Stories that introduce other cultures ByNaomi Leithold

June fourth was an important day in my 12-year-old son's life. Not because it's my birthday, but because it was the day the new Harry Potter movie opened in Chicago. He had been waiting for this movie since he saw the last installment of the young Hogwarts student's adventures. Thus, he was ecstatic when he learned that this was to be the end-of-the-year field trip. His enthusiasm was momentarily quelled when he heard some of his friends would be unable to attend, but he nonchalantly reported that this must be due to their religious beliefs.

Fortunately my children have grown up in a world where differences reign and are accepted. Yet, they don't always understand the reason behind their friends' behavior. This leads to many questions, informal research projects and interesting discussions. In addition to numerous nonfiction resources, stories give insight into cultural believes, values and practices. Here are my recommendations for recordings that will introduce your child to several new cultures.

FIRESIDE TALES: MORE LESSONS FROM THE ANIMAL PEOPLE, by Dovie Thomason Sickles, music by Micky Sickles, Yellow Moon Press, 2001, $14.95 for CD, $9.95 for audiocassette, one hour; ages 8 and up. The stories on this recording are mostly from the six Iroquois nations. These tales are traditionally told in the cold season by an older relative to teach history, memories, culture and values to the next generation, while simultaneously reminding the older generation of the proper way to live in harmony with the Earth and all who share it.

The animal-themed stories not only instill values, but attempt to explain why an animal looks a certain way. In the delightful folktale, "Bear and Chipmunk," the bear is trying to hibernate but is constantly awakened by a wiggling chipmunk. He attempts to hold the animal down with his claws, which only results in the stripes on the small rodent's back, not a more restful sleep. Finally, after many disruptions, the bear successfully teaches the chipmunk that bears must sleep, and the chipmunk, in turn, teaches the bear that chipmunks must wiggle. As a result, they both learn that everyone has unique characteristics that should be respected.

Thomason Sickles' voice is so adaptable that I checked the CD cover to see whether another storyteller was listed. Her expert portrayals not only employ varied voices, but also include pacing and inflection that are appropriate to the size and personality of the creature. Her husband, Micky Sickles, provides authentic drumming and chanting that adds the finishing touches to these thought-provoking stories.

"Fireside Tales: More Lessons From The Animal People" can be purchased by calling (800) 497-4385 or online at

MY SISTER'S WEDDING, by Waithira Mbuthia, narrated by Alexandra Colonna, illustrations by Geoffrey Gacheru Karanja, Trudy Corp., 2002, $19.95 for hardcover book and audiocassette, 9-12 minutes; ages 5-9. This story is part of Soundprints' "Make Friends Around the World" series. These stories are created by an author and illustrator who are residents or citizens of the featured country, and highlight various cultural traditions.

"My Sister's Wedding" is told from the perspective of Wambui, a 10-year-old Gikuyu girl who lives in Kenya. This sensitive story, narrated by a child, helps listeners relate to a culture very different than ours by focusing on the universal feelings of a young child whose older sibling is moving away from home. Youngsters who have experienced this are sure to identify as Wambui describes how she will miss sharing activities, such as telling riddles to her older sister.

As this simple tale unfolds, children will have many opportunities to compare Wambui's culture with their own. Conclusions will be made easier by looking at Gacheru Karanja's detailed illustrations, listening to authentic street sounds and hearing the additional facts about Kenya and the Gikuyu culture that follow the story.

"My Sister's Wedding" can be purchased at major bookstores, by calling (800) 228-7839 or online at

JUSTIN WILSON'S CAJUN FABLES, by Justin Wilson and Jay Hadley, narrated by Justin Wilson, Pelican Publishing Co., 2002. $9.95 for audiocassette, 30 minutes; ages 6-9. Children and adults are bound to be entertained by this delightful recording of classic Mother Goose selections that take place in Southern Louisiana. Familiar tales and rhymes such as "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" and "Jack and Jill" take on new meaning when the setting is a bayou or a swamp, the food consists of crawfish and jambalaya and the villain is a ‘gator. These changes serve as an enjoyable way to introduce children to the Cajun culture.

The experience would not be complete without Wilson's folksy, fast-paced narration, Creole French sentence structure ("The prettiest house, she never saw before again") and a sprinkling of French pronunciations. The interludes of upbeat Cajun music add to the authenticity of this tape.

"Justin Wilson's Cajun Fables" can be purchased by calling (800) 843-1724 or online at

Naomi Leithold is an award-winning storyteller and early childhood educator. She lives in Skokie and has two boys, ages 12 and 15. Her Web site,, features story starters and other resources for young storytellers.



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