African Folktales: An Annotated Bibliography created by Thelma Nelson
I chose to research African folktales as part of my investigation into the cultural motifs found in The Magic Gourd. I have always taken an interest in Africa and would love to visit someday, maybe even Mali. Through my readings and research I had fun learning about Africa by selecting a story that provided many details that led me to believe the authenticity of the book of my study. Through this assignment, I see how significant it is that storytellers, book reviewers, librarians, and teachers can rely on the reputation of the authors and illustrators; rather than concrete evidence of cultural authenticity, because it is not always present in the book.

The Magic Gourd
The Magic Gourd

The Magic Gourd Book Jacket
Diakite, Baba Wague. The Magic Gourd. Illustrated by Baba Wague Dakite. 2003. 32p. Scholastic Press. $16.95. (0-439-4960-4).

Diakité provides the reader with a folktale that not only teaches how important it is to lend a hand to someone else in need, but also how being greedy can affect a person. The "magic gourd" represents an endless supply of food for the hungry as well a reward for Brother Rabbit for his kindness to the Chameleon. When the greedy king hears of the magic gourd he demands it. He demands gold fills the bowl. Brother Rabbit gets a "rock" from the Chameleon that he trades to the king to get his magic gourd back. The rock continually hits the king until Brother Rabbit shouts, "Fara-Ba" and the simple rock falls back to the ground. This is a folktale that exemplifies the western African culture of the Malian people. Diakité provides the reader with Author's Notes with an explanation of 'A Song of Praise,' Diakite uses mud cloth as the border of each page that symbolizes historical events and well-known people; he also provides a page by page explanation of each border. Diakite thinks about the reader when he includes a glossary with meaning and pronunciation of Bambara language. He ends with a synopsis of the folkloric cousins of "The Magic Gourd". The Magic Gourd is a story wrapped around west African culture and friendship.The illustrations found in this book are especially important to the region of Africa it comes from. The author/ illustrator of this book was very authentic in his writings and illustrations, because Mali is his native country. The illustration he uses to provide the reader with a touch of Mali is the "mud cloth," which is made from hand woven cotton and represents meaningful historical events and well-known people. Diakité provides the reader with an explanation of each page, the border he uses and what each border represents in Mali. Great job with the use of illustrations, author's notes as it proves authenticity.


Mabela the Clever Cover
Mabela the Clever Cover

MacDonald, Margaret Read. Mabela the Clever. Illustrated by Tim Coffey. 2001. 32p. Albert Whitman and Company. $15.95. (0-8075-4902-9).
Mabela the Clever is story full of meaning. Mabela leads the Cat into the forest to quickly realize the Cat is up to no good. Mabela remembers all the lessons her father had taught to escape the Cat by running "fast" through thorns and the Cat becomes stuck. Mabela told that story to her and and her children's children. Limba grandparents say, "If a person is clever, it is because someone taught them their cleverness" (MacDonald, 32).

MacDonald retells a delightful folktale Mabela the Clever that has been elaborated through many different tellings. MacDonald starts her retelling with notes that explain a little about the culture of the book, where the story originated and shares that Dr. Finnegan tells many stories that are very important to Limba culture. MacDonald explains how Dr. Finnegan tells her stories of the Limba people to pass on traditional wisdom and morals. The illustrations provide the reader with an idea of what Kamabai, Sierra Leone, Africa would look like in a village. "Mabela the Clever" would be a greatchoice for oral storytelling.

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Nabulela Book Jacket
Moodie, Fiona. Nabulela: A South African Folk Tale. Illustrated by Fiona Moodie. 1997. 32p. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. $16.50.(9780374354862).


This South African folktale is a perfect example of how important illustrations can be to the story. The author-illustrator, Fiona Moodie provides the reader with a vivid picture of the fear of Nabulela, the white-skinned monster that lives in the lake, and the anger shown towards Nandi, the chief's daughter, by the village girls. Their punishment is that they must defeat the monster. Fiona Moodie lives in North Nguni Africa where the story takes place. The only down-fall I see in the book is that Fiona Moodie did not provide the reader with footnotes or glossary that provides meaning to words that the reader would not necessarily know, for example, "kraal" and "assegais" I had to go back and compare how the words were being used to the picture to understand the meaning of the words. In a book such as this, author's notes and glossaries are very important to the reader.


external image 51AFKQM4EBL._SS500_.jpgSense Pass King: A Story From Cameroon Book Jacket

Tchana, Katrin. Sense Pass King: A Story From Cameroon. Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. 2002. 32p. Holiday House. $16.95 (0-8234-1577-5).

