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Strong Woman - Strong Women
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Advice, Comments and References from Storytellers,
Teachers and Librarians



Advice, Comments and References from Storytellers, Teachers and Librarians
(excerpts from Storytell posts plus original research)

Book titles and online links are in blue and underlined. Click on them for more information.
Story titles are in quotation marks.
To retell any stories, get permission from the copyright holder if the material is not in the public domain.
Storytell posts are added as they are received by Story Lovers World.

1) Baba Yaga
She is the ultimate Mother Nature whose haglike and frightening appearance scares those who have no knowledge and demand or enter by force. To those who ask her questions, who face her fearlessly, and enter gently knowing full well that she is ageless, beautiful, and ugly but holds the key to true journies beyond the ordinary, she offers wisdom. She is of course not real.


Russian Fairy Tales (Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library) by Aleksandr Afanasev.
Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave by Marianna Mayer.
Babushka Baba Yaga by Patricia Polacco.
Baba Yaga: The Ambiguous Mother and Witch of the Russian Folktale (International Folkloristics, V. 3) by A. Johns.
Baba Yaga and the Stolen Baby by Alison Lurie.

2) Strega Nona
In many stories the wise woman has no name. She is us and we are her. She is the witch, the fairy godmother, the mature mother, the grandmother, the goddess. She is the ancient rock, the cracks in the dry earth, perhaps even the tree of knowledge.
New and used:


Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola.
Strega Nona's Harvest, paperback by Tomie dePaola.
Strega Nona: Her Story by Tomie dePaola.

3) Penelope
A great character, legendary, half real, and less symbolic is Penelope from the Odyssey - who is far more than patient. She is semi divine and will not tolerate greedy and unintelligent politicians seeking power only. She trusts in the world of intelligent spirituality and protects her kingdom. Her name translates as "two ducks" which is also an ancient name for Celtic and Caucasian goddesses.


The Odyssey: A Dramatic Retelling of Homer's Epic by Simon Armitage.
Regarding Penelope: From Character to Poetics by Nancy Felson.
Taking Her Seriously: Penelope and the Plot of Homer's Odyssey by Richard Heitman.
A Penelopean Poetics, Reweaving the Feminine in Homer's Odyssey by Barbara Clayton.

4) Joan of Arc, who never gave up her truth in the face of fanaticism.


Maid of Heaven: The Story of Saint Joan of Arc by Ben D. Kennedy.
Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (Dover Thrift Editions) by Mark Twain.
The Virgin Warrior: The Life and Death of Joan of Arc by Larissa Juliet Taylor.
Joan of Arc by Diane Stanley.
Joan of Arc: Her Story by Regine Pernoud.

5) The wife of Cuchalain from the Irish tales. She alone knows when to bring her husband back from the other world, or to demand he unravel his warrior's passion and return to ordinary life.

"Clever Manka."

Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales from Around the World by Kathleen Ragan, with introduction by Jane Yolen.

I love "Tante Tina" from A piece of the wind, and other stories to tell by Ruthilde Kronberg.

9) Old women have been placed in various stereotypes in folk tales...

Wise power source: Mother Holle by Charlotte Dorn.
Magical helper: The fairy godmother in "Cinderella."
Wild woman who might be helpful or dangerous, depending on how you approach her: "Baba Yaga" in Russian folk tales.
Evil devourer: the witch in "Hansel and Gretel."
Evil controller: the stepmother in "Cinderella," the witch in "Rapunzel."
Teacher: The old woman in "Twelve Swans."

10) Query:
I am looking for sources for a story I only know as "The Woman Who Saved the City."

There is a city under siege, they are starving and about to surrender, when an old beggar woman tells them she can save the city. She needs a cow, someone was hiding one in his basement. She needs a bushel of grain, no one has that much food, but by each person bringing a handful, they get a bushel. She feeds it to the cow. Everyone thinks she's crazy. She puts the cow outside the city walls. The opposing army finds it, butchers it, but when they see the cows stomach full of grain, they think the city still has plenty of food inspite of the siege (if they had enough grain to feed to a cow). The opposing army is nearly starving, so they pack up and go home. The city is saved.

