Folktales typically originate in oral traditions that come from unknown sources and with unknown alterations along the way. These 18 folktales for kids have their sources around the world, but their stories are universally compelling.
When we talked about genres in our homeschool lessons we looked at the idea that Folktales could be both an over-arching genre and a sub-genre of the larger group.
That is, fairytales and tall tales and fables and myths and legends fall under the genre of Folktales. But, there are also specific stories that don’t fall into one of those sub-groups, but that are still stories told through oral traditions from ambiguous sources. So, it’s a both/and sort of classification.
Folktales vary in characters, setting, and problems, but what is it about them that makes us keep coming back? Why do they have such impact and staying power? That question stuck to my brain like a Lego on the bottom of my foot.
My personal favorite part of reading folktales is anticipating what the “switch” or “trick” will be at the end that reveals the overarching idea.
Folktales aren’t about who is the smartest or who has the most or who has the least or even about what a character should or shouldn’t do, they are almost always about unexpected responses to the curve balls of life. Every folk tale we read had an element of cleverness worked in.
In some cases characters used cleverness to teach a lesson to another character (It Could Be Worse); in some stories a character applied their cleverness and reaped a reward (Tops & Bottoms, Grandma and the Great Gourd); and in other cases, their cleverness got them in trouble (Raccoon, Rabbit’s Snow Dance).
What Is It to be Clever?
What is it to be clever? It’s not a term we use often to describe someone, but cleverness has several attributes tied to it: creativity, courage (taking risks), and an unconventional approach to challenges.
Rarely, if ever, did characters act in a way that we expected. Whether they were animals or people, their choices were unusual (Grandma in the gourd, for example). This flexibility in possibility allows stories to turn in surprising directions, no doubt keeping audiences engaged until a final outcome emerges.
Not surprisingly this combination of characteristics is one we both celebrate and spurn.
Whether we embrace a clever character or shun them depends most often on the outcome of their adventure. And here is where folktales emerge as beautiful wisdom stories.
Sometimes the clever character achieves success in a way that is appropriate and appeals to our sense of what is good and what should happen. We can cheer and discuss why their response created the desired outcome.
Sometimes the clever character is worse off by the end, and we can discuss why that was the outcome, taking into account their motive and their assumptions.
Learning to think creatively and respond with appropriate risk in a way that yields constructive outcomes is a challenging but worthwhile endeavor. Folk tales incorporate the complex idea of wisdom in a memorable and digestible form while encouraging thoughtful and intentional thinking.
Cleverness with character can be inspiring and creative. Cleverness unchecked can be devious and disastrous. In either case, the potential for interesting conversations and enjoyable reading moments together is at its peak with folktales.
And here’s a list of 18 folktales for kids to get you started!
Folktales for Kids
Other Folktale Recommendations?
There are 18 folktales for kids to get you going – and that’s just a start! There are so many others available. Have you read any that are particular favorites in your family or classroom? Let me know in the comments – I love to keep this list growing.
Folktales are timeless classics that are great to have on-hand for any read-aloud opportunity.