The reviews for this book speak for themselves. Tchana did a super job of retelling a folktale of Northwest Province of Cameroon in West Africa. She provides the reader with author's notes explaining background information of this West African folktale. The story originated from her husband retelling it to her after hearing from his mother while growing up in Africa. Although in the story her husband shares with her, the main character (Sense Pass King) is a boy, Tchana chooses to create the character as girl in her retelling. Tchana felt there were many stories about boys being the heroic figure, the smart one, but not many about heroic- smart girls. Tchana includes in her notes that Sense Pass King means "smarter than the king." This is a wonderful story of cleverness and courage without a boastful attitude. The illustrations capture the traditional lore of West Africa that will captivate and engage any reader or storyteller.The author's notes provide the reader knowledge about the Pidgin English, which is the language spoken northwest Cameroon.

Tchana did a brave thing by changing the gender of the main character (Sense Pass King) from male to female, because in Africa, the male is presented at a higher rank than a female. So this variance in her storytelling might cause the story to become a "cautionary tale."

Cover Image
Cover Image

A Pride of African Tales Book Jacket
Washington, Donna L. A Pride of African Tales. Illustrated by James Ransome. 2004. 70p. Harper Collins. $17.99. (0-06-024932-3).

A Pride of African Tales is a collection of folktales from different regions of Africa. Washington combines her talents and knowledge of African culture with the knowledge of James Ransome ability to define in watercolors the beauty of Africa for each part of the collection. The knowledge of the African culture possessed by Washington is reflected in her writings throughout the collection of stories. Washington provides the reader or storyteller with an introduction of why she included the stories that she included in this collection. She begins her writing with a lesson for any teacher, librarian, or storyteller by explaining and sharing storytelling techniques. She shares that stories are meant to be told and how storytellers create the world of the story by head movement and change in tone. She confirms that the story is told over and over, it is transformed to best fit the person telling the story. Washington’s favorite types of stories come from people getting exactly what they deserve and when people learn from mistakes. Who she is and what she writes is represented in every story in her collection. A collection of wonderful tales that she encourages us read, learn and tell!

The illustrations of each story depict the setting of the folktale being told. My favorite of folktale of the colleciton is, "Anansi's Fishing Expedition." Normally Anansi is painted as a spider character in the story, in this story he is boy. Anansi is usually the trickster, but in this story he is the one who gets tricked by Anini "the fool," boy was Anansi ever wrong! Anini trcked Anansi into doing all the work, giving Anini the fish and Anansi keeping only the smelly fish traps that caused him to get a beating when he tried to sell them in the market. The setting of Anansi's Fishing Expedition is in Ghana, located in west Africa. The illustrator provides the reader with a very vivid idea with the natives dress in proper clothing for this culture as well as the village people working in the village as a community.

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Anansi and the Talking Melon Book Jacket
Kimmel, Eric A. Anansi and the Talking Melon. Illustrated by Janet Stevens.1994. 32p. Holiday House. $15.34 (978-0-8234-1167-2).


At first, I have to admit I was not really sure this book was authentic, but through research and reading reviews I decided it was. My reservations about the authenticity was the illustrations, they showed very little of Africa, except for animals. The story plot is that of Anansi, the trickster which also showed up in A Pride of African Tales. This affirmed that it was an authentic folktale from Africa. The story is yet a story of Anansi the trickster (normally depicted as a spider) tricking Elephant after he has eaten way too deep into the Elephant’s ripe melon. Anansi has to trick everyone, the Hippo, the Warthog, Ostrich, Rhino, and Turtle, even the Gorilla King into thinking the melon talks. The king could not make the melon talk and when it does, Anansi insults the king and the king throws the melon. Anansi survives another trick to leave the Elephant still talking to the melons. "Trickster!" The illustrations provided vivid color, but personally, I think the illustrator could have represented Africa using better illustrations that would provide the reader with a clear picture of where the story takes place. If I did not know this story was in Africa, I would not have gained this information from the illustrations. The illustrations are very important to authenticity of the story.

Book Review Sources:

TWU Databases: Wilson Web - Book Review Digest Plus

Works Consulted


Booklist. "Anansi and the Talking Melon (Book Review)." Amazon.com. Web. 9. July 2010.

Children's Literature."Pride of African Tales (Book Review)." Barnes and Noble.com. Web. 9 July 2010.

Hearne, Betsy. "Nubalela (Book Review)." Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books." Alibris.com. Web. 08 July 2010.
Jones, Lynda. "Sense Pass King (Book Review)." The Free Library. com 01 March 2003. 09 July 201
Moore, Leslie. "Sense Pass King: A Story from Cameroon, (Book Review)" Humanities and Social Sciences.net. Web. 7 July 2010.

Publisher's Weekly."Mabela the Clever (Book Review)". Amazon.com. Web. 8 July 2010.

School Library Journal. "Anansi and the Talking Melon (Book Review)." Amazon.com. Web. 8 July 2010.

School Library Journal. "Mabela the Clever (Book Review)." Barnes and Noble.com. Web. 7 July 2010.


School Library Journal. "Nubalela (Book Review)." Amazon.com Web. 8 July 2010.

School Library Journal. "A Pride of African Tales (Book Review)." Amazon.com. Web. 8 July 2010.