People have been telling folktales for kids for thousands of years. They are, in fact, a form of mythology that was used to pass on important lessons. And, deal with concepts too big (at the time) to understand. Folktales are exciting, from Prometheus to Odin, Anansi to John Henry. Everyone loves these stories!
They keep telling these stories because they speak to fundamental aspects of human life, and that makes them a great way to get kids interested in the oral tradition and literature in general. There is a folk tale to teach almost any lesson to any child, and picking it out is simply a matter of looking through all of the different folktales for kids.
Folktales for Kids to Be Interested in Mythology
1. John Henry
John Henry is an American folk hero who originated in songs written by railroad workers. The most famous story about him tells the tale of his competition against a machine. He was famous for his strength and his skill with a hammer. So he found himself racing against an automatic hammering machine to see which could work faster. John Henry won, but he also died. These stories focus on the importance of humanity even when surrounded by machines, so they’re important folktales for kids in our modern, tech-driven world.
2. Thor’s Wedding
Thor was a Norse god of war, thunder, and masculinity. This story focuses on the time that he went to his own wedding as the bride. A giant had stolen his hammer and demanded to marry a goddess to get it back. The goddess refused, so Thor had to play her part at the wedding. The story is almost pure comedy, and one of the best folktales for kids that want something silly with a hint of adventure.
3. How Odin Stole Poetry
The Norse also provide a symbolic story about how their god of magic and wisdom, Odin, gave poetry to humans. Odin wanted to be a poet, and he knew that a giant had magic mead that would give poetic inspiration to anyone who drank it. He tricked his way to the mead, but he spilled some when he made his escape. Humans collected the spilled mead, and thus became poets.
4. How Anansi Bought Stories
Africa provides a similar story about how the spider, Anansi, brought stories to humanity. He found out the price to buy all stories, and he played tricks on others until he could pay it. Telling this story along with the story about Odin is a good to teach kids that different cultures can still have plenty of common ground. There are plenty of other folktales for kids that include Anansi, so this can be a good choice for introducing them to the myths of the world.
The Greek story of Phaethon is a good choice for children that need to learn the value of caution. Phaethon was the son of the god Helios, but his friends did not believe him. He asked for proof, and Helios agreed to do anything he wanted to prove it. Phaethon asked to be in charge of steering the sun for the day. He lost control, and Zeus had to kill him to save the Earth from burning.
Prometheus is a symbol of human achievement, and his story is perfect for kids that need inspiration about what they can accomplish. The story says that the gods were once angry at humanity, so they took away fire as a punishment. The people suffered very much, but Prometheus took pity on them and dared to do something about it. He stole fire from the gods and returned it to humans. The gods punished him, but he was willing to suffer for the benefit of others.
The story of Theseus is violent, but good for older kids and teenagers that love an adventure. He is famous for killing the Minotaur, but his story begins with six bandits that he meets on the road. Each tries to torture travelers, but Theseus turns the tables and punishes them for it. He later goes on to free Athens from the Minotaur and have other adventures, which also makes his tale a good one to spread over several nights.
8. Odysseus and the Cyclops
This story is part of the Odyssey, one of the oldest and most enduring works of literature. Odysseus and his men are trapped by a cyclops, who eats a few of them every day. The creature is too big and strong to fight directly, but Odysseus comes up with a plan to escape. It mixes trickery and violence to great effect, but the hero’s arrogance is almost his undoing. People who like this story will probably love the rest of the Odyssey, although they should know that the rest of it is more of a story for teenagers than a set of folktales for kids.
Love is a rarity in most folktales for children, but romantics can still turn to the tale of Orpheus. It tells the story of a poet and musician who loses his beloved wife and the lengths that he will go to get her back. It’s a tragic story, but it’s one that reminds people that some losses are inevitable, which is why it has been popular for so many years.
People have realized the value of humility for thousands of years, which is why Narcissus is still one of the most popular folktales for kids. It tells the story of a hunter who falls in love with his reflection when he sees it in a pool. He can’t do anything except stare at himself in the water, and tragedy follows when he can’t stop loving himself.
What’s Your Favorite Folktale?
The world is full of folktales for kids and adults. Most of them teach valuable lessons, and all of them touch on important parts of the human experience. Reading these stories can teach people about the things that every world culture has in common, so nobody should grow up without experiencing them.
If any of these stories interest you, be sure to visit your local library to get started with a book of them.
Image from depositphotos.com.