I love comparing literature from around the world. We first gathered Cinderella stories from many cultures, and then Gingerbread Men type stories. There are many reasons to read fairy tales to children- especially because they’re whimsical, creative, and fun! Our children and classes loved comparing and contrasting the fairy tales from around the world, and teachers and parents love that it hones their critical thinking skills, and helps them to focus on the details. Even the Common Core Standards includes this in one of their “Reading Literature” standards:
Compare and contrast two or more versions of the same story (e.g., Cinderella stories) by different authors or from different cultures (RL.2.9.).
Trickster Tales are often funny, always entertaining, and would be a wonderful set of stories to compare and contrast.
What is a Trickster Tale?
- a story with a leading character who is often an animal with human traits and magical powers
- at the same time being wise and a fool, “the trickster-hero serves as a sort of folkloric scapegoat onto which are projected the fears, failures, and unattained ideals of the source culture.” (from britannica.com)
- convey folk wisdom, especially helping us understand human behavior within a culture
- historically used to teach lessons to young children about the values held in a community
- the trickster plays tricks but also is the victim of tricks
I collaborated with members of the Multicultural Kid Blogs to come up with a great list of trickster tales from around the world.
Western Europe: The Fox
Ute Limacher-Riebold of Expat Since Birth shares stories from Western Europe that feature the fox and the cat in a fascinating post: “In European traditional folkstales, one of my favourite characters is the Fox. Known as Reynard (from French: Renart; German: Reineke; Dutch: Reynaert) it is the character of a literary cycle of allegorical French, Dutch, English and German fables where he is an anthropomorphic red Fox and trickster figure.”
Eastern Europe (Polish/Slavic): The Devil
Olga, who writes on The European Mama, shares the intriguing use of the devil as a trickster in Polish, Slavic, Latvian and other Eastern European countries.
“The Polish devil, or devils (there are several of them), are dressed like Polish noblemen (although when Poland became annexed by Prussia, Russia and Austria, the devil is also dressed like a stranger, foreigner). His clothes are usually to hide his tail and or horns.”
Leanna from All Done Monkey gives us the history of Brer Rabbit, which “was born out of the slave trade, as Africans forcibly brought to the Americas brought with them stories of a trickster rabbit (Wakaima), who soon took on traits of similar tricksters from Native American tales.”
American Indian: Animals Galore!
From the raccoon to the rabbit, the geese, to the deer, to the bear: each Native American tribe used its own trickster animal to teach values to the next generation. NativeLanguages.org has hundreds of trickster tales from Chinook to the Sioux to the Algonquin and more.
Brazil: Golden Lion Tamarin Monkey
Stephen Greene from The Head of the Heard learned about the Brazilian trickster monkey, whose story he tells: “Once upon a time, a long, long time ago there was a wild and wonderful garden with all the animals you can imagine and all the trees and plants you couldn’t believe. The trees and plants offered every kind of fruit, of every kind of colour of every kind of size and every kind of taste.”
China: The Monkey King
Marie from Marie’s Pastiche shares the history and several books that feature The Monkey King: “Born from a rock, king to a band of monkeys, with many magical powers and incredible strength, Sun Wukong, The Monkey King, is no ordinary monkey. Sun Wukong, one of the most loved and known characters in Chinese literature, is one of the main characters in “Journey to the West,” a 16th century Ming dynasty epic story, which is considered one of the four great classic novels of Chinese literature.”
Indonesia: Kanchil the Mouse Deer
Here on Kid World Citizen I wrote about Indonesian Trickster Tales (which are also common in Malaysia) and Kanchil the Mouse Deer. The “stories feature Kanchil, the little mouse deer, a popular trickster in Indonesian folktales. In the 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 surprising ending proves that even smaller animals can be clever!”
West African/Caribbean: Anansi the Spider
“It is thought that Anansi was originally found in stories from the Ashanti and then the Akan people in Ghana, and from there the stories spread through West Africa. During the Atlantic slave trade, the stories crossed the ocean with the slaves through oral tradition. Especially in the Caribbean, Anansi’s cunning ways symbolized a resistance to powerful slave owners.” This incredible list of stories of Anansi the Spider has a long list of books, videos, and lesson plans.