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Laurie Block Spigel

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Folktales Can Teach Global Understanding

Books of folktales for all ages * see also Laurie's article Folktale and Story Activities

Teaching folktales and creation stories from around the world has been a blissful experience for me this fall. Not only did I get to journey to all corners of the globe, experiencing a wide variety of different cultures through storytelling, but I also found wisdom, adventure and imagination in the stories of the common people. So often the subject of literature is limited to works by famous authors, while the stories of the people, also known as folktales (stories from the oral tradition), are ignored. It has even been said that America has no folktales and no folklore, since all of it was brought here from someplace else (save for Native American stories). Yet I found plenty of folktales and folk heroes true to the U.S.A. Could lumberjack Paul Bunyan be anything but North American? Each story makes use of the land, the local plants and animals, and provides a peek into strange and magical ways of explaining the unexplainable. The stories of how the god Maui formed New Zealand, raised the sky, and slowed the sun to give us days, were so entertaining that I now see rays of sunlight streaming through clouds as Maui's ropes used to harnessed the bright star and slow its movements.

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These tales often celebrated the common man or ordinary animal. The tiny spider, Anansi, can outwit the sky god, and the common rabbit can deceive the bear; the name of the hero might be Jack or Sam, an ordinary name. Perhaps this serves to tell all of us we can reach heights we might not think possible. The ordinary man, woman or child is, after all, capable of great things!

These stories not only entertained my students, and inspired us to write our own tales; they also served to teach us about other cultures, gods and goddesses, and to appreciate and respect these differences. An excellent online source for folktales is: the Folklore and Mythology database from the University of Pittsburgh. These stories tend to be short, so you can read one every day, aloud or to yourself. Perhaps your child will read one to you!

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Books of Folktales for All Ages

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