Library Tapestry

 Master's in Library Science at University of  North Texas

Coursework: 2009-2011

 General Reference (LIS 5200).

Literature for Reference. Children's & Young Adult (LIS 5420), Adults (LIS 5410), and Graphic Novels (LIS 5680). For Youth Lit project, see 'Fiona's Book PIcks.'

Storytelling. Basic (LIS 5440) and Advanced (LIS 5611). Our Favorite Fables and Proverbs is our class Storytelling Concert project. Paper written for LIS 5440 is reprinted below.

Cataloging. Information Organization (LIS 5200).

Information Architecture / Website Usability Assessment (LIS 5960). Redesigned Idaho Library Association site.

Website Design (LIS 5714). Our group created a readers' advisory website. (This site is no longer available on the web.)

Collection Development (LIS 5400).

Library Management. (LIS 5300).

Projects for some courses available upon request.

With classmates at Idaho Library Association conference, Oct. 2011. 

Seeing the World through Trickster Tales

by Fiona May, Dec. 2009, in partial fulfillment of class requirements for LIS 5440, Storytelling

Tricksters are a varied and interesting group of folk characters.  They are unified by the intent of their actions within the story:  tricksters lie, cheat, mislead or misstate the truth to get something they want.  Most are sly, though a few are gullible.  Sometimes the hero, sometimes the underdog, the trickster in a story may personify or challenge the listener.  Many get something they want; others get tricked themselves.  Some are downright mean, but most are just humorous.  The trickster type of tale has great appeal for upper elementary school children, who can be difficult to interest in reading and discussing books.  For this reason and others I will discuss soon, trickster tales are an ideal vehicle for helping students learn about the world and also about themselves.

            The ten tales I have selected form a core collection appropriate for a Youth Services librarian interested in hosting a series of story tellings and discussions for upper-elementary aged students.  Ideally, most of the students would attend the full 8-week series, but there’s no real difficulty in including students for some sessions but not all.  Each week, two new stories would be told, with time allocated to compare and contrast.  Two weeks would be spent toward the end having students create their own trickster tales.  On the last day, a program for parents and families would provide the culminating activity, with storytelling and presentation of the student-created trickster tales as a focal event.


Thematic Description and Rationale

                While there are many trickster characters in American folklore, this collection will take a broader perspective and search throughout the world for tricksters of note. In studying tales from places and times that are not our own, we can begin to see both similarities and differences among people that inform us as to who we are and what we’re here to do. Whether high in the snowy Andes or deep in tropical Jamaica, people search for meaning and infuse their folklore with their ideas.  Cultural taboos are varied, and the trickster challenges them by breaking them.  Do we learn from the trick by agreeing that a wrong has been done?  Or do we applaud the rule breaker, and agree with him that society’s values can be wrong?   In asking these questions, we open discussions about right and wrong that can be just the beginning of exploration for young minds.

            My exploration for trickster tales ranged far and wide as I searched for ten that would comprise this curriculum. The public library’s catalog was an easy starting place!  I also browsed the “398s” in the public and university libraries for likely suspects.  Folklore collections, like Tiger’s Whisker, by Harold Courlander, and Favorite Folktales from Around the World, by Jane Yolen, included a number of appropriate tales for me to review.  I talked to librarians and other bibliophiles looking for suggestions. When I had about fifteen that seemed to work, I began looking for story variants using Storyteller’s Sourcebook (MacDonald and Sturm).  Sometimes I liked a tale or character, but the particular telling I located did not meet acceptable criteria for source notation or endnotes.  A case in point was a visually appealing Anancy story called Tiger Soup, by Frances Temple.  Sadly, the author failed to include any story collection or cultural notes.  After looking at many other Anancy stories, I finally settled on Berry’s “Don’t Leave an Elephant to Go and Chase a Bird.”  Berry provides extensive notes on collecting and documenting the tale, which gave me confidence that he had “done his homework.”

