Five fantastic traditional tales from around the world

Published on: 14 November 2023

Author and poet Nikita Gill shares her favourite collections of traditional stories. 

There is a reason classic stories still have the same kind of hold on us as they did on our parents and grandparents – this is a realisation I came to when I started writing my Panchatantra retellings, Animal Tales from India. The reason is because a well-told story changes in the voice of every teller, thereby keeping that same ancient tale fresh and new for a whole other generation to fall in love with. Here is a list of five such powerful retellings of traditional stories from around the world: 

The Girl Who Became a Tree by Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Kate Milner 

One of the most imaginative retellings I have ever read, this beautiful story told in poems is a modern retelling of the ancient Greek tale of Daphne, who was turned into a laurel tree to avoid the attentions of the God Apollo. It is a deeply empowering book for older children, where a modern-day Daphne seeks solace in her local library and confronts her fears to connect once more to her community. Enchanting and deeply imaginative, this is a brilliant book. 

Anansi and the Golden Pot by Taiye Selasi, illustrated by Tinuke Fagborun 

Illustration: Tinuke FagborunIllustration: Tinuke Fagborun

Who doesn’t love the classic tale of Anansi the spider? This lovely retelling of a West African legend comes illustrated vibrantly and is sure to stay with its readers for a long, long time. The timelessness of this tale makes it precisely the kind of book that young readers would want to visit again over the course of their lives and remember fondly as adults.  

South Asian Folktales, Myths and Legends by Sarah Shaffi 

An absolutely stunning collection of retellings which features 19 stories from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan – this is an essential read into the rich folklore of South Asia. With well-known stories like the epic tale of Rama and Sita closely interwoven with other lesser known fables, this book is very accessible for younger readers and meant to be read again and again. 

The Monkey King by David Seow, illustrated by L.K. Tay-Audourard   

Illustration by L.K. Tay-Audourard   Illustration by L.K. Tay-Audourard   

This elegantly illustrated retelling is inspired by Chinese folktales and legends about Monkey, King of the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit, Great Sage Equal to Heaven, known to all his friends simply as Monkey. Full of mischief and lessons, this story is about the beginnings of an epic journey to bring the scriptures of the Lord Buddha back to China to spread peace and kindness amongst the Chinese people.  

Celtic Tales illustrated by Kate Forrester  

This stunning collection of Celtic folklore is a favourite in my home and one that my nieces love to hear from constantly. 16 stories that transport us back to Ireland, Scotland, Brittany and Wales to meet the fantastical. Kate Forrester’s magnificent illustrations uphold the warmth and wit of the wonderful tales that bring us face to face with unique magical creatures. If you want hours of entertainment for young readers, this gorgeous book is the one for you. 

Animal Tales from India, by Nikita Gill and illustrated by Chaaya Prabhat, is out now. 

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