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Folktales from India
Indian Folktales: An Annotated Bibliography created by Jaime Parker
When I started gathering folktales for this project, I didn't have a specific cultural focus in mind. My initial goal was to read various folktales until a particular story or group of stories captured my attention, and then to narrow the focus to a particular culture based on my interest in one or more of the stories. As I was gathering the folktales, I found several stories that communicate great themes of social responsibility and that strongly reflect issues that are particularly relevant today. These stories happened to be from the Indian culture, and this is why I decided to focus on Indian folktales.
The Ghost Catcher Book Jacket
Hamilton, Martha and Weiss, Mitch.
The Ghost Catcher: A Bengali Folktale
. Illus. by Kristen Balouch. 2008. 32p. August House Little Folk. $16.95. (978-0874838350).
In this humorous story a barber is often too generous to accept payment for his services, so his family repeatedly goes without food. One day his wife scolds him and tells him not to come home until he can promise that the family will not go hungry again. He decides to go to the next village because he thinks it will be easier to accept money from strangers. As he prepares to camp for the night under a banyan tree, a ghost that lives in the tree threatens to make the barber into his meal. The clever barber tells the ghost that he isn't afraid, pulls out a mirror from his bag, puts it in front of the ghost's face, and says, "Look at this gruesome ghost I have already caught. You will soon join him in my magical bag unless you bring me one thousand gold mohor."
The terrified ghost falls for the trick and brings the barber the money. The the barber tells the ghost to fulfill one last duty in order to escape being captured and thrown into the bag. He is to build him a shed and fill it with rice by the next day. As the ghost is building the shed, the ghost's uncle floats by to ask what he is doing. When the uncle ghost hears of these events, he is furious that his nephew could be frightened by a human, and they go to confront the barber together. When the barber pulls out his largest mirror and puts it in front of the uncle's face, he falls for the trick as well. The uncle ghost volunteers to bring the barber and his family two thousand mohor and another rice shed. The barber spent the rest of his life cutting hair and sharing his wealth with others in need.
In the author's note, Hamilton and Weiss describe that many of the ancient stories from Bengal feature ghosts called rakshasa that often have extra or missing limbs like the ones depicted in the story, which helps to convey the cultural accuracy of this tale. They also describe that in India barbers traditionally traveled to cut the hair of their regular customers. In present day India a barber shop is described as a pair of scissors, a mirror, and a chair often on the street or under a tree. The authors provide two sources for this story one of which was published in Calcutta in 1904. Balouch beautifully and accurately illustrates this story with rich colors and textured pages that resemble an Indian tapestry. The humorous plot is simple and conveys the theme to share what you have with those in need.
The Peacock's Pride
The Peacock's Pride
. Illus. by Jo'Anne Kelly. 1997. 32 p. Hyperion Books for Children. $15.49. (978-0786822333).
In this story a group of birds in the forest, come together to try to solve the problem of a pit viper dominating the waterhole. The peacock tells the others that he will rid them of this troublesome viper if they will call him king. The birds agree to this, and the peacock kills the viper by hypnotizing him with the brilliant eyes of his feathers and pecking it with his beak. The peacock, having had the ulterior motive to enslave the other birds, becomes even more oppressive than the viper. The birds become even more disgruntled and try to think of a plan to rid themselves of yet another oppressor.
One day a koel bird has an idea for challenging the peacock. He bargains with the peacock when he asks if he possesses a gift equal to the peacock's beauty, will the peacock give up his kingdom. Of course, the conceited peacock agrees because he is only thinking about outer beauty. When the koel sings a beautiful song, the peacock agrees that this beauty is as beautiful as his feathers and he slinks off into the forest with his tail feathers lowered behind him. This story conveys the message that we are all special in our own way.
Kelly's watercolor and gouache paintings are colorful, vibrant, and extremely detailed. The peacock's feathers beautifully flow across pages to create a lovely background on most pages. I could not find a book review of The Peacock's Pride through Book Review Digest Plus, but found a review from Booklist on Amazon.com. In the author's note Kajpust says that this folktale stems from northern India, but no specific source for the story is cited. She also discusses the peacock, which is a national symbol in India and its importance in Indian folklore.
The Stonecutter Book Jacket
Newton, Patricia Montgomery.
. 1990. 32 p. Putnam. $14.95. (978-0399221873).
In this story a stonecutter is dissatisfied with his life as a stonecutter so he cries for the mountain spirit to help him. The spirit decides to grant the stonecutter his prayers. The next day when the stonecutter sees a rich merchant and says, "If only I were a rich merchant, I could truly be happy" and he becomes a rich merchant. Shortly after becoming a rich merchant, the stonecutter sees a king. He thinks that if he could only be a king, he could truly be happy, and again the spirit grants his wish. The stonecutter repeats this pattern several more times thinking he will be happier as someone or something else. At the end of the story, the stonecutter is a mountain and thinks that nothing is as powerful as he is until a stonecutter begins to take stone blocks from the mountain. Finally, he realizes that if he were only a stonecutter again, he could truly be happy. His wish is granted, and he feels a feeling of contentment and true happiness.
