Books and Recordings

How & Why Stories: World Tales Kids can Read and Tell

through the grapevine
Table of Contents

1999, August House Publishers,
1-800-284-8784 or

Winner of a 1999 Storytelling World Gold Award

2000 Parents' Choice Approval

2001 National Youth Storytelling Pegasus Award (Special Distinction)

Did you ever look carefully at a spider's web? If their purpose is simply to catch flies, why do spiders weave such beautiful, intricate webs? Did you ever wonder what causes thunder? Why is the sea salty? How did tigers get their stripes?

In this collection of tales from around the world and through the ages, each story explains why an animal, plant, or natural object looks or acts the way it does. Following each story are tips for telling - especially written for children, but suitable for any age. There are also short modern, scientific explanations for each story subject and a map showing where each story originated.

Designed for use in primary and middle grades, this book is perfect for children to read on their own or tell in front of a group. It's also a wonderful resource for parents, for adults who tell stories to children, and for teachers to use in conjunction with science, language arts, or social studies curricula

There is a CD of this book which includes many of the stories told by Hamilton and Weiss as well as student tellers. Although it is no longer for sale on this site, it is available at

Book Reviews: How & Why Stories

"Hamilton and Weiss have been teaching children (and adults) to tell stories for over twenty years. Their previous titles (Children Tell Stories and Stories in My Pocket) have proven to be practical resources for teaching the rudiments of story structure, storytelling techniques, and story research. Their latest effort is more loosely structured but just as effective. Twenty-five pourquoi tales ("stories that explain why an animal, plant, or natural object looks or acts the way it does") from a variety of cultures are retold in friendly, conversational language. Each story is followed by two sections: "About the Story," which gives the scientific explanation for the phenomena featured in the tale, and "Tips for Telling," which gives suggestions for gestures, voice changes, and body language. The authors' informal approach results in a down-to-earth collection of stories that can easily be used with younger listeners or by younger readers. This sensible resource closes with "General Tips for Telling Stories," suggestions for "Activities" (making up original pourquoi tales, searching out local how and why stories, learning the scientific explanations for how and why stories through an accompanying bibliography), and "Story Sources," (notes on the origin and variants of included tales). Black and-white line drawings appear throughout."

- The Bulletin of the Center for Childrens' Books

"Tales from across the globe and through the ages explain such mysteries as why the sea is salty, why a bear has a stumpy tail, and why a baby says 'goo.' Each story's brevity, background information and presentation tips-as well as a general section on telling stories and reference sources-make it easy and fun for children to learn the expressive, entertaining art of storytelling. A 2000 Parents' Choice Approved winner."

- Parents' Choice

"Collected here are twenty-five pourquoi tales from various world cultures that explain some aspect of nature, such as why the sea is salty or how the owl got its feathers. Following each brief tale is a short scientific explanation of the natural phenomenon and helpful tips for telling the story effectively. This collection will inspire budding storytellers, young and old alike. Source notes are provided."

- The Horn Book Guide

In these 25 "pourquoi" stories, a map shows each story's origin. The book includes information about the story and suggestions for the aspiring storyteller, ranging from facial expressions to voice, posture, and gestures. None of the stories is longer than three pages. Many are less familiar, which makes them especially valuable for the classroom as well as the general reader. The storytelling tips and abundant dialogue make these stories ideal for classroom skits. Additional chapters cover general storytelling hints, activities, and story sources. Large type and pencil sketches provide variety and give the book an "open" feel. Recommended."

- Library Talk

"A collection of 25 pourquoi tales intended for young storytellers. The authors address readers' possible feelings of apprehension, but encourage them to at least try storytelling--for most satisfying rewards. The selections span the globe, with general notes identifying their origins and more detailed source notes provided in the bibliography. The format is consistent: the story is presented, followed by a brief explanation of the scientific process that the tale explains, and some helpful tips for telling it. Suggestions include tone of voice and specific gestures to use. The majority of the stories deal with explaining certain animal behaviors, but other subjects are included. The book concludes with general tips on selecting, learning, and telling a story. Each tale has at least one black-and-white line drawing. A useful book for anyone eager to learn the storytelling process."

- The School Library Journal

"With lively pourquoi stories from [world cultures], this is not only a resource for storytellers, but also an informal guide to encourage kids to tell stories themselves. Chinese, Cherokee Indian, Norwegian, African-American [and stories from other cultures] are told in an immediate, casual voice."

- Booklist

"This is the second collection of stories by Hamilton and Weiss aimed at young storytellers... It is a collection of twenty-five how and why stories... Each story is followed by a section called "About the Story" in which the authors discuss the origin of the tale and/or some of the scientific answers to how and why.

The country of origin for each story is listed in the table of contents, again before the text of each story, and is clearly indicated on a world map. There is also an excellent list of sources for variants of the stories so that tellers can compare other versions to these simplified retellings. Hamilton and Weiss have tried to cover every base by including a bibliography of scientific how and why books, and another of other collections of how and why stories. They suggest that young readers might seek out how and why stories from their own geographic area, give a list of titles that might provide inspiration for the writing of how and why stories, and even supply their snail mail and e-mail addresses so that young authors can send their efforts.

I like the selection of stories. Some may already be familiar to young readers but many will not. There is a story from Vietnam about how tigers got their stripes, and one from Brazil about how beetles got their brilliantly colored coats. There is the story of the turtle who talked too much; why babies say goo; why dogs chase cats; why cats always wash after eating; and why parrots only repeat what people say. All are simply retold and are short enough to make them accessible to young tellers.The book is designed for students in the primary and middle grades and the size of type, amount of white space, and use of illustrations by Carol Lyon all add up to an appealing volume for that age group.

I have great respect for the work of Hamilton and Weiss in helping children tell stories. Their first book, Children Tell Stories: A Teaching Guide (Richard C. Owen, 1990) is a classic which should be in every school and public library. This book (How & Why Stories) is an excellent resource for youngsters to use on their own and for teachers and group leaders to use with children."

- Appleseed Quarterly

"This collection is a useful tool for teachers and promises a fun experience for the kids. Stories from various world cultures explain how something happened or why, and are presented in easy-to-read-and-tell-back versions. This potpourri of tales is a treat for the imagination and will become a favorite resource, not only for children of many ages but also for storytellers, teachers and librarians."

- Sing Out Magazine

"The landscape of childhood is littered with questions. How did tigers get their stripes? Why do cats wash after eating? In this volume--hot off the press--Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss, a New York husband and wife storytelling duo, offer up the folktale answers for these questions and twenty-three more. The tales are identified with the country or culture of origin (a map is included for easy reference). Anyone familiar with Beauty and the Beast Storytellers and their two previous books (Children Tell Stories and Stories in My Pocket) will greet their latest work with two enthusiastic thumbs up. Notes on the tales range from short scientific explanations of lightning and thunder to tale variants from other cultures and more. Most helpful to young would-be tellers are the suggestions for voice, inflection, posture, and gestures: "Make the rat sound like a big braggart." "When the coal hits the water, say the word "hiss" loudly and draw out the "s" sound at the end." "Pretend to look around with a confused look on your face." Following the stories, the authors offer some general tips for telling--just enough to be helpful, but not enough to be overwhelming. A nice plus is the bibliography of other sources for each of the tales. The stories themselves are quite short and basic--fine as is, or ready for personalization and embellishment."

- The Storybag, a National Storytelling Newsletter

"A wealth of information about a genre that children particularly enjoy."

- Multicultural Review