Everyone Should Read Folk Stories
Alongside Tolkien and my uncle’s fantastical tales, I grew up with all kinds of folkloric genres. Bedtime consisted of all kinds of stories and tales, even songs - I remember fondly singing loudly the Jamaican folksong ‘Brown Girl in the Ring’ - lyrics I still know by heart. I traveled alongside Odysseus on his return trip to Ithaca, stole stories from the Akan god Nyame with Anansi, and observed anxiously the noble-hearted Scheherazade soothe her husband’s dark and shattered heart. I always felt like going on an adventure no matter where I was - in my bedroom, at a library, school - I was crossing boundaries. It was pure magic and, to be honest, I was scared to grow up. I thought it would end, but when I grew older and was able to read, I found that there was and still is a story for me, a character that I resonated with - magic still lives. It taught me many things including these two important benefits that are close to my heart:
Cultural Literacy and Interconnection
As a Jamaican Italian, it was always a pleasure to read stories from my own cultural background. My mother told me yesterday that her generation was never taught Patois in schools, which is a grave injustice. Something I love when I read West Indie tales is that I can learn words here or there. I read various versions of stories that we know and love, like a Cinderella story set in the Caribbean! However, best of all, as I am learning about embracing the beauty of my identity, it taught me to embrace and learn about others. There’s nothing like diving deeply into cultures, especially their histories, cuisine, music, and language. Even with our differences, we will find that we have a lot in common! We are so multilayered!
I am going to be a bit personal here - As a child, I was bullied and it left me with anxiety, uncertainty, and, frankly, loneliness. I was unsure of myself and rather wary of people who would take an interest in me, thinking there might be malicious intent no matter how nice they may seem. However, when I would read stories of heroes and heroines who face giants, monsters, tyrannical royals, toxic family members, faceless entities, and other “evil beings,” it made me feel less alone. (At the time I felt I was the only one who was being bullied; to find out otherwise is heartbreaking in itself.) Folklore has inspired me to stand up and stick to my truth as I grow into myself as well as I stick up for others who face obstacles - big or small.
I can go on about why folk stories mean so much to me and why everyone should read them - with good reason. In this bleak and confusing time, I find myself reading them more than ever for laughter and release, to inspire courage and resilience when there are days I feel I am breaking down. This week is Children’s Book Week (May 4 – 10), and I want to encourage the importance of reading these stories, from classics to renderings and mythopoeia such as the late Tomie dePaola (“Strega Nona”), Virginia Hamilton (“The Girl Who Spun Gold”), the Percy Jackson series, and Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o, where they inspire persistence in all times, ambition to go for their dreams, being kind, doing their part for their communities, and much more. There is a story, a lesson, a character...there is something for everyone - and I mean everyone!
We look forward to having you browse our folklore and fairytale section when we reopen, but we encourage you to view this library for the world’s children and take advantage of recent free access to this collection in the meantime.