The only source I have for the story is on Doug Lipman's tape "Stories of Strong Women."
Wendy G. 8/5/05


I've told that story. It's in the book Gray Heroes: Elder Tales from Around the World by Jane Yolen, on pages 15-17, "The Wise Woman," a story from Algeria.

Yolen's cited source: Wise Women: Folk and Fairy Tales from Around the World, retold and edited by Suzanne I. Barchers, 1990.

Kate D. 8/5/05

11) "Molly Whuppie" - a bit scary.
Molly Whuppie by Joseph Jacobs.
Molly Whuppie by Walter De la Mare.

12) The princess on the glass mountain by Joan Rose - She decides who she will marry. The one who rides up a glass mountain on a horse to fetch the apples is the winner.

"Janet and Tam Lin" - She first comes to the well where his horse is waiting. Later she rescues him by pulling him from his horse as he rides by with the Queen of the Faeries.
An Earthly Knight by Janet McNaughton.
Tam Lin: An Old Ballad by Jane Yolen.
Tam Lin by Susan Cooper.

14) Wise Women: Folk and Fairy Tales from Around the World by Suzanne I. Barchers, 1990.
I have this book and it is a keeper.

15) Clever Gretchen And Other Forgotten Folktales by Alison Lurie, 1980.
A collection of folklore divided by Daughters, Sisters, Maidens, Wives and Mothers, and Mature Women.

16) Womenfolk and Fairy Tales by Rosemary Minard, 1975.
A collection of folktales about strong women.

17) The Woman in the Moon and Other Tales of Forgotten Heroines by James Riordan, 1985.
A collection of folktales about strong women.

18) Fin M'Coul: The Giant of Knockmany Hill by Tomie dePaola, 1981.
Fin M'Coul's wife, Oonagh, helps him outwit his arch rival, Cuchulain.
Traditional tales from around the world each of whose main character is female.

19) The Legend of the Bluebonnet: An Old Tale of Texas by Tomie dePaola, 1983.
How a Comanche girl's sacrifice brought the flower called Bluebonnet to Texas.

The legend of the bluebonnet (Reading instruction through literature) by Julie Hollenbeck.

Strong women in history.

This link might be of interest to our teachers and artists - Youth Art Month.

Both of these come from the Teacher lesson plans and classroom management from site, which is terrific!

This is a link I found to some wonderful stories with strong heroines.
Google's cache is the snapshot that we took of the page as we crawled the web. The page may have changed since that time. Click here for the current page without highlighting.

Website with stories online and links to stories elsewhere and at Amazon.

Once Upon a Time When the Princess Rescued the Prince by Rosemary Lake, 2002.
Thirteen retold fairy tales. "The Enchanted Crab"; "The Vampire Grandmother"; "The Crystal Sphere"; "Sir Marzipan"; "Panalou's Little Red Riding Hood"; "The Enchanted Tree"; "The Bear Princess"; "The Little Brother Who Cried 'Wolf!'"; "Under the Glass Mountain"; "Queen-of-the-May and the Vampires"; "The Girl Who Could Not Shudder"; "The Flying Turnips"; "The False Dragonfly Queen."

24) Most all of the good girl/bad girl stories are the same story about honesty and kindness. I think there was a book that someone put out with many of those stories in it. Anyone remember the name of it
Response: I think you meant to send this to the list as well so I am forwarding it for you. Are you thinking about the book Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales from Around the World by Jane Yolen?

25) Ruth Stotter's The Golden Axe and Other Folk Tales of Compassion and Greed is probably the one you need. It has dozens of the kind/unkind girl/also boy in it.

