A.3.1: Culture Research Project – Individual Project
You will read a selection of folktales from one particular culture. If possible, you will read variants of at least one story published in the U.S. and compare it in print and illustration with that same (or a similar) story published abroad. You will follow a lesson plan written for middle school students in order to deepen your connections and understanding of one of these stories. You will conduct research on the culture in general during the time period in which at least one of these stories originated and author five to eight book reviews based on criteria for cultural authenticity. Your book reviews will be linked to the course wiki. You may, but are not required, to choose this story for A.3.3 - Traditional Storytelling Project. Note: This assignment serves as a model for A.4.3 – Collaborative Unit Plan Project.

West Africa Folklore

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In the summer of 2009 I had the opportunity to travel to Ghana, West Africa. This journey was a wonderful, eye-opening experience; life changing in many ways. While in Ghana I fell in love with the art, culture, and most of all, the people. I was so impressed with their kindness, hospitality, traditions, and courage, and have since found myself drawn to the West African culture. As I dove through many folktale picture books I found that there are many books that represent the rich colors, and textures of Africa, and many books written or illustrated by residents or past residents of Ghana. Along with my love for this rich culture I also discovered that our High School Geography courses would soon be researching and discovering this area of the world as well. I could not be more excited to share the following stories and particularly one story with one of our Geography courses in the near future. My hopes are to make West Africa come alive for our students, and to connect the stories we know today with the origanal stories told and passed down from generation to generation, and brought over to our country.
(Art work at the Village of Hope in Ghana, West Africa, picture taken by Jennifer Pennington)
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This is a recent photo taken at Ellis Island. On the sign is a picture of Ananse as well as a brief history of how the story provided comfort to slaves being brought over on the Atlantic. The sign reads:
"Far from home and unable to protect themselves from unknown terrors that lay ahead, enslaved Africans took some comfort in retelling each other traditional stories. Especially popular were stories about tricksters, such as Anansi the Spider. Though smaller and weaker than his opponents, Anansi was clever and would triumph. In such a scary situation, what stories would you tell?
(Ellis Island, New York, picture taken by Jennifer Pennington, March 14, 2012)

