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Good Books for Good Kids: Myths and Legends

Good Books for Good Kids: Myths and Legends

For a while, I didn’t read a lot of fairy tales to my small girls. I avoid presenting them with content that represents violence, and there’s not much more violent than the Brothers Grimm–remember how the stepsisters REALLY try to trick the prince when he comes searching for Cinderella? Shudder.

We’ve been implementing some elements of the Waldorf style of schooling into our home, however, and one thing that’s emphasized in Waldorf study is the experience of myths, legends, and fairy tales–they speak to us as a people, tell who we are as a culture, and are especially relevant to the emotional language of children, both light and dark. They’re also, like the Earth is Our Mother series of books, seen as connective, showing children their place in their community as a whole. And it’s true that my girls love hearing these cross-cultural fairy tales.

Although their favorites are the Brer Rabbit stories and native tales from Australia, here are five good starter books to try out with your own budding myth-seekers:

  1. Latin American Folktales: Stories from Hispanic and Indian Traditions–edited and with an introduction by John Bierhorst. There is a huge amount of tales to choose from within this volume, from all the Latin American countries and even from the United States. There are no illustrations, but briefer tales would be perfect for memorizing or performance.
  2. The Pot of Wisdom: Ananse Stories–by Adwoa Badoe and Baba Wague Diakite. My girls love Ananse, the trickster spider. These Ananse tales from Ghana are not Americanized or modernized, which might make them difficult for very young children, but very valuable for even slightly older children to learn about a different lifestyle and different culture while they also experience the stories.
  3. Tomie DePaola’s Big Book of Favorite Legends. These tales from around the world are obviously very amply illustrated by DePaola, and there are few words per page, as well, which is especially terrific considering that most books of myths, even those geared for young chldren, are VERY word-heavy. This book is a good starter book for a small kid not ready for the really authentic (read occasionally bloody) stuff.
  4. All the Stars in the Sky: Native Stories from the Heavens–by C.J. Taylor. All of these tales from assorted Native American traditions deal with legends about the sky–the moon, the stars, the sun, various celestial events. A good choice for comparative religion work or for kids who are learning about astronomy or the constellations.
  5. Legends of the Dreamtime–by Ainslie Roberts and Charles P. Mountford. My girls LOVE Australian myths, and my five-year-old will even often begin the stories that she dictates to me, “Once upon a time in the dreamtime.” The tales here are short, which is good, and are illustrated, which is also good, but they’re retold here by an anthropologist, which also means that they’re pretty dry and have lost a lot of the verve and vitality you’d see in a more authentic version.

Do your kids have a favorite fairy tale?

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By Julie Finn, Green Options

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18 comments

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9:18AM PST on Mar 12, 2011

Y'all need to check out author Gail Carson Levine!!!

Absolutely, wonderful, wonderful first book, ELLA ENCHANTED, which received the Newbery Honor.

10:05PM PST on Feb 19, 2011

Thank-you for the informative article. While I am not familiar with the books mentioned, one of my all time favorites is "Aesop's Fables". A couple of decades ago, a Nursing School classmate sat me down in her living room & handed me a copy of the book titled, "Love You Forever" by Robert Munsch. As an adult I have read it many times & a copy of it is always given as part of my baby gift. It comes in both hard & softcover, has been around as the 74th printing occurred in 2008. The ISBN #=ISBN-10:920668-36-4 (bound) & ISBN--10:020668-37-2(pbk). The story is very heart-warning & has no violence in it...truly a well cherished book. that will be read often It is sincerely not one to be missed. I thank-you for reading this.

10:05PM PST on Feb 19, 2011

Thank-you for the informative article. While I am not familiar with the books mentioned, one of my all time favorites is "Aesop's Fables". A couple of decades ago, a Nursing School classmate sat me down in her living room & handed me a copy of the book titled, "Love You Forever" by Robert Munsch. As an adult I have read it many times & a copy of it is always given as part of my baby gift. It comes in both hard & softcover, has been around as the 74th printing occurred in 2008. The ISBN #=ISBN-10:920668-36-4 (bound) & ISBN--10:020668-37-2(pbk). The story is very heart-warning & has no violence in it...truly a well cherished book. that will be read often It is sincerely not one to be missed. I thank-you for reading this.

7:17AM PDT on Oct 13, 2010

I'm glad I read this if only to look up the true story of Cinderella. I had no idea - gross!

11:13AM PDT on Aug 8, 2010

Reading is the thread that creates the blanket of life which will comfort and warm your very heart. Reading plants some of the most beautiful seeds known to mankind and the blooms are contagious. Reading is the key to knowledge and little can be gained without it. Giving a child an interest to read is allowing that child to be warm and bloom for eternity.
Dr Robert E McGinnis
Thanks for listening

4:21AM PST on Dec 13, 2009

I love that book! I must admit I'm not brave enough to eat the real thing, though. Here's a riddle, is it green eggs and green ham, or are only the eggs green? I've seen them cooked both ways.

11:50PM PST on Dec 9, 2009

Last year my mother found this copy of Green Eggs and Ham in spanish, oh the things you can find at Borders. She ended up giving it to my two year old nephew, my sister being half Pourto Rican and all, for Christmas last year. Yeah, I have the privilege to read it to him every time I baby sit.
Vitamin C

9:33PM PDT on Aug 22, 2009

ALL religous teachings are called myths by someone. The word isn't a diss, it is the proper name for a collection of tales that explain a culture's spiritual background.

Try being a witch. We get accused of making a religion out of fairy tales. Which are also sacred teachings. Hey the truth had to be passed on somehow, right?

Lovely article and thanks for giving such a broad look at the world's mythologies.

Yvonne, calm down. She meant no insult. Wait until they start calling your sacred tales folklore like they do mine.

I don't think anyone here would disrespect the teachings about Raven, coyote, or the path for each Native American tribe.

Remember that your sacred teachings have only become open to outsiders rather recently. So they need time to get used to the idea that they are sacred.

Which will be about the time I can wear a pentacle in public without fear, no doubt. Why not set up a website to educate people?

Each tribe has very different tales and paths to Diety. So it would be wonderful to see the teachings presented by someone who knows them as well as you do.

Hey my Gods get passed off as dead or demonic. So I hear you loud and clear on what a dominant culture can do to folks.

8:42PM PDT on Aug 22, 2009

Teachers complain that parents don't read nursery rhymes to kids, which help develop the memory and give the kids a sort of common cultural background. I read fairy tales -- by then in versions called The Brothers Grimm and Perault -- into my teens and ended up studying mythology in my 40s.

1:59PM PDT on Aug 22, 2009

, Seminole of Florida and Iroquois of New York don't share the same beliefs at all. And that's not even taking into account the beliefs of dead cultures like the Mexica and Calusa. So, can we please not lump them all together into some undifferentiated mass when riding to their defense?

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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