The first time I heard Washoe elders telling Waterbaby stories, I am sure I sat there with my mouth hanging open. Not out of disbelief, but in amazement at the universal aspect of “little people” stories, especially those who inhabit springs and specific locations. We were discussing land use planning, and the debate was whether the springs with known Waterbaby activity/presence should be protected differently than other bodies of water in traditional Washoe lands around Lake Tahoe and the Carson Valley. We could have been discussing a saint’s spring in Ireland or the spirit filled waters of Germany. I grew up on those stories, and here I was hearing a completely familiar but new version. I don’t know the official anthropological explanation for these commonalities, and frankly don’t care, but I do love the storytelling aspect, and the whole notion that there is a lot to this universe we really can’t explain except with old stories.
Part of my motivation for the annual store Leprechaun Party is to remind kids that there are magical aspects to our world that are best explained in old stories, albeit with new wonderful pictures or a modern twist. I love the connection to our ancestors, and again, to the cultures worldwide that recognize small magical beings who have a role in the unexplained. Like the multitude of Cinderella stories from various cultures, the fairy folklore carries many common themes we can all appreciate, taking care of our natural wild places with the small things living there (even Dr. Seuss used that one!), not taking our superior size too seriously when matched to cleverness, and pay attention to the rules, or there are consequences!
Most of the best available read-aloud stories are from the English, Irish or northern European traditions, hence the multitude of Leprechaun stories. I am always looking for other examples, though, and would welcome suggestions. The book Finding Fairies by Michelle Roehm McCann and Marianne Monson Burton portrays an astounding plethora of world wide fairy activity, plus some easy activities to appeal to the little people, human and otherwise. It is a great resource, though lacking in read-aloud stories. I have stacks of fairy tale books covering Africa to Norway, but very few that make it to the good out loud pile. By next year, with your help, I hope to find a few more, maybe even a Waterbaby!
See you Saturday night!