Tag Archives: Childrens

Madame Beetle searches for a husband

My informant was told this story as a child by his Iranian grandmother. He explained to me that she would often tell him stories when he was growing up, but he remembers this one the most vividly. He characterizes it:

  “So this is a story that my grandmother (my mom’s mom) used to tell me when I was younger, and it’s a story that’s pretty rooted in Iranian culture because other Persian friends I have also know it. So it kind of shows that a lot of families tell this story. It’s a story of… love I guess, but I guess I’ll just tell the story:”

  “So, as translated, Madame Beetle which is considered to have human-like qualities, goes out on a search for love, as demanded by her mother upon her mother’s death bed, and she goes… Madame Beetle goes out on a search for love and encounters many different animals that are personified um, so this, for example like a rabbit who’s a carpenter, uh she would encounter, and this question she asks every guy she meets is: how would you beat me if I was your husband?… If you were my husband. And she receives responses from these different personified animals. So the carpenter says for example “I would beat you with this two by four” and the butcher says “I would beat you with my cleaver” and so the search goes on and she eventually comes in contact with this mouse and she asks me how would you beat me if you were my husband and he says “I would pet you gently with my tail” and of course she chooses the mouse to be her husband, and, you know they’re happy together, they’re living together; one day the mouse gets sick and Madame Beetle cooks a bowl of soup for the mouse and while drinking the soup the mouse falls into the soup and drowns… and that’s the end of the story.”

I asked my informant why he thought he remembered this specific story, and if it had any other significance to him personally. He responded:

There are some interesting things about this story. One, you can tell that it has a sad ending which is very… it’s a kind of thematic thing in a lot of children’s stories in Persian partly because, uh, of the dominant religion in Iran is Muslim and Islam has a lot of appeals to sadness for some reason, and a lot of these stories end in sadness-a lot of children’s stories, not a lot of happy endings. Another element of the story which is kind of lost in translation is the element of rhyme. Every time Madame Beetle meets a prospective spouse there’s this interplay of rhyming and repetition which goes on back and forth and that’s what makes it a very goods children’s story: because every time it’s repeated the child can, you know- as I would –  say oit or jump ahead of my grandmother and say what is to come because it’s repetitive. Um, and, yep that’s the story of madame beetle.

The fact that this story is popular among many Persian families indicates that it represents broader themes in Persian culture. The treatment and subservience of women, preached by many Muslim texts, would seem to be supported by this story, which establishes the male as dominant even at a young age. However, the fact that this story was told my informant by his Grandmother, suggests its misogynistic values may have been acceptable within its cultural context. Insofar as it is a piece of children’s literature, it follows the general plot of many children s stories today: that of the seeker (who is often an animal.) However, its unhappy ending is unique among most similar children’s stories, and perhaps reflects a part of the cultural gap between the east and the west.

Humpty Dumpty

Me: Can you tell me some familiar story or rhyme you remember?

Informant:       “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

                               Humpty Dumpty had a great fall,

                               All the king’s horses and all the king’s men,

                               Couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

Me: When did you hear this?

Informant: “This nursery rhyme was something I heard in grade school.”

The informant thought of this rhyme first when prompted for a piece of folklore, and demonstrated that despite an inter-cultural upbringing, this rhyme still featured prominently in her childhood. It would seem the Mother Goose style nursery rhymes, of which this is one, have become globalized and are no longer a purely western phenomenon, since despite an international heritage, the informant still seemed to associate their childhood most strongly with this rhyme, and recited it in its traditional form.

Space Traveling Boy

I asked my informant if he could provide me with a piece of Folklore, and he suggested this story. According to the informant, his parents would tell it to him as a child, and he believes it is of Swiss origin, although he is not sure.

“It’s about this little boy, who lives in space, and he kinda has a really unique perspective on the world based on his naivete,  and, in space all the planets are governed by adults and on each planet this adult has like a certain characteristic or trait the boy goes about kind of negating or belying. Like, certain events that happen, like there’s this one where he shows the adult a picture of, like a hat but he asks him “what do you see in this picture?” and the adult says “oh it’s a hat it’s simple” and he goes no its not a hat it’s a elephant and a snake underneath a blanket, just because of the shape of the hat.”