26) I love "The Curious Girl," a version of the Grimm's story Frau Trude retold and extended by Kay Stone. I suggest you try to get hold of one of versions of the essay she has written to accompany the story, which discusses the role of the "crone" in the transformation and maturation of the girl. Both the story and the essay have changed slightly over the years Kay has worked with it. You can find versions in her book, Burning Brightly: New Light on Old Tales Told Today by Kay Stone, 1998.
in Feminist Messages: Coding in Women's Folk Culture (American Folklore Society, New Series), ed. Joan Radnor, 1993. This story and this essay have been tremendously important to me since I first started studying storytelling. When I asked her about permission, since the second half of the story is essentially her original work, she told me "the story is there for the using," but she does like to be credited. Kay Stone is a folklorist and storyteller in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I encourage anyone to read her writing about storytelling. She has published numerous articles.

A big thank you for all the helpful advice. I have chosen Tatterhood for this particular event and now am looking for a short song to go with it. All advice appreciated. I will let y'all know how it goes as I suspect this crowd has never heard stories before.
Tatterhood and the Hobgoblins: A Norwegian Folktale by Lauren A. Mills.
Tatterhood and Other Feisty Folk Tales by Margrete Lamond
Tatterhood by R. Muller

These were also the helpful suggestions.
Three Strong Women
"Inkeeper's Wise Daughter"
The Paper Bag Princess 25th Anniversary Edition: The Story Behind the Story by Robert Munsch.
Clever Gretchen And Other Forgotten Folktales by Alison Lurie.
"Whitebear Whittington"
The Squire's Bride, retold b Peter Crissten Asbjornsen.

Cathryn F.

28) Stories I love to tell about a few of my favorite women.
• "Miss Annie": A magical woman who really lived.
La Llorona / The Weeping Woman (English and Spanish Edition) by Joe Hayes. A South Texas legend.
The Lute Player by Norah Lofts 1951 First Edition
"Pretty Maid Ibronka" - "Pretty Maid Ibronka, what did you see; When you put your pretty eye to the hole for the key?"
• "The Condiment Basketball Game": A personal tale about my five minutes of magic.
Tales From The Arabian Nights: Ali Baba And The Forty Thieves And Other Stories (Junior Classics) by Gregory C. Aaron.

• "Chien Nang": A Fairy Tale that continues to heal me.

Mary Grace K. 2/13/06

29) Wise Women: Personally, one of my favorite stories is "Clever Manka." Here is one web version but you can find it in many books as well, specifically Best-Loved Folktaes of the World by Joanna Cole.

Taken from "Bare Bones True Love":

"Clever Manka"
[Bones taken from Best-Loved Folktales of the World (The Anchor folktale library), selected by Joanna Cole, illustrated by Jill Karla Schwarz, 1982.

Other versions may be found in:
Virago Book of Fairy Tales, "The Wise Little Girl," ed. by Angela Carter, 1990, pp. 28-31.
Clever Katya: A Fairy Tale from Old Russia, by Mary Hoffman, 1998.
Clever Gretchen And Other Forgotten Folktales by Alison Lurie, 1980. " Manka and the Judge," pp. 9-16.
Womenfolk and Fairy Tales by Rosemary Minard, 1975.
Riddling Tales from around the World by Marjorie Dundas. University Press of Mississippi.]


A poor shepherd worked hard one day for a rich farmer. In return he was to receive a heifer. When it came time to pay, the rich farmer reneged. They took their argument to the burgomaster. He was a young man and not too experienced. Instead of deciding the case, he put three riddles to both men, the one with the best answer would keep the cow. They agreed.

The burgomaster gave them the riddles. "What is the swiftest thing in the world? What is the sweetest thing? What is the richest? He told them to think about their answers and come back the next day.

The rich farmer was angry when he returned home. His wife told him she had the answers: “The swiftest thing is our gray mare; nothing ever passes it on the road. The sweetest is our honey. The richest is our chest of golden coins.” The farmer was happy and believed he would win the next day.

The shepherd returned home very sad. He had a daughter, a clever girl by the name of Manka. When her father told her about the riddle, she said she could help. The next day she gave him the answers as he left for court.

