Thematic Description and Rationale for the Project:
For this project I have chosen ten stories with the theme of friendship. The purpose of the project is to explore the topic of friendship in stories and how the topic is expressed as a theme in each story. Characters, and their conflicts, as well, will be compared and contrasted. What aspects of friendship are expressed or are evident through the characters and their actions or circumstances? What types of characters form the friendships? What qualities and actions of the characters help or hurt the friendship? I’d also like to explore how conflicts can bring friends together, or if conflict might have the opposite effect and hurt the friendship in some way.
I’d like to see if using stories with a theme of friendship can be used to teach children to be good friends to one another. This project could potentially be used by teachers to lead children in discussions about friendships. Questions such as the following may be explored: Why do we need/want friends? What purpose do friends serve in our life? How do we make a new friend? How do we keep a friend? Does it matter who our friends are? How? Who do we choose for a friend? What qualities are exhibited between friends?
I wanted to find a variety of types of stories, so I used several methods to find the ten resources. I knew I wanted to use Charlotte’s Web and Because of Winn Dixie, personal favorites of mine in my own collection. To find folktales, fables, and fairy tales, I went to the downtown Houston Public Library and used the Index to Fairy Tales, 1949-1972: Folklore, Legends, & Myths in Collections and The Storyteller’s Sourcebook: A Subject, Title, and Motif Index to Folklore Collections for Children. I used a favorite classroom resource of mine, Using Picture Story Books to Teach Literary Devices, to find picture books with the theme of friendship. I was overwhelmed with choices. Some of the books were checked out or not available, so that helped me make some decisions. Other wise, I decided on the ones that I thought would give a variety of insight into the theme of friendship.
Bibliographic Citations and Story Synopsis:
Bryan, Ashley. Ashley Bryan’s African Tales, Uh-Huh. “Why Frog and Snake Never Play Together.” New York: Atheneum, 1998.
A young frog and snake are sent out to play by their mothers. They meet each other and notice that they look different, but they have some customs that are alike. They have a wonderful time playing together all day long and teaching each other fun games. Before they part, they decide they are best friends and make plans to play tomorrow. But that evening, their mothers are alarmed when they find out what they did that day and especially who they were with. Mother frog warns Frog that snakes are bad creatures who hide poison in their tongues. Mother snake tells Snake that their custom is to eat frogs, so tomorrow, if he is hungry after playing with Frog, he ought to eat him. The next day Snake goes to find Frog at his house, but Frog won’t come out. Frog and Snake never play together again, but they never have as much fun again as that first day they met.
DiCamillo, Kate. Because of Winn Dixie. Massachusetts: Candlewick Press, 2000.
Ten-year-old Opal is new in town without friends and missing her mother who left her and her father when Opal was three years old. Opal rescues a big, ugly, happy-go-lucky stray dog who she names for the grocery store Winn Dixie where she finds him. With Winn Dixie by her side as a catalyst, she befriends other unlucky or friendless people, young and old, in the town. As she opens herself up to these people and listens to the stories of their lives, she comes to realize that she has much to give and much to be thankful for.
Flack, Marjorie. Angus and the Cat. New York: Doubleday, 1931.
A new cat has come to live in Angus’s house. The cat does everything that Angus, the dog, was taught not to do. She lies on the sofa, jumps on the table, and even eats his food. Angus chases her constantly for three days but is never able to catch her. When she disappears, Angus misses her and looks all over the house for her. He is bored now with nothing to do. But she does come back, and both of them realize that Angus is glad she is back.
Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Translated by Mrs. E.V. Lucas, et al. “Cat and Mouse in Partnership.” New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1945.
A cat professes great love and friendship for a mouse and they agree to form a partnership. To provide food for the wintertime, they together obtain a pot of fat and decide to store it in a church, where they believe no one will steal it. The cat instructs the mouse to stay inside their home where he will be safe. Three times he tells the mouse that he has been asked to be a godfather and must go out for the christening. But each time this is a lie, and he goes to the pot of fat and eats. He returns telling the names of his godchildren to be Top-off, Half-gone, All-gone. When winter comes, the two “friends” go to the church together to eat from the pot of fat. When the mouse realizes what the cat has done, the cat eats him.
Kasza, Keiko. The Rat and the Tiger. New York: G.P.Putman’s Sons, 1993.
