Bookmark Monday: Folk tales

Last week, we covered One Grain of Rice, an Indian folk tale with a mathematical angle by Demi (Charlotte Dumaresq Hunt).  And I wanted to expand a little more on folk tales – this week’s focus being a Chinese one, again by Demi.

Traditional stories, or folk tales, are an entertaining method of teaching values and morals and are typically passed down, verbally from generation to generation. In our opinion, we feel they are important to impart to our children, not only because folk tales help us understand different cultures and history around the world, but also because they show that at the heart of the matter, what man sees as good and admirable is consistent, regardless of race or culture.

“The Empty Pot” is about a boy named Ping, who is known for his ability to cultivate and grow pretty much any plant.

One day, the aging Emperor decides that he needs to find an heir to his throne, and being an avid horticulturist himself, calls all the children of the land to his palace and gives each some seeds.  The child able to cultivate the seeds and deliver the healthiest plant in a year’s time would ascend the throne.

Ping plants and cares for the seeds carefully, but strangely, despite all his best efforts, the seeds never germinate. A whole year passes and Ping has nothing to show for his work.

Advising him that he has nothing to be ashamed of because he has tried his best, Ping’s father encourages him that it is fine to bring an empty pot to the Emperor.

Along the way to the palace, you can imagine Ping getting more crestfallen as he sees the other children bringing their pot of beautiful and colourful plants and flowers. However, everyone is in for a surprise when the Emperor chooses Ping.

The Emperor reveals that all the seeds that had been given out were cooked, and would never have been able to grow. The real test was not to find the best gardener in the land, but to find someone with integrity and the courage to be honest. Aside from these values, one could also talk about perseverance, as in the story, Ping thought very hard and tried many different ways to grow the plant, and he never gave up.


“…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” – Philippians 4:8


Other traditional stories you might be interested to check out:-

The Hole In The Dike – retold by Norma Green, illustrated by Eric Carle

What’s unique about this story is that it did not originate from the Dutch, but was a fictional story written by an American lady named Mary Mapes Dodge in 1865.

Americans who had read the story in childhood travelled to Holland in search of the famous dyke and town, but were of course told by the Dutch that there wasn’t any such dyke with that history. 🙂  Over time, the Dutch Bureau for Tourism decided to place a statue of the fictitious but heroic boy who saved Holland, in the town of Spaarndam in 1950.

The inscription beneath the statue is in Dutch and English (American spelling) and it reads:

Opgedragen aan onze jeugd als een huldeblijk aan de knaap die het symbool werd van de eeuwigdurende strijd van Nederland tegen het water.
Dedicated to our youth, to honor the boy who symbolizes the perpetual struggle of Holland against the water.

Fin Mc’coul The Giant of Knockmany Hill – written and illustrated by Tomie De Paola.

Based off a retelling of a traditional story of the unfinished series of stepping stones that was meant to link the north of Ireland with Scotland (the Giant’s Causeway!), the encounter of Fin M’Coul, his wife Oonagh (who is the real genius in the story), and Cucullin, a boasting giant who carries a thunderbolt he flattened, in his pocket to show off his strength and is out to kill Fin – is one of the funniest of the many adventures of Fin M’Coul.

My attempts to muster up an Irish accent while reading this to the kids had everyone in stitches, though I’m not sure was it more over the story, or my really atrocious accent.

I wonder if I’ll ever get to go in my lifetime but…wouldn’t it be fun to be able to visit the “fair Emerald Isle” upon which the fascinating basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway reside, walk on them and look out across the waters to wonder how Cucullin crossed Scotland to Antrim in a single leap to hunt down Fin M’Coul. 🙂


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