Great Folktales for Kids: India and around the world

Are folktales very popular with kids in every generation? Chances are every person has heard/read some interesting folktale in their life. Do you remember your class 3 teacher telling folktales as a class reward for good behaviour? Have you listened to folktales with wonder, as the story forms in your mind’s eye? You might remember reading folktales with morals from books you got as a birthday gift. Reading them from your school library or buying the latest folktales book.

Great Folktales for Kids

Table of Contents

What are folktales?

Folktales are imaginary (fictional) stories that are retold by generations of people. These oral stories could originate from a specific geographical area. Folktales showcase the culture of the region they come from. They are an integral part of cultural identity of a region or country. The stories are retold by one person to another or between groups of people.

Which are the Types of Folktales?

Myths, fables and legends are types of folktales because they were passed on orally through generations of folks (people). Some folktales are about humans while fables have animals with human characteristics. Myths are about natural phenomena like a thunderstorm. Legends are about people grounded in history. Legends can have exaggerated accounts about people.

The famous folktale stories have humans, talking animals and birds, fairies and supernatural characters. The tales are entertaining and, moral and value-based. Folktales were retold by people and were not available in written form. Writers started writing down the stories in manuscripts and scroll.

By Artist maker unknown, India (18th century) – Philadelphia Museum of Arts. Image credit: Wikimedia commons CC S.A. 4.0

Then printing technology developed. Over the years, illustrated folktales books are available in print and electronic form. We can buy books online and read a variety of folktales of various regions.

Why should kids read folktales?

Kids should read folktales as they are short stories and have values or morals. Fantastical characters and exaggerated situations make these stories interesting and fun. They have clear story elements of character, setting, problem and solution. Reading or listening to folktales boosts the imagination and vocabulary. Parents and grandparents can read aloud stories to kids. Colourful illustrations can make reading fun.

Which are the famous folk tales of India for kids?

For centuries every country or region has its folktales. India is a country of diverse languages, religion, and culture. In India, folktales and mythological legends have being retold for centuries. Folktales instil moral values of charity and austerity among others. So lets find the famous Indian sub-continent folktales.

Jataka tales

The Jataka tales are from 300 B.C to 400 B.C. These tales are an integral part of Buddhist literature. About 547 stories in Jataka tales are about Gautam Buddha’s previous reincarnations. The stories are set in and around Benares. These folk tales have Buddhist philosophy and morals.

Mahakapi Jataka in Bharhut. Image Credit: WikiMedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0


In the stories, there are various characters who get into some troublesome situations. The incarnation of Buddha solves the problem. Buddhist temples have relics of carvings and sculptures depicting the Jataka tales. These folktales have moral lessons that help build character in kids.

Panchatantra

Guru Vishnu Sharma is the original author of Panchatantra. Between 200 B.C. to 300 B.C. he wrote these stories in Sanskrit. They were in the form of interconnected verses and prose.

Jataka Tales. In this tale, the turtle is escaping from hunters (not shown) thanks to two geese, who bear him aloft on a stick that he is grasping with his jaws. Unfortunately he opened his mouth to boast of the escapade, which caused him to fall to his death and be cut up for food by the hungry boy and girl below. 7th Century Sculpture from north face of Nalanda temple 2. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons CC S.A. 4.0

Who wrote Panchatantra folktales?

Neeti Shastra by Kautilya, is the basis of these Indian folk tales and stories. The purpose of Panchatantra stories was to teach lessons of wisdom and management. The three heir prince to King Amarshakti of Mahilaropya benefitted from these stories. King Amarshakti’s three sons were dull and uninterested in managing the kingdom.

Guru Vishnu Sharma, a learned scholar, came to the kingdom to teach the princes. The prince had to stay at the guru’s gurukul. Within six months of learning, the prince were smarter than before and ready to take care of the kingdom.

The Five Tantras in Panchatantra comprise Five Thoughts of Wisdom.

  • Discord between friends
  • Gain of friends
  • War and peace
  • Loss of gains
  • Action without thought

These days we find various other fables from Europe based on Panchatantra. There are over 200 translations of Panchatantra in more than 60 languages of the world. Later fables with animals as central characters have their origin in the Panchatantra. We find several popular stories like Sindbad and Arabian Nights based on Panchatantra. These panchatantra Indian folk tales stories for kids have morals and kids learn many lessons from them.

