Of all Caribbean children’s stories, the Afro-Caribbean tales of Anansi the Spider Man are among the most famous and well-loved.
Who is Anansi?
Here are a few introductions. A click through to any of these sources is worthwhile if you’re interested in reading more details, personal memories, cultural meanings, and stories about Anansi.
“Ananse, also known as Anansi, Aunt Nancy, Anancy, Hapanzi, Nanzi, name given to an Akan character who has become famous throughout Africa, the countries in the Caribbean region, and beyond because of his insight, intelligence, and wisdom.” – Encyclopedia Britannica
“The name Anansi derives from the language Twi, where Ananse translates to ‘spider’. He is also known as Kwaku Ananse in the stories. He is a trickster, who uses his cunning wit to outsmart those around him. This is a running theme that occurs in all his tales, which are collectively known as ‘Anansesem’ (spider stories). In one of his famous tales he was able to win and successfully acquire a collection of stories and wisdom from Nyame who is the Supreme Force/ “God” in Akan cosmology.” – Verona Spence-Adofo for Folklore Thursday
Anansi stories are “exciting tales about a quick-witted spider/man, who was able to get things done by any means; even if it meant engaging in trickery and cunningness.” – Nekita for Orijin Culture
“Anansi stories may be seen as the archetype for Caribbean children’s literature; they are a kind of foundation.” – Caribbean literary magazine Anansesem
A tangled web
Collecting a book list about this trickster is a tricky task. Here are a few strands of the tangled web of ideas that went into this list of Caribbean picture books about Anansi.
Out loud versus on the page.
Even the best picture book cannot replicate an original folk tale. These stories are part of an oral tradition, kept alive by storytellers, culture bearers, and griots. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, I encountered Anansi by listening to a culture bearer tell a story to a crowd and draw everyone, young and old, into the repeated phrases and humor of her telling. It is a very different experience from opening the cover of a paper book and encountering printed words and shiny images.
While nothing beats the participatory give and take as being in person, video is a great medium for capturing the oral tradition. Here is a wonderful story performed Jamaican storyteller Miss Lou,and shared by the National Library of Jamaica, to introduce us to Anancy.
Who is the storyteller?
For that matter, who is the audience? And who is the illustrator, the publisher, or the reviewer? I have talked about #OwnVoices on this blog before, and I think it is especially important to consider with folklore. There is a great risk that someone outside a culture may create a book that is not authentic to the real culture, or will even perpetuate negative stereotypes. In this post, I focus on #OwnVoices authors and try to link to some information about each author. Also, since I am a reviewer with an outsider’s perspective, I may not pick up on inauthentic details in books, though I do try to cross check my impressions with those of Caribbean reviewers. There’s much more to these issues of #OwnVoices, culture, folklore, and children’s books than I can summarize – and I do want to get to the books – but here is some fascinating further reading if you are interested:
- Editor Summer Edward describes folklore as one of “Four F’s” to move beyond in this article for Hornbook about Caribbean children’s literature.
- Annette de Bruijn reports on a study using folktales (including Anansi stories) to find common ground in diverse classrooms in Dutch schools – an interesting exploration of who the audience for these stories can be.
- Jane Smith & Patricia Wiese offer some detailed criteria for authenticating a folktale book in this study. This is a useful process when forming an opinion of a book.
- The use of dialect or patois is another issue connected with #OwnVoices. I’ve touched on dialect before, but you can dive deeper with two posts from The Race to Read comparing Philip Sherlock’s standard British English retellings to Lou Bennet and Andrew Salkey, who both used Jamaican dialect in their writing.
A unique twist.
Many storytellers make up stories as well as retelling older stories. Or they put their own twist on a story. When I created this round-up of books, I noticed that some #OwnVoices authors will write their own new, original story featuring Anansi without much connection to traditional stories. While I think there is room for this kind of creativity, it’s good to be aware of which kind of story you are choosing.
In my work in libraries and bookstores both in the Caribbean and the mainland U.S., it’s been a challenge to find certain Caribbean titles. Unlike in my individual book reviews, I have not been able to find and read each of the titles in this round-up. To help you source books, I link to libraries that own them, and note whether they can be found for sale.
Here are twenty-seven books about Anansi that are specifically linked to the Caribbean.
I have organized them by place and then by author, alphabetically. These books are also on my Anansi shelf on Goodreads.
Trish Cooke is British author, scriptwriter, and actress, whose parents were from Dominica. She wrote:
- How Anansi Got His Stories (illustrated by Anna Violet) | Find it in a library, or for sale online.
- No Dinner for Anansi (with Emma Shaw-Smith) | Find it in a library, or for sale online.