The men arrived and the judge asked for their answers. The rich farmer gave him the answers his wife had chosen. Then the judge asked the shepherd. The shepherd said: "The swiftest thing in the world is thought, for thought can run any distance in the twinkling an eye. The sweetest thing is sleep, for when a man is tired and sad, what can be sweeter? The richest thing is the earth, for out of the earth come all the riches of the world."

The judge was delighted and gave the heifer to the shepherd. He asked the shepherd who gave him the answers. He confessed it was his daughter Manka. The judge liked her cleverness and decided to make another test. He gave the shepherd ten eggs and told him to tell Manka to have them hatched by tomorrow and to bring him the chicks.

At home Manka laughed and said: "Take a handful of millet and go right back to the judge. Say to him: "My daughter sends you this millet. Plant it, grow it and have it harvested by tomorrow, and she will bring the ten chicks to feed on the grain."

When the judge heard this he laughed. “She is clever. I would like to marry her. Tell her to come to see me, but she must come neither by day nor by night, neither riding nor walking, neither dressed nor undressed."

Manka waited until dawn, wrapped herself in fish net, threw her leg over goat’s back, kept one foot on the ground. When she arrived at the judge’s house, he was so pleased with her cleverness and beauty he proposed at once. They were married.

The judge told her she must never interfere with his court cases. If she did, he would turn her out of the house and send her home to her father. Manka agreed and all went well for a time. Then one day two farmers came to court. Each said they owned a colt. The mare had foaled in the marketplace and run under the wagon. The farmer who owned the wagon said it was his.

The judge wasn’t listening properly and said he agreed. As the true owner of the mare was leaving, he met Manka and told her what happened. Manka knew her husband was wrong and told the man to come back in the afternoon with fishing net and string it across the road. He was to tell the judge that if a wagon could foal a colt, he could catch fish in a dusty road. When the judge heard this, he admitted he was wrong and asked the man who told him to do this. When the man told him it was Manka, his wife, the judge became furious. He called for Manka and told her to leave the house and go back to her father. He didn’t want anyone saying he treated her badly, so he told her she could take the one thing she loved most from the house before she left.

Manka asked that they have one more meal together and the judge agreed. She made him all of his favorite foods and made sure the wine flowed freely. The judge fell asleep. Manka had the servants carry him out to a waiting cart. When he woke up, he was in her father’s cottage. He was very angry with Manka and asked, "What does this mean?" Manka replied, "Nothing, dear husband, nothing! You told me to take with me the one thing I liked best in your house, so I took you!"

The judge laughed, Manka had outwitted him. He agreed that she was indeed clever and they went home together. He never scolded her again and whenever a difficult case came up he always said, "I think we had better consult my wife. You know she’s a very clever woman."

[See also Vasilisa, the Clever (below), The Peasant’s Wise Daughter (page 33), and Catherine, Sly Country Lass (page 36).]Contributed by

Good bibliography.

Karen C. 2/19/06

30) The Clever Wife in Sweet and Sour: Tales from China by Carole Kendall and Yao-wen Li. Houghton Mifflin, c. 1979. Fu-Hsing boasts of his wife’s cleverness, the Magistrate sets her tasks, and she solves them by turning them back on him.

31) Wise Old Woman, The: Retold by Yoshiko Uchida -- Also Japanese -in a book by Uchida
Dreamweaver -- which is a picture book but suitable for any age.

Carol C. 2/19/06

32) You might consider the stories "Tam Lin," "Maid Maleen" (originally a Brother's Grimm tale but the adaptation by Nancy Burke, Texas storyteller is wonderful), The Lion's Whiskers and Other Ethiopian Tales: Revised Edition, or
The Lute Player by Norah Lofts 1951 First Edition. However, I am not sure these would fit the "older women" category you seek. Here are a few other sites and book suggestions that might help you in your search.
The Lion's Whiskers: An Ethiopian Folktale by Nancy Raines Day.

AppLit's Annotated Index of Appalachian Folktales

Women in American Folklore: Folktales about Strong Women, Legendary Heroines,
Female Ghosts, Curious Girls, and some Witches!

Folktales of Strong Women by Doug Lipman.
Not One Damsel in Distress: World Folktales for Strong Girls by Jane Yolen.

