Folklore—Folklore is the renderings of a culture which have been passed down orally from generation to generation. It includes stories of many kinds and other pertinent information regarding a culture—folk recipes, remedies, etc. Folklore is relevant to children’s literature because the stories that were told as entertainments for adults in past centuries have been passed on to children. Written collections of folklore have been around for centuries—the two most famous from Europe would be Perrault’s Fairy Tales from 1697 and Grimm Brothers Household Tales from 1816.
Today many of these stories and others from diverse cultures are retold and illustrated for children in picture books. Myths—Myths are the stories of a culture that attempt to explain the natural world including that of human behavior. These are serious stories which cultures create to answer questions such as–why does the sun move across the sky every day? There are nature myths, creation myths and hero myths that appear in books for children. An example of a nature myth is the Greek story of Demeter and Persephone which explains the occurrence of the four seasons.Epics and Tales of Legendary Heroes—Legendary heroes appear in all cultures and stories grow up around these heroes. For instance the stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is a valued set of stories which originated in England. The Greeks gave us heroes like Ulysses and the tale of his great Odyssey. Hero tales become epics when the stories begin to reflect the aspirations and beliefs of a culture.
In this way they are not far removed from myths.Fables—These are short, didactic stories which typically use animals to portray human behavior. They usually include a stated moral. The Hare and the Tortoise ends with the words—Slow and steady wins the race. Folktales—A variety of types of stories which include trickster tales, pourquoi tales, cumulative tales, beast tales, ghost stories, tall tales, fairy tales and others. Folktales were passed on orally and have embedded messages about human behavior but are used primarily for entertainment. The Three Little Pigs is an example of a beast tale.Trickster tales—a type of folktale told in cultures all around the world that includes a sly character who must trick another character in the story.
In these stories it is often the weaker animal or less powerful person who “tricks” a stronger animal or more powerful person—for example a lamb tricking a coyote. This accounts for their great popularity among people who have experienced persecution or exploitation. An example would be the Tar Baby tale told by African Americans during slavery times where the rabbit outsmarts the fox.Pourquoi tales—a type of folktale that humorously explains why something is the way it is. This could be a cultural habit or a natural occurrence—but the stories are drawn out and aimed at entertainment (in contrast to myths), for example, Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears retold by Verna Aardema Cumulative tales—a type of folktale that has a growing pattern in the story—the story literally accumulates. Cumulative tales reflect the need in an oral culture to help strengthen memory through constant repetition. The different variants of the Gingerbread Man reflects a cumulative pattern.Beast tales—a type of folktale that includes talking animals.
The animals often behave as humans but unlike the fable these stories are more complex—and often humor is involved. The Bremen Town Musicians is a good example of a beast tale. Ghost stories—there are many types of ghost stories that are folktales—too numerous to mention. But ghost stories involve the supernatural—they can be humorous or frightening and exist in all cultures. The Soup Bone is an example of a ghost story. Tall Tales—These stories focus upon an invented character who possesses super human strength.
Tall tale heroes are particularly popular in the United States—we have a variety of heroes—Mike Fink, Pecos Bill, John Henry to name a few. Fairy Tales—a type of folktale, often called a wonder tale, which speak of the world where magic occurs—the world of faerie. These stories involve one-dimensional characters, fast paced stories and a hero who must face a quest or challenge. They are often tales of transformation.
Magic can appear in an object, a person or a place—and they end happily for the “good” hero and often not so happily for the “evil” characters.Cinderella is a good example of a fairy tale. Folklore is used with children in many forms. Picture books, story collections, theatre productions, puppet shows, and movies are all popular means of sharing these stories. The best-known tales are often used in popular culture in cartoons, advertisements or as jumping off points for new stories. Scholars disagree upon the value of folklore for very young children.
But most would agree that folklore is an essential part of any culture and deserves to be preserved.