Teacher's Guides > Investigating Artifacts

World Culture

The All Jahdu Storybook
Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions
Cornrows
Diego
Elinda Who Danced in the Sky
How Many Spots Does a Leopard Have? and Other Tales
In the Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World
Just So Stories
The Keeping Quilt
Land of the Long White Cloud: Maori Myths, Tales, and Legends
Legend of the Milky Way
Nine-in-One Grrr! Grrr!
The Patchwork Quilt
A Promise to the Sun
The Truth About the Moon

The Turtle and the Island: A Folktale from Papua New Guinea
Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears
Why Rat Comes First: A Story of the Chinese Zodiac
Why the Sky Is Far Away
Why the Sun and the Moon Live in the Sky
Why the Tides Ebb and Flow

The All Jahdu Storybook
by Virginia Hamilton; illustrated by Barry Moser
Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, San Diego. 1991
Grades: K–6
These stories about the folkloric trickster hinge on no specific traditions, but aim to express the timelessness of folklore. The diverse illustrations reflect the changes in the trickster: one minute he is in the jungle, the next in a taxi in Harlem. Characters he meets include animals (Bandicoot Rat or the chicken Cackle G.), or are abstract (Shadow, Thunder, or Grass). The author uses the generic name Jadhu for the trickster who appears in the folklore of various cultures.
Return to title list.

Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions
by Margaret Musgrove; illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon
Dial Books, New York. 1976
Grades: 3–7
Beautifully illustrated and well-researched alphabet book that describes African ceremonies, celebrations, and day-to day customs as well as reflecting the richness and diversity of the peoples and cultures. A man, woman, child, an artifact, a local animal, and living quarters are depicted in most of the paintings so that each page is quite detailed, even though all these elements might not ordinarily be seen together. The border design is based on the Kano Knot, a seventeenth-century design that symbolizes endless searching. Caldecott award winner.
Return to title list.

Cornrows
by Camille Yarbrough; illustrated by Carole Byard
Coward, McCann Inc., New York. 1979
Grades: K–5
This powerful and tender book recounts a family story that Mama and Great-Grammaw tell as they braid intricate cornrow patterns into the children’s hair. This book blends poetic accounts of African traditions, brutal slavery, cultural heritage, and the achievements of many famous African-Americans, with a strong and loving sense of family. It could be read as part of “Masks, Myths, and Middens” to introduce African-American contributions in general, and more specifically, to discuss the way the braiding of cornrows, the telling of stories, and the depiction of masks and sculptures connects to modern children’s understanding of their own culture.
Return to title list.

Diego
by Jeanette Winter
Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 1991
Grades: K–4
Story of the great Mexican muralist Diego Rivera with special attention to his childhood and how it influenced his art. Important themes include the relationship between art and society and the importance of direct experience for an artist. Winter’s vibrant miniature paintings seek to convey Rivera’s spirit but do not attempt to copy his work. The book has been criticized for not including any mention of Diego’s wife, the artist Frida Kahlo, although she does appear in one illustration. The artistic theme of this book could make a nice connection to the creative “Masks” activities in this GEMS guide.
Return to title list.

Elinda Who Danced in the Sky
adapted by Lynn Moroney; illustrated by Veg Reisberg
Children’s Book Press, San Francisco. 1990
Grades: K–4
Estonian folk tale about the sky goddess Elinda who overcomes her disappointment at losing her fiancé Prince Borealis, whose land would not let him leave. There are clever explanations of why Elinda turned down previous suitors: the North Star would be distant and unmoving, the moon always takes the same narrow path, and the sun’s light too harsh and overpowering. Elinda returns to her vocation of guiding the birds in their migrations, putting them on the right path. Her wedding veil, woven from dewdrops and dragonfly wings, is the Milky Way.
Return to title list.

How Many Spots Does a Leopard Have? and Other Tales
by Julius Lester; illustrated by David Shannon
Scholastic, New York. 1989
Grades: 6–10
A fine collection of African folktales, including two Jewish tales and one African-Jewish hybrid. Written for somewhat older students, these stories can be read out loud very sucessfully to younger students. We learn why the sun and moon live in the sky, why monkeys live in trees, and why dogs chase cats, but no one ever finds out how many spots the leopard really has!
Return to title list.


