Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Anansi the Trickster, part 2

Trickster tales are one of my favorite type of folktales. Last week I introduced five stories about Anansi the Spider retold by Eric Kimmel and illustrated by Janet Stevens. This week I have brought together a range of other Anansi stories from a variety of sources.

More Anansi Trickster Tales

Anansi the Spider: a tale from the Ashanti retold and illustrated by Gerald McDermott (a Caldecott Honor book). This Anansi story includes an informative prologue about Ghana, the Ashanti people, and Anansi's role as a folk-hero and trickster.In this story, Anansi gets into trouble and is saved by the cooperation of his variously-talented spider sons. When he tries to give them a gift in thanks, he cannot decide which son deserves it, so his bright shining gift becomes the moon up in the sky.

A Story, A Story retold and illustrated by Gail E. Haley (a Caldecott Medal winner). This story also has a prologue about Ananse and about the choices of African words and phrasing in the book. In this version, Ananse is depicted as a man, but he can spin webs and tricks many. Ananse uses his skills to fulfill the tasks laid out for him by Nyame, the Sky God, and he succeeds in winning the golden box of stories and bringing them back to the people.

Why Spider Spins Tales: a story from Africa (First-Start Legends series) retold by Janet Palazzo-Craig and illustrated by Dave Albers. This is another version of the same tale in A Story, A Story, geared towards younger readers. Spider is depicted as human but with four arms and four legs. (The afterward attributes the story to the Akan people of West Africa.)

Ananse and the Lizard: a west African tale retold and illustrated by Pat Cummings. This is another story when our trickster finds himself tricked. Ananse wishes to learn the name of the Chief's daughter so that he can marry her and become the chief himself, but Lizard tricks him into revealing the answer. My students last year loved their story so much they created their own Readers' Theater version of it to preform for the rest of the class. (Retold from a story found in a bookstore in Accra, Ghana.)

Spider and His Son Find Wisdom: an Akan tale retold by Melinda Lilly and illustrated by Charles Reasoner. In this story, Ananse is depicted as more of a man-spider hybrid, as is his son. Ananse seems himself as wise and thinks he holds all of the wisdom in the world - and he is determined to keep it for himself! But his son teaches him a lesson, and they decide to share wisdom with the people. (Attributed to the Akan people of Ghana.)

First Palm Trees: an Anancy Spiderman Story by James Berry and illustrated by Greg Couch. In this story, Anancy wants to win a reward from the King by being the first to create a plumed tree. But when he tries to enlist the Sun-Spirit to help, he soon finds himself negotiating between all four of the major spirits (Sun, Water, Earth, and Wind). Though in the end he cannot prove that he created the new palm trees, in time, people give him the credit.

Don't Leave an Elephant to go and Chase a Bird retold by James Berry and illustrated by Ann Grifalconi. This version opens with an author's note explaining some of the links between Anansi in Africa and his Caribbean descendant, Anancy. Here, Anancy is depicted as a man in a wood-cut style. He feels something is about to happen, which kicks off a round of trading-up items until Anancy is promised a baby elephant. However, he gets distracted by a pretty bird and winds up with nothing. (The author's note bases this retelling on the original collected in R.S. Rattray's Akan-Ashanti Folktales.)

Anthologies that Contain Anansi Stories

Misoso: once upon a time tales from Africa retold by Verna Aardema and illustrated by Reynold Ruffins. This wonderful collection of illustrated short stories from Africa includes on from Liberia entitled "Anansi and the Phantom Food." In this tale, a spider-version of Anansi sets off to try and find food for his starving village, but he encounters an increasingly-appealing series of food-based villages. Continuing in his greedy, he heads towards one last village only to discover that he is back home, has nothing to show for his trip, and no one will believe him.

Cow-Tail Switch and Other West African Stories by Harold Courlander and George Herzog with drawings by Madye Lee Chastain (a Newbery Honor book). This classic collection of West African folktales includes several stories featuring Anansi or spider, including "Anansi's Fishing Expedition" (the likely inspiration for Anansi Goes Fishing),  "Anansi and Nothing Go Hunting for Wives," and "Hungry Spider and the Turtle" (a likely inspiration for Anansi's Party Time). The end of the book includes detailed footnotes about the provenance of each story.

Ashley Bryan's African Tales, Uh-Huh written and illustrated by Ashley Bryan. This wonderfully-illustrated collection of African folktales opens with an Anansi story: Ananse the Spider in Search of a Fool, which is a retelling of the same story in Anansi Goes Fishing and "Anansi's Fishing Expedition" (above). The credits at the end of the book attribute the story to R.S. Rattray's Akan-Ashanti Folktales.

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. It's a beautiful list, Katie. I know the Caldecott books, but not the others-so many beautiful ones! FYI-I found the world book at the library you shared about teaching geography through poetry. Hopefully it's coming to me soon! Thanks for all!

    1. Thanks, Linda. I definitely think you will enjoy World of Wonders. Anansi is a character many of my students grow to love, so I am always excited to have a lot of stories about him to share.

  2. I had no idea there were so many of these titles on this theme. Wow! Thanks for putting this together. I am pinning the list.

    1. Thanks, Carrie, and thanks for the pin too! I love these stories and love spreading the word about them.

  3. I was definitely familiar with the Caldecott-winning Anansi book. I'm glad you found so many varied titles!

    1. Anansi is a great character, and I love showing kids how much can be shared from just one tribe!

  4. i havent heard any of these books i am going to look for them

  5. Wow! What an amazing list - like Carrie, I had no idea there were so many Anansi stories. What a fun thing for kids - looking at all the different versions of a folktale.


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