Picture it: the snow is falling, the wind is blowing, and no one really wants to leave the house for any reason. It is always a great time to cuddle up with a good book, but that is especially true in these quiet winter moments when it seems more possible to spend some time reading. Turn off your phones, your televisions, and your computers, and enjoy reading aloud some wintery folktales from around the world with your family.
The Mitten by Jan Brett is a classic Ukrainian folktale. A young boy named Nicki begs his grandmother to knit him snow white mittens despite her concerns that he would lose them in the snow. Her concerns proved to be true, as Nicki lost one of his mittens after going out to play in the snow. The tale continues as various woodland animals find comfort and warmth in Nicki’s lost mitten and it expands in size to fit each additional animal. A mole, a rabbit, a hedgehog, an owl, a badger, a fox, and a bear all managed to squeeze inside the mitten, but when a mouse came along and sat on the bear’s nose, the bear sneezed and all of the animals flew out of the glove and into the air. Nicki found his lost mitten on his way back home to his Baba, and the story ends as she puzzles over its much bigger size. Children and adults alike will love the beautiful, authentically Ukrainian illustrations and will enjoy seeing each animal come along to try to fit into this young boy’s mitten.
The Crow’s Tale by Naomi Howarth is inspired by a Lenni Lenape Native American legend. It takes place in the depths of a freezing cold winter and the many animals are very hungry, extremely cold, and nervous about their survival. The Wise Owl suggests that one of the animals make a dangerous journey to the Sun to ask for some heat. Only one could make the journey: the beautiful Rainbow Crow. They knew that Rainbow Crow was brave and strong enough to make the journey to the Sun. He flew through a blizzard and made it to the Sun, but the Sun explained that he had spent all summer shining. He decided to give Rainbow Crow a long branch of fire to bring back to the animals for warmth. As he flew back to his friends, the fire branch began to cover his beautiful wings in dark soot. He no longer had a singsong voice, but a raspy squawk, but he still bravely continued his journey home. The animals were so grateful for the Sun’s gift of fire, but Rainbow Crow was sad because of how he had changed. His animal friends all explained to him that his bravery, kindness, and selflessness are what truly make him beautiful. In the end, the lesson learned is that inner beauty is what matters most among true friends.
When Bear Stole The Chinook, retold by Harriet Peck Taylor, is a folktale of the Siksika Native American tribe of the Great Plains. This is another tale that takes us to a land of the harshest of winter conditions, and the warm wind known as the “chinook” is far away. The Siksika people and their animals are struggling to survive. The Old Ones would keep watch for the chinook, but it never seemed to come. A young Siksika boy gathers his animal friends around him and they try to figure out how to find the chinook to bring it back to their land. As it turns out, a large bear had stolen the chinook so that he could keep warm in his lair all winter long. The boy and his animal friends decide to make the long, dangerous journey to retrieve the chinook. The animals all worked together to take back the chinook, which the bear had hidden and secured. They found a way to get the bear to sleep, and then successfully freed the chinook. By the time the bear awoke, the chinook was warming the water and land and the bear could not cross the river to chase them. The boy and the animals successfully returned to their village with the chinook and everyone began to celebrate the warming of the air. The story ends with the explanation that bear could no longer steal the chinook, and this is why bears survive the long winters by sleeping all season long.
Tanuki’s Gift: A Japanese Tale by Tim Myers is a wonderful Japanese story of friendship between two unlikely characters. An old Buddhist priest lived alone and spent his days praying. The townspeople helped the priest to survive by providing him with food and clothing, and by helping to keep his home safe. On a winter night, he heard a small voice outside in the blustery snow. It was a tanuki, a badger-like animal, who was close to frozen and he asked if he could warm himself in the priest’s home. The priest invited the tanuki in and began his praying again while the tanuki got comfortable. Sometimes the tanuki would bring the priest small gifts when he arrived. He only came in the winter, and the priest was grateful for his company. One winter day, the tanuki asked the priest what he could give him to repay him for his kindness over the years, and the priest hesitated, but eventually asked for three pieces of gold to pay for prayers to be said in his name. The tanuki left and went on a quest to find the gold, and did not return for quite a long time. The priest began to feel guilty for asking such a thing of the tanuki. When the tanuki finally returned, he proudly showed the priest the gold he had mined and smelted himself. The priest burst into tears and confessed that he was wrong to ask for such a gift because the tanuki had given him the best gift of all over the years. He explained that the tanuki’s friendship meant more to him than any other gift, and the tanuki never left the priest’s side again.
These are just a sampling of wonderful folktales that the library has to offer, and all are available through our Children’s And Parents’ Services Department. If you want to browse more folktales from around the world, World Folklore and Folklife is an amazing resource that the library offers through our website. With this database, you can search by the folktale itself, by title, by subject, by time period, as well as browse specific regions of the world. If your family enjoys reading aloud together and exploring new cultures, folktales are a great, entertaining place to start!