The Folkstories of Children

The Folkstories of Children

The Folkstories of Children

The Folkstories of Children


What prompts children to tell stories? What does the word "story" mean to a child at two or five years of age? The Folkstories of Children, first published in 1981, features nearly five hundred stories that were volunteered by fifty children between the ages of two and ten and transcribed word for word. The stories are organized chronologically by the age of the teller, revealing the progression of verbal competence and the gradual emergence of staging and plot organization. Many stories told by two-year-olds, for example, have only beginnings with no middle or end; the "narrative" is held together by rhyme or alliteration. After the age of three or four, the same children tell stories that feature a central character and a narrative arc. The stories also exhibit each child's growing awareness and management of his or her environment and life concerns. Some children see their stories as dialogues between teller and audience, others as monologues expressing concerns about fate and the forces of good and evil.

Brian Sutton-Smith discusses the possible origins of the stories themselves: folktales, parent and teacher reading, media, required writing of stories in school, dreams, and play. The notes to each chapter draw on this context as well as folktale analysis and child development theory to consider why and how the stories take their particular forms. The Folkstories of Children provides valuable evidence and insight into the ways children actively and inventively engage language as they grow.

Brian Sutton-Smith, Professor of Education, Emeritus, at the University of Pennsylvania, is the author of some fifty books and hundreds of journal articles. In 1995 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Folklore Society.


The present work was part of a larger project supported by the National Institute of Education (Project number 3–4015, Grant number NE–G–00–3–0133). the results of that project on “the enculturation of the imaginative processes between the ages of five and seven years and their effects upon classroom activity” are to be found in the Educational Resources Information Center, Early Childhood Education, University of Illinois (Bureau number BR–3–4015, published September 1976, 326 pages).

The present work is composed of stories collected from children between the ages of two and ten years. the location of the fieldwork for Part 1 of this work was the Soho Center for the Arts and Education on Prince Street in the Soho section of New York. We are indebted to Jeanna Gollobin for her support of this work. Her interest in the children’s artwork and creativity made it possible for our collector Dan Mahony to gain more complete material than is usually possible from children of such a young age. He collected stories from two- to four-year-old children. Many thanks are due to him for his enthusiasm and his initiative in compiling this collection.

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