            I attempted to find stories that represented a variety of themes, motifs, and characters.  Each story I selected features a different main character, country of origin, and style of illustration.  Several stories originated in the distant past.  I strived for a range of outcomes to the trickster’s antics.  Sometimes he is rewarded, sometimes punished, sometimes he gets tricked himself. I rejected tales that used a sexual motif (rape, adultery) or murder, in keeping with the age group hearing the stories. I looked for many different types of tricks and reasons for tricking.  Some tricksters just want to avoid getting eaten or killed, or are protecting their property.  Several tricksters apparently just trick for the fun of it, with no real motivation.  Some are envious of another’s goods, some are too lazy to work.  One story tells of giving and receiving in a repetitive style that is unusual among trickster stories. I used different types of tales including fables, myths, legends, and pourquois stories. My goal in choosing a range of story styles was to maximize the potential for comparing and contrasting them in discussions.

            Finally, due to limitations on material and time, I didn’t include some great trickster stories. I hoped to include another Native American character, Raven. Maui, a trickster from Oceania, would have been interesting. I searched for a Celtic trickster, perhaps a faerie or leprechaun, but didn’t find a good source in my time allotment.  The European tricksters I did find couldn’t measure up to the Norwegian demigod, Loki, “the doer of good and the doer of evil.” (Colum 14).  I considered a Mexican trickster, Pedro Urdemalas, but eventually settled on my beloved Peruvian guinea pig, Cuy.  If I were creating a compendium of world tricksters, I’d work harder to include some of those I chose to leave out.   However, given the constraints at hand, this is a beginning that will address the needs of the audience for whom it is intended.


Target Audience

            Upper elementary students, those in grades 4-6, are at a prime age for developing interest in and facility with processing language in general and stories in particular.  However, they often have a hard time staying interested in stories unless there is either action, humor, or both. My decision to tell trickster tales takes this need into account.  My goal is to keep young listeners involved and interested.  Because telling stories is often of more educational value than just reading them aloud from a book, this mode of transmission is assumed for purposes of this study.  However, since many of these folktales are in picture book form, the librarian could simplify her job by just reading the story. 

            Comparing one thing to another is a skill that is ripe to be honed in upper elementary aged students.  Determining the ways in which two stories are alike and how they are different becomes exciting as students are able to see more details and implications.  I plan to have the students compare and contrast stories in various ways, such as characters, motivations and outcomes.

            In considering the needs of students aged 10-12, I also wanted to address the need to compare self to others.  This is done on a variety of levels.  Obviously, the student will want to consider whether s/he is like the trickster in goals and motivations.  Does the character make good choices?  Would the outcome of the story be worth having to do what the character does?  Is punishment or reward deserved?  Why or why not? Since the stories are from many places around the world, some behavior may seem strange or inappropriate.  Is this because we live in a different culture, or some other reason?  I would also encourage students to discuss the characteristics of the victims, those who are tricked.  Do they deserve what they get?  Would you write the ending of the story differently?  Finally, issues of societal structure, family, and friendships may be evaluated in some of the stories.  Is the life of the trickster like mine, or not?  In all these ways, students can consider themselves in contrast to others.


Learning Objectives

            Many educational objectives could be achieved by considering the folktales in this collection.  My first objective is that as students listen to the ten tales, they try to both process the story itself and compare it to others they have heard.  In this way, students will engage both synthetic and evaluative language skills. For example, perhaps the first story day would include Brer Rabbit Tricks Brer Fox Again (Lester) and The Smuggler (Forest).  Both stories feature successful tricks played by sympathetic characters upon more powerful opponents.  After the telling of two stories, I would use an exercise for retelling stories from the book Super Simple Storytelling, such as “The Tell-About Game” or “One-on-One-on-One” (Haven 170-173).  Having practiced telling the stories, students can think of other stories they have heard.

My second objective is to encourage students to discuss the common characteristics of trickster tales. Expanding on that idea, I would engage the group in a compare and contrast discussion on various levels, such as type of tricks, motivation, outcome, characters, cultural settings. The second story day might feature two tales which are on the surface quite different, but address various common tale elements.  The Building of the Wall (Colum) and Love and Roast Chicken (Knutson) are both complex stories which will require some work to outline.  Once that is done, however, students will have many elements upon which to draw for discussion.  Each story involves multiple tricks and several victims. In The Wall, the trickster is tricked, but in Roast Chicken the little guinea pig is resoundingly triumphant.  One is a myth, the other just a silly story.  One is ancient, the other less so.

