Folktales from Other Parts of the World
Folktales of Different Cultures
Learn More about the Different Folktales from Around the World
Folktales from around the world
Folktales from the Middle East and India
Folktales from Middle Eastern countries and from India would take several books, for these areas are the birthplace of many of our Western stories.
Unfortunately, these tales are not as well known in the United States as they deserve to be.
Rather than describe many unfamiliar stories available only in out-of-print collections, this section discusses only available tales or books that might serve as an introduction.
Nonny Hogrogian's One Fine Day is an Armenian cumulative story that begins when an old woman catches a fox licking up her pail of milk and cuts off his tail.
She agrees to sew it back on only when he replaces the milk, which proves to be a difficult task.
The simplicity of Hogrogrian's drawings is perfect for the rustic humor and setting of this circular tale.
In Robert San Souci's lovely Armenian tale A Weave of Words, a weaver's daughter refuses the hand of young prince because he can neither read nor write nor earn a living with his hands. He learns for her sake and weaves her beautiful carpet.
They are married and live happily for many years as king and queen. When the king is captured by a three headed monster, the queen's skills of reading, writing and weaving enable her to rescue her husband.
Raul Colon's glowing, finely textured paintings resemble the lovely patterns and colors of the very rugs that form the basis of the story.
Scheherazade's Arabian Nights tales have provided stories for generations since they were first published in 1712. Sir Richard Burton's translation made them available for such collections such as Neil Philip's Kherdian's The Rose's Smile,
Farizad sets out to find three treasures and right a terrible wrong Deborah Nourse Latimore selected three of the stories to retell in Arabian Nights the well-known ''Alladdin'' ''The Queen of Serpents,'' and ''The Lost City of Brass.''
In this last tale, Scheherazade describes how three men, a story teller, a wise man, and a ruler, travel to find the ancient brass bottles in which King Solomon imprisoned all the evil Jinn of the earth. They reach the lost city and finally retrieve one of Solomon's bottles.
John Yeoman has retold The Seven Voyagers of Sinbad in a volume illustrated by Quentin Blake. Blake's sense of humor adds the right touch to these light-hearted adventures about a well-known hero.
Sinbad is really a merchant, not a sailor, and Yeoman suggest that the tales arose out of yarns spun by real travelers. Sinbad's adventures recall the exaggerated antics of American tell-tale heroes.
Ehud Ben-Ezer has told a quieter tale in Hosni the Dreamer. Here a gentle shepherd, who loves to listen to the old stories of his elders, dreams one night of visiting a marvelous city. He soon travels to just such a city when he is among those chosen to take the Sheikh's herd to market.
When Hosni spends his earnings on a verse instead of on something substantial, he is chided by his fellow shepherds.
However, the verse turns out to be a warning, and Hosni is the only one who heeds it out and survives, winning a lovely princess in the process.
Readers will recognize recurring folktale motifs in several other tales the Middle East. Rimonah of the Flashing Sword, a retelling by Eric Kimmel has its origins in North Africa but contains many elements of ''Snow White.'' When Rimonah's mother dies, her father is tricked into marriage by an evil sorceress.
Instead of a magic mirror to answer her questions, however, Rimonah's wicked stepmother has a magic bowl. When her stepmother orders a huntsman to take her into the desert and kill her.
Rimonah escapes and is taken by tribe of Bedouins. Later she lives with forty thieves. In this version Rimonah is not all passive. When her prince awakens her from her enchanted sleep, she takes charge and leads her friends in battle against the wicked sorceress.
In Kimmel's The Three Princes, three cousins hope to win the hand of a wise and beautiful princess. Realizing that she loves Moshen, the youngest and the poorest of the three, the princess sets the cousins the difficult task of finding the greatest wonder in the world. After a year's journey the three meet and compare their treasures.
Prince Fahad has found a crystal ball, Prince Muhammed has obtained a magic carpet, and Prince Moshen has been given an orange. When the crystal ball tells them that the princess is dying, they climb aboard the magic carpet to return to the palace.
Moshen feeds his orange to the princess and saves her life, but the princess's councilors cannot decide whose gift was the most wondrous.
The princess declares that Fahad and Muhammed both still have their treasures but since Moshen gave up everything for her, he is the one she will marry.
Indian folklore tradition has its share of wise men, too.
''The Sticks of Truth'' in George Shannon's collection Stories to solve tells of an Indian judge who was asked to determine who stole a gold ring. He gives each suspect a stick and says that only the stick of the thief will grow in the night. In the morning, he is able to accuse the one with a shortest stick of thievery. Why?
In this collection of short pieces, the reader is invited to guess before turning the page to discover the answer.