Hitopadesha stories

These Indian folk tales are in ancient Sanskrit text written in both prose and verse. The author is Pandit Narayana and the stories date back to 3rd century B.C. The similarity of Hitopadesha and Panchatantra is strong. Both the literary work have animals as characters and moral values embedded in the story.

The stories were for the prince of those times, while in present times, they help readers in dealing with day-to-day practical wisdom. Like Panchatantra, these stories are in many languages all over the world. Several fantasy stories from around the world are based on the Indian classics of Panchatantra and Hitopadesh. The hitopadesha folktales and stories for kids are extremely popular; and kids love watching pictures in the illustrated stories while they also learn moral lesson from them.

Vikram Vetal

Much before the horror genre as we know in present times, took off as best sellers, India’s oral storytelling folklore traditions had Vikram Vetal stories for thousands of years. Vikram is King Vikramaditya and Vetal is the ghost who tells stories to king Vikramaditya. These stories are part of traditional Indian folklore and kids do enjoy reading and listening to them. The original texts were written in Sanskrit named Vetala Panchavimshati. The stories are within a frame of larger story.

At the end of each story Vetal asks a question to king Vikram. If Vikram answers the question, Vetal the ghost flies back to the tree and if King Vikram does not answer it will prove fatal for him. These stories are for older kids like pre-teens and teenagers. Very young kids might find these stories a bit strange and confusing.

If your middle grade avid reader has a special liking for ghost thrills then go for these stories. Vikram Vetal stories do not have the scary jerky kind of sickening horror. These Indian folklore ghost stories are fantastical, strange and amusing

Tenali Raman and Akbar Birbal Stories

Apart from these, there are Tenali Raman and Akbar Birbal stories. Tenali Raman, Emperor Akbar and his minister Birbal were real people who lived centuries ago. Stories about them have evolved into folktales over time. The message in Tenali Raman and Akbar Birbal series is about helping others. Being wise, having honest and clever conduct is also seen in these stories. Then there are..

  • Regional folktales of India
  • Folktales from around the world

Those who like folktales will also enjoy reading Sudha Murthy books.

Jataka tales books for kids – favorite short moral folktales

Tales from the Jatakas: 3 in 1 (Amar Chitra Katha) Paperback

This paperback edition by Amar Chitra Katha is great for reading Jataka Tales. Readers of 9 to 14 years can read this 96 page book. Needless to say, the stories are timeless. Beautiful Illustrations and the cloud shaped dialogue boxes in ACK books are familiar to most parents.

Having read them in our childhood, we can recall how we spent hours reading these tales. Kids can learn new words and expand their vocabulary by reading this book. Discussing stories with friends and young siblings can be a fun activity.

More Tales from the Jatakas: 3 in 1 (Amar Chitra Katha) Paperback

The reading level for this 96 page book is 9 to 14 years. The stories are amazing and illustrations are captivating. Many kids take to sketching, learning them from illustrations of Amar Chitra Katha. Jataka tales are great folktales and add moral value to the kids reading activity. ACK needs no introduction. They are very popular with generation of young readers. Many more stories from the Jatakas are present in this book.

151 Jataka Tales Paperback

This 80 page book published by Manoj Publication in 2020. Written by Sawan and illustrated by Sahil Gupta. The book has 151 fabulous selected short stories from the Jatakas. The language is easy to read and new independent readers will absolutely enjoy reading this book.

The Illustrated Jataka Tales: Classic Tales from India Hardcover

This 80 page book is for age 7 to 12 years. Published by Wonder House Books in 2019, the book is beautifully illustrated. The short stories are most absorbing. The language is simple to understand. The hardbound book will last for many years.

Panchatantra books – moral stories and fables for kids

Panchatantra Moral Stories (Illustrated) (Set of 10 Books) – Story Books for Kids Paperback

The set of 10 books has large colourful illustrations. Published by Maple Press in 2020. The reading level is 8 years above. For young kids, parents and educators can read out the stories with picture talk. The books are great for improving vocabulary and developing imagination. Kids can learn moral values and life lessons from these stories. Post-reading, kids can do fun activities like finding alternatives ending to the stories.