A third objective is to have students evaluate themselves indirectly by considering whether there ways in which the trickster is like/unlike themselves. We would need to discuss the culture of origin of each story, and some possible reasons the story might have been told in that culture.  Don’t Leave an Elephant to Go and Chase a Bird (Berry) is a delightful Anancy story told with a Jamaican flair.  Iktomi and the Coyote (Goble), on the other hand, is a Lakota story from a people living on the American prairie.  Both stories include extensive cultural notes to help students understand nuances they might otherwise miss.  For instance, Elephant includes a scene in which a child is traded to Anancy for half a bottle of palm oil.  The author notes that children in Jamaica are sometimes given to other families when their birth family can’t take sufficient care of them, and that this often leads to a better life for the child.  Iktomi, a selfish, arrogant trickster, would be one who students might not like to compare to themselves.  It is easy to be repulsed by his willingness to mislead the cute little prairie dogs and roast them alive for dinner!  We find ourselves cheering for Coyote as he tricks Iktomi out of his dinner and shares it with his friends and relatives.  Anancy, on the other hand, ends his adventure by walking away from an elephant he could claim to have earned fair and square (sort of), because he’s chasing a bird he never catches.  In the final analysis, neither trickster gets anything.

Another objective is to have students think about the values embedded in the culture of origin. Tricksters often set out to flaunt the values of society, and listeners must decide if they have, in fact, behaved inappropriately.  King of the Forest (Courlander) pits the skills of the powerful Tiger against the wiles of his intended dinner, Fox.  Apparently, Might Makes Right is the issue at hand:  will the stronger creature always prevail?  In ancient China, a very powerful emperor and local strongmen ruled over the masses, making this question quite relevant.  Fire Race (London), a Native American tale, asks a similar question: whether the power represented by Fire should belong exclusively to the chosen few.  In both stories the trickster outwits his powerful opponent(s) and in both the listeners would tend to cheer for the underdog.  We could discuss why we sympathize with the trickster and whether the storyteller had a particular message to impart about society’s values.

I would encourage the group to develop their writing skills by having them create their own trickster story.  This task requires organization, understanding of the tale type, and creative language usage.  As an introduction, we might talk about a couple of simple, straightforward tales like The Fox and the Crow (Aesop) and The Monkey and the Crocodile (Yolen).  Each tale has a simple plot line and would be easy to mimic, if that is what a student desires.  The moral of Fox, in typical Aesop style, would also be worth considering.  I think the boys would like hearing how Crocodile especially wants to eat Monkey’s heart, and might copy that somewhat gruesome style as they create their own story. While this objective is listed last, it is by no means least.  I would love to see this group of students actively engaged in creating stories, and after hearing so many of one type, I think they might feel sufficiently inspired to take on that admittedly daunting task.


Project Summary

Trickster tales have been told repeatedly in various cultures with different “skins.” As Betsy Hearne has noted, “Stories travel, they always have.” (Hearne 514) When a story fits, we ‘wear it.’ Thus, a trickster tale from Mexico may sound very like one told in ancient China.  The tricks of a guinea pig in the Andes and those of a spider-man in Ghana may bear strong resemblance to one another.  This is to be expected and can be capitalized on in a cross-cultural study of trickster stories.  Although my original reaction to the similarities among trickster stories was one of disbelief, I came to realize that this was good, not a hindrance.

I found it very difficult to select stories that authentically showed the culture of origin in both text and illustrations. I spent hours researching, particularly in the realm of Native American folklore.  Were I to continue collecting trickster tales, this need for research would be discouraging as it takes so much energy.  However, in the final analysis I believe it is energy well-spent, in order to honor the cultures who created the stories I’d like to share with students.  In summary, I like the tales I’ve chosen for their variety and authenticity; I look forward to finding opportunities to share these stories with others.


Trickster Tales: Synopsis and Citation


“The Fox and the Crow.”  Aesop’s Fables. Illustrated Junior Library. Illus. Fritz Kredel. Kingsport TN: Grosset & Dunlap, 1947. 5-6. Print.

