Here is a small selection of books on telling a story, plus stories to tell, including some very personal favorites. Most links are for more info at Amazon.com, an affiliate.
The Storyteller’s Start-Up Book: Finding, Learning, Performing, and Using Folktales, by Margaret Read MacDonald, August House, 1993. Margaret MacDonald is a storyteller, a librarian, and a prominent writer on many aspects of storytelling. An all‑around good introduction.
Children Tell Stories: Teaching and Using Storytelling in the Classroom, Second Edition, by Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss, Richard C. Owen Publishers, 2005. A wonderful guide to classroom storytelling, by two long‑time professional storytellers.
Caroline Feller Bauer’s New Handbook for Storytellers, by Caroline Feller Bauer, American Library Association, 1993 (revised edition of Handbook for Storytellers). A mammoth guide for librarians and teachers, touching on all areas of storytelling. A standard in the field.
Storytelling Professionally: The Nuts and Bolts of a Working Performer, by Harlynne Geisler, Libraries Unlimited, 1997. Harlynne is a professional storyteller and editor of the journal The Story Bag.
The Story Biz Handbook, by Dianne de Las Casas, 2004. On storytelling as a profession.
Storytellers’ Research Guide: Folktales, Myths, Legends, by Judy Sierra, Folkprint, 1996. How to find and research stories. From a storyteller, librarian, and award-winning children’s author. Judy knows her stuff!
First are general collections of folktales and myths around the world.
Ready-To-Tell Tales: Sure-Fire Stories From America’s Favorite Storytellers, 1994, and More Ready-To-Tell Tales From Around the World, 2000, edited by David Holt and Bill Mooney, August House. Collections of tales from top storytelling performers, plus tips on telling. With source notes.
Thirty-Three Multicultural Tales to Tell, by Pleasant DeSpain, August House, 1993. Shortened, simplified folktales, ideal for young people and beginners of all ages. One of many collections from this author.
World Tales, collected by Idries Shah, ISHK Book Service, 1991 (reprinted from Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979). This is the book that turned my interest as an adult to folklore and inspired me to take up storytelling. The reprint is text‑only. If you can find the gorgeous original edition (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979), with full-color illustrations by a different artist for each tale, you will have a collector’s item. Includes background notes, but not specific sources. In fact, it doesn’t even tell you which tales are retold and which ones merely reprinted. I’ve spent years tracking down some of them!
Favorite Folktales from Around the World, edited by Jane Yolen, Pantheon, 1986. Possibly the overall best collection of tellable tales—collected by a storyteller, of course! It draws chiefly from the excellent series of folktale collections published by Pantheon and so serves as a good introduction to that treasurehouse. With background and source notes.
Best-Loved Folktales of the World, selected by Joanna Cole, Anchor/Doubleday, 1982. This volume has probably inspired more picture-book retellings by more children’s authors than any other general collection—and with good reason. Some sources are noted in the acknowledgements.
A Harvest of World Folk Tales, edited by Milton Rugoff, Viking, 1968 (reprinted as The Penguin Book of World Folk Tales,1977). Another fine collection, featuring tales from traditional literature as well as folktales. With source notes.
Ride With the Sun: An Anthology of Folk Tales and Stories from the United Nations, edited by Harold Courlander, McGraw-Hill, 1955. An obscure but excellent collection. All books by Harold Courlander are first‑class. With source notes.
Danny Kaye’s Around the World Story Book, Danny Kaye, Random House, 1960. When I was a kid, I had a record album of Danny Kaye reading folktales, and for a long time I played it every day. The stories are in this book! (No, I don’t think the recording is still available.) The stories are reprinted, not retold, and were selected under Kaye’s supervision. Some sources are noted in the acknowledgements.
Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales from Around the World, edited by Kathleen Ragan, Norton, 1998. An extensive, wide-ranging collection of tales with leading female characters—not that common in folktales! With source notes.
