Passing on and Preserving Our Stories: Universal Experiences in Children's Literature around the World

By Hadaway, Nancy L.; Young, Terrell A. et al. | Childhood Education, August 15, 2011 | Go to article overview

Passing on and Preserving Our Stories: Universal Experiences in Children's Literature around the World


Hadaway, Nancy L., Young, Terrell A., Ward, Barbara, Childhood Education


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Each of us of us belongs to many groups--family, ethnic, regional, and language. As members of these groups, we share a common body of knowledge, skills, and behaviors, and this universal core of understandings shapes our language, our perceptions, and our ways of doing things. From generation to generation, we share our understandings by word of mouth as well as by our actions. In so doing, we preserve our "stories" and, therefore, our language and the common themes and values that resonate in our communities.

Teachers and students are probably most familiar with such stories and values being passed down through folklore in the form of published fairy tales, folktales, and legends. However, folklore is not always published, and so is often overlooked. Verbal and nonverbal folklore includes various forms of expression, including the finger plays of children's games, social and folk customs and traditions surrounding celebrations, a range of folk art from folk dance to the folk craft of wood carving and needlework, and even architectural structures and their decoration.

Through this type of folklore, groups maintain and pass on a shared way of life. The stories reflected in the folklore are most often learned as part of our communities and usually imparted through informal stories, language, and demonstration from generation to generation. Some published works of children's literature describe and celebrate this kind of sharing and presentation of shared values. In the Grandma Remembers series by Millbrook Press, grandmothers become the "teachers," sharing an oral history of their ethnic or cultural group as they show their grandchildren special recipes, games, and craft forms. Rachel Crandell's book Hands of the Maya: Villagers at Work and Play (2002) also captures this spirit of preservation as she chronicles the daily activities of the Mayan people. "On their backstrap looms the mothers are weaving cloth to make huipils. You can tell which village a family is from because the women weave the same traditional designs their great-grandmothers taught them" (n.p.).

Such stories represent a rich tapestry of history and traditions, work and recreation, daily life, and special celebrations. The strength of such stories and activities lies in their creative expression of a common past, along with a means for that past to remain accessible to all, no matter what age or ability. The Foxfire Projects (Wigginton, 1991 / 1992) demonstrated the power of this type of folklore as students interviewed and collected folkways in the Appalachian Mountain region, helping to preserve local customs and traditions. Here, we explore the diversity of these verbal and nonverbal forms of folklore and we consider their depiction in children's literature, which give us a means of discovering and passing on our own stories and glimpsing worlds beyond our own.

Children's Games

Every culture has a wealth of children's games, such as counting-out rhymes (finger/toe counting, such as "this little piggie"), finger plays ("where is thumbkin?" or "itsy bitsy spider"), handclapping rhymes ("pat-a-cake"), jump rope jingles ("Cinderella dressed in yellow"), hide-and-seek, and such. More than a quarter of a century ago, Lulu Delacre wanted to be able to share with her daughter the Latino nursery rhymes, songs, and finger plays from her own childhood. However, she was not able to find any published children's books that presented the rhymes and songs (Delacre, 2010). This was the impetus for her book Arroz con leche: Canciones y ritmos de America Latina/Popular Songs and Rhymes From Latin America (1992). Delacre followed that compilation with Arrorro mi nino: Latino Lullabies and Gentle Games (2004), which focused on nursery rhymes, songs, and finger plays from the major Latino groups living in the United States. These books offer excellent resources for family members and caregivers to help them involve youngsters in engaging and interactive language, while passing on the stories to the next generation. …

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