Fox flatters Crow, who is perched in a tree with a piece of cheese in her beak.  At first Crow doesn’t respond, but when Fox comments that she must have a lovely voice, she opens her beak to caw. Of course, Fox is waiting and gets the cheese. The moral: flatterers are not to be trusted.  Notes: According to tradition, Aesop told his fables in about the sixth century BC in Asia Minor.


Berry, James. Don’t Leave an Elephant to Go and Chase a Bird. Illus. Ann Grifalconi. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1996. Print.

Anancy Spiderman flatters the Sun God and is given a corncob.  He gives it to a starving woman, who hands him a gourd in exchange.  The story continues with Anancy giving away each gift, and receiving another, often more valuable, gift in return. Finally he has a bag of flour, which he offers to the elephants. Trying to be polite but avoid being tricked themselves, the elephants offer a young elephant.  Anancy is thrilled, but gets distracted and chases a pretty bird trying to catch it. When he comes back, the flour and elephants are gone and Anancy has nothing.  Notes:  originally collected in Ghana, but reset in the author’s native Jamaica.


Colum, Padraic. “The Building of the Wall.” The Children of Odin: the Book of Northern Myths. Illus. Willy Pogany. NY: Aladdin Paperbacks, 2004. 6-12. Print. 

The Gods and the Giants are perpetually at war, so the Gods want to build a wall around their city, Asgard, to protect it.  A stranger comes to the Gods and promises to build them an insurmountable wall in one year.  Odin, the Father of Gods, agrees that if the wall is finished in one year the stranger may ask for anything he wants in payment.  When the wall is almost done, due to the efforts of the stranger and his huge, hard-working horse, the stranger announces that his payment shall be the Sun, the Moon, and the goddess Freya for his wife.  Now the Gods know they have been tricked by a shape-changing Giant, and are furious. Loki, the “doer of good and the doer of evil,” changes shape and persuades the giant horse-worker to leave his work undone until it is too late to finish within the one year limit. Notes:  This Norse myth dates back to ancient times.


Courlander, Harold.  “The King of the Forest.” The Tiger’s Whisker and Other Tales from Asia and the Pacific. Illus. Enrico Arno. NY: Holt & Co., 1959. 46-48. Print.

Fox is caught by Tiger and is about to be eaten.  He claims to be known as the King of the Forest, which ought to intimidate Tiger.  Tiger doesn’t believe him, so Fox leads him around the forest to note reactions of other animals. All the animals they meet run away, not due to Fox but the approaching Tiger.  However, Fox twists it to indicate he is feared.  Tiger believes it and leaves him alone.  Notes: Based on an ancient Chinese tale.


Forest, Heather. “The Smuggler.” Wisdom Tales from Around the World. Little Rock, AR: August House Pub, 1996. 58-59. Print.

Mulla Nasrudin leads a donkey across the border carrying loads of straw.  The inspector at the border searches the donkey for smuggled contraband, to no avail.  This scene is repeated daily for ten years, and the inspector never finds anything.  It turns out that what was being smuggled was donkeys. Notes: Mulla Nasrudin is known in the Middle East as a ‘wise fool.’  Mulla means “learned man.”


Goble, Paul. Iktomi and the Coyote. NY: Orchard Books, 1998. Print.  

 Iktomi, a Lakota character whose name means “spider,” tricks the prairie dogs into agreeing to be buried in hot ashes.  Instead of rescuing them as he promised, he roasts all but one.  The pregnant female he releases has a black tail tip and is afraid of humans after her near-death experience.  This provides a brief pourquois story-in-a-story.  Coyote, another trickster, limps up and begs for some of the roasted food: he claims to be starving.  Iktomi challenges him to a race, with the prize being all the roasted prairie dogs.  As soon as Iktomi sprints off, Coyote gorges himself and invites all his friends to do the same. The trickster gets tricked by the other trickster. Notes:  Goble uses traditional Lakota telling style by indicating possible audience remarks in response to the narrator’s story.  Goble encourages the reader of the story to allow listeners to make their own comments.


