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Children’s Literature on Folklore
Folklore originated as stories told around the campfire and passed down by word of mouth. Because these stories originated orally, many times they have no known authors. These stories were almost always fantasy and involved magic or animals that talked. There are six subcategories that fall under Folklore in Children’s Literature. These subcategories are: folktales, tall tales, fables, myths, epics/ballads/legends and religious stories.
One subcategory that falls under Folklore is Folk tales. A folk tale is a tale or legend originating among a people or folk, especially one forming part of an oral tradition. Folk tales are often part of the oral tradition of a group and are usually told rather than read. They are passed down from one generation to the next. They may be stories that grew out of the lives and imaginations of people. Folk tales can take on the personality of the storyteller and the story can take on the characteristics of the time and place in which the story is told. The themes are universal and timeless and may contain supernatural elements, imaginative characters, focus on action, have a simple sense of justice, have happy endings and contain fundamental wisdom (Chen, 2009).
There are seven types of folk tales, each with their own characteristics to set them apart from one another. Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti by Gerald McDermott is a beast tale. It is a beautifully illustrated folk tale from the Ashanti people about a spider “dad” named Anansi. Anansi is threatened by fish and a falcon, but is saved by his sons. He is confused as to which of his sons should get the reward (ball of light) and calls upon the God of All Things. They still can’t decide until the God of All Thing throws the ball of light up in the air for all to see. And according to the folk tale, it is still there today (McDermott, 1972). This story represents a folk tale with characteristics such as themes are timeless, imaginative characters, simple sense of justice, happy endings and fundamental wisdom.
A tall tale tells a story in which the main character (protagonist) has a problem to solve, is bigger than life and is extraordinary with super-human abilities. The plot of the story is usually funny, greatly exaggerated and includes a lot of action. At the end of the story the main character (good guy) often times defeats the bad guy, overcomes obstacles and/or solves a problem. One story that represents a tall tale is Thunder Rose by Jerdine Nolen. This tall tale is about a child who is born and becomes known as an African American heroine named Thunder Rose. She tackles adventures with her trusty steer, Tater. She drinks her milk straight from the cow and defeats outlaws as a teenager (Nolen, 2003). This story represents a tall tale because it shows Thunder Rose as bigger than life, with super-human abilities who defeats the bad guy.
Fables art short tales that use animal characters with human features to share folk wisdom and teach a moral lesson. Fables also help the reader understand human nature and human behavior. The animal characters talk, think, and act like humans while they retain their animal traits. Fables were originally passed down orally, but were eventually written down. Aesop is said to have passed on his animal fables, initially linked to India beast tales and were later written down by Greeks and Romans. Aesop’s Fables are very short stories that feature animals as the main characters and teach moral lessons. One of Aesop’s Fables is The Lion in Love. This is a short story about a lion who proposed to a beautiful maiden. Her parent told him to trim his claws, remove his teeth and then she could marry him. He did as they asked and returned to have them laugh in his face. The moral of the story: Love can tame the wildest. This book is considered a fable because the main character is an animal with human like qualities and there is a moral or lesson.
A Myth is another subcategory of folklore literature. Myths are traditional sacred stories that are told as if they are a fact and are told of ancient times or other worlds. They usually include gods or goddesses and supernatural powers. Myths often times deal with the creation of the world and natural events and teach lessons about good and bad behavior.
Myth from Ancient Egypt by Diane Hofmeyr is one example of a book about the golden godchild Atum who unfolds from a lotus bud. From him comes Geb god of earth and Nut goddess of the sky. These two become inseparable and Atum needs to forcibly separate them. The story continues and shows how day, night and the universe were created (Hofmeyr, 2006). The Origin of Life on Earth: An African Creation Myth by Sankofa aka David A. Anderson is a children’s National Award Winning Book that retells an age-old African myth. The illustrations are beautiful and historically rich. This myth preserves mythology as it relates to civilization, creates a bridge to the past and a spiritual connection for African youth. These two stories support the definition of myths with their lessons about good and bad behavior and inclusion of gods and goddesses and supernatural powers.
A legend is a traditional historical tale handed down from earlier times. Legends are about people and their actions or deeds of the past. They are stories that are sometimes of a national or folk hero which have a basis of fact but also have imaginary parts as well. The Story of Jumping Mouse: A Native American Legend by John Steptoe is a beautifully illustrated black and white children’s legend. This Native American legend is about a courageous, caring mouse who takes a journey to a far-off land and becomes a soaring eagle. Ka-ha-si and the Loon: An Eskimo Legend (Native American Legends) by Terri Cohlene tells a story of Ka-ha-si who appears to be lazy, but acquires great strength and rescues his people in times of danger. This legend also tells about the customs and lifestyle of the Eskimos.
Epics, Ballad, and Legends are very similar, yet also have some distinguishing characteristics. Epics are lengthy tales or series about a hero. Ballads are stories about a heroes as well, but are in poetic form. While the heroes in legends are from a traditional historical tale.
Religious stories involve the human quest to share spiritual truth or existence. These may include Bible stories or legends with religious connections. The Legend of Old Befana (1980) by Tomie dePaola is an Italian legend about an old anti-social lady spends her days sweeping and baking. She decides she wants to find the baby Jesus so she packs baked goods and gifts and takes her broom as she sets off on the adventure. She flies across the sky on the twelfth night leaving treats for children as they sleep while searching for the Christ Child. She searches every year, but Befana realizes that her search is not in vein because in a way Christ Child can be found in all children (dePaola, 1980).
Folklore links people to the cultural heritage of the past. Folklore is concerned with revealing the interrelationships of different cultural expressions and discovering what it is to be human. Folklore is at the center of humanistic study because it attempts to discover the basis of common humanity and the moral laws of our human existence (Wilson, 1988). Folklore is traditional and variable and provides endless cultural stories from the past and includes values, traditions, ways of thinking and behaving. Folklore adds a rich category


Aesop,.(1867). “The Lion in Love”. Aesop's Fables (Lit2Go Edition). Retrieved May 16, 2015, from
Anderson, D. A. (1991). The origin of life on earth: An african creation myth: Mount Airy: Sights Productions.
Chwast, S. (2006). The miracle of Hanukkah: New Jersey: Blue Apple Books.

dePaola, T. (1980). The legend of old befana: Orlando: Voyager Books.
Diakite, P. (2006). I lost my tooth in africa: New York: Scholastic Press.
Hofmeyr, D. (2001). The star bearer: A creation myth from ancient Egypt: Great Britain: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.
Lombardi, E. Defining Terms: Myth, folklore, legend, etc. Retrieved from
McDermott, G. (1972). Anansi the spider: A tale from the ashanti: New York: Henry Holt and
Nolen, J. (2003). Thunder rose: New York: Silver Whistle.
Steptoe, J. (1984). The story of jumping mouse: A native american legend: New York: Lothrop,
Lee and Shepard Books. (Original work published 1972)
William A. Wilson. The Deeper Necessity: Folklore and the Humanities. Journal of American Folklore 101:400, 1988.

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