Tales and Tellings: Global Folktales to Share

As the winter season approaches, we all might be spending more time cozied up at home, but reading can take us anywhere in the world! These global folktales stem from cultural storytelling traditions around the world. Folktales are a broad genre of literature that emerges from oral storytelling practices in a particular cultural sphere. The relationship between the tale, the teller, and the audience may alter the form and content of a folktale over time. Although folktales naturally change as they are shared in different contexts, printed books capture a more stable version of the story. The folktales on this list come from countries like Finland, Japan, and Ghana, or broader regions like the Middle East and the Americas. Some are individual tales, some are collections of stories, and many are designed to be read aloud and shared with other listeners. Explore these tales and let your imagination take you to various corners of the world.

Ahokoivu, Mari
Translated by: Silja-Maaria Aronpuro
Oksi. 2021 (Young Adult Graphic Novel).
This graphic novel blends Finnish and Karelian mythology and folklore and presents the story in a visually stunning package. Umi, a mother bear, hunts and brings food home for her cubs. One of the cubs, Poorling, is a bit different from her brothers, and resembles a small humanoid figure. Mother keeps their family safe, but the forest is full of dangers. It is there that Mana lives, with her Shadow children, and above them all is Emuu, the great Grandma in the Sky. Poorling’s desperation to belong leads her to practice shapeshifting and other magic, until a violent moment changes everything. The art uses negative space and a minimal color palette to reflect emotional shifts and create a darkly beautiful atmosphere. From the heart of Finnish folklore comes a breathtaking tale of mothers, daughters, stars and legends, generational connection and trauma, and the old gods and the new.
S.741.5948 Ah68ok:E

Atwater, Barbara J., and Ethan J. Atwater
Illustrated by: Mindy Dwyer
How Raven Got His Crooked Nose: An Alaskan Dena’ina Fable. 2018 (Picture Book).
This hybrid format picture book (with graphic novel elements) is a modern retelling of a traditional Native American fable from the Dena’ina people. Framed as a tale told by grandmother to grandchild while performing traditional activities like foraging and fishing, this story represents the oral nature of folktales. Grandma describes Chulyen the trickster raven, who loses his nose one day, but vows to get it back. Luckily, he has some special powers to help him. Dwyer’s beautiful illustrations complement the tale that teaches readers an important lesson through Dena’ina mythology and includes a glossary of Dena’ina words for a glimpse into the cultural context of this story.
S.398.209798 At93ho

Crossley-Holland, Kevin
Illustrated by: Frances Castle
Between Worlds: Folktales of Britain & Ireland. 2019 (Young Adult Short Story Collection).
Ancient, rich, and strange, these magical and eerie tales from across Britain and Ireland have been passed down from generation to generation. A handsome, overconfident young man is swept up by a mysterious man on a horse and cast into a life-or-death adventure. A pair of green children emerge from a remote hollow and struggle to adapt to a strange new land. A dauntless farm girl finds that her fearlessness earns her a surprising reward. The folktales presented here are dark but humorous, lyrical yet earthy, and brief but emotionally impactful. This definitive collection of forty-eight familiar and lesser-known stories, retold by Crossley-Holland, opens a doorway to a lost world and shows the enduring power of language and imagination. The author meticulously cites the sources for the origins of these retellings in the book’s back matter.
S.398.20941 C884be

García Esperón, María
Illustrated by: Amanda Mijangos
Translated by: David Bowles
The Sea-Ringed World: Sacred Stories of the Americas. 2021 (Middle Grade Short Story Collection).
Fifteen thousand years before Europeans stepped foot in the Americas, people had already spread from tip to tip and coast to coast. Like all humans, these Native Americans sought to understand their place in the universe, the nature of their relationship to the divine, and the origin of the world into which their ancestors had emerged. The answers to these musings lay in their sacred stories, passed down through the generations. The talents of this book’s author, illustrator, and translator have woven together this collection of stories from nations and cultures across our two continents—the Sea-Ringed World, as the Aztecs called it—from the edge of Argentina all the way up to Alaska. The fifty-two stories in this collection convey resilience and hope, but sometimes contain events of sadness and tragedy. The limited color palette of the illustrations, rendered in blue, black, and white, leaves room for readers to imagine the details of the origins of these tales. The back matter includes a pronunciation guide, a culture guide, a map, and a glossary.
Q. S.299.7113 G1653se

Jones, Dan C.
Illustrated by: Weshoyot Alvitre
Living Ghosts & Mischievous Monsters: Chilling American Indian Stories. 2021 (Middle Grade Short Story Collection).
Hand this shiver-inducing collection of short stories to fans of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark! Shadowy figures in the night. An owl’s cry on the wind. Monsters lurking at the edge of the wood. Some of the creatures in these pages might only have a message for you, but some are the stuff of nightmares. These thirty-two short stories—including tales passed down for generations and accounts that could have happened in the contemporary world—are collected from the thriving tradition of ghost stories from Indigenous cultures across North America. Prepare for stories of witches and walking dolls, hungry skeletons, La Llorona and Deer Woman, and other supernatural beings ready to chill you to the bone. Author Jones (Ponca Nation) tells of his own encounters and selects his favorite spooky, eerie, surprising, and spine-tingling stories, all paired with haunting art by Alvitre. Each story is attributed to either an individual or a tribe and is briefly prefaced with information about specific Indigenous beliefs that are important context for the story. These stories are not for the faint of heart, but scary story fans will be satisfied with the terror in these tales.
S.398.208997 J7132li

