Below are brief descriptions of the stories mentioned in this unit. You can also locate printed versions in the following folktate collections.
Bye Bye, Diane Wolkstein, THE MAGIC ORANGE TREE AND OTHER HAITIAN FOLKTALES, Shocken Books, 1980
Turtle wants to go to New York City with the pigeons—but he has no wings! Finally, after endless pestering on turtle’s part, the pigeons be grudgingly agree to carry him along on a stick. On the big day turtle takes bold of the stick with his mouth while two pigeons bold it on either end. Off they go! But see what happens when an excited turtle opens his mouth at the wrong time!
The Talking Skull, Roger D. Abrahams, AFRICAN FOLKTALES, Traditional Stories of the Black World, Pantheon Books, 1983
An African hunter encounters a human skull in the bush. When it speaks to him be rushes back to his village, telling every one of what he has seen. The king requests that the hunter show him the skull and the hunter enthusiastically obliges. This time however the skull will not speak and the hunter learns a hard lesson
The Great Cantini, original source unknown, following written version adapted by Synia Carroll-McQuillan, 1993
After the Great Cantini accomplishes the amazing feat of crossing Niagara Falls on a tightrope, a young boy urges him to do it again. ‘Please? Do it again! Do it for me, huh? Please? I know you can!’ Does the boy believe in the Great Cantini enough to let him carry him back across the falls? Only the listener knows for sure!
The setting is a small, rural town in upstate New York, near Niagara Falls. Life was mundane, even for the kids. There were the usual chores to do, homework to finish, trees to climb . . . Fortunately every summer the circus would come to town. That was the next best thing to Christmas! This event gave every boy and girl a reason to behave, and every parent a little extra: power of persuasion. The summer of 1965 was special. That year there was to be a new, spectacular event; the Great Cantini, world famous tight-rope walker, would cross Niagara Falls. Being no ordinary tight-rope walker, this great acrobat had no use for a silly balancing pole. He would cross the falls carrying a barrel—a very large barrel filled with bricks! Yes! This was to be the event of the year! It was bound to beat the corny fourth of July parade and stingy fireworks display.
Finally, the big day arrived. Trees sparkled under clear and sunny skies. It was a perfect day to witness a death-defying dare-devil attempt to do what had never been done before. Everyone came to the event. Folks from neighboring towns turned out in force. Nearby, in full view of the excited throngs, sat a faded, yellow trailer. When the door of the trailer slowly opened and the Great Cantini himself descended the two steps to the ground, the people stared in awe at his magnificence.
Slowly, and with great dignity, he made his way to the small platform where the rope began. Several men were busily putting bricks inside a large, wooden barrel. As they hammered on the lid, the Great Cantini watched, poised and dignified. Then, gritting his teeth and scowling, he lifted the barrel up with his great arms and positioned his feet on the rope. Everyone held their breath as the Great Cantini began his perilous journey. Step by step the man made his way along the tight-rope. He walked slowly, looking neither to the right or left. Nearing the middle of the waterfall, the crowd gasp collectively when his body seemed to waver in a sudden gust of wind. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, the Great Cantini reached the other side and stepped safely and composed, onto solid ground. A wild cheer erupted from the crowd! As it died down another voice, small and shrill, could be heard. It was that of a young boy, pushing his way through the crowd. “ That was great! That was great, Cantini! Can you do it again, huh? Could you do it again for me, Please? I Know you could!” The small boy was jumping up and down, shouting, right in front of the Great Cantini, who stood looking down at him with a patient smile upon his face. “Do you really think I could? ‘ The child shouted up at him,” Yeah! I know you could! Do it again! Please? Huh? “ The Great Cantini motioned and several men rushed over to pry the lid off the barrel. Then he very deliberately picked the barrel up and tilted it to the side until all the bricks tumbled out. Giving the boy a stern look, the Great Cantini repeated, “ Now, you really believe I could do it again? “ Amid leaps and shrieks the child assured him. “ I know you could Great Cantini. C’mon, do it again for me, PLEASE!?! “ The large man nodded his head solemnly. “ Well, If you really do believe I can . . .”, he paused and glanced down at the barrel within his arms, and leaning slightly towards the child he said, “ Hop in ”.
Anansi and Osun the Elephant, Harold Courlander and Albert Prempeh, THE HAT SHAKING DANCE AND OTHER ASHANTI TALES FROM GHANA, Hartcourt, 1957
Clever Anansi finds a way to feed his family during a famine—even if it means tricking a friend to do it. Still, the spider takes only what he needs and uses his wit to avoid a physical confrontation with his outraged friend . . . after all, all’s well that ends well Or is it?
Anansi and the Hat Shaking Dance, Harold Courlander and Albert Prempeh, THE HAT SHAKING DANCE AND OTHER ASHANTI TALES FROM GHANA, Hartcourt, 1957
Anansi must always do more than anyone else. In this story be takes it upon himself to show the greatest sadness at his mother-in-law’s funeral by refusing to eat any food. His plan goes well until a very hungry and embarrassed Anansi is caught with beans in his hat!
How To Break a Bad Habit, Margaret Read MacDonald, TWENTY TELLABLE TALES, H. W. Wilson Co., 1986
Everybody has habits—and most of them are bad. Rabbit and monkey are no exception. This humorous tale show us that ‘a bad habit is bard to break’ . . . but its worth a try
The Cat’s Baptism, Diane Wolkstein, THE MAGIC ORANGE TREE, Shocken Books, 1980
What begins as a regal and solemn baptismal ceremony ends in a chaotic cat fight! And its all because the godfather is tone-deaf.
The Name, Diane Wolkstein, THE MAGIC ORANGE TREE, Shocken Books, 1980
This poignant and mysterious tale shows the power of good over evil. It will undoubtedly raise eyebrows and stimulate discussion. After sharing this story you may well ask, ‘What’s in a name?’
He Lion!, Virginia Hamilton, THE PEOPLE COULD FLY, Alfred A. Knopf Publishing Co., 1985
Big, bad, “Me and Myself “ He Lion is scaring all the animals. What can they do? With the help of Bruh Bear and snappy Bruh rabbit. He Lion discovers, much to his surprise, that the ‘real’ king of the forest is someone other than himself!
Jim and the Talkin’ Cooter, Virginia Hamilton, THE PEOPLE COULD FLY, Alfred A. Knopf Publishing Co., 1985
Jim, a slave boy dreaming of freedom, enjoys a stroke of luck when he befriends a talking, singing and playing cooter mud turtle who indirectly helps Jim to realize his dream. This story is a kind of African American counter-part to the African tale, the Talking Skull.
You can find the following stories on the audio cassette, TALES FROM THE FIRST WORLD, featuring storyteller, Synia Carroll-McQuillan and Percussionist, Jeff McQuillan. The tape is available on the American Melody label, 1991 and can be ordered directly from the label or from Synia by contacting her at 95 Anthony Street, Westville, CT 06510, or phoning 389-6636.
*Anansi and Osun, the Elephant
*The Cat’s Baptism *The Talkin’ Cooter
(Bibliography available in print form)