Origin Stories

Read FeedWoodridge Library

Origin Stories

How people got rain, night, fire and more

People didn’t always know what caused storms or earthquakes, so they invented stories to explain the inexplicable. Perhaps lightning flashes across the sky when Zeus is angry. Perhaps earthquakes are caused by the writhing of Loki who is imprisoned under the surface of the Earth while poison drips on his face.

These stories are called origin stories. They can be found collected in giant academic tomes, in comics, and in picture books. Rudyard Kipling collected several in his book called Just So Stories. It’s the picture books that I want to focus on, so I’ve collected a list of 10 of my favorites. These stories are great for reading, or for telling, and they come from all over the world.

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears: a West African Tale retold by Verna Aardema
Mosquitoes are annoying. This is not up for discussion. Now we learn why they make that annoying buzzing sound -- and why we are driven to swat them when we hear it. Long ago, mosquito made a mistake and is still paying for it.

Raven: A Trickster Tale from the Pacific Northwest retold by Gerald McDermott
Earth was cold and dark. Raven saw the people suffering in the cold and darkness, so he set out to change things. He followed a sliver of light to the edge of the world. Find out how he tricked the sky gods and brought the sun to the people.

How Chipmunk Got His Stripes retold by Joseph Bruchac
Due to a disagreement between Bear and Brown Squirrel, Brown Squirrel becomes chipmunk. Find out here what the disagreement was about, and what made the stripes decorate chipmunks back.

Pandora retold by Robert Burleigh
Once, the world was a perfect place. There was no sickness, no sadness and no pain. Then Pandora opened the box she promised never to open and released suffering upon the word. But not everything in the box was bad.

Why the Sun and the Moon Live in the Sky: an African Folktale retold by Elphinstone Dayrell
Long ago, sun and water were friends and lived here on the earth. Sun lived with his wife, moon. When water came to visit, he took up more room than expected, so sun and moon were forced to move out of their own house.

How Iwariwa the Cayman Learned to Share retold by George Crespo
Iwariwa’s food tastes different than the other animals. They eat their food raw, while Iwariwa’s potatoes are hot and crisp. Iwariwa doesn’t want to share the secret of the orange magic (fire) that he uses to cook his food. The other animals cleverly trick the selfish cayman and persuade him to share his secret.

Rainbow Crow: a Lenape Tale retold by Nancy Van Laan
It’s cold. The first snow started and didn’t stop. It seemed as though it was going to be around for a while. The animals were worried they would be covered and freeze. The rainbow crow was sent to the creator in search of a solution.

How Night Came from the Sea: A Story from Brazil retold by Mary-Joan
A sea goddess brings the gift of night to the land of daylight. The night is peaceful and allows people to rest. The gift of darkness is given in a bag.

The Turtle and the Island: A Folktale from Papua New Guinea retold by Barbara Ker
The island of Papua New Guinea was made by a giant sea turtle. The turtle is looking for a place to rest, so he piles up sand and rock until the island is made. After the island is made, the turtle then helps the man who has begun to live on the island.

Rabbit's Snow Dance: a Traditional Iroquois Story retold by James & Joseph Bruchac
Did you know rabbit once had a long beautiful tail? This is the story of how he wound up with a little cotton ball of a tail -- and of his connection to snow.