One of the most satisfying, yet challenging, writing lessons I did with my former writer’s circle group was pourquoi tales. These are stories that tell how or why something came to exist. As you might imagine they are difficult to write but fun to read. Even though my students were above benchmark third graders, writing a pourquoi tale was a stretch for most of them. One particular student story stands out in my mind but I cannot find a copy of it, although I searched high and low for it this morning. I believe it was how an elephant got its trunk and involved a bath tub! It was very creative!
Pourquoi means but why? Pourquoi tales are folk tales that explain how something came to exist in nature. Children’s author, Tomie, dePaola, has written several pourqui stories. For years, at holiday time, I shared The Legend of the Poinsettia (1994) with my garden club students. Most recently, I acquired another of his stories, The Legend of the Bluebonnet (1983). This book highlighted the fact that bluebonnets are also known as lupines and it is by the name lupine that I know this particular plant. Like monarch butterflies, Karner Blue butterfly larva only feed on one plant to sustain their life cycle. The plant is the wild blue lupine! I grow these in my yard!
I got off topic – back to pourquoi stories. If you are interested in pursuing this type of creative story writing with your students, there is a lesson plan located on the readwritethink.org website, here. You can let this guide you, or follow it exactly. I only used it as a guide. However, there is a useful worksheet for writers on the link.
The best way, in my opinion, to introduce students to pourquoi tales prior to writing them is to read some. The above website has a list of stories, many based in Native American culture, but I’ll give you some more that I’ve used as mentor texts.
Another Tomie dePaola book is the Legend of the Indian Paintbrush (1988).
My favorite pourquoi is by Michael Rosen, How Giraffe Got Such a Long Neck… (1993) It is a favorite because the story is entertaining and it was one of my boys’ first books that got read over and over and over, again.
Besides reading these out loud to the students, I also invested in some they could “borrow” if needed. After a search online several years ago, I purchased the following:
How the Stars Fell into the Sky: A Navajo Legend by Jerrie Oughton (1992)
Why the Sun and the Moon Live in the Sky by Elphinstone Dayrell (1968 & 1996) is an African folktale.
Why the Sky is Far Away: A Nigerian Folktale by Mary-Joan Gerson (1974 & 1992).
How Tiger Got His Stripes, A Folktale from Vietnam by Rob Cleveland (2006).
How Chipmunk Got His Stripes by Joseph and James Bruchac (2001). According to the authors this tale originated from east coast Native American tribes such as the Seneca, a Mohawk, and Iroquois. But, it is a tale also told by the Cherokee and Abenaki.
Why Koala has a Stumpy Tail by Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss (2008). It is an Aboriginal legend.
The above stories are examples of existing cultural legends that the authors have retold. Still, it would be fun to create a pourquoi to explain something in nature that is special to you! Wouldn’t it? I think so!
Pourquoi tales also introduce children to other cultures and the diversity of the world, both close and far. They should be shared, enjoyed, and then the attempt at writing can begin if you and your students are up for a challenge!
What would you choose to write a pourquoi tale about?