In his friendship with Rat, Tiger bullies Rat. He is always the good guy when they play cowboys, and he makes Rat be the bad guy. Tiger cuts bigger pieces of the doughnuts for himself. He bosses Rat around, and then kicks Rat’s castle down. A fed-up Rat finally stands up to him and says he won’t be his friend anymore. Then Tiger makes amends, and they begin a friendship that is based on taking turns and fair playing.
Koller, Jackie French. Mole and Shrew Step Out. New York: Atheneum, 1992.
Mole is upset because he has not been invited to the fancy ball. He thinks he is a ‘nobody’. Kindhearted Shrew invites him to be her guest, assuring him that the reason he didn’t receive an invitation is because he is new in the neighborhood. She instructs him to wear a black tie and tails. Mole doesn’t know what she means by tails, so he works hard all day finding various tails to put on himself since he only has one tail. Lizard gives him a tail. He finds a kite tail, and a silkworm spins a tail for him. All the mice laugh at him when he arrives at the party with this assortment of tails rather than a tuxedo. He feels awful and embarrassed, but Shrew sticks by him, and they decide to plan their own party and invite everybody, even ‘nobody’.
Marshall, James. George and Martha. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1972.
George and Martha are two hippos who are best friends. Martha makes pots and pots of split pea soup for George. George hates split pea soup, but he doesn’t want to hurt Martha’s feelings, so he eats it anyway. Finally, he can’t stand another bowl of the soup, so he pours the soup into his shoes. Martha sees him and confronts him. He is then honest with her, and she says friends should always tell each other the truth. She then tells him that she doesn’t like split pea soup that much either; she only likes to make it. So they decide to eat chocolate cookies instead.
Pinkney, Jerry. Aesop’s Fables. “Androcles and the Lion.” New York: SeaStar Books, 2000.
Androcles is a slave who runs away from his master. In the forest, he sees a lion with a hurt paw. When Androcles gently removes the thorn in the lion’s paw, a friendship begins. Androcles stays in the lion’s den and the lion brings him meat to eat. However, one day each friend is captured, the lion by hunters, and Androcles by soldiers. As punishment for running away from his master, Androcles is thrown into an arena with a lion. The lion is his friend! And, to the shock of the emperor, the two unlikely friends embrace. The emperor is so impressed with this friendship that he lets them return to the forest to live happily and freely.
Pinkney, Jerry. Aesop’s Fables. “The Travelers and the Bear.” New York: SeaStar Books, 2000.
Two men are traveling on a trail through a forest. When they hear noises up ahead, one of the men, afraid it might be a bear, jumps up into a tree. Sure enough, it is a bear. The man in the tree is so afraid that he doesn’t offer help to his traveling friend. The other man is prepared to die. However, the bear spares him and tells him to choose a better friend to travel with next time.
White, E.B. Charlotte’s Web. New York: Harper Collins, 1952.
Charlotte, a spider, and Wilbur, a lonely pig, become friends when they live in the same barn. When Wilbur learns of his fate as a farmyard pig, Charlotte goes to work to help him and spins a web that says “Some Pig.” This phenomenon causes Wilbur to be a famous pig in the community, and the farmer doesn’t slaughter him. Charlotte saves her friend’s life. Her life ends, however, after she lays her eggs, leaving a grieving Wilbur behind. Wilbur is even more upset when most of her children hatch and leave. But three of her children stay in the barn and the bond of companionship and friendship continues.
Analysis by Theme of Friendship:
The ten stories all in some way have friendship as a central idea. One common expression of the idea of friendship is that it fosters the benefit of companionship. In “Why Frog and Snake Never Play Together” Frog and Snake have fun playing all day long showing each other new tricks. Angus is lonely and bored when his new cat friend disappears for too long in Angus and the Cat. Wilbur is lonely until he befriends Charlotte in Charlotte’s Web. They keep each other company talking in the barn and sharing stories. Similarly, in Because of Winn Dixie, Winn Dixie is Opal’s first friend in the new town, and he comforts her when she doesn’t have other companionship and eventually, because of his friendliness, he is the catalyst to lead her to more friends. Rat and Tiger, in The Rat and the Tiger, spend time playing games together. George and Martha is a simple story of inseparable companions who share meals together. Friends are seen playing, learning from each other, and getting along in these stories.