This story of contentment contains many details of ancient Indian life such as caravans, tigers, and traditional dress of the Indian people. These images are brought to life with watercolor paintings that take the reader on a faraway journey to another land. Other versions of this story have been written with Chinese and Japanese settings. The author chose to write an Indian version because of her connection to Persian culture. Though a specific source for this retelling is not cited, I feel that Newton did include many culturally accurate details in the illustrations for this tale.
The People Who Hugged the Trees Book Jacket
Rose, Deborah L.
The People Who Hugged the Trees: An Environmental Folktale
. Illus. by Birgitta Saflund. 1990. 32 p. Rinehart. $13.95. (978-0911797800).
This story is an environmental tale about Amrita, a girl from a poor, small village, who loves and respects the trees. When an Indian prince sends men into her village to cut down the trees in order to build a new fortress, Amrita and her people hug the trees to try and protect them. This act of courage infuriates the prince, and as he goes to the village to confront the people himself, a huge sandstorm whips through the village. The trees protect the people from the sandstorm, and the prince declares that he was amazed by the people's courage and will never again harm the trees.
In the author's note Rose describes that in the original legend, which dates back three centuries ago, Amrita Devi and hundreds of other villagers died while protecting the forest. The Rajasthani village of Khejare now houses a memorial that has been erected to commemorate this sacrifice. Unfortunately, the specific source for the original legend is not acknowledged which is disappointing because I would like to know more about these specific events. The plot is beautifully depicted by Brigita Saflund's brilliant watercolor illustrations that help to portray the setting and traditional Indian dress in the story.
Though the plot is simple, the message is of great importance: We must help protect the environment.
The Rumor Book Jacket
The Rumor: A Jataka Tale from India
. 2002. 32 p. Maple Tree Press. $17.95. (978-1894379397).
The Rumor is a "sky is falling" tale about an overly worried hare that hears a loud crash and assumes that the world is falling apart. She alerts the entire forest a few animals at a time, and soon all of the animals in the forest believe her and are running for their lives. Eventually, the herd of animals runs into a very wise lion who convinces the hare to retrace her steps to see what the loud crash really was. With the lion's guidance, the hare discovers that she simply heard a mango falling from the tree and not the end of the world. The lion scolds the other animals for not checking to see what the origin of all the chaos was.
This story is similar to the stories of Chicken Little. Versions of these stories feature an animal that interprets an event as the end of time and then spreads this message to all others causing mass hysteria. The theme of these stories is simple yet timeless: Check the facts before giving in to mass hysteria and worry.
The author's note describes this tale as being a retelling of an ancient Jataka tale which has been told for more than 2,500 years and cites two sources for this story. She also mentions that Buddha appears in many Jataka tales as an animal and asks readers to guess which animal represents Buddha in the story. A short description of each animal from the story is also included. Each of Thornhill's illustrations are beautifully framed with a border of bright fruits and flowers, which resembles a tapestry.
These factors helped me to determine that this is a culturally authentic tale.
Book Review Sources:
TWU Databases: Wilson Web - Book Review Digest Plus; Lexis Nexis - School Library Journal Reviews
Booklist. "The Peacock's Pride. Book Review." Amazon.com 9 July 2010.
Dooley, Patricia. "The Stonecutter (Book Review)."
School Library Journal 36
(1990): 86. Article Citation. Web. 7 July 2010.
Findan, Joanne. "The Rumor: A Jataka Tale from India (Book Review)."
Quill & Quire 68.
11. (2002): 41. Article Citation. Web. 6 July 2010.
Fisher, Margery. "The People Who Hugged the Trees (Book Review)."
Growing Point 29
(1991): 5495. Article Citation. Web. 7 July 2010.
Heath, Ellen. "The Rumor: A Jataka Tale from India (Book Review)."
School Library Journal 49
. 10. (2002): 150. Article Citation. Web. 8 July 2010.
Horning, Kathleen T. "The People Who Hugged the Trees (Book Review)."
(1991): 1403. Article Citation. Web. 9 July 2010.
Hulick, Jeannette. "The Ghost Catcher: A Bengali Folktale (Book Review)."
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 67.
1 (2008): 19-20. Article Citation. Web. 6 July 2010.
LaBarbera, Kathryn. "The Stonecutter (Book Review)."
(1990): 528. Article Citation. Web. 6 July 2010.
Schroeder, Monika. "The Ghost Catcher: A Bengali Folktale (Book Review)."
School Library Journal 54
. 6. (2008): 124. Article Citation. Web. 8 July 2010.
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