Animal Tales from around the World

by Naomi Adler

Paperback, 2006



Local notes

398.2 Adl (c.1) PB w/ 2 CDs included





Barefoot Books (2006), Edition: Pap/Com, Paperback, 80 pages


This is a collection of nine animal stories from around the world, with each story coming from a different culture and featuring a different animal star.

Physical description

80 p.; 10.4 inches

User reviews

LibraryThing member justineaylward
This book was ok. The German story was long and actually boring. The ending was blah. The pictures are pleasant, but nothing amazing.
LibraryThing member AbigailAdams26
An engaging collection of animal folktales, taken from a diverse range of traditions the world over, The Barefoot Book of Animal Tales (also published as The Dial Book of Animal Tales) presents nine stories that young folklore enthusiasts are sure to love. With the exception of The Musicians of
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Bremen and Sedna and King Gull, humans do not enter these tales, which are devoted to the doings of the "animal nations." But although humans are rarely to be seen, it is clear - as is so often the case with folklore - that they are meant to learn a lesson. The tales include:

Grandmother Spider, a Cherokee story in which a group of animals hope to bring light to their part of the world, and dispatch first Brother Possum and then Brother Buzzard. When they have no luck, tiny Grandmother Spider volunteers... I like that this was both a porquoi tale, explaining the appearance of possums and buzzards, and a morality tale, emphasizing the fact that small and elderly members of the community have an important contribution to make, and should be respected.

The Rabbit and the Moon, a Buddhist fable from India, in which a saintly, self-sacrificing rabbit, whose virtue influences all the forest animals around her, is rewarded by a "great heavenly spirit," who places her in the moon, so that she might serve as an example to all. I was charmed at the idea of a "Rabbit in the Moon," rather than an old man, but felt somewhat ambiguous about the moral message of this tale. I'm not sure that I agree that self-abnegation is the highest virtue, and I was struck by the fact that Rabbit's self-sacrifice, rather than being actuated by a desire to save the spirit, who already had food to eat, was motivated by a desire to be self-sacrificing.

The Dragon and the Cockerel, a Chinese tale in which lowly Dragon convinces the Cockerel to loan him his antlers for the Celestial Spirit's New Year celebration, and, being so happy at the unprecedented honor and attention he receives, refuses to return them. Here again, I had rather ambiguous feelings about the ethics of the story. I found it rather odd that the dragon, which is so revered in China, would be rewarded for breaking his word. The story seems to invite us to sympathize with him, because Cockerel is so vain and unpleasant, but I find it difficult to believe that the original storyteller meant to teach that we should only keep our word to those we like...

The Greedy Frog, an Aboriginal story from Australia, in which the massive frog Tiddalick sucks up all the water in the land, causing a severe drought. The other animals, on the brink of death, first plead with Tiddalick to return the life-giving moisture, and then try to make him laugh, causing him to release the missing water. Like Grandmother Spider, this story about the Dreamtime emphasizes the fact that the small and humble (in this case, the eel) have a role to play, and explains a natural phenomenon: the fact that frogs fill themselves with water and bury themselves in the ground when a drought is coming.

Adler attributes this tale to an Aboriginal storyteller named Wendy Watson, whom she met at an exhibition of Aboriginal painting in London, the same woman she credits for Didgeridoo Magic, a tale included in her other collection, Play Me a Story. Australia is a big place though, and I find myself wishing that Adler had indicated to which Aboriginal nation Ms. Watson belongs.

The Musicians of Bremen, a German tale about a donkey, a dog, a cat, and a c*ck, who all run away from the humans who no longer want them, eventually driving a band of thieves from their den, and finding a new home. This tale has always struck me as being both humorous and melancholy. On the one hand, the animals succeed through a hilarious set of misunderstandings, in which the thieves believe that a terrible monster has taken up residence in their home. On the other hand, there is no denying the sense of sadness implicit in the idea of faithful animal friends being abandoned when they become old.

Never Trust a Pelican, a Thai story in which a clever pelican conceives of a way to keep himself fed without having to work at it. His terrible story of a coming drought convinces the fish to jump right into his bill, in the belief that he will transport them to a new home. Only wise old crab suspects that all is not as it seems... Tales in which animals learn not to trust those who usually prey upon them are common in the folk traditions of the world. This story also seems to teach that it is not wise to always take things at face value.

The Monkey's Heart, a Kenyan tale in which generous Monkey shares the fruit of the mango tree with all his friends, including crocodile, only to find himself in trouble when crocodile's chief decides he must have monkey heart to eat... Here again is a fable about not trusting those with a penchant for eating your kind.

Sedna and King Gull, an Inuit tale from Canada, in which a young woman falls in love with and is married to King Gull, creating the creatures of the sea from his body, when he is killed by hunters. Although I haven't read a great deal of Inuit mythology, I know that Sedna is an incredibly important figure - the deity of marine animals, that vital source of life for the peoples of the far north. Reading this tale reminded me that I have been meaning to investigate her mythology in more depth.

And finally, Magic in the Rain Forest, an indigenous Brazilian tale in which Snake steals Jaguar's eyes through magic, and Harpy Eagle wins them back. This is another porquoi tale, which explains the jaguar's excellent sight, and the fact that he leaves part of kill for the harpy eagle. Here again I wish Adler had mentioned from which indigenous culture the original storyteller came.

All in all, I found this an enjoyable collection. Some of the stories were already familiar to me, but most were completely new. I like to read themed collections of international folklore upon occasion, because it reminds me of the connections between seemingly distant cultures. Amanda Hall's watercolor and crayon illustrations were a charming accompaniment.
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½ (6 ratings; 3.6)
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