My kids and I have been learning about Indonesia: did you know this Southeast Asian archipelago of 17,000+ islands has the 4th largest population on Earth!? Fascinating! We found some delightful stories featuring animal characters (heroes and tricksters!) that all are based on traditional Indonesian folktales. Here are some of the Indonesian folktales we read, plus pre-reading and post-reading activities.
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Before reading these books, here are some common animals, cultural concepts, and vocabulary you read about in these Indonesian folktales.
First, learn more about Indonesia here. Locate Indonesia on a map. Is it north or south of the equator? (that is a trick question!) What do you think the climate is like? Indonesia is in the tropics, and contains beautiful rainforests. Do you know any other countries that straddle the equator? Can you guess what type of vegetation grows on the islands? What types of animals would live there?
Here is a slideshow of animals in Indonesia that are also characters in the Indonesian folktales we read.
Read: Indonesian Folktales
The Dancing Pigby Judy Sierra reminds me of Little Red Riding meets Hansel and Gretel. This Balinese version tells the story of 2 lovely sisters who open a door to a stranger, and later are rescued by the creative and musical antics of some friendly animals. My kids were delighted that the pig was the hero!
The Gift of the Crocodile: A Cinderella Story by Judy Sierra is one of many Cinderella stories from around the world. In this colorful version, Damura calls out for help from the nearby wild animals, who help her more than once to escape from her evil stepmother and stepsister.
Mangoes and Bananas, illustrated with traditional kalamkari textiles from India, and its sequel The Sacred Banana Leaf, illustrated with Patachitra artwork by Indian Radhashyam Raut, are both written by the talented Nathan Kumar Scott. Both stories feature Kanchil, the little mouse deer, a popular trickster in Indonesian folktales. In both tales, Kanchil has to come up with a clever plan in order to get what he wants, tricking the other animals in the story.
The Great Race also by Nathan Kumar Scott reminded us of The Tortoise and the Hare from Aesop’s Fables. Illustrated in traditional art by Gujarati (Indian) artist Jagdish Chitara, the main character “Kanchil, the little mouse deer” challenges all the animals of the rainforest to beat him in a race. Kanchil is a popular trickster and folk hero across Southeast Asia, especially in Malaysian and Indonesian folktales. The surprising ending proves that even smaller animals can be clever!
Go To Sleep, Gecko!: A Balinese Folktale, a Balinese folktale by Margaret Read MacDonald, might have been my children’s favorite book out of the group. We love how the author weaved the story together, and my kids asked me to re-read the story several times. Little Gecko complains that the fireflies are keeping him awake, until he finally learns a wonderful lesson of nature’s balance from the wise elephant:
This world is all connected. Some things you just have to put up with. Now go home and go to sleep.
Are there any Indonesian folktales that we missed? Do you have favorite folktales that your kids enjoy? Let us know in the comments!