In the Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World
by Virginia Hamilton; illustrated by Barry Moser
Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, San Diego. 1988
Grades: All
An illustrated collection of 25 legends that explain the creation of the world. The myths are placed geographically and by type of myth tradition such as “world parent,” “creation from nothing,” and “separation of earth and sky.” Some of the selections are extracted from larger works such as Popol Vuh or the Icelandic Eddas. Newbery honor book.
Return to title list.

Just So Stories
by Rudyard Kipling
Viking Penguin, New York. 1987
Grades: 2–6
These amusing tales of how things came to be—such as how the elephant got his long nose, how the leopard got his spots, and how the camel got his hump—are inspired classics. The stories captivate and provide a perfect springboard to the question, which in any exploration of myths you may wish to ask: “Could that be true?”
Return to title list.


The Keeping Quilt
by Patricia Polacco
Simon & Schuster, New York. 1988
Grades: K–5
A homemade quilt ties together the lives of four generations of an immigrant Jewish family. Made from their old clothes, it helps them remember back home “like having the family in Russia dance around us at night.” The quilt is used in marriage ceremonies, as a tablecloth, and as a blanket for a newborn child, symbolizing the family’s enduring love and faith. In the GEMS guide, students practice making inferences about a culture based on artifacts. What does the quilt described in the story tell us about the culture of the people who created it? A resource to begin a quilt project. Sidney Taylor Award winner.
Return to title list.

Land of the Long White Cloud:
Maori Myths, Tales, and Legends
by Kiri Te Kanawa; illustrated by Michael Foreman
Arcade Publishing/Little, Brown & Co., Boston. 1989
Grades: K–5
Stories from the Maoris, the indigenous people of New Zealand, about the trickster and mischief maker Maui; the woman in the moon, the birds, the lakes, rivers and trees; and assorted fairies and monsters. These exciting tales reflect the life of a people whose survival depended on their close knowledge of the sea in all its aspects.
Return to title list.

Legend of the Milky Way
retold and illustrated by Jeanne M. Lee
Henry Holt & Co., New York. 1982
Grades: K–5
The weaver Princess came down from heaven to marry a mortal; but her mother objects and punishes them by making them stars separated by the Silver River (the Milky Way). The Chinese celebrate this story on the seventh day of the seventh Chinese month. If it rains that night, they say the princess is crying because she must say good-bye to her husband. The last page explains which familiar stars and constellations represent the characters in this legend.
Return to title list.

Nine-in-One Grrr! Grrr!
by Blia Xiong; illustrated by Nancy Hom
Children’s Book Press, San Francisco. 1989
Grades: K–3
In this folktale from Laos, when the first female tiger asks the kind and gentle God Shao how many cubs she will have, he tells her she will have nine cubs a year, if she remembers his words. Tiger does not have a great memory, so she makes up a little song to remember: “Nine-in-One, Grr! Grr!” When the other animals find this out, they are worried because that many tigers could eat all of them. A clever bird succeeds in distracting the tiger long enough to make her forget the song, then convinces her that the song was, “One-in-Nine, Grr! Grr!” (one cub born every nine years). That is why, the Hmong people of Laos say, “we don’t have too many tigers on earth today.” This direct and compelling explanatory myth could open a basic discussion of the balance of nature as well as the tricks that people use to remember things! This is an excellent book to select in connection with the world cultural aspects of the GEMS guide, especially if you wish to highlight Southeast Asian cultures.
Return to title list.

The Patchwork Quilt
by Valerie Flournoy; illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
Dial/Dutton, New York. 1985
Grades: K–5
Tanya, an African-American child, and her grandmother make a quilt using scraps cut from the family’s old clothing including her African princess Halloween costume. The grandmother becomes ill and the whole family is involved with completing the quilt of memories. Referring to her “masterpiece,” the grandmother says “A quilt won’t forget. It can tell your life story.” The GEMS guide encourages students to explore their own cultural roots and gain an appreciation for the peoples of the past. The process of unearthing and analyzing artifacts in the middens activity is compared to trying to put together puzzle pieces of the past. Might this also be compared to making a patchwork quilt?
Return to title list.


A Promise to the Sun
by Tololwa M. Mollel; illustrated by Beatriz Vidal
Joy Street Books/Little, Brown & Co., Boston. 1992
Grades: K–4
This African tale explains why bats fly only at night. In a time of great drought, the birds draw lots to see who will journey to seek rain and the lot falls to a visiting bat. The bat successfully persuades the sun to bring about rain, but is left holding the bag when the birds don’t follow through on a promise to the sun. To avoid the sun’s wrath, the bat hides in a cave and lives there to this day. The theme of an individual acting to benefit the group and solve a problem is also found in Rainbow Crow, which is illustrated by the same artist.
Return to title list.

