Monday, September 9, 2013

Why Folktales Matter

I love fairy and folktales. I enjoyed them since I was a child and continue to do so. At home in Mexico City, when I was a child we had a room that was filled with floor to ceiling shelves crammed with books of all kinds, including those of the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and Andrew Lang's multicolored books. I also found them in the library of the American School, where the school librarian, Mrs. Figueroa, set them aside for me along with many others because she knew that I liked to read. My parents, both readers, bought me many books, comics, and magazines, mainly British and American. Besides fairy and folktales, I loved (and still love) fantasy, comic books, historical novels, short stories, science fiction, and mysteries. I read everything I could get my hands on, even the cereal box, and continue to do so. To this day, the shelves in my home groan under the weight of my books and I carry a book with me everywhere.

Reading eventually led to writing and, to date, I have had stories and books published in Mexico, the US, Columbia, and Germany.

So why folktales? Simply because I enjoyed and continue to enjoy them, no matter where they come from, be it Russia, India, Israel, the US, China, England, France, and Spain, among many others.

And why from Mexico? Besides writing stories that spring from my imagination I also retell folktales because I find them filled with wisdom and universal truths and they explain where things come from. They also enlighten, delight, and teach without being preachy. What more can you ask for? Besides, I believe that any child, no matter what his or her background is, can enjoy them.

The folktales in are five of my favorite stories from my country. They explain, for instance, why insects were created, especially a very pesky one; how an opossum gave humans a great gift; what happened when a young frog with a big mouth had a surprising adventure; and how a patient turtle helped to create the world. These stories are exciting, funny, amazing, and moving.
Whiskers, Tails & Wings: Animal Folktales from Mexico

I love to look for these stories in many different places, including libraries, dusty bookstores of used and vintage books in very old buildings in downtown Mexico City, where the shelves reach the very high ceilings and are so far up that you practically need binoculars to see what's up there. I have also listened to great storytellers who know how to enthrall their audiences.

I write about Mexico because I find my country endlessly fascinating and want children see beyond the stereotypes. Of course, writing about Mexico is also important because there are millions of children of Mexican descent living in the US who have heard versions of some of these stories from parents and grandparents. These kids live in the US and are American but they're also Mexican and there is no need for them to lose their roots to fit in. They can, like many of us who are bicultural, take what they can from both cultures and be all the richer for it. There is no need for them to feel ashamed of what they are or where they come from. There is no need for them to hide that they speak Spanish at home. There is no need for them to forget what they are so they can blend in with the rest. They should be proud of themselves and where they come from and reading books where they can see themselves and where those things that are familiar are not something "exotic." Best of all, these books, which are fun, exciting, or fantastic, do what any good book does: they enthrall readers and make them want to read more and more. Besides, any kid can read them and have a great time. Teachers, parents, and librarians shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that because the theme is Latino only children of Latino descent will want to read them. Reading about different cultures can only develop tolerance and sympathy, something any reader, no matter what his or her age, will benefit from since what is familiar will not cause rejection.

The five stories in Whiskers, Tails & Wings: Animal Folktales from Mexico, with the wonderful illustrations by Fabricio Vanden Broeck, can introduce any child to the culture of Mexico. Though the Aztecs and the Maya are better known, these five stories come from the rich traditions of the lesser known Tarahumara, Seri, Huichol, Triqui, and Tseltal. And once readers know something about these people perhaps they will see Mexicans as they really are: friendly, warmhearted, welcoming people. Mexican kids need to be delighted by their culture and heritage so let’s give them something they can be proud about so, no matter where they live, be it in Mexico or the US, so they can be sure about who they are and where they come from. And let’s not limit stories to a certain group: kids of all walks of life should be introduced to folktales from cultures from the entire world.

That's why folktales matter.

Find out more about Whiskers, Tails & Wings at
"One of the most satisfying folklore collections in recent memory."
--Kirkus Reviews, starred review


John Shelley said...

I'm in full agreement Judy, folktales have an intrinsic connection to the background and heritage of children, as well as being honed by generations of storytellers. I love new, modern, quirky stories too of course, but there's something about folk tales that have depth, deep roots as well as bright flowers.

Judy Goldman said...

Thanks for the comment, John.