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Arkhurst, Joyce Cooper. The adventures of Spider : West African folk tales.Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. 1992. 58 p. Little, Brown. $12.41 (978-1-40462-332-3)
In this collection of stories, Joyce Cooper Arkhurst recounts the tales of the beloved spider. Spider is a clever and mischievous character that West African’s love to tell about. This collection contains six popular stories of spider; "How Spider Got a Thin Waist", "Why Spider Lives on the Ceiling", "Why Spider is Bald", "How Spider Helped a Fisherman", "Why Spider Lives in Dark Corners", and "How Spider Brought the World Wisdom." The mischievous stories of spider always start with him being greedy, and wanting something for himself; however through his predicaments the world, or the characters involved, usually gain something of value. Along with the lessons the stories give listeners an understanding of why spider looks the way he does, or has eight legs.
This 1964 retelling of popular African tales debuts Jerry Pinkney’s early artwork. His drawings of spider throughout the stories give a glimpse of his mischievous characteristics while on his escapades. Jerry Pinkney is a well known children’s artist and author today with such tales as The Lion and The Mouse, and The Little Red Hen.
Joyce Cooper Arkhurst has published many West African story collections and is a librarian and storyteller. She has visited Ghana and Liberia in West Africa, collecting folk stories from the small villages. She has listened to the village storytellers and heard, in person, stories of Anansi. She has watched as children shouted for these stories to be told. While I was not able to find any recent information on Arkhurst, I believe her stories, brought back from West Africa, continue to live today. They offer a glimpse into the history of West Africa and the rich folklore that traveled over to the Atlantic Ocean. This collection of stories has recieved reviews in both the School Library Journal and Publisher Weekly, however because of the age of the book it was difficult finding the full review. I was able to locate a review by Scholastic which praised the collection and suggested using these, "Comic tales as an introductiont to oral storytelling." While this collection is old, Arkhurst did an excellent job of telling the traditional tales in a concise manner, and like Scholastic suggested, provides great short tales of Africa and short tales to practice retelling stories.
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Badoe, Adwoa. The Pot of Wisdom: Ananse stories. Illustrated by Baba Wague Diakite. 2001. 63 p. Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press. $8.41 (978-0-88899-869-9)
The Pot of Wisdom is a collection of ten stories about Ananse the spider. This book was included in the collection because Adwoa Badoe, the arthur, is Ghanaian. Her cultural heritage offers an authentic perspective into West Africa folklore and the symbols, animals, and colors of that culture. The book flap gives a little insight into the illustrator, Baba Wague Diakite, who illustrated on glazed ceramic tiles, and is an acclaimed author/illustrator. I loved this collection because of the originality of the art work, and the humor and twists added to the retellings. For instance, The Pot of Wisdom found in this collection is a little different than in other collections, Ananse, while always full of himself, lacks common sense as he raises all eight legs to wave down to the crowd, and ends up falling and spilling all the wisdom of the world. The Sky God tells Ananse that he must not have had all the wisdom, he gave him eight legs and yet he let go with every one. The authors added sarcasm was an appealing feature to me.
The Pot of Wisdom shares ten stories of Anansi, the spider trickster of West Africa. Included in the mix are how Anansi became the owner of stories, the even handed judge story, and why Ananse lives on the ceiling; many of the same stories found in, Adventures of Spider. In a side note Badoe tells us that many of these stories she remembers from growing up, and many she consulted other Ghanaians who remembered the stories. Reviews include, Kirkus, Horn Book, Booklist, and School Library Journal who states, "The book was an entertaining read from start to finish and a first purchase for most collections." Appealing in all aspects, down to the originality of Ananse depicted in the artwork throughout the book, this is a great collection to have while studying West African culture.

