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Tell me Why!

January 9, 2021

The question most asked by children is, arguably, "why?" Children aren't just looking for an answer, they want to know the "why" of the answer. Sometimes adults just give up and say, "because I said so," or "that's just the way it is." I like the way the old ones answered the "whys." They told a story.

One of my favorite childhood animated short story series featured a little Indian boy who was a friend to the animals living in the woods; they could speak to one another. The basis for every show was the question "why?" The boy couldn't answer the great "whys" of his friends so he would go to the wise elder who answered the question with a story; he explained to him "how it all began."  We call these tales "porquior stories."

"Porquior" is the French word for "why," and porquior stories answer the whys of life and of nature.  The stories offer delightful explanations about such things as: why the rabbit has long ears, why the coyote howls at the moon, and why the bear has a short tail. The stories also provide a warning about the folly of self-pride (trickster tales) and indulgence ("Cluskabe Changes Maple Syrup").  Most of the stories are very old and they all contain three elements:  a problem, a solution to the problem and a fair or just ending.

Nearly every culture has a long-standing tradition of the "porquior" story. I like to think of the ancients sitting before the hearth and telling the stories to answer the children's questions.  Questions like: how did the stars get up into the sky, where did the moon come from, where does the sun go every night, how did the seasons come to be, and so many more. The explanations that survive to this day are imaginative and delightfully entertaining.

Nashville Public Library has a number of individual books and collections of porquior stories.  They are a wonderful addition to any family story time. Some of my favorite are listed below.

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Donna Reagan has served as Children's Specialist at the Bellevue Branch Library since 2002. She produces My Storytime Place, a local TV show for young children. The ALA's Every Child Ready to Read initiative forms the foundation of her early childhood programming.