight children with its tales of overcoming fear, physical hardship, and inner limitations.
Everyone Prays: Celebrating Faith Around the World
Everyone Prays offers young hearts and minds a chance to learn that although people from other places and cultures may seem different, we all share the diverse world of faith and prayer. And what a bright and beautiful world it is!
This lyrical, breezy, and nondenominational picture book introduces children and adults to a magical place that radiates warmth, love, and caring throughout its colorful and delicate pages. With its rich paintings, readers are transported through many colorful scenes, places, and seasons to see how angels work behind the scenes, weaving their graces throughout the world.
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Alexis York Lumbard began writing her own stories after she first became a mother in 2005 and she noticed a sad lack of high-quality books for the youngest of readers. With a B.A. in Religious Studies from George Washington University, it is her sincere hope to bring the wisdom and beauty of the world’s religions to the eager and gifted minds of young children. Alexis, her husband, and three children live in Massachusetts.
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.