Including Folktales in Black History Month

photo credit Tim Hensel

“For me, a huge part of Black history is celebrating who we are as a people. Celebrating us. Not that we are all alike – far from it. But there is a history we share – as powerful or as painful or as beautiful as it may be – that should be also be a part of our focus. When we talk about Black history, we should also talk about our folklore and mythology, and our culture as a whole. And how we can all contribute to history.” — Eden Royce

As I started pondering ideas for a Black History month book-list, I came across this Harper Stacks blog post from Eden Royce, author of Root Magic (a 2022 Walter Award Honor title). She thoughtfully encourages a broader celebration, not just a look at extraordinary figures, but a recognition of Black people and the rich folklore of their culture. Royce reminds us that these stories are for sharing–whether it’s on a back porch or in a library. Inspired by her shift in focus, I moved from the fabulous titles in our review collection to the treasures in Ellin Greene Folk and Fairytale collection. Below is a list of favorites (with links to the Dominican University catalog) that celebrate the stories and myths Royce lifts up, from some truly celebration-worthy Black creators, that would be make a wonderful addition to Black History Month lessons and programming.

Ashley Bryan

Ashley Bryan’s African tales, uh-huh
Bryan, Ashley. Simon & Schuster/Atheneum Books. 1998.

All Night, All Day: A Child’s first book of African-American spirituals
Bryan, Ashley. Simon & Schuster/Atheneum Books. 1991.

Virginia Hamilton

Bruh Rabbit and the Tar Baby Girl
Hamilton, Virginia; Ransome, James, illustrator. Harper Collins/Blue Sky Press. 2003.

Her Stories: African American folktales, fairy tales, and true tales
Hamilton, Virginia; Dillon, Leo, illustrator; Dillon, Diane, illustrator. Harper Collins/Blue Sky Press. 1995.

The People Could Fly: American Black folktales
Hamilton, Virginia; Dillon, Leo, illustrator; Dillon, Diane, illustrator. Harper Collins/Blue Sky Press. 1985.

A Ring of Tricksters: animal tales from America, the West Indies, and Africa
Hamilton, Virginia; Moser, Barry, Illustrator; Harper Collins/Blue Sky Press. 1997.

Julius Lester

John Henry
Lester, Julius; Pinkney, Jerry, illustrator. Penguin Random House/Dial Books. 1994.

The Tales of Uncle Remus: the adventures of Brer Rabbit
Lester, Julius; Pinkney, Jerry, illustrator. Penguin Random House/Dial Books 1987.

More Tales of Uncle Remus: further adventures of Brer Rabbit, his friends, enemies, and others
Lester, Julius; Pinkney, Jerry, illustrator. Penguin Random House/Dial Books. 1988.

Further Tales of Uncle Remus: the misadventures of Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, Brer Wolf, the Doodang, and other creatures
Lester, Julius; Pinkney, Jerry, illustrator. Penguin Random House/Dial Books. 1990.

The Last Tales of Uncle Remus
Lester, Julius; Pinkney, Jerry, illustrator. Penguin Random House/Dial Books. 1994.

Patricia McKissack

The Dark-Thirty: Southern tales of the supernatural

McKissack, Patricia; Pinkney, J. Brian, illustrator. Penguin Random House/Yearling. 2001.

What titles would you add to this list?

Peruse these books and more in the Butler Children’s Literature Center collections. Reach out to schedule a visit —

The Brother’s Grimm: Popular Folk Tales

brothers grimmThe Brothers Grimm: Popular Folk Tales

Newly translated by Brian Alderson, illustrated by Michael Foreman

Doubleday, 1978

This rich collection of thirty-one Grimm’s tales combines familiar stories, such as “Hansel and Gretel,” “Rapunzel,” and “Rumpelstiltskin,” with lesser-known tales like the haunting “Fitcher’s Bird” and “King Throstlebeard.” While the anthology contains no formal introduction, internal notes or citations, there is a table of contents and a list of color illustrations in the front matter. Alderson also includes detailed “Afterward” and “Notes” sections in the back matter, in which he affirms his mission for the book. He states that many English translations of Grimm, though accurate, “miss the spirit of the tales” (188), and his objective for this collection is to translate the German tales “not from the scholar’s study but from a storyteller talking to his listeners” (188). He succeeds in this goal, as the translations are clear, concise, and readable—yet they still contain anecdotes of humor, gruesome description, and evocative imagery. Alderson notes that the Brothers Grimm stories “exist in a number of forms,” and his translation “is largely based on texts which had reached [the] final form, the ninth edition of the ‘Grosse Ausgabe’” (189). When he uses previous versions of the tales in his translations, he does not make a specific source note in the internal text, but he does mention it in the “Notes”, which are a thorough three pages long. Alderson comments that himself, his illustrator, and his publisher chose the specific tales to be included, and notes that the order of arranging the tales is intentional. He states, “It was hoped that the sequence of stories would have a naturalness about it that would make it comfortable for readers to work through, if they wished, from one end to the other” (189). Michael Foreman’s dynamic illustrations enhance the collection, as each tale begins with a black-and-white thumbnail sketch and twenty-six full-color, vibrant, watercolor illustrations are scattered throughout the book. Foreman captures the tone of each tale, using muted and dark colors, shadow, and thin lines in the mysterious tales and luminous color, imaginative details, and softer lines in the lighter tales. The collection’s most remarkable feature is its potential diversity of audience. Because of the collection’s comprehensible translation, it is a great resource for the oral storyteller, but it is also a worthy selection for upper-elementary children, as the illustrations bring out the pathos of each story. Translated and illustrated by two qualified, experienced experts in children’s literature, this collection is a significant addition to the canon of folklore for children.