Librarians' Picks: Strong Women

Collections Featuring Strong Women
Old Wives' Fairy Tale Book (Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library) by Angela Carter (ed.), 1990.
Her Stories (Coretta Scott King Author Award Winner) by Virginia Hamilton, 1995.
The Maid of the North: Feminist Folk Tales from Around the World, by Ethel Phelps, 1981.
The Serpent Slayer: and Other Stories of Strong Women by Katrin Tchana, 2000.

The above bib is found at:

Karen C. 2/19/06

33) My all time fav..."Middle Woman" by Orson Scott Card in Maps in a Mirror, a collection of his short stories. It is a great beginning story that will set the metaphor for the stories to follow. It is a literary story but it reads like a folktale.

Marilyn K. 2/19/06

34) Google "María Pérez la Varona" (the Manly). There should be versions in English.


12th-century Aragón King Alfonso I challenges Castilian King Alfonso VII to provide a warrior in single combat. Álvar Pérez is publicly named, but his sister María is secretly substituted and disguised in his armour and helmet and beats Al I. Al VII awards her the title "la Varona". Al I graciously gives her the right to wear the 4 red bars of Aragón on her coat of arms, diagonally to show it's a trophy. The 2 Als are real people. Álvar Pérez is probably real. I haven't found this story in any history books, old or modern, but it is a firm tradition in Soria. Her branch of the Pérezes, beginning with her son, changed their name to Varona/Barona because of the incident.

Catholic tradition has many stories about Mary the Mother of Jesus, not all of which depict her as soft and gentle. 13th-century priest Gonzalo de Berceo was the first known and named poet writing in the vernacular -- Castilian (Spanish), as opposed to the usual Latin of the educated upper classes. Well known to academics but not to the general public, he translated 25 Latin prose legends about Mary into Castilian verse under the title of Milagros de Nuestra Señora. Google <Miracles of Our Lady Berceo> without quotation marks for English versions probably in print. Full Spanish and Latin versions are on the internet. I have 2 of these stories in my repertoire.


"The Simple Priest." Catholic liturgy supplies a different Mass for each day of the year. Simple priest of little formal education knew only one Mass, the one whose Introit begins "Hail, Holy Mother", which he said every day. A jealous priest told the bishop. Bishop told jealous priest, "Tell that son of a wicked whore (hijo de la mala putaña) to come here immediately." Priest comes. Bishop forbids him to say any Masses at all. Priest prays to Mary. She appears to bishop in vision and speaks to him in strong words, telling him to reverse his order or he will be dead in 30 days. Bishop humbly apologises to priest and reverses order. In the Latin version, the bishop speaking to the simple priest calls him a seducer of men (dicens eum seductorem hominum), which I find quite ambiguous: bitch, whore, faggot, or what? I use "son of a bitch", emphasising that a priest wrote the story and a bishop is speaking.


The Chasuble of Saint Ildefonso. Fact: Real 7th-century archbishop of Toledo, Ildefonso was a good man who wrote a defence of the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin. Legend: As a reward, she gave him a chasuble (the outer vestment worn at Mass) made by angels, to be worn only by him. Anyone else who tries to wear it will be punished. Ildefonso is succeeded by proud archbishop who demands the chasuble. When he puts it on, it strangles him to death. The giving of the angel-made chasuble is still current in oral tradition in Toledo (I'm not sure about the strangling part), and it is depicted in a 16th-century stone carving on the 14th-century Puerta del Sol, the finest mudéjar gate in Spain.

Richard M. Dublin 3/18/06

35) Query: I've had an enquiry from someone searching for a story - has anyone got a reference or the ending? I've heard all the bits but I have a feeling they weren't all in the same story, so I'm wondering if this is a modern construction from old motifs? The first three conditions sound straight out of Celtic myth but it's not Lleu Law Gyffes because he had to be half standing on a goat etc. before he could be killed. And I'm sure I've heard the questions in a Nasruddin tale!