Although this story seems to be missing parts, from what is available, we see that it is about a boy who gets in arguments with adults, and wins them since he does not posses the same hardened stereotypes. Seeing the boy use his imagination and think outside the box, this story may also serve as a reminder to adults not to become trapped in social dogma, and to preserve some of the innocence of childhood.


The informant provided the following as a tale his father would tell him before bed,for the purpose of making sure he didn’t eat too much before going to sleep.

Alright, so, when I was a kid my Dad, (first of all my dad’s family is Philippeano. my dad is full Philippeano.) So he would tell me that, uh, if I ate right before bed I’d, what would happen was, it was called “banoonooed.” [ban-noon-noon-ed] and what that means is that if you eat before bed when you go to sleep you’ll have a bad dream and your entire hair will go, just like… white. So yeah, anyway, if you eat before dinner and if you eat too much, er, sorry, if you eat too much before you go to sleep it will give you nightmares, and those nightmares will be so scary that your hair will just go completely white and I think that’s, like my dad didn’t make it up, but I think it’s to stop people eating before going to bed and… yeah. 

As the informer notes, this tale is not specific to his family, but it does seem to be a Philippeano tale in general as opposed to one which has spread across cultures. As the informer noted to me, large meals are a significant part of Philippeano culture, and a tale warning against their consumption before bed is likely more relevant to their culture than others. Furthermore, the scare-tactics and over the top consequences for eating too much before bed, make it a good children’s story, and that gives its moral a context.

Miss Lucy

This is a children’s hand-clapping game that my informant played when she was in elementary school with other girls. The hand motion is similar to paddy cake; the participants’ right hands meet, then each participant claps their own hands together, then the left hands meet, and then it repeats. Some specific lines go with specific movements: at “operator”, the participants put their hand up by their ear with their thumb up and pinky sticking out, mimicking a telephone; at “dark dark dark”, there is just continual clapping with the word for emphasis; at “bra bra bra”, it is the same thing as “dark dark dark”.

“Miss Lucy had a steamboat, the steamboat had a bell

Miss Lucy went to heaven, and the steamboat went to

Hello operator, please give me number nine

And if you disconnect me, I will chop off your

Behind the ‘fridgerator, there laid a piece of glass

Miss Lucy sat upon it, and it went right up her

Ask me no more questions, please tell me no more lies

The boys are in the bathroom, zipping up their

Flies are in the meadow, the bees are in the park

Miss Lucy and her boyfriend are kissing in the




Dark dark dark!

The dark is like the movies, the movie’s like a show

The show is like a tv show, and that is all I know

I know I know my ma, I know I know my pa

I know I know my sister with the 80 meter, 80 meter bra bra bra!”

This particular clapping game song has very simple hand movements, but the text is very interesting. It engages in a lot of scandalous tabooistic discourse, and is cleverly constructed so as not to actually say any inappropriate words. For example, at “Miss Lucy went to heaven, the steamboat went to/Hello operator”, the word “hello” serves both as the greeting and as the word “hell”, where the steamboat presumably went. However, because it’s inappropriate for primary aged children (generally female) to be talking about such things as boys zipping up their flies, it’s recited in a way where they’re not technically saying anything inappropriate, though they do mean it. This tabooistic discourse is indicative of the kind of things that children at this age would be wondering about, or hearing about, and it is often passed among children and taught by friends in older grades or older siblings, continuing its tradition.

Abdul-Beha looses his pants in Paris

In the following, my informant recalls a childhood story which he still remembers and finds significant:

