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Introducing ‘Favorite Folktales From Around The World’

As we settle into the colds of January, we decided to try something new. This month, we’re revisiting childhood by reading folktales from around the world.
Introducing ‘Favorite Folktales From Around The World’

Welcome to 2019! This January, we want to shake things up a little with a slightly different format. Since Babbel Book Club began, we’ve chosen one recent novel in translation each month. Now we’re choosing something else: folktales! We’ll be reading a select few that you can find out about below, but we’ll leave it open for you to explore as much as you want.

We’ll start with a look at folktales, as well as some discussion questions that we’ll come back to as the month progresses. But first, if you’re not already a member of our Babbel Book Club Facebook group, you should join now!

Why Folktales?

If a society is built on the stories it tells itself, folktales are the bedrock of human culture. Some of the earliest folktales in English, for example, had a profound influence on the country, from the Middle English stories in The Canterbury Tales to the legends of King Arthur. And the same is true for pretty much any country out there: Grimm’s Fairy Tales still form a significant part of German identity, and Aesop’s Fables continue to teach children morals over 2,500 years since they were first written in ancient Greece.

Some of these examples may seem like stretching the definition of “folktale,” but if you break down the word, it covers a lot of ground. “Folk” is related to the German Volk meaning “people,” “nation” or “race,” and “tale” can be traced back to the Old English talu, meaning “speech.” Folktales are any of these stories that can reveal insight into the way a country deals with its mythology, its morality or its entertainment.

For those of you interested in reading in the language you’re learning, folktales are also a great tool. They’re often written for children, so the language can be a bit easier to understand than, say, War and Peace. Be warned, though, because old folktales can have out-of-date grammar and vocabulary. Despite that, folktales provide a great way to learn about a culture and its language.

Where To Find Folktales

For Babbel Book Club, we decided to get a large collection of folktales from all around the world, and so chose Favorite Folktales from Around the World, edited by Jane Yolen. It’s a massive collection organized by theme, with over 150 folktales from more than 40 countries, which makes it a fantastic resource to draw from. We chose a select few, but there’s a whole world of folktales out there.

Plus, there are plenty of other places you can find folktales. The publisher Pantheon has an entire library of folktales from specific countries, so you can choose to read Norse mythology or Irish folktales. And because most folktales are in the public domain, you can also find hundreds of them online. Depending on the source some are easier to locate than others — the popularity of the Brothers Grimm makes them particularly easy to find — but there are plenty of resources out there.

What We’ll Be Reading

We have four Babbelonians participating this month, and each of us has decided to focus on a specific country. Here are the ones we picked!

Mexico:

  • Quevedo and the King
  • The Hungry Peasant, God and Death
  • The Drovers Who Lost Their Feet

France:

  • The White Cat
  • The Doctor and his Pupil
  • The Cat-Woman

Italy:

  • Catherine, Sly Country Lass
  • Those Stubborn Souls, the Biellese
  • Jump Into My Sack

Germany:

  • The Old Man and his Grandson
  • The Goose Girl
  • The Peasant and the Devil

Discussion Questions

  1. What’s your favorite folktale or fairy tale?
  2. Are there any common themes or threads in the folktales you’ve read?
  3. Do you think you can glean anything about a society from the folktales you’ve read about it?
  4. Why do you think so many folktales, even the ones meant for children, are horrifying?
  5. Do you think folktales are an effective way to teach morals?
  6. Have you read any modern interpretations or reimaginings of folktales? They’re particularly popular in publishing now, with examples including Circe by Madeline Miller, an adaptation of a Greek story, and Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, a retelling of a few folktales (as well as some other genres mixed in).
  7. Is there anything today that works the same as folktales (superhero movies, television shows)? Or is there a reason why folktales are still read hundreds of years after being written?

Stay tuned for the rest of the month to join discussions about the folktales and language. Want to learn more about Babbel Book Club? Click here.

Want to read folktales in their original language?

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