Do your kids know about folktales? These are stories from a culture’s oral traditions meant to share values and/or explain something in the natural world or about human nature, often are about ordinary people, and can including talking animals like fables. Sometimes folktales contain a wise life lesson at the end just like a fable does.
When researching folktales, I found that there is quite a bit of overlap with myths, fables, and legends. One website I read said, “Folktales include myths, legends, fables, animal tales and fairy tales.” Which makes it a bit confusing when trying to distinguish the difference between these different stories. Plus, tall tales are considered folktales.
For now, we’ll just say that folktales are stories meant to teach something and they are orally passed down from generation to generation.
(More or less.)
However, the point of this post is not to define folktales so much as but to share with you new folktales picture books for kids that recently impressed me. I think you’ll really like these titles.
Folktales for Kids
Helga’s Dowry: A Troll Love Story by Tomie dePaola
A hardworking, clever troll named Helga earns her own dowery so that Lars will finally marry her, not Inge. But once she’s amassed a dowery, she realizes that Lars doesn’t love her, he just wants her money. But there is someone who loves Helga and doesn’t need money — the king! Tomie dePaola does it again!
Martina: The Beautiful Cockroach / Martina, la hermosa cucaracha by Berta de Llano, illustrated by Jaime Rivera Contreras
Doña Julia wanted to help Martina find a suitable groom. So she devised a tricky test for prospective suitors. Anyone who would drink the disgusting tembleque with added salt would show that they really liked being with Martina. Eventually, she meets Perez, a kind mouse, who passes the test and they get married in a big ceremony. Adorable!
The Crane Girl adapted by Curtis Manley, illustrated by Lin Wang (JAPAN)
A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale by Karen Rostoker-Gruber, illustrated by Kristina Swarner
A farmer complains to a wise woman about his small house. She tells him to put all his animals inside. After a while, she tells him to put the animals back outside. When he does that, the farmer feels like his house is spacious and perfect for his family.
Pacho Nacho by Silvia Lopez, illustrated by Pablo Pino (MEXICO / JAPAN)
This hilarious story begs to be read aloud. It’s about a family that has two sons, the oldest son has a VERY long name that his parents insist everyone use, Pacho-Nacho-Nico-Tico-Melo-Felo-Kiko-Rico. This name appeased the family who suggested all the names but when he falls into the river, it takes so long for his brother Juan to say his name and get help that the parents decided to shorten his name. Based on an old Japanese folktale, you’ll love the retelling set in Mexico interspersed with Spanish words. LOVE this book!!
The Cat from Hunger Mountain by Ed Young (ASIA, maybe CHINA)
Japanese Children’s Favorite Stories by Florence Sakade, illustrated by Yoshisuke Kurosaki (JAPAN)
Reading these 20 folktales, you’ll notice distinctive Japanese elements as well as similarities in folktales from other countries, particularly the life lessons learned in each. This book is whimsically illustrated and the stories are enchanting.
Yokki and the Parno Gry by Richard O’Neill and Katharine Quarmby, illustrated by Marieke Nelissen (ROMANI)
The Romani, or Traveling Folk, carry with them many rich traditions, of which is this traditional story about a boy who told stories about a Parno Gry, a flying white horse, to lift the spirits of his family during a hard time. In the stories, the Parno Gry takes them to bustling markets where they sold their wares again. But these are just stories and the people are losing hope in the face of hunger and lack of jobs. Then one day, the Parno Gry arrives to fly the Romani to a new location with more food and hopeful possibilities.
The Secret of the Kelpie retold by Lari Don, illustrated by Philip Longson (SCOTTISH)
Read about the enticingly dangerous Kelpie who lures you to the water only to drown you. Fortunately, in this folklore story, a quick-thinking sister deciphers the rock pictures and saves her siblings. I found this fascinating, would your kids?
Elephant in the Dark based on a poem by Rumi, retold by Mina Javaherbin, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin (INDIA)
El Chupacabras by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Chas McCreery (MEXICO)
Wacky and fun, written in sentences that mix English and Spanish and Spanish and English, this modern folktale explores the chupacabra in a way that isn’t scary but more light-hearted. A farmer and daughter discover the goatsucker (chupacabra) has sucked one of their precious goats. So, the father asks the flower seller for help. She gives him magic powder which, when overused, makes a herd of gigantic goats! Now, they need the chupacabra’s help to suck out some of the air! Beautiful, earthy illustrations. “Hector had to fix everything, pero la dama de las floras lo ayudo.”
Never Trust a Tiger (Animal Stories) A Story From Korea retold by Lari Don, illustrated by Melanie Williamson (KOREA)
A man saves a tiger from a pit only to have the tiger want to EAT him. But, that’s not right says the man. A good deed should be followed by another good deed. Of course, the tiger doesn’t care about the man’s moralizing. So the man insists they ask someone else to judge. After asking an ox, a tree, and a hare, you’ll love the surprise ending that the hare sets into motion. Superb! While this is set up as an early chapter book, it’s also great for reading aloud, too. Discover more Animal Stories from Barefoot Books.
The Gigantic Turnip by Aleksei Tolstoy, Niamh Sharkey, and Imelda Staunton (RUSSIA)
The illustrations are so amazing, they’re the perfect tone for this delightful folktale. An old man and an old woman plant many vegetables one year. The vegetables grow and get harvested, all except for the turnip because it’s so gigantic. Since the couple can’t pull it out themselves, they ask one farm animal after another to help, making a long chain of pullers. Finally, they ask the last, smallest creature to help — a mouse. And what do you think happens? It comes out! And everyone has turnip stew for dinner. Just goes to show us that even the littlest can help. Find more Barefoot Books about world cultures.
How the Stars Came to Be by Poonam Mistry
This simple folk tale with exquisite illustrations tells the story of how the stars came into the sky from the Sun so the Fisherman could find his way home safely and the Daughter wouldn’t be worried.
Vole and Troll by Iza Trapani
This book is perfect for reading aloud to children with lots of repetitions and songs. A clever Vole uses familiar preschool songs to trick the Troll into singing and getting distracted that the Vole can get across the bridge safely. The Troll gets so angry when he realizes and repeats this familiar refrain: “Troll-dee-roll. I’m a troll, And my favorite food is Vole. With a knick-knack, paddywhack, Better pay the toll, Or you’ll end up in my bowl.” How will this charming story end? With the Vole and Troll singing together in harmony!
The Girl with a Brave Heart by Rita Jahanfouz
A fairy tale from Tehran about kindness…A little girl encounters an old lady who asks her to destroy things in her yard but the little girl listens to hear heart and makes the garden beautiful again. To thank her, the old lady makes the girl beautiful. When the girl’s sister hears about this, she visits the old lady also. But, she doesn’t follow her heart and destroys the lady’s things — and gets rewarded in kind, with ugliness.
Find more folktales for kids online at Storyarts.