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Cummings, Pat. Ananse and the Lizard: a West African Tale. 2002. 40 p. Henry Holt. $17.14. (978-0-8050-6476-6)
In this fun and visually appealing retelling of Ananse and the Lizard Ananse finds himself as the victum of the lizard's trick. After reading a notice that the Chief's daughter was looking for a husband, Ananse sets off to win her hand. The Chief states that whoever can guess or figure out his daughter's name, can win her hand. Ananse is set on discovering this name. Late one evening, as Ananse is picking a mango, he overhears some girls talking to the chief's daughter, and he hears her name. Ananse wakes the next morning and is ready to see the chief, but Lizard approaches him and says that no respectful candidate would go to the chief on his own. What is proper is to send a messenger to introduce Spider. Spider agrees and tells Lizard the daughter's name so he can go and introduce him to the Chief. However, Lizard never makes it back. Soon, Spider realized he was tricked and is so angry he gathers his things up and tells the others to warn Lizard to watch his back, that if he ever runs into him he will tear him from limb to limb. And this explains why the lizard stretches his kneck and looks back-and-forth all the time.
Pat Cummings is a well known children's author and illustrator. The jacket cover explains how Cummings traveled to Ghana and Nigeria to listen to storytellers. She also combed through many folktales in the libraries in her pursuit to discover the right story. She found her story in a bookshop in Accra, Ghana. Cummings' illustrations, rich in color, tell the story as much as the text itself, which is placed in a box among the pictures. Her writing exemplifies her humor and prose style. Many reviews, including Kirkus, School Library Journal, Booklist, and Multicultural Review give credit to Cummings version of this tale and her art work.
This story lends itself well to storytelling and is included in this collection because of the importance of Ananse the spider in West African folklore. I liked this retelling because many stories in Ghana show spider as the trickster, while this story demonstrates spider as the victum of a trick. The story could also teach the lesson that cheating never gets you anywhere since Ananse was in a way cheating by overhearing the girls say the chief's daughter's name. And in the end, does not win the daughter in marriage. The story is humorous and would make an excellent story to share with children.
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Diakite, Baba Wague. The Hunterman and the Crocodile. 1997. 32 p. Schola
stic. $5.14. (978-0-590-89828-7)
In this rich, West African folklore, Diakite tells the story of the hunterman, Donso, as he discovers Bamba the crocodile and his friends on a pilgrimage. Exhausted, Bamba asks the hunterman to carry them back to the river. Donso does not trust the crocodiles and refuses to help them. After much begging Donso agrees to help, he ties them up and carries them on his head to the river. Once in the river the crocodiles grab Donso and are debating eating him. Many animals come to the river for water, but none want to help the man because man has not been kind to them. However, the rabbit, who is the most clever animal in the bush, convinces the man and crocodiles that he doesn't believe the man carried them on his head. Donso and the crocodiles step out of the river and Donso reties the crocodiles and places them on his head to prove the rabbit wrong. Donso thanks the rabbit for his clever rescue and takes the crocodiles home to feast on them with his family, only to learn his wife is deathly ill and needs the tears of a crocodile. In exchange for their release, the crocodiles give away a few tears and the huntermans wife is saved.
The theme/lesson of this folklore is that "Man lives among all things, not above all things." The feel of Africa beats from this book, from its artwork to the words Diakite uses. In an authors note Diakite explains his Malian heritage, and the importance of storytelling in his culture. Stories which are much more than just entertainment, they are important in education, teaching lessons, and giving encouragement. Diakite features starc black images on a bright African orange sunset, surrounded by sharp African boardes. Reading the story and viewing the pictures give you a realistic feel of being in West Africa.
Many reviews were found on this book, including Kirkus, Booklist, and School Library Journal. All of the reviews were positive and suggested including this book in ones folklore collection. The book is a wonderful work to use in storytelling, with the cow, the horse, then the rabbit coming to see the hunterman in the river. Delightful characters, the clever rabbit, and the lesson learned all lend this book to a wonderful storytime experience.
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Haley, Gail E. A Story A Story: An African Tale. 1970. 36 p. Aladdin. $16.19 (978-0-689-20511-8)
A Story A Story tells of Anansi, the spider man, who wanted to buy stories from the Sky God. The Sky God quoted Anansi his price, Osebo the leopard of-the-terrible-teeth, Mmboro the hornet who-stings-like-fire, and Mmoatia the fairy whom-men-never-see. Anansi being a weak and small man was not given much hope. Anansi convinced Osebo to play the binding game and to go first. Anansi bound Osebo and went to find Mmboro the hornet. Anansi convinced Mmboro that it was raining and offered him his calabash as shelter. Anansi trapped the hornet in the calabash and went to find Mmoatia the fairy. Anansi carved a wooden doll holding a bowl and covered it with sticky gum. When the fairy came dancing by she ate the yams and fell frustrated to the rudeness of the doll for not responding to her. She slapped the wooden doll twice and both hands became stuck. Anansi now had what the Sky God had asked for. He returned to the Sky God and presented the payment, and in return received all of Nyame, the Sky God’s stories, and the stories from that point forward were called, Spider Stories.
In this retelling of a West African folklore Anansi is presented as a weak, small man who uses wisdom instead of strength to gain access to the golden box of stories. The story is very similar to that of Pandora’s Box, however Anansi does gain access to the stories and that is a positive thing for the earth’s people. The Spider Man is crafty in his pursuits and offers the moral lesson that size does not matter, intelligence does. The story offers its readers an introduction to the tale, describing where it originated, a short history on Anansi, and the literary devices used in the story for emphasis. The story had many positive reviews included in Kirkus Review and Booklist. However, the only review I could actually read was the School Librarey Journal review which acknowledged the folktale characteristics as well as the kinship to the mythology trickster, Odysseus.
Gale E. Haley became interested in this story while in theCaribbean. Many stories were shared there which included tigers and leopards, which were not part of theCaribbean region. She traced the stories back toWest Africa and studied African folklore and culture in preparation for writing A Story A Story, which awarded her the 1970 Caldecott medal. Haley used woodcuts to illustrate the story. Through her woodcuts she included many important storytelling traditions of the West African culture. Her first picture shows the village storyteller, Anansi, sitting on a small stool with children gathered around him. This image, as stated in the introduction, depicts the cultural traditions of Africa, and how the village storyteller would be called out. He would bring his stool and everyone would gather around, these are the types of images Haley brings back from Africa for all of us to experience their culture.


