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Explore stories of mischief makers in these folktales, both traditional and original, from cultures across the globe.
Charming tricksters, such as Anansi the spider and Brer Rabbit, have wheedled their ways through generations of storytelling. The trickster tale often features an anthropomorphic animal who seeks to disrupt his or her community with humorous misdeeds. When presented as a villain (e.g., Anansi), the trickster is typically entangled in his own web of deceit. He is frequently outsmarted by a character who is noble and selfless and has knowledge of the trickster’s selfish nature.
The trickster hero, on the other hand, is often introduced in the guise of an unassuming and potentially vulnerable character, such as an old lady (e.g., Aunt Nancy). Necessity reveals her cleverness and resourcefulness, frequently because another trickster attempts to deceive her.
Contemporary trickster tales borrow from the traditional roles of their trickster predecessors. This collection of traditional and contemporary trickster tales features charming mischief makers inspired by opportunity or motivated by necessity, and all provide the reader with a lesson and a smile.
Ananse and the Lizard. By Pat Cummings. Illus. by the author. 2002. Holt, $16.95 (9780805064766). PreS–Gr. 3.
Ananse seeks to marry the chief’s daughter to obtain half of his kingdom. The only obstacle is that he must figure out her name. The penalty of giving the wrong name—death! Ananse discovers her name and is keen to claim his reward, but a cunning lizard thwarts this plan by outsmarting him.
Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock. By Eric A. Kimmel. Illus. by Janet Stevens. 1988. Holiday, $17.93 (9780823406890). PreS–Gr. 3.
Anansi the spider stumbles upon a “strange moss-covered rock.” Once Anansi discovers the stone’s special power, he uses it to rob other animals of their food. A closer look on each page reveals Little Bush Deer, who observes Anansi’s antics, and, ultimately, it is Anansi who is tricked. Kimmel and Stevens have collaborated on additional Anansi tales: Anansi Goes Fishing (1992), Anansi and the Talking Melon (1994), Anansi and the Magic Stick (2001), and Anansi’s Party Time (2008).
Aunt Nancy and Old Man Trouble. By Phyllis Root. Illus. by David Parkins. 1996. Candlewick, o.p. K–Gr. 2.
Old Man Trouble comes a-knockin’ on Aunt Nancy’s door—a most unwelcome guest indeed! Aunt Nancy quickly realizes resistance is futile, and she lets him in. Before long, Old Man Trouble is stymied—his intended inconveniences are viewed as “blessings” by Aunt Nancy. For additional Aunt Nancy tales, see Aunt Nancy and Cousin Lazybones (1998) and Aunt Nancy and the Bothersome Visitors (2007).
Borreguita and the Coyote: A Tale from Ayutla, Mexico. By Verna Aardema. Illus. by Petra Mathers. 1991. Random/Dragonfly, $7.73 (9780679889366). PreS–Gr. 1.
A little lamb is as clever as a coyote is hungry. Each time they meet, the coyote declares his intention to eat the lamb, and each time, the lamb concocts a plan to distract the coyote—and avoid becoming a meal.
The Boy of the Three-Year Nap. By Dianne Snyder. Illus. by Allen Say. 1988. HMH, $6.95 (9780395669570). PreS–Gr. 3.
A mother struggles to make ends meet for herself and her son in long-ago Japan. A wealthy merchant moves to their village, and both mother and son see an opportunity for a change in their economic situation. The mother and son employ trickery, and they reap rewards for their efforts.
Brer Tiger and the Big Wind. By William J. Faulkner. Illus. by Roberta Wilson. 1995. Morrow, o.p. K–Gr. 4.
The animals are in the midst of a drought. The only food and water available are in Brer Tiger’s garden. Brer Tiger will not share his bounty, and it is up to Brer Rabbit to contrive a plan to feed the other animals.
Bruh Rabbit and the Tar Baby Girl. By Virginia Hamilton. Illus. by James E. Ransome. 2003. Scholastic/Blue Sky, $10.50 (9780590473767). PreS–Gr. 2.
Hardworking Bruh Wolf plants crops, while lazy Bruh Rabbit devours the results. Frustrated, Bruh Wolf posts a scarecrow in his field, but Bruh Rabbit sees through the charade and continues to snack on the wolf’s crop. Bruh Wolf is undeterred and makes a baby girl rabbit out of tar. Things get pretty sticky after that for Bruh Rabbit.
Fin M’Coul: The Giant of Knockmany Hill. By Tomie dePaola. Illus. by the author. 1981. Holiday, $7.35 (9780823403851). K–Gr. 3.
