Anansi the Spider: A tale from the Ashanti by Gerald McDermott

Anansi the Spider: A tale from the Ashanti by Gerald McDermott

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Publishing: Holt, Rhinehart and Winston, New York, 1972

Awards: 1973 Caldecott Honor

Description: Anansi the spider has six sons that are all good sons. They all have to come to his aid and rescue him when he gets into trouble, so when he finds a prize-a great globe of light-he is not sure which son should be rewarded. He gives it to the god of all things, Nyame, and when she sees them arguing over it, she puts it in the sky. It is still there-the moon. The illustrations are bold and geometric, almost tribal.

Programming: Have students point out Ghana on the map. Do a little bit of outside research about the Ashanti people and how they live before reading the story. Read other folktales, especially those that explain why something is the way it is, such as Why Mosquitos Buzz in People’s Ears. Compare and contrast the tales.

The Village of Round and Square Houses by Ann Grifalconi

The Village of Round and Square Houses by Ann Grifalconi

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Publishing: Little, Brown, and Company, Boston, 1986

Awards: 1987 Caldecott Honor

Description: A little girl is told the story of why the men live in square houses in her village and the women live separately in round houses. According to the girl’s grandmother, the people used to live in any kind of house they wanted, until Mother Naka (the volcano nearby) erupted to show her anger, and the only houses left from the destruction were one round and one square. The people took it as a sign and the chief told the women to go stay in the round house and the men in the square one, and it has been that way ever since, with both sides coming together for dinner.

Programming: This has a lot of really great scenes and explanation about the culture of the village (dinner procedures, order of respect, foods served, etc). Have students research this village or others and discuss how their practices are similar and different to ours and to other cultures. For example, respect is an important concept in many Chinese culture as well.

Arrow to the Sun: a Pueblo Indian Tale by Gerald McDermott

Arrow to the Sun: a Pueblo Indian Tale by Gerald McDermott

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Publishing: Viking, New York, 1974

Awards: 1975 Caldecott Winner

Description: This Indian folk tale tells the story of a boy who was born of a maiden and the Lord of the Sun. The boy is rejected by the other boys in the pueblo and goes to search for his father. The arrow maker makes the boy into a special arrow and shoots him to the sun where he must go through four trials to prove he is the Lord of the Sun’s child.

Programming: Because there are several other Caldecott list titles about Native American culture, students might compare and contrast this tale with the others. They might also talk about the typical elements of  a folk tale that are found in this story, such as a quest and a hero. Crafts might include some sort of indian art or home-made bows and arrows.

One Fine Day by Nonny Hogrogian

One Fine Day by Nonny Hogrogian

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Publishing: Simon & Schuster, New York, 1970

Awards: Caldecott Medal Winner

Description: A thirsty fox steals some milk from an old woman gathering wood for her fire. She catches him and cuts off his tail, and when he begs for it back she says that he can have it back when he replaces the milk he stole. The fox goes on an impossibly long errand, for he must get grass to give the cow, and water for the grass, and a jug for the river, and a blue bead for the girl with a jug, and grain for the peddler selling the bead…finally the miller is kind and gives the fox some grain so that he can get the milk for the woman. He does and she sews his tail back into place.

Programming: Stories with long chains of events like this make me think of checking students’ reading comprehension skills. “What did the grass ask for?” “Where was the fox going to get the water?” etc. After reading the story I would have the students help me set up a chain of people that he visits in order. Of course, the moral of this story is also not to take what isn’t yours.

Note: this story is inspired by an Armenian folktale.

Why Mosquitos Buzz in People’s Ears by Verna Aardema, Ill. by Leo and Diane Dillon

Why Mosquitos Buzz in People’s Ears by Verna Aardema, Ill. by Leo and Diane Dillon

why mosquitoes buzz in people's ears
Publishing: Dial Books, New York, 1975

Awards: Caldecott Medal Winner

Description: As the title suggests, this folk tale explains why mosquitos buzz in people’s ears. According to the story, the mosquito told a nonsense lie that began a chain of events that eventually led the Mother Owl to not call the sun to come up in the morning. The animals that are all affected meet to sort out the confusion, but the mosquito hides and is never punished. However, it still has a guilty conscience and comes to ask if everyone is still angry.

Programming: The repetition and working backwards is a theme that I would draw upon with students. I would probably use cutouts of each of the animals and point to each one as they are brought up in the story. After reading I would have students review the chain of events and point out which animal caused which problem. For fun, students might even try to come up with their own explanation folk tale, such as “Why dogs howl at the moon” or “Why bees buzz.”

The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush by Tomie DePaola

The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush by Tomie DePaola

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Publishing: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1988

Description: Little Gopher longs to ride out with the other boys who will become warriors, but he has a different life mission. This book tells the story of how he paints the colors of the sunset and brings it down to the people. The illustrations are in a folk style appropriate for the native american influence, and the images are not over-powered by the text. The very last page contains facts about the Indian Paintbrush flower referenced in the story, and how DePaola came up with the story. 

Programming: There could be some great connections made to diversity of talents and strengths. Students might take a personality test or see whether they are left- or right-brained. For a craft project they might paint their own sunsets using a picture as a guide, or they might simply go outside and paint something in nature. 

Juan Bobo Goes to Work by Marisa Montes, Ill. by Joe Cepeda

Juan Bobo Goes to Work by Marisa Montes, Ill. by Joe Cepeda

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Publishing: Harper Collins, 2000

Awards: ALA Notable Children’s Book

Description: Juan Bobo, Spanish for “Simple John” is a little boy who always seems to make mistakes and get confused. He tries very hard to listen to what he is told, but generally ends up making a mess. When his antics rouse a terminally ill girl to laughter, however, her father is eternally grateful and buys Juan and his mother un jamon every Sunday.

Programming: This book would be wonderful in a Spanish language class, or a unit on hispanic culture. There is a glossary of Spanish terms in the back, but while reading the story you could have students hold up a card for the English translation of the word to reinforce the meaning.