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Souhami, Jessica. The Sticky Doll Trap. 2010. 28 p. Frances Lincoln Children's Books. $15.31. (978-1-84780-017-6)
The Sticky doll trap is a common story you will find in many cultures. The story was told in South and West Africa long before the slave trade, and was eventually shared with plantation owners from slaves. The story has taken on many versions; the most well known being the story of Brer’ Rabbit in Tar Baby. In Souhami’s version of the tale, Hare is the lazy, trickster who refuses to help the community of animals dig a well so they will have water. The animals decide they will guard the water from the Hare. Hare tricks both Monkey and Hyena by convincing them he has something better in his calabash. While they close their eyes and wait for the yummy treat he fills his calabash with water and makes a run for it. This trick however backfires on Hare as the community gets angry and devices a plan to catch Hare. They create a gummy, sticky doll and set it out by the water. The next time Hare comes to get some water he is quite offended by the doll because it will not talk to him. He slaps and kicks the doll until all of his appendages are trapped. The community captures him and begins to denounce the punishment they have in store for him. Tricky hare listens to the punishment and says that is okay as long as they don’t throw him in the spiny, thorny bushes. The community decides that is exactly what they will do for his punishment, not know that this is the environment that Hare was born in. Hare once again dodges catastrophe by his sneaky ways.
I was able to find plenty of reviews on The Sticky Doll Trap, all of which highlight the illustrations, patterns and choice of colors Souhami used. The reviews also give credit to Souhami for the style of writing and tone used in the story to reflect her voice in this retelling. The informational piece the author offers in the book helps identify the theme of the story, and how far back the story dates. While I was not able to locate much literature on this author the book jacket explains how Souhami is internationally acclaimed for her picture-book foktale retellings.
I included The Sticky Doll Trap in this collection of West African folklore because of the popularity of this tale. I loved the idea that this story predates the 1900's and has lasted through many retellings and still lives today in many cultures. This story also highlights the Hare as the trickster, while most West African folklore seems to use Anansi the spider. The story is funny and lends itself well to storytelling.



Works Cited


"Ananse and the Lizard: A West African Tale. (Children's Books)." Kirkus Reviews 1 Oct. 2002: 1465. Literature Resource Center. Web. 9 Mar. 2012. http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA93027307&v=2.1&u=txshracd2583&it=r&p=LitRC&sw=w


"Ananse and the Lizard; A West African Tale." Library Journal. 218 words. LexisNexis Academic. Web. Date Accessed: 2012/03/09.

"A Story, A Story." School Library Journal 52.2 (2006): 60. Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 Mar. 2012.

Oliff, Grace. "The Pot Of Wisdom (Book Review)." School Library Journal 47.10 (2001): 134. Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 Mar. 2012.

Bush, Margaret A. "The Pot Of Wisdom: Ananse Stories." Horn Book Magazine 78.1 (2002): 87-88. Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 Mar. 2012.

"The Sticky Doll Trap." Kirkus Reviews 79.11 (2011): 965. Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 Mar. 2012.

Simpson, Martha. "The Sticky Doll Trap." School Library Journal 57.5 (2011): 89-90. Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 Mar. 2012.

"The Hunterman And The Crocodile." School Library Journal 52.(2006): 42-43. Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 Mar. 2012.

Amazon.com. Publisher's Weekly review. http://www.amazon.com/TheHuntermanCrocodileAfricanFolktale/dp/0590898299/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1331353656&sr=1-1 Retrieved 9 March 2012.

"The Adventures of Spider." Scholastic.com. Web 16 Mar. 2012.
http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/book/adventures-spider