In Ireland, devoted couple Fin M’Coul and his wife, Oonagh, are hardworking giants. Unfortunately, the giant Cucullin is headed Fin’s way, intent on beating him up. Fearful Fin consults clever Oonagh, who conjures up a plan to outwit and disable the fierce Cucullin.
Grandma and the Great Gourd: A Bengali Folktale. By Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Illus. by Susy Pilgrim Waters. 2013. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter, $17.99 (9781596433786). K–Gr. 3.
Grandma apprehensively travels through the jungle to visit her daughter: “What’s life without a little adventure?” Grandma’s adventure begins when she immediately encounters hungry animals. She promises the animals a plumper meal, and the title of the book reveals her clever solution to make it home in one piece.
Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book. By Yuyi Morales. Illus. by the author. 2003. Chronicle, $11.15 (9780811837583). PreS–Gr. 2.
It can’t be good news when a skeleton in a fedora knocks on your door, yet Grandma Beetle answers hers and escorts Señor Calavera in. Grandma insists numerous chores be done that revolve around preparations for her birthday celebration. Ultimately, Señor Calavera departs alone with a promise to return next year . . . to attend her next birthday party! (A closer look: Grandma Beetle’s cat is on each page spread.)
Keeper of Soles. By Teresa Bateman. Illus. by Yayo. 2006. Holiday, o.p. K–Gr. 2.
Death comes to pay a call on Colin the cobbler. Clever and industrious Colin immediately fits Death for a pair of custom-made coffin-shaped sandals and sends him on his way. Disconcerted, Death leaves, but he returns a month later to pick up his sandals—and Colin’s soul.
Lion vs. Rabbit. By Alex Latimer. Illus. by the author. 2013. Peachtree, $15.95 (9781561457090). PreS–Gr. 2.
Lion is a bully. He plays malicious tricks on the other animals, and they are fed up. These disgruntled victims post an online advertisement to solicit help. Three candidates apply but fail to solve the problem. Then a clever rabbit beats Lion in numerous competitions. Humbled, Lion is forced to change his ways.
Love and Roast Chicken: A Trickster Tale from the Andes Mountains. By Barbara Knutson. Illus. by the author. 2004. Carolrhoda, $15.01 (9781575056579). PreS–Gr. 2.
High in the Andes mountains, Cuy the Guinea Pig and Fox play a game of “cat and mouse.” Quick Cuy perpetually outwits slow Fox in numerous outlandish situations that benefit Cuy and leave Fox disgruntled. This book would pair nicely with Borreguita and the Coyote (above) for a compare/contrast lesson.
Mangoes and Bananas. By Nathan Kumar Scott. Illus. by T. Balaji. 2006. Tara, $17.95 (9788186211069). Gr. 2–4.
Kanchil the mouse deer and Monyet the monkey are best friends. They live in the Indonesian rain forest, where the daily routine includes storytelling, playing tricks, and eating. Daily foraging has become tiresome, so they decide to plant a garden with their favorite foods, mangoes and bananas. The mangoes and bananas are now ripe, but can best friends, who are also tricksters, share the bounty?
The Mean Hyena. By Judy Sierra. Illus. by Michael Bryant. 1997. Dutton, o.p. Gr. 2–4.
Kamba the tortoise walks into trouble when he encounters Fisi the hyena. Fisi lodges poor Kamba in the crook of a tree and scampers off. Kamba makes the best of a seemingly hopeless situation. He sets up shop painting new coats on willing animals. Fisi hears tell of Kamba’s skill and demands a special coat—and certainly gets the one he deserves.
Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile. By Won-Ldy Paye and Margaret H. Lippert. Illus. by Julie Paschkis. 2014. Square Fish, $6.98 (9781250046734). PreS–Gr. 2.
This Liberian tale features vain Mrs. Chicken, who peers into a small pool to see her reflection but can’t see her wings. She moves to a bigger pool, where she encounters, and is captured by, an ever-hungry crocodile. Mrs. Chicken convinces the crocodile that they are actually sisters, and good manners dictate that sisters do not eat one another!
My Lucky Day. By Keiko Kasza. Illus. by the author. 2003. Putnam, $15.99 (9780399238741). K–Gr. 2.
Pig knocks on Fox’s door. Fox is hungry, so clearly this is going to be Fox’s lucky day. Suddenly, Fox is bathing, feeding, and massaging Pig. Clearly, this is going to be Pig’s lucky day!
The Perfect Nest. By Catherine Friend. Illus. by John Manders. 2007. Candlewick, $7.99 (9780763699758). PreS–Gr. 2.
