“Long ago, everything from the changing of the seasons to the passage of the Sun through the sky was an unsolved mystery. So people came up with stories to explain how things came to be. These stories – known as myths or fables – varied from place to place, but all had a shared thread running through them: they set out to explain the inexplicable, to offer a version of the world that made some sense.”
So begins the book the Usborne Illustrated Fables from Around the World. This beautiful book offers 18 wonderful myths and fables from around the world that at one point helped people try to understand the world around them.
I have always been a believer that fables and folktales teach us about the world around us. It used to be that our stories were passed down orally, and you would only be able to know the story of your particular culture. We are fortunate to live in an age where fables are written down and shared. In this way, not only do we attempt to make sense of some of the more complicated things around us, but we are able to get insight into how other cultures work and think.
This book makes a beautiful bedtime story book. I could easily see reading one or two fables to my daughter before bed. The stories come from all over the globe and cover a wide variety of topics. Here are some of my favorites!
“The Origin of the Winds” from the indigenous peoples of Alaska. This story explores the relationship between people, the natural world, and the spirit world. In it, there is a time with no wind where there was silence and emptyness. A couple long for a son, create him and then the young boy walks to the end of the day where they sky meets the Earth. He cuts holes to allow the winds in from each direction. Each wind was different and they altered the way of the world – bringing animals that resulted in good hunting.
“Demeter & Persephone” has always been one of my favorite Greek myths. This classic myth tells of love and loss and explains how the seasons came to be. Hades, the god of the underworld falls in love with Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, the goddess of harvest. When Hades takes Persephone to the underworld, the crops of the Earth begin to wither and die. Hades quickly persuades Persephone to eat as there is a law that you can only leave the underworld if no food has passed your lips. But Zeus has sent Hermes down to retrieve Persephone. A deal gets made that she must spent 6 months a year in the underworld for each pomegranate seed she ate and the rest she can spend on earth with her mother. So Fall and Winter are the seasons when Demeter mourns that her daughter is gone and during Spring and Summer, the earth flourishes because Persephone is back.
With Chinese New Year coming up there is always curiosity about why each year is named after different animals. In “The Race of the Animals,” it poses a story about 12 animals arguing about what to call the new year. They are so loud that the gods decide that they should have a race across the water to decide. Rat “cleverly” sits on the top of Ox’s head and manages to come in first and the twelve other animals each take their place. This story is a bit shorter than I would have liked, but it definitely piqued my interest to read more about how the year names were chosen.
As soon as my older daughter took a look at the book she was excited to see a story about Anansi the spider since she had read tales of him in school. In “Anansi and the Box of Stories,” we get a character that originated in Ghana. Anansi wants to get the box of stories from the sky god, Nyame, so that he can share it with the people of the world, “to spark the imagination and breathe life into the unknown.” Nyame will only give it up if Anansi can complete 4 seemingly impossible tasks. He of course manages to complete the tasks and gives the box of stories to the world.
Finally, I don’t know about your kids, by my kids adored the Disney movie, Moana. The final story in this book is “The Fish of Maui,” which tells the story of how Maui was abandoned by his parents, saved by the gods and taught magic by his grandfather. This particular story also tells of how Maui slowed the passing of the sun so that people could get their chores done before dark. He was hailed as a hero, but he got full of himself and his brothers got sick of him. They don’t want to take him fishing with them and they also don’t want to share their catch. He tricks them to get on board their boat one day and instead of catching a fish, he hooks an island. We are listening to Moana non-stop, so finding stories that inspired the music and film are a welcome addition.
I always love having these beautiful Usborne Illustrated books, they never seem to let me down. This new collection is a wonderful addition helping bring the world a little closer to home.