Another expression of friendship is the way friends are loyal, give to each other, and help each other in times of trouble. This is even how an unlikely pair become friends in “Androcles and the Lion.” Androcles helps the lion in distress by taking the thorn out of his paw. The lion then allows Androcles to live in his den, brings him meat to eat, and spares Androcles’ life when he is supposed to eat him in the arena. In Mole and Shrew StepOut, Shrew encourages a discouraged Mole by inviting him to go to the ball with her. Then when everyone makes fun of his tails at the party, she stands by him and doesn’t laugh and they decide to plan a party together. Charlotte saves Wilbur’s life by spinning webs with messages that astound the humans in Charlotte’s Web. Winn Dixie demonstrates openness as he befriends everyone he sees in Because of Winn Dixie. Thus, Opal begins to open up to people in town, taking the initiative toward other friendless people.
An important quality demonstrated between friends is honesty. George and Martha decide this is important after George is afraid of hurting Martha’s feelings and he doesn’t tell her he doesn’t like split pea soup. In contrast, the cat in “The Cat and Mouse in Partnership” is not honest with the mouse. He is an example of a poor friend who takes advantage of another. The turning point in Rat and Tiger’s friendship that makes it genuine is when Rat is honest with Tiger and tells him he is fed up with his bullying.
This leads to another issue in friendship. It is important who is chosen for a friend because some people might be harmful or form a “fair-weather” alliance. The tiger in The Rat and the Tiger starts out being a bully to his friend, the rat. Rat finally stands up for himself and says he’s not going to be Tiger’s friend anymore. When Tiger realizes what he has done wrong, he makes amends, and they have a genuine friendship based on taking turns. The cat in The “Cat and Mouse in Partnership” clearly is a counterfeit friend, and the mouse suffers extreme consequences. The message in “The Travelers and the Bear” is the same. One traveler is selfish, only thinking of himself when the bear threatens their lives, and he doesn’t help his friend to safety in the tree. Interestingly, in “Why Frog and Snake Never Play Together,” Frog and Snake start out as friends, but their mothers are the ones who tell them they cannot be friends. Therefore, they end up enemies and never play together again. But they never have as much fun as they did on that one day when they played together.
Analysis by Characters:
The main characters are the pairs of friends in these stories. I found it interesting to analyze the pairs of friends in different ways. After looking at the main characters in these stories, I realized that I chose stories with mostly animal characters. All of the stories have animal pairs for friends except for three stories, and in these three, one partner in the pair is an animal—“Androcles and the Lion” has a lion and a man. Because of Winn Dixie has a young girl and a dog. “The Travelers and the Bear” has two men who are the friends, but it is the bear who proves to be the true friend and spares the man’s life rather than his friend saving his life. The other stories have two animals for the friends--a frog and snake, two hippos, a spider and a pig, a cat and mouse, a mole and shrew, a rat and a tiger, a dog and cat.
Some pairings of friends are likely while others are unlikely. Unlikely pairings are more common. These are the frog-snake, spider-pig, cat-mouse, rat-tiger, dog-cat, man-lion. The likely pairings are the 2 hippos, mole-shrew, girl-dog, and 2 humans. Some pairings work out successfully while others do not. Well, all are successful friendships except the 2 humans, frog-snake, and cat-mouse.
Some characters exhibit qualities or actions that hurt the friendship. Tiger bullies Rat. George is dishonest with Martha, pretending to like split pea soup. The cat is dishonest with the mouse and forms a fair-weather and even selfish partnership with him. One of the travelers in “The Travelers and the Bear” is selfish, only thinking of himself and his fear and doesn’t help his friend to safety. Poor frog and snake would like to stay friends, but are forced by their family’s customs to become enemies.
Other characters model qualities that foster the bond of friendship. Loyalty is a common trait demonstrated through actions. Shrew stands by Mole when others make fun of his tails. The lion stands loyal to Androcles when he is supposed to maul him in the arena. George and Martha decide that loyalty is more important than hurting each other’s feelings. They choose this as the higher good for their friendship. The ultimate demonstration of loyalty, I believe, is self-sacrifice. Charlotte works all through the night (and more than one night) to spin webs with messages in order to save her friend’s life.
Taking the initiative to give is an action that fosters a friendship. Androcles makes an unlikely friend when he overcomes the barrier of fear and removes the thorn from the lion’s paw. The lion repays him, giving him meat to eat and a place to live. Frog and Snake, in their one-day friendship, teach each other games. Shrew extends the invitation to Mole to go to the ball with her. Tiger learns to take turns and share toys with Rat. Opal plans a party for all her new friends in the town to bring them together and meet one another. She shares the litmus lozenges with her new friends, too, knowing that this unique candy will encourage them.
Actions and qualities in these characters exemplify that we can get by with the help of our friends and, also, to have a friend is to be a friend.
