How the Leopard Got His Claws

This picture book is a modern pourquoi story set in Nigeria. As long as the animals cooperated and were kind, life in the forest was good. But, when the dog, flooded out of his cave, attacks the leopard and takes over as king without the rest of the animals objecting. Leopard visits Thunder and a blacksmith. After he receives his claws, teeth, and roar, life would never be the same in the jungle.

John Iroaganachi, Candlewick. ©2011, 978-0-7636-4805-3

Pouquoi Stories

Pourquoi is French for “why.” These are fanciful stories or how things came to be the way they are. Find some sample pourquoi stories so that the class can see how they are structured.

The characteristics of a pourquoi story are:

  • explain a phenomenon of nature
  • short
  • talking animals
  • the animal, or object changes
  • it is magical
  • it arises out of the oral tradition of a particular culture

Some worth questions when reading pourquoi stories are:

  • What is the moral? Morals? Of this book? Other pourquoi stories?
  • What does a pourquoi story tell you about the values of the culture it comes from?
  • What “stereotypes” have been attached to the animals as typical?
  • What do you think are several reasons humans create stories about “where things come from?

Some examples stories are:

  • How the Animals Got Their Colours (Michael Rosen, Multicultural)
  • Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears (Verna Aardema, Africa)
  • The Story of the Milky Way (Joseph Bruchac, Cherokee)
  • The Story of Lightning and Thunder (Nigerian)
  • Why Little Possom’s Tail is Bare (Cheyenne Cisco, N. American)
  • Just So Stories (Rudyard Kipling)

Write Your Own Pourquoi Story

Here are some steps you can suggest to students:

  1. Select what natural phenomena you will explain and write the title: “How Sunlight Came to the North.
  2. Select the original setting, before the change. “Long long ago the north was dark 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Humans used torches and candles to find their way in the dark.” When, where, describe.
  3. Think about how you will answer the question in the title. This is a magical story, so magic is fine.
  4. Select a few animal characters, each of which should have a personality and way of talking. Don’t give them names, they are donkey, monkey, polar bear, etc.
  5. Write your story. Use dialogue to bring it to life, and maybe have another problem or two along the way.
  6. End with “This is why ” …

Nigerian Picture Books

There are many picture books set in Nigeria. Accumulating a collection, could allow for an interesting mini-unit on an African country.

          

               

For 10 creative writing ideas, click How the Leopard Got His Claws to download.

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