Folktale Lesson for Kids: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Audrey Akins

Audrey has more than a decade of experience teaching elementary. She has a bachelor's in journalism and a master's in education.

You will read many genres of books in your life, and one of the most common types are folktales. In this lesson, you'll learn about folktales, characteristics of these stories, and the purpose of folktales, and you'll look at some examples.

What Are Folktales?

Jenny's grandfather likes to tell her scary stories, and Jenny loves to hear them! One afternoon, her grandfather told one of her favorites: The story of the florist who once lived in Jenny's home a hundred years ago and now haunts the woods behind her house. If you look out the window late at night, you can sometimes see the ghost tending to the garden in the backyard!

These stories that Jenny's grandfather tells are called folktales, which are stories or legends passed from generation to generation by word of mouth.

Characteristics of Folktales

As we've discussed, one of the main characteristics of folktales is that they are passed down orally among generations. An interesting thing about this is that folktales can change a little bit each time they're told. It's a lot like playing the game telephone, where you whisper a message to one person, who whispers it to the next, and so on until the message comes back to you. The final message is almost always a little bit different--and more interesting--than the original.

Another very important characteristic of folktales is that they're typically about the common person at the time of its origin. That's why they're called folktales--the word folk is the Old English term for 'common people'--the everyday, average Joe. So, you won't find many stories about frogs kissing princesses. However, folktales do sometimes have supernatural or otherworldly elements, like with the ghost who tends to Jenny's garden.

Perhaps most importantly, folktales typically try to teach a lesson about right and wrong, which is called a moral. And this often involves a fight between good and evil.

Examples of Folktales

Whether you realized it at the time, you've probably heard quite a few folktales, like 'Paul Bunyan and His Great Blue Ox,' 'Bluebeard,' and 'The Lone Ranger.'

'Hansel and Gretel' is one still told today. It's about a brother and sister--the children of a poor commoner--who are lured into the home of an evil witch whose house is made of sweets. The witch kidnaps the young children and fattens Hansel up with the intention of eating him! But just as the witch is checking the oven to make sure it's hot enough, Gretel pushes her in! The children escape and return home to their loving father.

In the folktale Hansel and Gretel, the witch lures the children into her house made of candy.
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