Here's the description:
It concerns a girl who rescues the kingdom by answering three questions. She has to go to the ogre neither naked not clothed, neither walking nor riding, and she must speak to him neither within nor without his cave. She goes to him dressed in a net, pulled along by a goat, and speaks to him on the threshold of the cave. He asks her, "How many stars are there in the heavens?"

She replies that there are as many stars in the heavens as there are hairs on his head, "And if you don't believe me, why pluck out your hairs and count them." The ogre is foxed by this reply and asks his second question, "How far is it to end of the world?"

"Why that is an easy one," replies the girl, "It is half as far as it is there and back again." Again the ogre has to admit she is right.

But what is the third question and its reply? (and the source?)

Tim S. 3/20/08


a) It's a version of Grimm's "The peasant's clever daughter" can be found at's_Wise_Daughter

Janet D. England 3/20/08

b) The version I know has the girl appear at the threshold of the palace to answer the call of the king according to the ghoul's demands. She gives the king the answers to the riddles. The third riddle is "How high is the sky?" the girl says, "The sky is as high as the ghoul can kick itself. It is welcome to try, if it doesn't believe me!" She actually gives the answers to these questions to the king, so he can deliver them to the ghoul. Upon hearing them, the ghoul is furious and comes up with yet another, final test. He says, "I am to be killed only by someone who is neither man nor beast; by someone who does it neither by night nor by day; someone who offers me a present that is not a present; neither by metal nor rope nor poison nor stone nor fire nor water; one who is neither eating nor fasting at the time." The girl herself goes to the ghoul at twilight; she is neither man nor beast, but a woman; she offers the ghoul a gift of a bird which flies out of the ghoul's hands,; she is chewing a piece of bark; and the beast is so overcome with rage that he falls from his perch in the tree and topples to the ground, so he was killed by his own rage. The kingdom is saved, girl marries the king, and they live happily ever after.

The version I use is from Turkestan and is in a book called World Tales : The Extraordinary Coincidence of Stories Told in All Times, in All Places, collected by Idries Shah, 1979.

John C. 3/20/08

c) There is also a version called "Clever Manka." In the tale it is not an ogre but a judge. Here is an online version.

Karen C. 3/20/08

d) Here is an Indian version I heard while sheltering from the monsoon in Rajasthan:

Richard M. Germany 3/20/08

e) It's a world tale, found in many cultures, and the third question varies from story to story. Pick the one you like the best! (I put a Jewish version in Rachel the Clever and Other Jewish Folktales.

Jo S. 3/20/08

36) Searching for the source of a Japanese tale Three Strong Women. The plot synopsis is a wrestler who is held tight by a young girl when he tickles her and ends up following her to her home where both her mother and grandmother spend some time teaching him how to be the strongest man in the world. When he can throw the grandmother in a fight, they know he is ready.

Tatterhood and Other Tales by Ethel Johnston Phelps, 1978.
Years ago I heard Heather Forest tell this one back in Rochester, New York. At the time she was about 8 months pregnant - which seemed perfect for the tale.

Also Three Strong Women: A Tall Tale from Japan,
an edition by Claus Stamm, illustrated by Kazue Mizumura.

39) Have been scouring my collections for more ideas on Asian tall tales and have come up with the types one might imagine: strong men/women (with a lot of strong wrestler tall tales), animals of incredible size and powers, boast /lying tales or contests (of amazing misers, lazy people, thieves, etc.), the unbelievable event or journey (eg. the tree growing from top of man's head, the umbrella maker's trip to sky), and more. But here's an interesting aside re Three Strong Women. Years ago, Macmillan asked me to research the source for that folktale because they wanted me to tape it and Viking was charging a LARGE copyright fee. I faxed many Japanese folklore scholars and storyteller friends of mine, seeking a source. They didn't seem to find one. My fax machine hummed constantly with other versions of strong men or women in Japan, but nothing with three strong female characters together in a related manner. I ended up using some wonderful material about a strong women named Oiko, who also made a huge Sumo wrestler feel like a puppy.

Created 2003; last update 11/21/09

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