This next account is one that comes from Baha’i tradition, more so in the Baha’i faith, which was founded in the mid eighteen hundreds by our prophet founder Bahá’u’lláh, you can Google that, it means “glory of god,” um, he founded the Baha’i faith, and uh, Baha’i all around the world look to this figure, the son of Bahá’u’lláh, his name is Abdul-Beha, it means servant of god, and Abdul-Beha for Baha’i all around the world, his title is “the perfect example,” so there are many stories of his life recorded, and it’s very common to tell children stories of his life as an example of a perfect example, and how one should emulate their life by him. A story that stuck out to me that was told when I was a child was: One day Abdul-Beha was walking in the streets of Paris. He was walking in the streets of Paris and – I’m gonna fast forward, he answers the home of one of the Baha’i who was hosting him, and he has a cloak wrapped around himself, he’s laughing very heartily, he comes in in a kind of strange way – why is he laughing? all this stuff, they ask him why he’s laughing, and he pulls the robe up a little bit and they see that he’s not wearing any pants, his pants are gone, and they ask him “Abdul-beha” and he’as a very, hes a very revered, respected, intelligent, divine figure, “why are your pants gone, what’s happened?” and Abdul-beha tell the story of how, as he was walking, he comes across a homeless person, who, in the weather of Paris, which is very cold, he was cold, and his pants were very tattered, and they have holes in them, and the man was cold, and Abdul-beha, his title is the servant of god, so to be servant of god he is the servant of god‘s children, so he removes his pants, this extremely holy and divine figure, and gives it to the beggar, and he just clothes himself in his cloak, which was customary to wear in the day, and comes back to the believers, and that’s a sign of humility, and a sign of selflessness, and all of the stories of Abdul-beha have a certain similar message,  that, like, all Baha’i can learn from – all people can learn from – but are specifically told to children.

In this story, my informant claimed to be affected morally and religiously, and remembers it even today as guidance for his life. He said that many similar stories are told to children, and the idea behind them is that they will remember the stories and the messages within them when they grow up, and guide their lives accordingly.

Flashlight Tag

Flashlight tag is a form of hide and seek played at night. Depending on the age of the players it can be played either during a full moon or a new moon for varying levels of difficulty or spookiness. One team is designated “it” and given a flashlights. The others go and hide while the “it” players wait some predetermined amount of time usually measured by counting. Once the game begins the “it” players must turn on their flashlight and leave them on. They must then use their flashlights to find players and get close enough to determine their identity and yell their name, at which point they must go to jail. Other players may tag players who are in jail to “break them out.” The game is over once everyone is in jail.

My informant first played this game in Boy Scouts when his troop was going on a camping trip at a local state park. The boys organized this game to pass the time during an otherwise uneventful evening. Boy Scouts teach children survival and tracking skills so it makes sense that they would be interested in playing games that emphasize those skills. Its also worth noting that originally Boy Scouts was developed as a program for preparing boys for the military. This game is strongly reminiscent of guerrilla warfare, and the skills needed to succeed in surprise attacks are the same skills needed to succeed in this game. Teamwork also plays a big role in the game as players who work together well have a greater chance of winning.

Flashlight Tag by Daniel Christian


Chinese Hansel and Gretel

(Translated from Chinese) Once upon a time, there were these two children, a brother and a sister.  The brother and sister had both been very bad children so their mother sent them out into the forest and told them not to come back until they had learned their lesson.  The children wandered around. It became very dark, and they began to look around for shelter.  They came upon this little house and knocked on the door.  An old grandma answered the door and let the two children stay in the house.  She led them upstairs where there were two separate bedrooms and told them that they each could have their own bedroom.  The brother and sister went into different rooms and went to bed.  A couple hours later, the sister heard a really loud crunching noise (made a crunching noise).  She tried to ignore it, but the crunching was so loud that she went downstairs to see where the sound was coming from.  Downstairs, she saw that the old lady was eating something, and the crunching was coming from the old grandma chewing.  The little girl asked, “Granny, what are you eating?” The grandma replied, “I’m just eating some peanuts, go back to bed.”  The little girl went back to her room but did not go back to bed.  Instead, she waited for the grandma to go to bed and then, she came back down to inspect what she was eating.  When she looked into the bowls, she saw small, little bones.  Horrified, she ran back upstairs to find her brother but found that her brother was nowhere to be found, only his clothes were laid on his bed.  The sister was able to figure out that the old grandma had eaten her brother.  She quickly ran out of the house and back home, where she told her mother that she had learned her lesson and begged her to take her back.  The mother let the daughter back in the house, and the girl was never disobedient again.

My informant has told me this story quite frequently when I was child.  This story was usually told at night as a bedtime story.  She told me that this story had been passed down through the family as her grandmother had told her when she was younger.  I asked my informant what her interpretation of the story was, and she replied that it was a way to teach children to be obedient to their parents.

After rehearing this story again, I realized that there is definitely a connection with “Hansel and Gretel.”  Some common elements include the presence of a brother and a sister, the setting in the forest, and an old woman who likes to eat children.  However, there are some major deviations such as the fact that the brother dies, the mother is the one who sends the children out, and the old woman does not die in the end.  While “Hansel and Gretel” served more as just a fairytale, this story had a pretty clear lesson to it; listen to your parents, or else you will be eaten by an old lady.


