One of our favorite ways of learning about a culture is with folktales - these are the stories most of us carry from our childhood and share from one generation to the next. In West Africa, these are the stories told at the bedside, under the baobab tree or around the fire after a day's work is complete.
This list includes traditional folktales from Liberia. A few of these books were also enjoyed by my three year old nephew, who could not get enough of the folktale of the hungry crocodile. Some of these books are no longer in print, but you might be able to find them at your local library (like we did) and I've linked those to Better World Books, a site that sells second hand books (I am not affiliated with them).
Two Ways to Count to Ten: A Liberian Folktale retold by Ruby Dee. This folktale is about the leopard king seeking a wise successor. The animals of the jungle are given the task of throwing a spear in the air, and counting to ten before it lands. The winner turns out not to be the strongest who throws in the air the highest, but the most clever who thinks of another way to count to ten... I wonder if you can guess how :)
The rest of the books are written by Won-Ldy Paye and Margaret Lippert. Won-Ldy Paye (pronounced One Day Pay) grew up in Liberia, a member of the Dan ethnic group, one of 16 ethnic groups in Liberia. His family are the tlo ker mehn, the storytellers of their village and Won-Ldy has continued this legacy by retelling various Dan folktales with the following illustrated books. The illustrations for the first 3 are vibrant, colorful and whimsical - a big hit with everyone who read them.
Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile by Won-Ldy Paye and Margaret Lippert. In this folktale, Mrs. Chicken goes to the river to admire herself. The hungry crocodile does not miss the opportunity to take her home for dinner. Mrs. Chicken though tricks Crocodile and convinces her they are sisters, managing to get away.
We must have read this story a few dozen times when my nephew was down last week, he loved it so much. Luckily, we enjoyed it too :)
Head, Body, Legs: A Story from Liberia by Won-Ldy Paye and Margaret Lippert. This folktale is a creation story with head, body, arms and legs as separate entities until they decide to join up and work together, making it a great story about cooperation. This is a quirky, funny book - in fact, the first time I read it I laughed out loud at how preposterous these body parts are, individually bopping around. You can find a printable puppet to go along with the story here.
The Talking Vegetables by Won-Ldy Paye and Margaret Lippert. This is another humorous folktale, in which a spider who refuses to help the village plant the garden gets an earful from the vegetables when he attempts to pick them to eat with his rice. It is a similar story to "The Little Red Hen", teaching us to put effort into a task in order to reap the rewards.
Why Leopard Has Spots: Dan Stories from Liberia (World Stories) by Won-Ldy Paye and Margaret Lippert. With black and white linoleum illustrations, this book retells six Dan folktales. The folktales include "Why the Leopard has Spots", "The Hunger Season", "Why Spider has a Big Butt", "Spider Flies to the Feast" as well as "The Talking Vegetables", and "The Hungry Crocodile". Many of the stories feature Spider, a common figure in West African folktales.
You can find all of our posts with children's books about West Africa here.
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Books are a wonderful way to experience new worlds and ideas. Our house is filled with books, most of which are borrowed from our public library. Public libraries are an incredible resource, making books accessible to everyone, and we highly encourage everyone to discover theirs. If you are hoping to build your own home library, I've made it easy by linking book titles to Amazon.com. Please note that I have become affiliated with them, which means that if you make a purchase, you are also supporting this website.