101 Panchatantra Stories for Children: Colourful Illustrated Stories Paperback

The book is published by Om Books. There are 64 pages of good quality. Illustrations are attractive, large and colourful. Kids above 8 years can read this book. There are 101 stories from Panchatantra. The stories are timeless, short and kids can easily understand them. Stories are based on important life lessons. Great stories for learning new words. The book is fun to read and children can retell stories to their friends too. 

Large Print: Most Loved Tales from Panchatantra (Hardbound) 

The book publisher is Om Books. The paper quality is good. Illustrations are large and colorful. Language is easy and the font is large. Great for readers above age 7. The book also has a Hindi edition. Kids will enjoy reading the Hindi edition too. The hardbound book has 80 pages. Stories are concise and have great moral values.

Hitopadesh books – moral folktales for kids

Tales from the Hitopadesha: 3 in 1 (Amar Chitra Katha)

This book is published by Amar Chitra Katha in 1999. The book has 96 pages and colourful illustrations. Readers above 9 years will be delighted reading this book. These folktales for kids give away vital life lessons in a subtle entertaining manner.

The moral wisdom attached to the stories make a lasting impression on the young readers mind. The young readers can then reuse the pearls of wisdom and take ownership of these values. The stories are relevant even today. They have a positive influence in decision making, conduct and thinking process.

Vikram Vetal books – ghost stories in folktales

Listen, O King!: Five-and-Twenty Tales of Vikram and the Vetal: Five-and-Twenty Tales of Vikram and Vetal 

The author is Sivadasa and translator is Deepa Agarwal. The book was published in 2016 by Penguin Random House. The author and translator have written well to build interest in the amusing and witty ghost stories. The book is great for introducing horror and ghost stories genre to avid readers. The language is great for vocabulary development. There are few illustrations and its a chapter book with 25 short stories of Vikram and the witty ghost Vetal.

Regional Folktales from the Indian states

India is a country of several diverse regions and culture. Each region has their folktales. These folktales have developed and spread word of mouth over many many centuries. Sometimes, nobody can tell exactly who is the original author. Avid young readers will enjoy reading these new folktales from the states of India.

Greatest Folk Tales of Bihar: for kids

The book is written by Nalin Verma and published by Rupa Publication in 2019. This chapter book has 219 pages. The folktales are from rustic village life of Bihar and the wisdom of the village folk. The Bhojpuri and Maithili culture has a rich history and so the stories have been retold over generations. These can be read by kids and people of all age groups. Kids in the cities miss out on these rural folktales. The author has brought out the stories from the hinterland for the readers.

Bengal : Tales from Bengal (Regional Stories of India)

The author of this book is Ray Choudhaury Upendrakishor, translated by Ganguli Paushali and illustrations by Gautam Benegal. Published by Om Books International in 2015, the book has 96 pages. There are colourful attractive watercolor illustrations. The popular folktales of Bengal, Tuntuni’s Boi are translated and retold in English with a special effort to present a similar rustic flavor.

The stories will re-connect Bengali families and urban younger generation with the much loved stories of the proud bird Tuntuni. The renowned filmaker Satyajit Ray had made a classic children’s film named “Gupi Gyne Bagha Byne” based on one story from “Tuntunir Boi”. Apart from Tuntuni, other folktales from Bengal are also presented in this delightful book.

The Curious Tales from the Himalayas

The authors of this book are Shaguna Gahilote and Prathana Gahilote. The 208 page book was published by Penguin Random House in 2017. Dalai Lama has written a foreword for the book and many other personalities including Vishal Bharadwaj has recommended reading the book. The centuries old stories from the Himalayas are presented for the readers who love the mountains.

So you will find unique delightful stories here which you won’t find in other books on folktales. The folktales reflects the culture, beliefs and hardworking lives of the mountain people.If you are a fan of the Himalayan mountains, you will also love reading Ruskin Bond Books. Read our blog post on Best Ruskin Bond Books for Kids.