In this case, the girl trims her stick in an effort to hide its growth, thereby proving her guilt.
The Jataka, the birth stories, found in India tell of the previous reincarnations of the Buddha and are known to have existed as early as the fifth century. A.D.
Many of these tales are moralistic or religious in nature. In Margaret Hodge's Hidden in the Sand, a caravan of traders becomes lost in the desert and is in danger of dying of thirst.
A young boy finds a small plant growing in the sand and urges the men to dig for water. When they have dug a deep hole and found only hard rock, they ridicule the boy.
The youngster won't give up and climbs down into the hole. When he strikes the rock with a hammer, it bursts in two, and cool clean water gushes out.
The Brave little Parrot retold by Rafe Martin is a story of a small gray bird who desperately tries to put out a forest fire even though his fellows think the task is hopeless. His forts elicit tears from the eagle god and these quench the flames. In return for his bravery, the parrot is rewarded with feathers in flaming colors. These stories of faith and persistence are typical of many of the early Jataka tales but have few other elements of traditional folktales.
While these tales represent but a small portion of stories from the Middle Eastern countries and India, they are indicative of a rich source on which children's literature has yet to draw fully.
Perhaps the next decades will provide a greater n umber of single tale editions of stories such as these so that children might become more familiar with this important literary tradition.
Folktales from Asia
Although fewer folktales are available from Asia, there are increasing numbers of outstanding, well-illustrated single-tale editions of the folktales from Japan, China Korea, and Southeast Asia.
Ai-Ling Louie's Yeh-Shen is based on one of the oldest written variants of ''Cinderella,'' predating European versions by a thousand years. Left in the care of a stepmother and stepsister, Yeh-Shen is made to do the heaviest chores. Her only friend is a fish, she she feeds and talks with each day until the stepmother kills and eats it. However, its magical power lives on in its bones.
Through it, Yeh-Shen is able to go to a festival dressed in a gown, a cloak made of kingfisher feathers, and gold slippers. There, the suspicious stepsister causes the girl to run away and lose a slipper.
Immediately Yeh-Shen's fine clothes turn into rags. The king, struck by her beauty, places the slipper in a roadside pavilion and hides to wait for he girl who will reclaim it.
When Yeh-Shen creeps, under cover of darkness, to retrieve the slipper, they are united and later they marry. As in the German version of the Cinderella story, however, the stepsister and mother are punished ''crushed to death in a shower of flying stones.''
Young Caldecott Medal Book Lon Po Po tells a tale that comes from an ancient oral tradition and is thought to be more than a thousand years old. Child readers will recognize similarities between this story and ''Red Riding Hood.''
However, this wolf perishes by falling from the Gingo tree as a result three children's trickery and resourceful teamwork.
One of the most popular stories in the Chinese storytelling tradition is recommended in Margaret Mahy's The Seven Chinese Brothers. Each brother looks like the others but has one unique feature, such as unusual strength, amazing eyesight, acute hearing, bones that will not break, or unhappy tears that will flood an entire village.
When the Third Brother is imprisoned by the Emperor, the other brothers use their talents to bring about the Emperor's downfall. Eric kimmel's Ten Suns tell of the dilemma that arises on earth of long ago. At this time there were ten suns, and when they all decide to go walking together in the heavens at the same time they cause havoc.
The earth's emperor begs the sun's father for help. When the ten suns ignore him, their father sends the heavenly archer Hu Yi to shoot them out of the sky. Nine of the suns are turned into black crows when they are pierced by the arrows. Just in time, however, the emperor realizes that if all the suns are gone the earth will die.
He sends a messenger who steals Hu Yi's last arrow. The last sun is spared, and from that time crows greet their remaining brother sun each morning at dawn with loud cawing.
Caring for one's parents or others above oneself is also a theme of Chinese folktales. In Doreen Rappaport's The Long-Haired Girl, the heroine, Ah-mei, is willing to sacrifice her life for her fellow villagers. When a drought threatens the lives of her people, she climbs up into the mountains and discovers the secret stream of Lei-gong, the God of Thunder.
He warns her not to tell of her discovery, on the pain of death and at first Ah-mei obeys. However, keeping her terrible secret causes her long, beautiful hair to turn white. Finally, moved by the awful suffering of an old man, she decides to sacrifice her life and leads the villagers to the hidden spring.
In return for her goodness, the old man helps her to outwit Lei-gong, using her white hair as bait. The hair eventually becomes beautiful waterfall, and Ah-mei returns safely to her people. Yang Ming-Yi's beautiful woodcuts, printed on rice paper and then painted with watercolor, capture the story's mood and reflect its theme.
