10 – A Ukrainian Folktale Turned Modern Parable

The Ukrainian folktale of “The Crow and The Snake” is not one that’s well known in the West. Very little information exists about it in English, and I’ve had trouble discovering anything about its origins or publication history. But it has turned out to be a remarkably poignant story in light of the current war being waged by Russia against the nation and people of Ukraine.

Corvus cornix, the Hooded Crow, which is commonly seen in Ukraine. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons. Original file found at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Corvus_cornix_2019-08-02.jpg

“The Crow and the Snake” can be seen as a parable or allegory of the invasion and subsequent war, which makes it useful to parents and teachers who are at a loss for ways to explain what’s going on to their children.

You can hear the entire folktale here:

Activity: Should the Fox have helped more?

In “The Crow and The Snake” a Crow is attacked by her neighbor, a  Snake who eats up her children. The Crow never considers fleeing from her home, choosing instead to defend it. A passing Fox offers advice to the Crow, which ends up working, and the Snake is killed. The morality of the Fox’s actions are worth considering.

Have students engage with the following questions. This could be in a class discussion, in written essays, or in small group conferences.

    • Why do you think the Crow didn’t try to fight the Snake herself?
    • Why do you think the Fox gave advice to the Crow?
    • Can you think of any reasons the Fox should have offered direct help to the Crow?
    • Can you think of any reasons why the Fox would not have wanted to offer direct help to the Crow?
    • If you were the Crow, would you have abandoned your nest or stayed behind to fight for your home?

9 – The Crow and The Snake: A Ukrainian Folktale

This audio version of “The Crow and The Snake” pairs with the episode “A Ukrainian Folktale Turned Modern Parable.” It can be freely used by parents, teachers, and other educators for non-profit purposes.

I don’t have a great degree of familiarity with the folklore of Eastern Europe, but recent events have led me to look for stories from Ukraine as a way to learn more about the culture of a nation that is fighting for its survival. Unfortunately I can find very little English-language scholarship on Ukrainian folklore. If any listeners have tips for me about reliable sources for research, please send a message to letters@childrensliteraturepodcast.com.

7 – How the Brothers Grimm Saved Folk Culture

Everyone has heard of the Brothers Grimm but usually the only fact people know about these men is that they were the authors of a book of fairy tales. And even this is only partly true. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm collected folk tales, and then they edited them into Kinder- und Hausmärchen, or Children’s and Household Tales, which became the heart of the fairy tale canon.

The Brothers Grimm were dedicated to preserving folklore at a time when war, economic change, and the loss of large, multigenerational families were destroying folk traditions. It would be nice to say that dictators with imperial ambitions no longer posed a threat to the unique cultures of smaller neighbors, but unfortunately the plight of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm is alarmingly relevant given the present-day war in Ukraine.

Activity: Collect and Preserve Folktales

Within your family, school, or community, have children think of sources for local legends and stories. Are there famous local sites? Notable citizens from the past? Family bedtime stories or songs? Have children record these bits of folklore. Then, decide who will edit and arrange the works. Consider which items have most value to preserving the folk memories of your family and community. Once the stories are assembled, share them in a way that gives free access to as many people as possible and encourages others to make new creative works based on this folklore.

I have written down and recorded a folktale from my own family. It’s called “Ricky the Racer” and was made up by my grandfather back in the 1950’s. This story has now been in my family for four generations as I am now telling it to my own children. You can listen to “Ricky the Racer” and learn the folk history of this tale here.

6 – Recipes from Little Women

Little Women is loaded with rich details about food and meals, which helps to build a picture of a real, living world. Recreating recipes from books gives readers the chance to touch, smell, and taste the same things as the characters, making the experience of reading more fun and memorable. In this follow-up episode to my discussion of Amy March getting busted for having pickled limes with her at school, learn how to make your own pickled limes at home as well as find out what went wrong with Meg’s currant jam when she tries and catastrophically fails to make some for the first time.

Activity: Make Pickled Limes at Home

It’s easy and fun to make your own pickled limes! They are a tasty low-calorie, low-sugar treat that can be served to kids when you read Chapter 7 of Little Women. To make a very basic recipe, mix a little less than one teaspoon of salt into each cup of water. Wash some limes and slice them into eight wedges. Thoroughly clean some mason jars or another airtight glass container. Put the limes into the jars and completely cover with salt water, leaving very little space at the top. Close up the jar and put it in the refrigerator for two or three weeks. When you eat the limes, remove them from the salt water.

For more information, check out The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich. You can also look up many other 19th century recipes for pickled limes, with variations that include vinegar, spices, chiles, or sugar.

