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10 African and African American Folktales for Children

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America is a country rich in history and stories. As a melting pot of cultures, our national literature comes from all over the world. One of the best ways to teach our children about other cultures is through books, and in honor of Black History Month, I have put together some of my favorite African and African-American folk tales that are perfect to share with children. These books blend together a rich combination of history, fable, and illustrations that engage and teach children the importance of America's cultural diversity.

African Folktales

A Story, A Story written and illustrated by Gale E. Hayley

Where do stories come from? This African folk tale tells the story of the small, yet tricky spider Anansi, and his quest to get the stories from the Sky God and give them to the children of earth. When the Sky God won't give Anansi the stories, Anansi must figure out a way get them himself.

 

 

Anansi the Spider written and illustrated by Gerald McDermott

Anansi (or depending where you are, Ananse, Kawku Ananse, or even Aunt Nancy) can be found in folklore and stories from all over the world, but he originated in the Ashanti tribe in Ghana. In Anansi the Spider our little hero finds himself in trouble again. He is rescued by his sons, but his problems don't end there. Anansi must decide which son deserves a prize for saving his father's life. 

 

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Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters : An African Tale by John Steptoe

All fairytale princesses have one thing in common -the desire not to be a princess. So it is with Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters. His two bad tempered older daughter will stop at nothing to get a chance to become queens, but his kind and patient youngest daughter wants only to do the right thing. So when Mufaro's daughters hear that the king is looking to marry, they set off to the castle. Although Mufaro's daughters take the same path, they all end up in different places.

 

 

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears by Verna Aardema ; illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon

When the mosquito unwittingly bothers the iguana, Iguana gets so annoyed that he sticks two sticks in his ears so he won't have to listen to Mosquitoe's talking. This sets off a chain of events that finally answers that age old question: why do mosquitoes buzz in people's ears? 

 

 

Why the Sky is Far Away : a Nigerian Folktale  by Mary-Joan Gerson; pictures by Carla Golembe

Mythology originated with people's need to know why. In this Nigerian story,  "Why the Sky is Far Away", readers learn that the sun and the sky used to live close to earth. People didn't have to plant crops or cook because if they needed something they could reach right into the sky and grab it. But soon they start grabbing more than they need and their wastefulness has consequences.

 

African American Folktales

African-American folktales evolved from the need for African slaves to hold onto their culture in an environment where they weren't allowed to express themselves or keep their old traditions. The stories below are a mix of traditions from both side of the Atlantic, told for a modern audience and accompanied by vibrant illustrations.

 

Sukey and the Mermaid by Robert D. San Souci ; illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Sukey is a young girl who lives with her mother and stepfather. They make her work hard all day. She finds solace in the soft sand and bright waters of the seaside, where she meets a mermaid named Mama Jo. Mama Jo helps Sukey find a better life with her magic and her love. Pinkney's illustrations of Mama Jo's black and green hair, Sukey brown skin, the pink colors of the sunset, and the blue-greys of the sea adds to the mysticism of San Souci's story.

 

 

 Finding the Green Stone by Alice Walker; paintings by Catherine Deeter

This short story by Alice Walker becomes a vibrant children's book with the help of Catherine Deerer's paintings. Everyone in Johnny's town has a bright, shining green stone. But as Johnny begins making bad choices, his stone begins to fade until one day he loses it. The people in Johnny's town come together to help him find his stone, but Johnny is the only person who can find his stone and make it shine bright again. 

 

 

 

Talking Eggs

The Talking Eggs: a folktale from the American South; retold by Robert D. San Souci ; pictures by Jerry Pinkney

Blanche and her mother and older sister live on a small farm in the American south. Blanche is a hard worker and tends the whole farm by herself while her uncaring mother and sister laze about on the porch all day either ignoring or ordering Blanche around. But Blanche's fortunes soon change when she's kind to an old woman she meets in the woods. 

 

 

Mirandy and Brother Wind by William Holden, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Mirandy needs a partner for her first cake walk dance. Who better to dance with than Brother Wind, who can swoop and dip and turn any way he pleases? But first Mirandy must catch the wind. Is she clever enough to stop Brother Wind in his path?

You can read Mirandy and Brother Wind online using OverDrive.

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African Tales

Dear Zanny: Absolutely thrilled to learn that you are in charge of this information!!!! I'm about to return to Rwanda (6th trip) to work with teacher-trainers. I will take your advice on the African Tales and purchase copies to take with me for the schoolchildren there. Best wishes, Helen Kweskin

Terrific work Zanny... Thank

Terrific work Zanny... Thank you for sharing these wonderful stories! Jennifer Owen.

African American Children's literature

Dear Zanny, I was tickled to see your favorite books from your childhood listed! Congrats and Happy Black History Month! Rhetta Vinson

Excellent choices Zanny! A

Excellent choices Zanny! A couple of my favorites are on your list too! Thank you for sharing these treasures with New York and beyond with this blog post!

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