Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Anansi the Trickster, part 1

Every year, my students fall in love with Trickster Tales. This sub-genre of traditional tales never ceases to delight with its tricky heroes and unexpected twists. Since Africa is our first unit of study, Anansi is often the first trickster we meet during the course of the year. This post will provide a quick overview of the five Anansi tales retold by Eric Kimmel, and next week I will introduce Anansi stories by a variety of authors and illustrators.

Anansi Trickster Tales retold Eric Kimmel

Eric Kimmel has written a series of picture book based on African Anansi tales, which Janet Stevens illustrated. These are a delightful way to introduce your students to Anansi.

Anansi and the Talking Melon. I usually introduce my students to Anansi through his story, either this version, or through the Reading A-Z version, Anansi and the Talking Watermelon retold by Kitty Higgins and illustrated by Patrick Girouard. Greedy Anansi is busy eating melons in elephant's garden when he finds himself so stuffed that he cannot get back out. Instead, he decides to trick elephant by convincing him that he is, in fact, a talking melon. (Based on a West African folktale.)

Anansi and the Magic Stick. The plot of this story derives from a Liberian story called The Magic Hoe but it will be quite familiar to The Sorceror's Apprentice in Fantasia and Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola. Anansi kidnaps Jackal's magic stick only to find that his laziness in giving directions leads to disastrous consequences!

These last three are a bit different than the first two. Anansi is successful in Anansi and the Talking Melon and suffers no real consequences in Anansi and the Magic Stick, but in these last three tales, our trickster finds himself on the end of some tricks.

Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock is probably my favorite of the bunch. Last year I turned it into a quick Reader's Theater-style play that my third graders ended up performing in front of the whole school, and it was riot. Here, Anansi discovers a strange moss-covered rock with the power to knock its viewer unconscious, and he uses it to trick a variety of animals. But little does Anansi know that he is being observed, and he ends up being tricked himself. (No attribution to this story.)

Anansi Goes Fishing. Anansi sees his friend Turtle's success at fishing and concludes that he can trick Turtle into doing all the work. But soon Turtle agrees to "get tired," while Anansi does the work and split the jobs up that way. Students find it quite hilarious to watch Anansi get drawn deeper and deeper into Turtle's nonsense. (No attribution in this book, but a similar story, Anansi's Fishing Expedition appears in The Cow-Tail Switch and Other West African Stories and is sourced to a recording in Ghana.)

Anansi's Party Time. Anansi has decided to get even with Turtle for tricking him in the previous book and so invites Turtle to a party that is doomed to fail.What Anansi does not anticipate is Turtle "returning" the favor and inviting Anansi to a similar party. (No attribution in this book either, but a broadly similar story, Hungry Spider and the Turtle appears in The Cow-Tail Switch and Other West African Stories and was recorded by author Harold Courlander from an Ashanti in Ghana.)

Next week I will introduce some of the wide-range of other Anansi stories available in picture books and compilations suitable for children.

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday Challenge is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and is a weekly roundup of educator blogs that are sharing nonfiction picture books. Click the link to check out other nonfiction posts.


  1. I saw a wonderful oral retelling of Anansi and the moss colored rock during a kids' book festival and it was wonderful. Lots of people definitely enjoyed the tricks and his comeuppance!

    1. That would be a great one to hear aloud. Now picture it being performed by third graders with musical accompaniment - including a slide whistle and gong each time a character fell down! My kids had a blast with it.

  2. I love folk tales, and shared one today, too, Katie. These look great, & it's nice to hear about your reader's theater too! Thanks for all the lists you're sharing.

    1. Thanks, Linda! I love Readers' Theater for the ease of using it in the classroom and for not worrying about big sets, props, etc. The kids love a chance to act.

  3. One of the chapters in the Asian children's book that I edited has to do with Trickster tales and Anansi was heavily mentioned there by the academic from New Zealand who wrote it. Loved your compilation here.

    1. Thanks so much, Myra. Next week's post I have quite a few from other authors and edited collections as well, as he is a prolific character. Has your book been published yet? It sounds like a chapter worth checking out, for sure.


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