Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Trickster Tales from around the World, retold by Gerald McDermott

Many, many cultures have traditional tales that involve a trickster main character. Earlier I wrote a series of two posts about Anansi, a tricky spider from west Africa: Anansi tales retold by Eric Kimmel and Even More Anansi Trickster Tales. Gerald McDermott is another wonderful picture book author-illustrator who has written a series of stories focusing on different trickster characters from around the world. This post provides a quick overview of these different books and creative tricksters.

African Trickster Tales

Zomo the Rabbit: a trickster tale from West Africa (also available in Spanish). Zomo faces an impossible task but is able to use his tricks to meet each one, until he realizes that the joke might be on him! (Based on a Nigerian folktale.)

Anansi the Spider: a tale from the Ashanti (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.

Asian Trickster Tales

Monkey: a trickster tale from India. Monkey twice manages to outwit Crocodile who is waiting in the water to eat him. A sort-of pourquoi tale about why the crocodile lays low in the water. (The story is attributed to the Jataka tales from 3rd-4th century BC India and translated into English from Sanskrit in 1895.)

North American Trickster Tales

Coyote: a trickster tale from the American Southwest. Coyote is a common trickster among many North American tribes, but this version of the tale come from the Zuni of the American Southwest. In this particular tale, Coyote is quite hapless and is himself tricked by a group of crows who decide to have a little fun with him. This story also answers the question of why coyotes follow their nose and are grey with black tips for their noses.

Raven: a trickster tale from the Pacific Northwest (a Caldecott Honor book). Raven is a skilled trickster in Pacific Northwest traditional tales, but this particular tale is not attributed to an individual tribe. In this story, Raven must trick the Sky Chief himself in order to bring light and the sun to humanity.

Pig-Boy: a trickster tale from Hawai'i. Pig-Boy is based on the shape-shifting Hawaiian trickster, Kamapua-a. Hungry pig-boy becomes a variety of other creatures in his attempts to evade the angry king and even spends some time as a humu-humu-nuku-nuku-apua'a fish. (Sorry, just had to include that one in there!)

South American Trickster Tales

Jabuti the Tortoise: a trickster tale from the Amazon. This Jabuti tale references several others tricked by Jabuti, but in this story, Jabuti himself is tricked by Vulture who is jealous of his song and colors. This pourquoi tale explains why the tortoise's shell looks cracked and why Vulture is black when other birds are colorful. This Jabuti tale comes from the Tupi-Guarani tribe of the rain forests of Brazil.

Papago: the Mischief Maker. Papagayo is a bit of a bully and annoyance to the other creatures of the Amazon rain forest, especially to those who preferred to sleep during the day. But when the fearsome moon-dog starts eating away at the moon, it is Papagayo who convinces the nocturnal animals to scare him away. (No specific attribution.)

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 have students who love trickster tales - I pinned this post for future reference. Thanks for putting it all together. So useful.

    1. Thanks, Carrie! This is definitely a topic that I will revisit - I have a lot of favorite Latin America trickster tales that I share with kids near the end of the year.

  2. I love McDermott's illustrations. What a collection he has completed for all of us to enjoy. I have Raven, but haven't seen any of the others. Thanks always for your lists, Katie.

    1. You're welcome, Linda! I have several of these in my classroom library but did not realize how many there were until I began searching. Grabbed the whole collection from our library and just enjoyed myself!

  3. Fun continuation of a theme posts. Judging by the book covers and titles, these trickster tales look like fun reads!

    1. Thanks! There's a great mix here between actual tricksters, foolish types, and those who end up getting tricked! Lots of fun.


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