Four Favorite Folk Tales for Asian Pacific Heritage Month
Here’s a guessing game.
Some stories are universal. No matter what your heritage, ask yourself, do I know this tale? Have I heard something like this story some time ago somewhere before? Parts of some titles have been hidden to keep you guessing.
Jouanah / adapted by Jewell Reinhart Coburn with Tzexa Cherta Lee; illustrated by Ann Sibley O'Brien
Desperate for a cow to help him plow his fields a poor farmer agrees to his wife’s plan to magically turn herself into a cow. When he returns home, their daughter Jouanah is shocked by the transformation but begins to lovingly tend the cow. Soon the farm prospers and her father marries another woman with a daughter of her own. Jealous and ambitious for her own daughter, the new wife pretends to be sick and tells her husband that only if he sacrifices the cow will she recover. But before he can act the cow dies of a broken heart and her despairing husband soon follows her to the grave. When the New Year is to be celebrated in the village her stepmother has a plan to keep Jouanah at home, but it fails.
Little Inchkin / Fiona French
In feudal Japan Hana and her husband Tanjo longed for a child, but they were somewhat disappointed when their prayer was answered with a baby boy the size of a pea-pod. Little Inchkin, nevertheless, dreamed of growing to become a skilled swordsman. So although his size only grew to that of a lotus flower, he set out to seek his fortune with courage and a sword make from a needle. Battling insects and mice along the way he made it to the court of Prince Sanjo, where he “rid the royal rice-store of rats and the royal kitchens of cockroaches” within an hour. He was then appointed to guard the princess on a journey where they were attacked by much larger and more ferocious foe.
The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks / Katherine Paterson; illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon
A proud and cruel lord captures a beautiful drake and cages him in his court to impress his guests with the duck’s finer than brocade plumage. But, the sad drake pines for his mate. Shozo the one-eyed former samurai pleads with his lord to release the duck back into the wild. The lord refuses. Then the kitchen maid Yasuko takes matters into her own hands. When the drake is discovered missing suspicion falls on Shozo and Yasuko, and they are sent under guard to the emperor.
Lon Po Po: a Story from China / translated and illustrated by Ed Young
On the day their mother goes to visit their grandmother, Shang, Tao, and Paotze are left along in their home in the country. At dusk a wolf disguised as their grandmother, Po Po, knocks on their door and asks to be let in. Suspiciously, the three girls open the door. The wolf blows out the light and invites them into bed. In bed the oldest, Shang, discovers the ruse, and comes up with a plan to save herself and her young sisters, but will she be able to trick the wolf before they’re eaten?