Activity: Try Foods from a Story

Make reading with children more memorable by looking for opportunities to prepare and eat foods that are part of the plot. This can bring stories to life in a very memorable way and help children try dishes they may have never heard of. Here are just a few examples of memorable moments involving food that you can try at home or, if possible, in class:

    • Give children a piece of Turkish Delight to eat when the White Witch gives some to Edmund in Chapter Four of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
    • Eat grapes, figs, onions, plums, papayas, guavas, cantaloupes, almonds, potatoes, avocados, asparagus, and peaches to match the title of each chapter of Esperanza Rising
    • Make and eat some tomato sandwiches together after reading about them in Harriet the Spy
    • Use food coloring to make green eggs and ham to eat while reading Green Eggs and Ham
    • Sip raspberry cordial while reading about Anne and Diana’s disastrous tea party in Chapter Sixteen of Anne of Green Gables
    • Eat some marmalade while reading Chapter One of A Bear Called Paddington
    • Prepare a chocolate bar with a Golden Ticket inside and give it to a child to open as Charlie Bucket finds his Golden Ticket in Chapter Eleven of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
    • Make pumpkin pasties, butterbeer, treacle tarts, roast dinners, and any number of other foods to eat while reading the Harry Potter series

5 – Amy March and the Pickled Limes

In film adaptations of Little Women, Amy March is often unfairly depicted as a bratty, selfish, shallow girl who only cares about status and money. The real Amy March — the one on the page — is actually a very impressive girl who displays great thoughtfulness from an early age. During her worst day at school ever, Amy shows courage and dignity in the face of very cruel treatment from her classmates and teacher, and she isn’t too proud to reflect on her own mistakes and learn from them. In this episode, hear about how Amy March’s failed attempt to buy popularity with pickled limes turns into a chance for her to improve her character while readers consider the difficulties faced by children who don’t have the money to keep up with the latest trends at school. This close reading of Chapter 7 of Little Women is inspired by the work of Dr. Octavia Cox.

Here’s a printable coloring page showing Amy March with her parcel of limes that kids can color:

Featured Artist: Sumochi

I stumbled across the music of Sumochi, a composer from Osaka, Japan, and I feel lucky to have discovered her! She has an album out called Home Time. It’s pleasant instrumental music that makes my kids mellow out and play nicely on their own. You can find Home Time on most major streaming services.

Activity: Journal Entries by Characters in Little Women

Have students read Chapter Seven of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. The text can be found for free at Project Gutenberg:

Little Women: Chapter Seven

Tell students to imagine that they are one of the following characters: Amy, Meg, Mr. Phillips, Jenny Snow, one of the other girls in the class, or Marmee. The students should imagine that they sit down to write in their journals about what happened during the day described in Chapter Seven. They should consider the following questions:

    • How do you feel about what happened with Amy and the limes?
    • Who is wrong and right in this situation?
    • Does the character regret any of his or her behavior?
    • Is the character angry or worried or ashamed about anything that happened that day?

Remind students that this writing should show bias because it is written from the point of view of the character. The character’s opinions, not their own, should be what is in the journal entry.

After the journal entries are written, have students share them with one another. Lead a discussion about what each character did right or wrong, and encourage speculation about how the incident could have been handled better or even prevented. Students may wish to give examples of trends they have followed and whether or not these trends were used to encourage bad behavior. Conclude with how Amy gained wisdom and maturity by deciding to learn from her mistakes and improve herself.

4 – Choosing Good Baby Books

You don’t need a degree in child development to learn the traits of a good baby book. In this episode, learn a bit about how babies’ brains are different from ours. Pat the Bunny and Goodnight Moon were both first published in the 1940’s, yet they remain beloved baby books today because they are able to meaningfully communicate with little ones. Find out the traits of a book that will be fun to read with your little one over . . . and over . . . and over . . . and over . . . and over . . . and over again.

Activity: Observe How a Baby Reads Books

Usually, the activities suggested here are for children. But this time, the activity is for adults (or possibly children who can take it seriously.)

Get a few books together for an infant or toddler. The books should follow the criteria discussed in the episode: having no complex characters and a very simple plot, if any at all. Illustrations should be simple and have clean lines with high contrast colors.

Allow the baby to direct the reading completely. Offer a book and begin reading. If the child loses interest in the book, offer a different one. If the child wishes to go back to a previous page or skip ahead to another page, follow along without interfering. Pay attention to which book the child spends the most time with. Are there particular pages that draw the most attention, or actions encouraged by the book that spark the most enthusiasm? Which book gets the most repeat readings? Which words or actions from the book, if does the child repeat after hearing you say them?

This activity can be done formally by collecting data on the number of times a baby looks at a given page or repeats a certain activity and then reporting on results, or informally through observation and discussion.

2 – What is a Cinderella Story?

