Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The defeat of African folktales in a picture book world

Here I am, an individual actively (a couple of moments a month) trying to collect West African folktales (at least the ones from Nigeria), yet whenever my two and a half year old asks “mummy, tell story” I instinctively begin to narrate the three little pigs, goldilocks and the three bears, snow white and the seven dwarfs or any of a myriad of fairy tales I read as a child. All of these I remember with great clarity including the colorful illustrations in the books.

Two nights ago when my daughter reached another milestone and told me a story instead, I basked in silent glory as I struggled to pick out her words “wolf knock on the door”, “little pig said”, “chin chin chin”, “huff and puff”, “blow down house”. I was not surprised that this would be the first story she would narrate considering how often I have told it to her. But I did begin to wonder why these are the stories I always tell her even after I started out on this West African folktale collection which I should be championing. The obvious reason is that I know these fairy tales better and can tell them well. But why is that?

My first conclusion was that the human mind remembers more vividly what is seen rather than what is heard. But then, I read African folktales and stories too just like my friends who also no longer remember most of the stories, so what was different?

Maybe it was the fact that I read fairy tale books before I was introduced to folktale books. I had fairy tales read to me before I could read (just like I now read to my daughter).

This sequence occurred probably because there were several fairy tale picture books with great colorful illustrations that a child could spend hours musing over while one had to be older to enjoy books that lacked illustrations. I cannot say the same for the books on African folktales which I read when I was a little older but I hope there are some great ones out there today.

My final conclusion as to why I can hardly remember African folktales is that the culprit is a combination of:

  1. lack of colorful illustrations, leading to
  2. reading these books later after developing memorable favorite stories
  3. smaller book selection

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