Funny Folktales (Amar Chitra Katha Folktales Series) Paperback

This is a chapter book in the ACK folktales series. The book has 140 pages and published by Harper’s Collin’s Children’s Books. The author Cristopher Baretto has adapted the stories from ACK comics. The font is large, attractive like neat handwriting and the language is easy to read. The illustrations are attractive in black and white. Yet, kids will enjoy reading as the stories are funny. Giggling over a funny story is a memorable experience for kids.

Indian Folktales (Classics) Paperback 

Author of the book is Anupa Lal. Published by Scholastic India in 2011. The chapter book has 116 pages and is suitable for anyone above 9 years of age. The author’s other books are best sellers and this book too is no exception. The narration is in her unique engaging style. Stories have fantastical happenings and kids will enjoy reading them.

Sacked! Folk Tales You Can Carry Around 

This author is Deepa Agarwal and published by Harper Collin’s Children’s Books in 2018. The book has 180 pages and has quirky illustrations. Readers of age 9 years above can read the stories with ease. The stories are about humans, animals and demons with extra ordinary magical powers. There is fantasy, humour, and adventure in the story plot. The stories are fun to read.

Where Gods Dwell: Folktales Of India

This book by Kusum Budhwar is on central Himalyan folktales and legends. Published by Penguin India in 2010, this 296 page book has vibrant stories depicting the Garhwal and Kumaon mountain ethos. The book can be a leisurely contemplative read not just for teenagers but also anybody who is fascinated by the Himalayan mountains.

Do you know any folktales for kids that will give you an insight into the Himalayan mountain life, sacred places, and the local gods? You can read aloud stories to kids from this book. The author has traveled widely in these mountains, warmly conversed with the locals, and has researched extensively before presenting the folktales in this book. Historical anecdotes and adventures, local heroes and medieval warriors have a place in the stories.

Once upon a Time in India 

Edited by Deepa Agarwal and Nita Berry. This is a 184 pages hardbound book, published by Macmillan Publications in 2018. The book is for readers above 7 years. This collection of short stories is part of the culture of India. They are retold by locals for generations. India is a land of varied geographical regions, languages, religion and culture. The stories originate from this native land. The stories are about the rustic village life. Simple, hard working and loving people live here. There is wisdom in the stories and the values are universal.

Storybook for kids-Famous Folk Tales – Set of 6 books

This series of 6 books in a combo, published by Shanti Publications. The large colorful illustrations are very attractive and engaging. Kids can spend hours reading the stories and observing the illustrations. These books are for children of any age. Parents or grandparents can read these stories to toddlers along with picture talk. Toddlers get spellbound by the stories.

Tales Of Wit And Wisdom

The 140-page chapter book is published by Harper Collin’s Children’s Books in 2021. Written and adapted by Christopher Baretto from ACK comics. Illustrations are by Shreya Sen. This is a paperback edition in Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) folktale series. The font is attractive. The reader might imagine the stories are handwritten.

The language is easy to read and readers above the age of 8 can read with joy. The illustrations are black and white and the expressions are funny. Kids will get inspired to draw caricatures inspired by these illustrations. The young readers can perform skits based on the stories. The book is good for developing the vocabulary of independent readers. There are various stories in the book, like Akbar Birbal, Tenali Raman, and many such others.

Animal Tales: Jataka Tales, Buddha Tales, Hitopadesha Tales, Wisdom Tales Paperback

This set of 4 books published by Maple Press has colourful illustrations. The reading level is 6 to 13 years. There are 69 interesting moral stories in this set of 4 books. The variety of stories are from traditional folktales of India. Children love reading these stories as they are amusing. Animals get into some problem and the story is about how the problem gets resolved.

Folk tale stories from around the World

Myths And Legends From Around The World

This book is written by the popular author Soumya Rajendran. Published by Rupa Publications in 2020, this 152 page chapter book has folktales from across the globe. Readers above age 8 years will joyously read the stories. Stories like how Rome was built, boat tour of Niagara and Achilles heel among others are some of the folktales for kids in this delightful read. The lucid storytelling and engaging narrative that is a signature of the author, will make the reader sit in a quiet spot and read for hours.

