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Life Lessons in Folk Tales

When my daughter was two years old, I read her the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf from Jack Kent’s Fables of Aesop. The boy who is supposed to watch the sheep calls out, “Wolf, wolf!” and when all the villagers come running, the boy reveals that it was just a joke. He tries this again, with the same results. When a wolf actually does show up one day, the villagers refuse to answer the boy’s call for help, so the wolf devours a sheep and gets away.

My daughter thought this story was hilarious. “Wolf, wolf!” she exclaimed over the next few days, and brought her “Wolf Book” for me to reread to her. I thought about the times in my public library work where people asked me for children’s books with clear-cut morals, sometimes known as didactic stories. I did my job to help them find the books they wanted, but was grateful when they were open to stories that imparted life lessons in ways that invited the listeners to mull over the implications of the characters’ actions, rather than have the morals handed to them.

Master storyteller Margaret Read MacDonald  has written in picture-book form a number of folktales and fairytales upon which I rely for read-alouds and oral storytimes. When I want to convey that “happiness is wanting what you have,” I tell the British story The Old Woman Who Lived in a Vinegar Bottle, which is evocative of The Fisherman and His Wife, but has more humor. For resistance of blind obedience to authority and reliance upon one’s own common sense, I go to the Limba (Camaroon) story of Mabela the Clever. The folktale I quote most often to my daughter is the Balinese story Go to Sleep, Gecko! in which the message is, “Everything is connected. Some things you just have to put up with.”

What stories resonate with you? While you think about that question, please feel welcome to enjoy some of the offerings from the NaturalKids Team that complement the above-mentioned stories as props for storytimes and open-ended play:

For The Old Woman Who Lived in  a Vinegar Bottle:

A purple fairy from This Cosy Life

A blue fairy from Alkelda (that’s me!)

For Mabela the Clever:

A mouse from Woolies

Mice by MuddyFeet

A cat from Pretty Dreamer

For Go to Sleep, Gecko!

A green gecko by Little Elfs ToyShop

This is a small sampling of handmade creations that the NaturalKids team has to offer. Your imagination can turn ordinary household objects into storytelling props, too. How else could the dish run away with the spoon?

Please share in the comments section the stories you like in particular. I really do want to know.

–Farida Dowler is a children’s librarian-turned-freelance musical storyteller in Seattle, Washington. She sews wool felt figures for the Etsy shop Alkelda, makes up silly songs on the guitar, and reads science-fiction.

2 thoughts on “Life Lessons in Folk Tales

  1. I always loved the Pokey Little Puppy when I was little and Miss Suzy. ^_^ I’m a big Aesop Fables fan and I love many children’s stories and old fairy tales.

    Thanks so much for sharing and for posting my little gecko. ^_^

    Big hugs,

  2. Now I want the read that story about the woman in the vinegar bottle. Thanks for this great post!

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