Demi's The Donkey and the Rock is an amusing story that gently chides the human propensity to be sold a bill of goods. A merchant on the way to the market rests his jar of oil on a large rock. When the donkey of another merchant accidentally smashes the jar of oil against the rock, no one can decide who is responsible.
The king agrees to try the case in court, and curious people rush to witness the trial between a rock and a donkey. The king charges each of them a fee for being so silly as to believe anyone could judge a rock or a donkey. He uses the money to compensate the merchant.
Another well-known Japanese story is retold in two beautiful editions. Sumiko Yagawa's The Crane Wife is a tale of the results of succumbing to poor advice and greed. Yohei, a poor peasant, removes an arrow from a wounded crane and dresses the injury.
Later, a beautiful young woman appears at his door and asks to be with his wife. To help pay for the extra mouth feed, the woman offers to weave cloth but warns Yohei that he must never look at her as she works.
One day, forgetting the warning, he looks in on her, only to see a crane plucking feathers from her own breast in order to weave the beautiful cloth. No longer wishing to remain in human form, she flies away.
The Boy of The Thee-Year Nap by Diane Snyder a humorous realistic folktale involving trickery. A poor widow, tired of supporting her son Taro, who is ’’lazy as a rich man's cat,'' pesters him to go work for a rich rice merchant. Declining to work, the boy tricks the merchant into betrothing him to his daughter. Taro's mother works her own ruse, however, and in the end Taro is caught in his own tricks.
The Japanese tale of the greedy lord titled The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks, by Katherine Paterson presents this story.
The greedy lord captured a magnificently plumed drake so as to have a beautiful caged bird. Shozo, a former mighty samurai who has lost as eye in battle, warns the lord that the wild bird will surely die in captivity, but the lord shuns his advice. When Yasuko, a kitchen maid, takes pity on the bird and frees him, the lord blames Shozo, strips him of his rank, and puts him to work in the kitchen, where he falls in love with Yasuko.
The jealous and vindictive lord sentences them to death by drowning for releasing the duck. On their way to be executed, the condemned couple are rescued and taken to a hut in the forest. In the morning, they wish to thank their saviors but find instead the mandarin duck and his mate, who seem to bow before flying away.
Shozo and Yasuko live on for many years in their forest but in great happiness for they had learned that''trouble can always be borne when it is shared.
Japanese folktales contain miniature people, monsters, called omi, and, like Chinese tales, themes of gentleness toward animals and other people, the value of hard work, and respect for the elderly.
The many beautiful single-tale editions of folktales from Asia have made these old and magical tales more widely available to an English-speaking audience. Often illustrated in the pictorial style of a particular period of Asian art, these stories can educate a child's artistic eye.
Folktales from Africa
Children today are the fortunate recipients of a rich bounty of African folktales collected by folklorists such as Harold Courlander. Many of these tales have been retold in single editions by authors like Verna Aardema and Ashley Bryan, and many of these stories have received Caldecott awards.
The storytelling is a highly developed art in Africa, particularly in West Africa. These tales have an aural cadence found in no other stories of the world. They come from the oral tradition and are frequently written in the storyteller's voice.
Short sentences, often with the use of parallel constructions, repetition, and dialogue characterize the style of many of the African tales.
The Dancing Granny can't resist the song of Spider Ananse, who lures her to dance far out of sight while he raids her vegetable plot. The story sings with rhythmic prose and repeated refrains. Bryan's the Story of Lightening and Thunder, a story from Southern Nigeria, is filled with similar word music.
It begins as follows:
A long time ago, I mean a long, long time ago, if you wanted to pat Lightening or chat with Thunder, you could do it. Uh huh, you could!
Many similar African tales are about personified animals, including those tricksters Anansi the spider, a rabbit, and a tortoise.
In Gerald McDermott's Zomo the Rabbit, Zomo asks the Sky God for wisdom.
The Sky God agrees but sets the rabbit three difficult tasks. The speedy trickster accomplishes the tasks but wreaks havoc in the jungle, angering Big Fish, Wild Cow, and Leopard. Sky God gives him the wisdom he has asked for, but warns him that he might have a lot of courage, a little good sense, but no caution whatsoever. Therefore, warns the Sky God, he better learn to run very very fast.
Zomo's tricky character of African textiles shows the illustrations the patterned designs that make the character come to life.
The story by Tolowa Mollel's Ananse’s Feast, Ananse the spider and the turtle Akye have a battle of wits over a meal. Ananse wins the first round but as often happens in trickster stories, the trickster spider is out-tricked by the long-suffering turtle. Verna Aardema's Anansi Does the impossible is a retelling of the three impossible tasks Anansi must accomplish in order to win the Sky God's stories. Readers will recognize a similar version in Gail Haley's A Story, a Story.