Jack the cat constructs “the perfect nest” to lure a French goose, a Spanish chicken, and a southern duck to lay the eggs for three lovely omelets. It seems it is the perfect nest, because after the three mothers lay eggs, none of them want to leave. Jack finally convinces them to abandon the nest, but he soon discovers that instead of an omelet, he becomes a mother to a lil’ French gosling, a Spanish chick, and a southern duckling.
The Sacred Banana Leaf. By Nathan Kumar Scott. Illus. by Radhashyam Raut. 2008. Tara, $16.95 (9788186211281). Gr. 2–4.
Kanchil the mouse deer strolls through the jungle eating rice cakes from a banana leaf. Suddenly, he falls into a pit! Kanchil convinces other animals to join him in the pit, because his “sacred” banana leaf has revealed this day to be the end of the world.
The Tale of Rabbit and Coyote. By Tony Johnston. Illus. by Tomie dePaola. 1994. Putnam, $6.99 (9780698116306). PreS–Gr. 3.
Opportunistic Rabbit and gullible Coyote live in Oaxaca, Mexico. With each day comes new antics as Coyote “happens upon” Rabbit and is predictably and consistently deceived. Ultimately, this is an origin story: it explains why the coyote howls at the moon.
The Tale of Tricky Fox. By Jim Aylesworth. Illus. by Barbara McClintock. 2001. Scholastic, o.p. PreS–Gr. 2.
This story opens in a one-room schoolhouse, where the teacher begins to read the story of Tricky Fox to her class. Tricky Fox heads out with a sack and a plan to capture a pig. Tricky Fox outwits two out of three old ladies, but he is ultimately “outfoxed” by the schoolteacher!
Tops and Bottoms. By Janet Stevens. Illus. by the author. 1995. HMH, $17.99 (9780152928513). PreS–Gr. 2.
Meet Bear: he is wealthy, not too bright, and very lazy. Meet Hare: he is poor but very clever, with a large family to feed. Hare offers Bear a business opportunity that seems too good to be true: Hare will do all the work, and Bear can continue to nap. No surprise—Hare has the clear advantage, and Bear learns a lesson, of sorts, in this Caldecott Honor Book.
Tumbleweed Stew. By Susan Stevens Crummel. Illus. by Janet Stevens. 2000. HMH, $3.95 (9780152048303). Gr. 1–2.
Sisters Susan Stevens Crummel and Janet Stevens collaborated to write and illustrate this beginning-reader version of Stone Soup. In Texas, Hungry Jack Rabbit wakes up to think, “The sun is up. The sky is blue! What a great day for tumbleweed stew!” He proceeds to hop over to Two Circle Ranch and convince a host of prairie animals that he can make soup from a tumbleweed.
Zomo the Rabbit: A Trickster Tale from West Africa. By Gerald McDermott. Illus. by the author. 1992. HMH, $7.99 (9780152010102). PreS–Gr. 3.
Above all, Zomo the rabbit desires the gift of wisdom. Sky God proclaims that in order to achieve wisdom, Zomo must bring him three things: scales from Big Fish, milk from Wild Cow, and a tooth from Leopard. Zomo retrieves all three items and receives wisdom, but, ultimately, he must use his speed to outrun Big Fish, Wild Cow, and Leopard. An entry in McDermott’s trickster-tales series.
Find further reading and classroom activities on some of the trickster tales above in these web links.
Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock. Eric A. Kimmel’s website features an activity guide: ericakimmel.com/guides/AnansiRockupd.pdf.
Just A Minute. On her website, Yuyi Morales provides downloadable PDFs for creating a Señor Calavera puppet and mask: www.yuyimorales.com/just_aminute.htm.
Love and Roast Chicken. Barbara Knutson’s website includes a teacher’s guide: www.barbaraknutson.com/pdfs/TG_LoveAndRoastChicken.pdf.
Mangoes and Bananas. Nathan Kumar Scott’s website includes a “Resources for Educators” page, and a reader’s-theater script for Mangoes and Bananas is available to download: www.nathankumarscott.com/resources.
The Perfect Nest. John Manders includes his sketches and inspirations for illustrations on his website: www.johnmanders.com/books.
Tumbleweed Stew. Susan Stevens Crummel’s website includes a “Teacher Tips” page, and a reader’s-theater script for Tumbleweed Stew is available to download: www.susanscrummel.com/tumbleweed-stew-teacher-tips.
Kristin Rydholm, a frequent contributor to Book Links, is currently working as the instructional assistant at the Library Technology Center of the Joseph Sears School, in Kenilworth (IL).
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