Cap O'Rushes

A Folkloric and Literature Resource

for Teachers and Librarians

The Cumulative Tale: Grades K - 2

The cumulative tale is a variation on the repetitive tale. In the cumulative tale the action and/or dialogue repeats but also accumulates. Very often a character will repeat an action and catalog all previous actions in a chant or rhyme. There are many cumulative stories as well as cumulative songs like I Know an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly. Again, 'cumulative' is a difficult word for small children to pronounce so the term suggested is 'Add and Repeat Story'.

When the teacher is sure that the children understand a repetitive tale, a cumulative tale may be introduced. The children will probably readily identify it as a "Repeat story". When asked what else it does someone may see that something is added with each repeat. Again, with subsequent examples more children will be able to see the 'Add and Repeat' pattern of the cumulative tale.

Cumulative Tales:

Note: Since some of these books are Caldecott winners they should be available in any school library. Others will be out of print but new editions may be available. Ask your librarian for help in finding other cumulative tales.

Caldecott, Randolph, The House that Jack Built. (The Caldecott illustrations are superb, but other illustrators have also done a good job with this cumulative nursery rhyme.)
Emberley, Barbara. Drummer Hoff. Prentice Hall, l967. (Caldecott winner)
Galdone, Paul. The Gingerbread Boy. The Seabury Press, l975.
Hogrogian, Nonny. One Fine Day. Macmillan Co., l971. (Caldecott winner)
The Old Woman and Her Pig. Paul Galdone's version is out of print but there should be other editions. Beware of "cleaned up versions"

and a modern story:
Williams, Linda. The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything. Thomas Y. Crowell, l986.

There is an additional group of cumulative tales which have something else in common. After the stories above are presented, the class might like to examine a group of stories which all have the motif of the main characters getting swallowed whole by some bad creature and then escaping or being rescued and getting out alive. When the teacher is sure the pattern of the cumulative tale is mastered, the following stories can be compared for what is the same and what is different about them.

Cumulative Tales with "Swallow" Motif:

Note: Unfortunately the cumulative tales needed for this lesson are out of print. The Fat Cat which is the book I used to start the lesson is out of print but was available in paper not too long ago. If your library has it, you're in luck. If not, forget the lesson. If you find a new cumulative swallow story, let me know.

Jameson, Cynthia. The Clay Pot Boy. Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, Inc., l973. This Russian folk tale is out of print in this easy reader version. I can send you materials so you can tell the story using silhouettes on an overhead projector if you email me. See About the Author
Kent, Jack. The Fat Cat., a Danish Folktale. Parents' Magazine Press. 1971. Out of print.
Prelutsky, Jack. The Terrible Tiger. Macmillan Co., l970. Again, out of print, but email me.

The stories listed below share the 'swallow' motif with the ones above, but not the cumulative pattern, so they are both the 'same' and 'different'.

"Swallow motif" tales which are not cumulative:
Hyman, Trina Schart, retel. Little Red Riding Hood. Holiday House, l983.(Caldecott honor) Note: Do not use any Disney version of this tale. She has to get swallowed!
Grimm. The Wolf and The Seven Little Kids. many editions.


If you have questions or comments about any of the material offered here, please email Carole at carole at slattery dot com. .