Khalidi, Rodhan Al- (also known as Al Galidi, Rodaan)
Illustrated by: Geertje Aalders
Translated by: Laura Watkinson
The Three Princes of Serendip: New Tellings of Old Tales for Everyone. 2021 (Short Story Collection).
This wide-ranging collection of Middle Eastern folklore from an acclaimed Iraqi storyteller is paired with exquisite cut-paper art. The twenty folktales in this book have taken a long journey. Many have roots that stretch across Europe, Asia, and Africa, but when Al Galidi learned them in his homeland of Iraq, it was as Arabic folktales and as part of the Arabic storytelling tradition. When he migrated to the Netherlands, he shaped many of those tales into his debut book for children. Filled with wisdom about love and acceptance, and warnings against folly, these elegantly translated stories (many unknown in the United States) of donkeys and roosters, kings, sheikhs, and paupers are vibrantly illustrated by Aalders. These short stories, brief enough for elementary readers, are a rich and varied introduction to the world of Middle Eastern folklore.
S.398.2095602 K5266th

O’Neill, Richard and Katharine Quarmby
Illustrated by: Hannah Tolson
Ossiri and the Bala Mengro. 2017 (Picture Book).
A Traveller girl named Ossiri loves music and longs to have an instrument of her own, but her family cannot afford one. Drawing from her family’s tendency towards resourcefulness, she creates her own musical instrument from a willow branch and lots of recycled objects. She plays it enthusiastically, but it sounds terrible. Ignoring warnings not to awaken the ogre in the hills, Ossiri goes there to practice playing her instrument. Will she wake the ogre, and will it appreciate her playing? Written by a Romani storyteller, this original tale offers a fascinating insight into Travelling lifestyles and cultures. The text includes Roma words and phrases that are explained briefly in a glossary on the title page and the cadence of the story is perfect to read aloud. The illustrations are colorful and show many details of the tasks and activities of the Romani people.
S.398.2 On29o

Umezawa, Rui
Illustrated by: Mikio Fujita
Strange Light Afar: Tales of the Supernatural from Old Japan. 2015 (Young Adult Short Story Collection).
A bitterly jealous brother, a cold-hearted husband, a fraudulent merchant who meets his match in a supernatural river otter, a samurai who makes the ultimate sacrifice: the motives and pathologies underlying these traditional Japanese folktale characters are explored with haunting results. Prompted by the sometimes illogical and perplexing actions of traditional folktale characters (Why doesn’t the wolf kill Little Red Riding Hood right away?), experienced storyteller Umezawa revisits eight popular Japanese folktales, delving beneath their confusing plot lines to highlight the psychological motivations behind the characters’ actions. Tales of addiction, bravery, greed, abuse, and control—these stories take their inspiration from the great Japanese storytelling traditions. Evocative and haunting illustrations by Fujita add to the eerie beauty of this collection. A detailed afterword outlines the author’s approach and provides source material for each tale.
S.398.210952 Um2st

Umrigar, Thrity N.
Illustrated by: Khoa Le
Sugar in Milk. 2020 (Picture Book).
With lushly colorful illustrations, this picture book frames an ancient folktale about immigration within a contemporary setting. A young immigrant girl joins her aunt and uncle in a new country that is unfamiliar to her. She struggles with loneliness, and with a fierce longing for the culture and familiarity of home, until one day, her aunt takes her on a walk. As the pair strolls through their city park, the girl’s aunt begins to tell her an old tale about a time when a group of refugees arrived in a foreign land. The local king met them, determined to refuse their pleas for refuge. But due to the language barrier, the king filled a glass of milk and pointed to it to communicate that the land was full, with no room to accommodate the strangers. Then the leader of the group of refugees dissolved sugar in the glass of milk. His message showed that, like sugar in milk, the presence of new people in a country sweetens everyone’s lives. This folktale was a part of the author’s upbringing as a Parsi child in India and communicates a broader message of migration and belonging.
Q. SE. Um7su

Williamson, Emily
Gizo-Gizo! A Tale from the Zongo Lagoon. 2018 (Picture Book).
Gizo-Gizo the spider is a lazy, selfish fellow. When he starts a gold mine that pollutes the Zongo Lagoon and makes the other animals sick, naturally he ignores everyone else’s concerns. “Someday when I am rich, I will buy this place,” he tells them. “I can do whatever I want.” But when the fish groan with upset stomachs and the frogs wince from sore throats caused by the filthy water, Tortoise and Crab decide that things have gone too far. They devise a clever plan to teach their friend a lesson and make him clean up his mess. Originally written and illustrated by students from Cape Coast, Ghana, this community-created, contemporary folktale examines environmental sustainability and personal responsibility. With colorful illustrations inspired by West African textiles and a tale that includes Hausa words and phrases, it also provides a great platform for cross-cultural exploration.
Q. SE. W6765gi