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Children's Literature: Traditional Literature

Research guide for Children's Literature

About the Genre

Traditional literature is a genre that started in the oral tradition. Myths, fables, epics, ballads, legends, folk rhymes, folktales, fairy tales,  trickster tales, tall tales, cumulative tales and pourquoi tales are part of this genre.


Following an oral tradition, folktales are stories passed down through generations.  They often help people cope with the world in which they live.

The following elements, or motifs, can be found in folk tales:

  • use of 3 or 7
  • a magical object, such as a shoe or lamp
  • magic wish
  • quest
  • supernatural beings


Authors who are known for their adaptations of folktales:

Jan Brett

Eric Kimmel

Anne Rockwell

Verna Aardema

Leo and Diane Dillon

Tomie DePaola

Fairy Tales

Fairy tales are stories that feature magic and supernatural forces.  They always end with “happily ever after”. The predictability of good triumping over evil is part of the appeal of fairy tales.

Tongue-in-Cheek Versions

Pourquoi Tales

Pourquoi stories explain why something is the way it is. Pourquoi is a French word for "why". Plot characteristics include an explanation for: creation, the elements of nature, people’s actions, or animal characteristics.

Cumulative Tales