The Truth About the Moon
by Clayton Bess; illustrated by Rosekrans Hoffman
Houghton Mifflin, Boston. 1983
Grades: K–4
An African boy is puzzled by the changing size of the moon and asks for an explanation. His father says there is only one moon and that the moon he saw last night is the same moon he will see tomorrow. “It is growing, just as a child like you grows to be a man like me. It starts small, just a silver sliver, and every night grows bigger and bigger until it is as big as it can be, a full circle. Then, just as a man grows smaller when he is very old, so does the moon. Smaller and smaller until death.” His mother explains that there is only one moon. “It is like a woman. And you know how sometimes a woman will grow larger and larger, more and more round?” The Chief tells a long tale about the sun and the moon being married and how the moon lost its heat.
Return to title list.

The Turtle and the Island:
A Folktale from Papua New Guinea
by Barbara K. Wilson; illustrated by Frane Lessac
J.B. Lippincott, New York. 1990
Grades: K–4
In this creation myth, New Guinea was made by a great sea turtle, the mother of all sea turtles. The turtle makes the island by adding more sand and rocks to a high hill. Then she brings the lonely sole man in the ocean from his cave to the island together with a lonely weeping woman. They have beautiful children whose children have more children. The vibrant illustrations show the lovable sea turtle and an island teeming with plant and marine life.
Return to title list.

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears
by Verna Aardema; illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon
Dial, New York. 1975
Grades: K–6
This West African folk tale is a clever story of why mosquitoes buzz in people’s ears. Devising explanations for things in nature by creating myths is what students do in Sessions 3 and 4 of the GEMS activities.
Return to title list.

Why Rat Comes First: A Story of the Chinese Zodiac
retold by Clara Yen; illustrated by Hideo C. Yoshida
Children’s Book Press, San Francisco. 1991
Grades: K–4
The Jade King invites all the animals to a feast, but only 12 show up. He rewards them by naming a year after each animal, starting with the rat whose quick thinking wins him first place. Even more fun comes after the story is done, when each person can look up her/his birth year and the corresponding animal and characteristics. This book could also be used to discuss the lunar calendar, and the different ways that world cultures keep track of time.
Return to title list.

Why the Sky Is Far Away
retold by Mary-Joan Gerson; illustrated by Hope Meryman
Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, San Diego. 1974
Grades: K–4
Nigerian folk tale about the sky that offers a strong moral message about squandering natural resources. It tells of a time when the sky was so close to the earth that anyone who was hungry just cut off a piece of sky and ate it. The king even had a special team of servants whose only job was to cut and shape the sky for ordinary meals and for special ceremonies. But the sky was getting tired of being wasted. When one woman throws away a leftover piece saying “What does it matter? ... one more piece on the rubbish heap,” the sky finally moves away. Ever since then people have had to work very hard to grow their own food. In addition to an imaginative explanation for why the sky is far away (similar to the stories explaining natural phenomena that students create and share in Sessions 3 and 4 of this GEMS guide) the story connects to the “Going Further” activities for Sessions 5 and 6 in which students are asked to discuss or prepare a written assignment on the question: “What does our garbage tell us about our culture?”
Return to title list.

Why the Sun and the Moon Live in the Sky
by Elphinstone Dayrell; illustrated by Blair Lent
Houghton Mifflin, Boston. 1968
Grades: K–4
In this Nigerian folk tale, the sun and his wife, the moon, built a large house for entertaining the water. By the time the water and all his people have flowed in and over the top of the roof, the sun and moon are forced to go up into the sky. The main characters and the fish and water animals are all represented as African people in tribal costumes and masks in brown, green, blue and gold-patterned drawings. Caldecott Honor book.
Return to title list.


Why the Tides Ebb and Flow
by Joan C. Bowden; illustrated by Marc Brown
Houghton Mifflin, Boston. 1979
Grades: K–4
A feisty old woman bargains with the Sky Spirit, finally gaining a hut, a daughter and son-in-law, and the loan of a very special rock to beautify her yard. She borrows the rock twice each day from the hole in the bottom of the sea, and that is why the tides ebb and flow. The tale is not attributed to any specific culture, but the design motifs seem African inspired.
Return to title list.

Lawrence Hall of Science    © 2018 UC Regents. All rights reserved.    Contact GEMS    Updated February 06, 2015