Trickster Rabbit appears in a more helpful mood in The Hunterman and the Crocodile, a charming retelling of a West African tale by Baba Wague Diakite. Also Diakite told The Hat Seller and the Monkeys, an African tale that children will recognize as as similar to the favorite Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina. In this version BaMusa, a hat seller on his way to market with a load of hats, falls asleep under a mango tree.
When he awakens he finds that the monkeys in the tree have taken his hats. He tries everything he can think of to get his hats back, until he realizes that the monkeys are imitating his every move. When he takes off his hat and throws is a the monkeys, they take off theirs and throw them at him.
Verna Aardema has retold a West African tale in Why mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears.
In this cumulative story the mosquitoes tells the iguana a tall tale, setting off a chain reaction that ends in disaster for a baby owl.Until the animals can find the culprit who is responsible for the owler's death. Mother Owl refuses to boot and wake the sun. King Lion holds a council and listens to everyone's excuse until the blame comes to rest on the mosquito.
The white outline of the stylized watercolors gives a cool but brilliant atmosphere to this story.
Many other African stories may also be described as pourqoi stories.
Ashley's Bryan's wonderful retelling of ''How the Animals Got Their Tails'' in his Beat the Story Drum, Pum-Pum tells of the origin of characteristic features of African animals.
A play on words is a favored form of humor in some African tales. In The Cow-Tail Switch, Harold Courlander and George Herzog retell the story of the very wealthy man named Time. Change of fortune reduces him to a beggar, and person's remark. ''Be-hold, Time isn't what it used to be!''
The King and the tortoise is another humorous story in which a king who considers himself the cleverest one in the world challenges the creatures of his kingdom to make the robe on the condition that the king give him seven days and provide any material he needs.
The tortoise returns on the day the robe is promised and explains that he must have a thread of fire to finish the robe of smoke. The king realized that he doesn't really want the robe anymore.
''You have proven to me that you are clever enough to make one, and that is all I really wanted to know.'' He declares that two cleverest creatures in the world live in his kingdom. ''You and I.''
Often in an African tale there is a present dilemma and then the storyteller will invite the audience to participate in suggesting the conclusion.
The problem of which son should be given the cow-tail switch as a reward for finding his lost father is asked in the title story of The Cow-Tail Switch in the collection by Courlander and Herzog. The boys undertake the search only after the youngest child learns to speak and asks for his father.
Each of the sons has a special talent he uses to help restore his father to life. It is then that the storyteller asks who should receive the father's cow-tail switch.
A more serious dilemma is presented in Nancy Day's The Lion's Whiskers, an Ethiopian tale about a stepmother whose stepson refuses to accept her as his new mother.
After trying every kindness, she visits a medicine man, who tells her that she must bring her stepson, she sets out into the desert. Over the course of several months she patiently feeds a lion, getting closer and closer until she is able to pluck three hairs from his snout.
When she returns to the wise man, he tells her he does not need the whiskers anymore, she has learned what she needs to know. ''Approach your stepson as you did the lion and you will win his love.'' Indeed, when she returns home, it is her quiet and loving patience that finally draws her stepson into the circle of her arms.
While searching for an African variant of ''Cinderella,'' John Steptoe came upon the story he retells in Farrarons Beautiful Daughters, turning it into a strikingly illustrated tale about conflict and contrast. Malyara, the bad-tempered, selfish sister, predicts that one day she will be queen and her sister will be a servant. Nyasha, the humble and hardworking sister, is happy to work in her garden and care for their father.
When a message arrives from the king inviting all the worthy daughters in the land to appear before him so that he can choose a bride, Manyara hurries on ahead, thinking to beat her sister to the king's palace. Along the way she meets a hungry boy with whom she haughtily refuses to share her food with both people.
When her sister arrives, Manyara comes running from the palace in hysterics because she has seen a five-headed serpent on the throne.
Nyasha bravely approaches and is relieved to find a little garden snake that transforms itself into the king. He reveals that he had also taken the shape of the little boy and the old woman and thus knows that she is the most beautiful daughter in the land, worthy to be his wife.
Obviously there is no dearth of folk literature from Africa, where oral tradition has been maintained. Children who hear these tales will become familiar with other cultures and the rhythmical chord of ancient African storytellers.
They will learn of a land where baobab trees grow and people fear lions, leopards, droughts, and famines. Most importantly, they will learn something about the wishes, dreams, hopes, humor, and despair of other peoples. They may begin to see literature as the universal story of humankind.
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