The best folktales for children ages 4-8

Why am I passionate about this?

I am the author of two folktales in addition to several other fiction stories for children and an early childhood educator. I taught kindergarten and first grade for over twenty years. As part of our state standards, we must do a yearly unit of study on folktales. Folktales deliver universal messages to children in a non-didactic way. We can use them to address issues that young children face while also using them as resources to teach students about faraway places, customs and cultures. Folktales are in integral part of an early childhood education and it’s a unit of study that I always looked forward to. Immersing myself in them was the catalyst for recreating my own. 


I wrote...

Book cover of Why Evergreens Keep Their Leaves

What is my book about?

"Why Evergreens Keep Their Leaves is a timeless story about kindness and why the fir, spruce, and juniper trees don't lose their leaves in winter, with its beautiful art and unforgettable characters (Cardinal, Jack Frost, and the Frost Queen), this tale will warm readers' hearts." - Starred Review

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Abiyoyo

Annemarie Riley Guertin Why did I love this book?

This book has been a class favorite for many years. I always use this book when opening our folktale unit of study. The children are enamored by the storyline and by the musical component embedded in the text. They love to sing the song that accompanies the story. 

By Pete Seeger, Michael Hays (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Abiyoyo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

A young boy and his father save the town that ostracized them from a hungry giant in this picture book adaptation of a South African lullaby and folk story.

In a small town, one young boy loves walking around playing the ukulele, but the people get tired of the clink, clunk, clonk and beg him to stop while covering their ears! The boy’s father has a magic wand he uses to make things disappear, like a playing card or a glass of water—or a chair just as someone’s about to sit.

The townspeople have had quite enough of the boy’s…


Book cover of The Empty Pot

Annemarie Riley Guertin Why did I love this book?

Oh, this book is one of my all-time favorites. This amazing folktale has such a powerful message about telling the truth and being true to who you are. I cannot say enough good things about this text. I have read this story every single year and it is one that my students have asked that I re-read-which doesn’t happen all that often. The storyline, the art, and the message make this folktale one of the best out there.

By Demi,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Empty Pot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

The Empty Pot is Demi's beloved picture book about an honest schoolboy

A long time ago in China there was a boy named Ping who loved flowers. Anything he planted burst into bloom.

The Emperor loved flowers too. When it was time to choose an heir, he gave a flower seed to each child in the kingdom. "Whoever can show me their best in a year's time," he proclaimed, "shall succeed me to the throne!"

Ping plants his seed and tends it every day. But month after month passes, and nothing grows. When spring comes, Ping must go to the…


Book cover of How Chipmunk Got His Stripes

Annemarie Riley Guertin Why did I love this book?

I love this Native American folktale because it is a lesser-known one, and its message is appropriate for young children. Chipmunk, the main character, learns a great lesson about bragging. Folktales are an excellent resource for teaching children lessons without being preachy. This one has messages about kindness, bragging, and friendship. The illustrations are amazing too!

By James Bruchac, Joseph Bruchac, Jose Aruego (illustrator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How Chipmunk Got His Stripes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 5, 6, 7, and 8.

What is this book about?

Bear brags that he can do anything-even stop the sun from rising. Brown Squirrel doesn't believe him, so the two wait all night to see if the sun will rise. Sure enough, the sky reddens and the sun appears. Brown Squirrel is so happy to be right that he teases Bear. What happens when a little brown squirrel teases a big black bear? Brown Squirrel gets stripes and is called chipmunk from that day forward . . . Joseph and James Bruchac join forces to create this buoyant picture book, based on a Native American folktale.

Illustrated by Jose Aruego…


Book cover of Strega Nona

Annemarie Riley Guertin Why did I love this book?

This book is a classic. Strega Nona—"Grandma Witch"— leaves town for a few days leaving a curious Big Anthony alone to watch over her house and her magical pasta pot. Big Anthony decides to try one of Strega Nona’s spells to make pasta, but it has a disastrous outcome because he didn’t listen to instructions. Anthony learns the importance of listening carefully and following directions- a lesson that children of all ages could certainly relate to!

By Tomie dePaola,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Strega Nona as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 2, 3, 4, and 5.

What is this book about?

When Strega Nona leaves him alone with her magic pasta pot, Big Anthony is determined to show the townspeople how it works in this classic Caldecott Honor book from Tomie dePaola.

Strega Nona-"Grandma Witch"-is the source for potions, cures, magic, and comfort in her Calabrian town. Her magical everfull pasta pot is especially intriguing to hungry Big Anthony. He is supposed to look after her house and tend her garden but one day, when she goes over the mountain to visit Strega Amelia, Big Anthony recites the magic verse over the pasta pot, with disastrous results.

In this retelling of…


Book cover of Five Sisters

Annemarie Riley Guertin Why did I love this book?

This is a stunning, beautifully illustrated Russian folktale. I love that folktales come from all over the world and that I can share these beautiful stories with my students. It introduces them to customs and cultures they may otherwise not get to experience. In this one, a great white oak gifts an old man a branch imbued with magic. The old man takes the branch and carves five matryoshka dolls, “each smaller than the last.” The wooden dolls come to life bringing the old man and his wife (who are childless) endless joy. Who doesn’t love a tale about love and happiness?

By Stephanie Campisi, Madalina Andronic (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Five Sisters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 3, 4, 5, and 6.

What is this book about?

When a great white oak gifts an old man a branch imbued with magic, he carves five wooden matryoshka dolls, “each smaller than the last.” The wooden dolls take on a life of their own as they frolic from one season to the next, bringing the old man and his wife a joy they had always longed for. Beautiful verse and stunning, traditional illustrations full of woodland creatures and playfully painted matryoshka dolls explore a tale of heartache, hope, and love.


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Totally Turtles!

By Ginjer L. Clarke,

Book cover of Totally Turtles!

Ginjer L. Clarke Author Of Animal Invaders: Creatures Causing Trouble

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Hiker Reader Dancer Nature & science lover Social justice activist

Ginjer's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Did you know that leatherback turtles can weigh up to 2,000 pounds? Or that the Florida softshell turtle can breathe through its snout and its skin? Turtles have been around for millions of years, and we’re still learning more about them!

With simple language and vivid photographs, Totally Turtles! is perfect for emerging readers curious about turtles and how they have managed to adapt, survive, and thrive for so long. Learn about the fascinating world of turtles, from sea to land and everywhere in between.

Totally Turtles!

By Ginjer L. Clarke,

What is this book about?

Learn about turtles and their many talents in this nonfiction leveled reader perfect for kids interested in these shelled creatures and their lives on land and in the water!

Did you know that leatherback turtles can weigh up to two thousand pounds? Or that the Florida softshell turtle can breathe through its snout and its skin? Turtles have been around for millions of years and we're still learning more about them!

With simple language and vivid photographs, Totally Turtles! is perfect for emerging readers curious about turtles and how they have managed to adapt, survive, and thrive for so long.


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