Analysis by Conflict:
I wanted to analyze the conflict in the stories’ plots to see how the conflict played a role in the friendship. In three of the stories, the conflict plays a role in the demise of the friendship. The conflict arises in “Why Frog and Snake Never Play Together” after the mothers tell their children that they are supposed to be enemies. This is also foreshadowed then they are playing and hugging, and Snake tells Frog he feels good enough to eat. Snake plans to eat Frog the next time they play together, so Frog does not come out to play, and they stay away from each other from that point on. In “The Cat and Mouse in Partnership,” the cat is lying to the mouse and goes away three times to eat from the pot of fat and then eats his “friend.” In “The Travelers and the Bear,” the bear presents a conflict to the travelers who attempt to escape from him. In this attempt, one friend’s selfishness comes out. This, coupled with the bear’s advice, causes the slighted friend to decide not to travel with him again.
In contrast, the conflict in other stories strengthened the friendships. In Because of Winn Dixie, Opal is lonely in the new town and she’s coping with the loss of her mother. Winn Dixie helps her become less lonely and to make new friends. And it is through these new friends that Opal comes to accept the good things she has in her life despite her loss. Poor George in George and Martha is afraid to tell Martha he doesn’t like her soup. But when this conflict reaches its climax and George is discovered pouring the soup in his shoes, George and Martha work it out and become more honest partners. The main conflict in “Androcles and the Lion” is when Androcles is in the arena expecting to be eaten by a lion. However, the lion turns out to be the one he has befriended, so Androcles is spared. In Mole and Shrew Step Out, Mole searches for more tails to wear to the ball, only to find out that he misunderstood what type of tail to wear. The climax occurs when he walks in to the party with the wrong type of tails and the mice laugh at him. However, through this blunder, he learns he has a true friend in Shrew. Tiger’s bullying behavior in The Rat and the Tiger threatens his friendship with Rat, but when Rat makes him aware of this and Tiger makes amends, their friendship comes back stronger and more genuine. In Angus and the Cat, Angus thinks his problem is the cat, but then ends up being surprised and misses the cat when she’s gone. In all these stories the conflict did indeed affect the friendship.
I really enjoyed looking at the nature of friendship through these stories, the characters, and the conflicts they faced. Once I began the process of analysis, I realized much overlap of the elements that I was analyzing. I saw how conflict caused character qualities, good and negative, to surface. Then the actions and choices made be the characters affected their friendships. It almost became confusing they were so related.
It was also interesting to note the amount of unlikely friendships that were represented in the ten stories I chose. Perhaps this unlikely pairing even made for a stronger friendship.
I wish that I’d searched for more variety in my resources as far as the types of characters. I didn’t think of this element when I chose the resources; I mainly focused on the theme of friendship. But animals heavily represented the characters. If I extended my research, I would look for more stories with human-human friendships. However, when teaching children, animal stories have a strong impact. I’m thinking with older students, more humans would be a good addition.
One challenge I faced during the research process was finding stories by using the fairy tale and folktale indexes in the library. A very nice librarian showed me how to use the books though. Then she shared with me a project she hopes to work on and is in the process of looking for the funding. She’d like to have an online searchable index for fairy tales and folktales offered through the Houston Public Library. This was very inspiring to me as she shared all the search possibilities that this index would provide. The process of working on this assignment has been yet another eye-opening experience for me to the huge world of fairy tales and folk tales.
One interesting thing I wanted to note is the fact that I just happened to stumble upon the resource “Androcles and the Lion” when I was looking on the library shelf for a different book. And, I believe, this story turned out to contain the most messages about friendship. It is a wonderful, short story, and if a teacher only had enough time to use one story to spark a discussion about friendship, this is the one I’d recommend.
My conclusion is that this research project could be used in a classroom or other setting with the objective of discussing friendship and applying principles to real life friendships. Spending time with this upbeat topic caused me to think about my own friendships and ways to improve them through my actions, and I really enjoyed the time spent working on this project.
Bennett, William J. The Book of Virtues. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.
Hall, Susan. Using Picture Story Books to Teach Literary Devices. Vol. 2. Phoenix, Arizona: Oryx Press, 1994.
Ireland, Norma Olin. Index to Fairy Tales, 1949-1972: Folklore, Legends, & Myths in Collections. Westwood, Massachusetts: F.W. Faxon Company, Inc., 1973.
MacDonald, Margaret Read. The Storyteller’s Sourcebook: A Subject, Title, and Motif Index to Folklore Collections for Children. 1st ed. Detroit, Michigan: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc., 1982.