Russian Folktales 

This book of folktales for kids is written by Aradhana Bisht and published by Scholastic India in 2011. This chapter book has 140 pages and kids above the age of 9 years will gleefully read the stories. Fantastical stories about Russian prince, witches, animals, a princess with magical powers and such other stories will warm your heart. Each of the story will evoke a different emotion. Some stories are funny while others are dark. These are new stories that you might not have heard before, as they are sourced from Russia.

Great Folk Tales of the World 

This book of folktales for kids is published by Talking Cub in 2019. The author is Anitha Murthy and illustrator is Sayan Mukherjee. There are 184 pages and readers above 8 years will find this book a delightful read. The author presents stories from Australia, South America, North America, and Scotland. They are full of adventure, love, and humor. The illustrations are attractive and narration is captivating. Read this collection of new stories and travel the world while you sit in one place.

Illustrated Stories from Aesop (Illustrated Story Collections)

The author of this book is Sussana Davidson and Giuliano Ferri. There are fascinating illustration to take the reader to the wonderous world of Aesop’s folktales. The paper quality is good. Language is easy to read for readers above the age of 8. However, parents can read out stories and picture talk to toddlers while they observe the pictures. It is great to start storytelling and reading at a very young age. This will not only develop their imagination and vocabulary but spend quality time with loved ones.

The book has 272 pages and it is certainly a value for money. The book has classic Aesop’s fables like The Fox and the Crow, The Hare and the Tortoise, The Boy who Cried Wolf, and The Goose that Laid Golden Eggs. Aesop’s fables too have a message for kids in every story. These messages help kids in moderating their behavior with others in their surroundings. Stories make a deep impact on young readers at a sub-conscious level.

The Illustrated Stories of Mullah Nasruddin: Classic Tales for Children 

Mulla Nasruddin stories are originally from Persia. They are part of Sufi traditional folklore. He was born in present day Turkey in the 13th century. In his memory, an International Nasruddin Hodja Festival is celebrated in his hometown every year in July. Stories of Mulla Nasruddin are popular in several countries and are translated in various languages. As is common with folktales, over the years, new stories of Mulla have emerged and few stories modified.

These stories feature Mulla Nasruddin with his thought provoking, witty and clever words. Sometimes though, stories are funny with foolish actions and words. That is a reason kids enjoy reading Mulla Nasruddin stories as they entertain with a chuckle and give a message too. Tales of Mulla Nasruddin are read and appreciated not just by kids but also by all other age groups.

The Maiden of the Blue Willow and other Japanese Folktales

The author of this book is Hema Pande and book is published by McGraw Hill India. The book has pencil sketch illustrations. Kids can imagine the illustrator sketching them and try their hand at sketching too. The stories are fresh and relaxing as they transport the reader to Japan while reading them.

The language is easy to read and understand. So you will find tales on bravery of the Samurias, Japanese princess, Buddhist monks and old folks of the land living with their struggles and victories. A must read to feel closer to different cultures of the world through their folktales for kids.

Fun activities using folk tales:

Word Detective:

A group game of word meanings by making small paper chits. Participants can sit in a circle and one person picks a chit. Whatever word is present in the chit, you have to tell the meaning or make a new sentence using the word.

Story Weaving:

Kids can make new stories using a set of words that you give them. Which means, the words should be part of their new story.

Storyteller in the village:

Wrap a scarf around the head and act as a storyteller in the village. Kids can retell stories and discuss moral of the story with their audience of friends and family. Folktales for kids are light and do not lodge heavy on the psyche, yet they have moral lessons that are impactful. They provide an escape from struggles and scheduled structure of daily life. Knowing that these stories have passed on for thousands or hundreds of years gives us a feeling of culture and inclusion. Developing a reading habit that includes folktales and various other genres of literary work, keeps us connected to ourselves, other people and cultures.

Conclusion:

Reading folk tales of india from our home land and various parts of the world gives a wider perspective to our perception of the world. All human beings across the globe are essentially the same. We have the same feelings, emotions and core aspirations. Kids get many positive messages through these folktales and some of these get stored at a subconscious level.

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