Richardo Keens-Douglas is an actor, storyteller, and writer with a number of books for children, including:
- Anancy and the Haunted House (illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch) | Find it in a library, or for sale online.
Wendy Shearer is a storyteller and writer, based in London, with Guyanese heritage. She has written:
- African & Caribbean Folktales, Myths, & Legends | This is a brand new book! I hope it will show up in lots of libraries soon, or you can find it for sale online.
James Berry wrote:
- Anancy-Spiderman (illustrated by Joseph Olubo) | Find it in a library, or for sale online.
- Don’t Leave an Elephant to Go and Chase a Bird (illustrated by Ann Grifalconi) | Find it in a library, or for sale online.
- First Palm Trees: An Anancy Spiderman Story (illustrated by Greg Couch) | Find it in a library, or for sale online.
Louise Bennet, also known as “Miss Lou,” features in the wonderful video above. A storyteller, writer, and champion of Jamaican dialect, one of her many books is:
- Anancy Stories And Dialect Verse | Find it in a library, hard to find for sale.
Everal McKenzie has written several books, including:
- Anancy Stories | Find it in a library, or for sale online.
Patrick G McLean wrote:
- Ackees, a Spider, and … uh … Breda Anansi? | Find it for sale online.
Geoffrey Philip wrote:
- Grandpa Sydney’s Anansi Stories | Hard to find in a library, hard to find online, except Kindle edition or Youtube version.
Beulah Richmond, born and raised in Jamaica and also lived in the Bahamas. The article linked from Jamaicans.com states that “Every Saturday afternoon, young Beulah and her eight siblings would eagerly await the arrival of a gentleman from the neighbourhood. Though stooped with age, their visitor would regale them with African folktales handed down through the years.”
- Anancy and Friends : A Grandmother’s Anancy Stories for Her Grandchildren | Find it in a library, or for sale online.
V.S. Russell wrote:
- Bre’r Anancy and the Magic Pot (illustrated by Clovis Brown) | Find it for sale online.
- Brer Anancy and the Easter Egg Hunt (illustrated by Jagath Kosmodara) | Find it for sale online.
- Brer Anancy and Brer Duck (illustrated by Jagath Kosmodara) | Find it for sale online.
Andrew Salkey wrote:
- Brother Anancy and Other Stories | Find it in a library, or look online, but it is hard to find for a reasonable price.
Books by Philip M. Sherlock:
- Anansi the Spider Man | Find it in a library, or find it for sale online.
- Ears and Tails and Common Sense | Find it in a library, or find it for sale online.
- The Illustrated Anansi: Four Caribbean Folk Tales | Find it in a library, or for sale online.
- Tales from the West Indies | Find it in a library, or for sale online.
- West Indian Folk-Tales | Find it in a library, or for sale online.
Trinidad & Tobago
Grace Hallworth was born and raised on Trinidad, and worked on Tobago, before emigrating to the United Kingdom. She is a storyteller and author. (I have reviewed one of her many books here.) She also wrote:
- Listen to this Story: Tales of the West Indies | Find it in a library, or for sale online.
- Anansi at the Pool (illustrated by Sheila Moxley) | Find it in a library, or for sale online.
Eva Wilson is the founder of SocaMom.com (where, along with tons of content for parents in the Caribbean diaspora, she has a great list of Anancy books). She is the first-generation American daughter of Trinidadian and Tobagonian parents, and she wrote:
- Anancy’s Family Reunion (illustrated by Charles Metze III) | Find it for sale online.
U.S. Virgin Islands
Bish Denham, who was raised in the U.S. Virgin Islands. (Notice that although the USVI has its own culture of Anansi stories, these are titled as Jamaican tales.)
- Anansi and Company: Retold Jamaican Tales (illustrated by Adrienne Salvidar) | Find it for sale online.
Lois Hassell-Habtes wrote a U.S. Virgins Islands story:
- Broo ‘Nansi and the Tar Baby: A U.S. Virgin Islands Story(as told by Ector Roebuck). It is hard to find in a library, but you can find it for sale online.
Yohance Henley wrote:
- Broo ‘Nansi and Sis Iwana | Find it for sale online. This book is one I personally own and would recommend!
- Anansi and Mongoose | Find it for sale online.
Still looking for more?
- For more picture books about Anansi, check out this list of 10 Anancy Stories to Love from SocaMom. (Not all of these authors are Caribbean, but some of the titles will also be easier to find in print.)
- For more Caribbean folklore with sources included, look at the Caribbean Story Finder by Sharon Elswit.
- And here’s the tag for all my reviews of Caribbean books featuring folklore.
- Is there another (specifically Caribbean) Anansi book I missed? Let me know in the comments.