The informant is a caucasian female in her 50s. She was born in Southern California to an upper middle class family. The informant was raised presbyterian, but now professes to follow no religion. She attended Stanford University and then settled back in Los Angeles. She works part-time as a high school drama teacher. The informant is married with one child.

The informant learned these joke riddles as a child in the 1960s. In her youth she would retell them to her friends and family frequently. She considers them to be riddles and will supply them if anyone asks for a riddle, even to this day. She remembered these examples specifically because they have interesting and unexpected answers and made her laugh as a child. She says that she was not able to guess the answers to any of these three and that prompted her to remember and retell them.


What do you loose every time you stand up?    Your lap.

Why do birds fly south?    Because its too far to walk.

When you throw a white hat into the red sea, what does it become?    Wet.

Analysis: It is interesting that the informant still tells these childhood jokes/riddles when well in adulthood. Her fascination with the unexpected answers has transferred these examples into long term memory. It is the subversion of the expected answer type, replacing it with the unusual and ridiculous, that intrigued the informant as a child. This aspect of subverting the norm is common in children’s folklore, representing the exploration of boundaries through the safe means on jokes, songs, stories, etc. While these jokes represent a very mild version of such a rebellion, there is still present a slight twist that pushes against how the mind is taught to think when posed such questions. That the informant remembered these jokes to this day indicates that the resonance she had with the unexpected and surprising nature of these examples. That she still retells them today perhaps indicates that, even as an adult, she is still drawn to the slightly subversive nature of these jokes.

Folk Song/Chant—Childrens


(hold up forefinger and middle finger, palm facing out)

“Number One”

(hold up only forefinger)

“Save the Hippies”

“The world is a round.”

(using forefinger of each hand, draw a square in the air. Two fingers start at the middle top of the square, and the square is drawn symmetrically.)

Kimberly told me that her friend at school taught her this short chant. Her friend learned this from her older brother in 5th grade. They all go to school together on Harding Street, El Selmar. She chants this with her friend during recess or PE classes. They do this especially during PE, because that is when kids from other classes will see it—Kimberly and her friend hope to get this chant to spread in their school.

When asked what this chant means, she just shrugged and said “I don’t know, it’s just for fun.” But then she said it is “a little bit about charity,”—just saying they’d like peace and people should help the hippies. When I asked her what hippies are, she told me that they are “people on the streets” who are homeless and poor.

I chuckled at this answer, and thought immediately that this children’s chant reflects our changed attitudes towards hippies. Hippies were never mainstream, but at one time they were politically cutting edge, they had radical messages of peace and love, and they were some of the first conservationists. Today, however, I notice that the word ‘hippies’ paints a picture of a very different people—and they need to be ‘saved.’ Modern stereotypes of hippies have very little to do with liberal politics, instead hippies are now associated with drug use, unreasonable new age beliefs, and poor tastes in attire. It is no wonder that 4th grader Kimberly thought that “the hippies” were “people on the streets” who need to be “saved.”

Yet interestingly enough, despite Kimberly’s interpretations, I still feel like this chant retains some of the original ideas of hippies—particularly in regards to pacifism and environmentalism. “Peace, number one,” it goes—it sounds like peace should be our number one priority. Then “Save the Hippies” echoes many conservationist mottos, such as “Save the whales,” “save the trees,” or “save our planet.” I think it could be either an urge to save the hippies by supporting their cause to save the earth—or a parody that makes fun of ‘the hippies,’ suggesting that although they try to save the earth, ‘the hippies’ need to be saved themselves. Lastly, the enigmatic last line: “The world is a round,” while the fingers draw a square. Perhaps this is a reminder that everything in our world is connected—like a circle? Perhaps this is saying that in our world, what goes around comes around? Perhaps it means that our world must be round, but something is terribly wrong with it, because the hand movements suggest that it is not at all round? I’ve not a sure guess exactly what this last line means, or if it even has a meaningful implication, being a child’s chant, after all—but my gut feeling says that there is a concern with the environment somewhere in there. This would make sense, because even the kids must have caught on that the present society have recently become obsessed with “being green.”