Knutson, Barbara. Love and Roast Chicken. Illus. MN: Carolrhoda Books, 2004. Print.

Tío Antonio, the Fox, is repeatedly outsmarted by Cuy (pronounced kwee), the Guinea Pig.  At one point, Cuy claims that his feat of supporting a rock is the only thing keeping the sky from falling.  He convinces Fox to take his place and escapes.  Not only does Cuy fool Fox, he also gets the farmer to hire him to work as a field hand in the alfalfa field.  The farmer catches him with a sticky sappy “field guard,” and Cuy gets stuck.  Cuy escapes by telling Fox that if he’s trapped instead of Cuy, he can marry the farmer’s daughter and eat roast chicken every day.  Needless to say, after that escapade, Fox avoids Cuy for a long time.  Notes:  A South American tale, one of many in which a small, weak animal (guinea pigs are sold for food in Peru) triumphs over bigger animals.


Lester, Julius. “Brer Rabbit Tricks Brer Fox Again.” The Tales of Uncle Remus: the adventures of Brer Rabbit.  Illus. Jerry Pinkney.  NY: Dial Books, 1987. 44-46. Print.

Brer Rabbit is working in the garden with some of the other animals, but after a short while goes to take a nap.  He mistakes a bucket in a well for a suitable spot to nap; he ends up at the bottom of the well.  Brer Fox discovers Rabbit and guesses that’s where Rabbit hides his money.  Rabbit tricks Fox into retrieving him and Fox ends up in the well.  Notes: Originally from Africa, Brer Rabbit stories were told by slaves in the Southern United States.  The small but wily rabbit outsmarts more powerful creatures as, perhaps, slaves might have wanted to outsmart “Master.”


London, Jonathan. Fire Race: a Karuk Coyote Tale About How Fire Came to the People. Illus. Sylvia Long.  San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 1993. Print.

Coyote is in an unusual role as helper to others as he tricks the Yellow Jacket sisters into allowing him to have access to fire.  After promising to make the sisters beautiful with black ash (that’s how yellow jackets got their stripes), he takes a stick from their proprietary fire and races away.  As he runs out of strength to run, Eagle takes the fire, then Mountain Lion.  The animals cooperate to keep the Yellow Jacket Sisters at bay until at last frog spits the coal into the roots of the willow.  Wise Old Coyote shows the animals how to rub willow sticks together to make fire. Historical notes:  Coyote stories should be told in winter. The Karuk people are native to Northwest California.


Yolen, Jane, ed. “Monkey and Crocodile.” Favorite Folktales from Around the World. NY: Pantheon Books. 1986. 151-52. Print. 

Crocodile, a rather stupid creature, sets out to get Monkey’s heart for his mother to eat.  He tricks Monkey into riding on his back across the river to get some lovely ripe fruit.  Halfway across the river, Crocodile dives under the water, showing Monkey his intention to drown him and then allow his mother to eat him.  Monkey claims he left his heart in the tree where he started, and gets Crocodile to return him to the shore so he can get it.  Once on shore, however, Monkey scampers up the tree to safety.


Other Works Cited


Haven, Kendall.  Super Simple Storytelling a Can-Do Guide For Every Classroom, Every Day.  Englewood, CO: Teacher Ideas Press. 2000.  Print.


Hearne, Betsy. “Swapping Tales and Stealing Stories: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Folklore in Children's Literature.” Library Trends 47, no. 3 (1999): 509. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 2 Dec. 2009.


Musinsky, Gerald. “Trickster/Transformer.” Encyclopedia Mythica from Encyclopedia Mythica Online. Web. 2 Dec. 2009.


Purdue OWL. "MLA Formatting and Style Guide." The Purdue OWL. Purdue U Writing Lab, 10 May 2008. Web. 2 Dec 2009.


Margaret Read MacDonald and Brian W. Sturm.  The Storyteller's Sourcebook: a subject, title and motif index to folklore collections for children. 1983-1999. Detroit, MI: Gale Group. 2001. Print.


Temple, Frances. Tiger Soup: an Anansi story from Jamaica. NY: Orchard Books. 1994. Print.


"trickster tale." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica. <>. Web. 12 Nov. 2009


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