What is a folk tale?
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I just wanted to take some time to celebrate how much I love folk tales in our home. I don’t fully understand why, but stories like The Three Little Pigs or Henny Penny are just timeless and my children love them in the same way I loved them when I was a child.
We always enjoy new library books we find with fun stories or beautiful illustrations (Honestly my favorite genre to enjoy ‘new’ is picture book biographies; the most brilliant books in this area have all tended to be published in the last 15-20 years and they are often only getting better!) but there is something about classic, simple stories that have been told for centuries to America’s children.
I often use folk tales to practice my oral storytelling skills to my children. I know most of them by heart and find it fairly easy to tell them from memory, with a few colorful details and voices, at times when oral stories want to be told. My children find it incredibly entertaining/impressive if I can whip out a story from my head at bedtime. I love being able to switch things up and embellish characters and practice excellent eye contact and facial expressions that my kids wouldn’t get in the standard written story. Something about storytelling… I feel like different parts of the brain and heart are engaged when I do this and folk tales allow me to have an instant stock of base material from which I can draw.
I wanted to share one very awesome book with you that we recently discovered: The Folk Tale Classics Treasury is brought to you by my favorite folk teller: Paul Galdone. The reason we love Galdone is that he is no-nonsense. He tells the story perfectly and faithful to tradition and he illustrates them simply. Now, I’m someone whose heart rate speeds up and practically salivates when she sees glorious, intricate illustrations like those done by Bimba Landmann or Kinuko Craft. But those would not be fitting for the golden simplicity of The Three Billy Goats Gruff. I mean, it’d probably look brilliant. But I wonder if it would just be too distracting from the story. Not all picture books need to be a six course, high feast… sometimes a simple bowl of oatmeal is perfectly satisfying in and of themselves. Anyway, this treasury by Galdone is a gem because the stories are the originals that can be found in his stand-alone books and the illustrations are a generous full page, unlike the squished format found in so many picture book anthologies or treasuries. The book would be an exquisite gift to anyone looking to kickstart a beautiful library for a child.
Another way to get your hands on some of the best folk tales (for cheap!) is to look at some of the classic Golden Books like The Little Red Hen, The Three Bears, or The Saggy Baggy Elephant.
Lastly, it’s such a fantastic experience to expose our kids to the folk traditions of other cultures. We adore Erik Kimmel’s treatment of Anansi the Spider the most in his books like this and subsequent titles. And Isaac Bashevis Singer is another international storyteller favorite around here. And I would be remiss if I forgot to mention The Story of Little Babaji which my own mother read to me a hundred times and I loved it every, single time.
In subsequent posts, I’ll talk about fairy tales, fables, myths, etc… but for now, I hope you all take a minute to read (or tell!) a folk tale to your child today and appreciate their place in our cultural traditions. The simplicity and goodness of these stories are things that will stay with your child for their entire lives. Happy storytelling!
“For most of human history, ‘literature,’ both fiction and poetry, has been narrated, not written — heard, not read. So fairy tales, folk tales, stories from the oral tradition, are all of them the most vital connection we have with the imaginations of the ordinary men and women whose labor created our world.”
― Angela Carter
My absolute favorite grad school class was a children’s lit class. We did an entire section just on the various fanciful fictional genre you posted here. Love your post and book ideas! I’m looking forward to seeing the rest.