Cinderella stories are the oldest in the world, and are found in every culture. In the first episode in a series, learn about the basic structure of Cinderella stores, why they are mostly about young women, and how to write your own Cinderella story.

Activity: Write Your Own Cinderella Story

In this activity, students will write their own Cinderella story. Students should first read or listen to “Cendrillon” as told by Charles Perrault, as this is the most commonly known version of the Cinderella story today. Links to text and audio of the stories is below:

“Cendrillon” by Charles Perrault (Abridged)

“Cendrillon, or the Little Glass Slipper” by Charles Perrault (Full Version)

If there is time, have students also study the version by the Brothers Grimm:

“Aschenputtel” as collected by the Brothers Grimm (Abridged)

“Aschenputtel” as collected by the Brothers Grimm (Full Version)

After reading or hearing the story, ask students to outline the major plot points of a Cinderella story. This can be done as a class, in small groups, or individually, and should roughly include the following:

    • Cinderella is socially, economically, and physically trapped
    • The cruel Stepmother is the main antagonist who uses her power to abuse Cinderella, and she encourages the Stepsisters to also be cruel to her
    • A special event offers Cinderella one chance to be noticed and appreciated, but it seems unlikely that she will be able to make it
    • A Fairy Godmother gives Cinderella the help she needs to get to the event, although the transformation is only temporary
    • Now that Cinderella is able to be part of society, her  good qualities impress everyone, including the most important person there
    • Cinderella must flee the event to avoid being discovered, but leaves behind a clue as to her identity
    • The important person seeks out Cinderella using the clue and finds her
    • Cinderella is rescued and will now live a safe and happy life away from her abusers
    • The stepmother and stepsisters are punished or forgiven

Stories do not need to exactly follow this pattern, and there can be many interpretations of what counts as an “Evil Stepmother,” “Ugly Stepsister,” or “Fairy Godmother.” Stories can be magical or realistic in nature, and the “Prince” character does not automatically have to be a romantic partner for Cinderella.

Provide each student a copy of the following worksheet, which will help in planning a new Cinderella-type story:

PDF: Cinderella Story Worksheet

Students can work alone, in small groups, or as a large group to outline with a new twist on Cinderella. Encourage students to consider an unusual historical or fictional setting, such as science fiction or a location in the world far away in time and place from medieval Europe. Some students may wish to set their story within the world of a novel or a video game that they like, using characters that they are already familiar with.

After planning stories using the worksheet, students can then write their Cinderella story. Stories can be shared with fellow students and then collected into a volume, to be placed in a family or school library.



1 – Hatchet

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen is a survival story, but it’s also a tale about a boy just starting to become more grown-up. In this episode, learn about how Brian Robeson has all of his physical and psychological certainties taken away from him, but he emerges stronger than ever after learning to survive on his own. Consider the health impacts of Brian’s diet during his forty-seven days alone in the Canadian wilderness and how he rapidly matures in the way he views his parents’ divorce.

Activity: How would you survive?

Have each student write a story about being in a survival situation all alone. The narrative must include:

    • Arriving at a remote location
    • A description of the location, including plants, animals, and climate
    • What resources or tools are immediately available
    • What resources or tools can be found or made
    • Methods of getting food, shelter, and protection from nature
    • What dangers would be encountered
    • What efforts would be made to escape or be rescued
    • A guess at the chances of survival in the short and long term

The narrative can be a short response or a longer work of art or creative writing. Students should share their work and discuss whether their story is plausible or fanciful.

Activity: What vitamins do you need to survive?

This activity is designed to help students understand why the human body needs vitamins. Students will fill out a chart that lists vitamins, their function, and the food sources which provide these vitamins. Parents and teachers can decide how much detail to go into based on student understanding and ability. It may be better for younger students to only research a few vitamins, whereas older students can go into greater depth. Students should do as much research on their own as possible.

Begin the activity by defining of a vitamin:

A vitamin is a nutrient that a living thing needs in order to function properly. Vitamins can almost never be made by the organism itself, so they must be obtained through its diet.

Next, provide students with a copy of this chart and instruct them to fill it out after performing research about which parts of the human body are affected by vitamins and which foods are rich in these vitamins. Answers will vary, as vitamins have many different functions in the body and they are found in many different food sources. After this activity students should be able to explain various sources of vitamins, how those vitamins support proper functioning of the body, and why it is important to eat a varied diet to obtain proper nutrition.

Advanced students can also write a research essay answering the following prompt:

In Hatchet, Brian spends fifty-four days eating only choke cherries, raspberries, hazelnuts, fish, grouse, and rabbit. What vitamins would he have been able to obtain from this diet? Which would have been missing? What would be the long-term effects of a diet with these vitamin deficiencies?