Outfoxing Fear: Folktales from Around the World, edited by Kathleen Ragan, Norton, 2006. Inspired by 9/11, this wide-ranging collection explores how folktales can help us develop creative responses to the terrifying events of today’s world. With source notes.
Orpheus: Myths of the World, by Padraic Colum, Floris, 1996 (reprinted from Macmillan, 1930). A fine selection of powerful myths, though Colum’s retelling is fairly loose. With background notes in the introduction, but not specific sources. Thanks to Bob Kanegis for giving me this book!
Legends of the World, edited by Richard Cavendish, Orbis, 1982. Stories taken mostly from traditional literature—not so much retellings as synopses. Useful for finding legends you want to hunt down elsewhere. No source notes, but a lengthy bibliography.
Next are collections of tales from particular places or cultures. This is a highly personal selection!
A Treasury of African Folklore, by Harold Courlander, Shooting Star, 1995 (reprinted from Crown, 1975). Everything Courlander does is gold. This huge book contains many of the stories from his smaller, children’s collections, plus much more. With source notes.
Scandinavian Folk & Fairy Tales, edited by Claire Booss, Avenel, 1984. A classic collection, and one of my very favorites. No one tells a tale better than the Scandinavians. Ironically, this title was published only as one of those bargain books you pick up off the sale tables. Sources are noted in the introduction.
East o’ the Sun & West o’ the Moon, by Peter Asbjornsen and Jorgen Moe, translated by George Webbe Dasent, Dover, 1970. A collection of 59 Norwegian tales. Asbjornsen and Moe were the Brothers Grimm of Norway, and storytelling doesn’t get better than this. (Don’t confuse this collection with single-story picture books of the same title, or with Dover’s own abridged “Thrift Edition.”)
Indian Fairy Tales, edited by Joseph Jacobs, Dover, 1969 (reprinted from David Nutt, London, 1892). That’s Asian Indian, as in India. Jacobs, a compatriot of Andrew Lang, also produced notable collections of English and Celtic tales. He is always fine, whether retelling or merely selecting, with exceptional source notes. In this volume he reprints from several classic collections, so it’s a good starting point for reading India’s folktales.
Fairy Tales of the Orient, edited by Pearl S. Buck, Simon & Schuster, 1965. A particularly fine selection of tales from East and South Asia, drawn from a variety of sources. No source notes.
Italian Folktales, selected and retold by Italo Calvino, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980. Calvino, considered one of Italy’s greatest writers, is a master stylist, and this is truly a masterwork. With source notes (mostly of books in Italian).
The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, translated by Jack Zipes, Bantam, 1987. You have to be careful about translations of Grimm, because most are cleaned up for kids. This one by a prominent folklorist is possibly the best and most faithful.
The World of Storytelling, by Anne Pellowski, H. W. Wilson, 1991 (revised edition). A fascinating look at storytelling in different cultures and through history.
Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend, edited by Maria Leach, Harper & Row, 1984 (reprinted from Funk & Wagnalls, 1972). An indispensable yet frustratingly incomplete one-volume compendium—really more an encyclopedia than a dictionary. Has better coverage of Western mythology than Eastern. Rumor has it that a new edition is coming.
The Folktale, by Stith Thompson, University of California, 1978 (reprinted from Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1946). A fascinating scholarly overview of basic tale types and how they are distributed around the world. It also explains Thompson’s research tools, the Type Index and the Motif Index, which you may never use directly but will see many references to and should understand.
Index to Fairy Tales, published by Faxon, several volumes, through 1973. These are indexes of folktale retellings found in story collections. Invaluable for tracking down different versions of a story. Though in print, they are terribly expensive, so find them in the reference section of your library.
The Storyteller’s Sourcebook, 1961-1982, Margaret Read MacDonald, Neal-Schuman/Gale, 1982, and The Storyteller’s Sourcebook, 1983-1999, Margaret Read MacDonald and Brian W. Sturm, Gale Group, 2001. Two more indexes of folktale retellings, also invaluable—and also expensive enough that you’ll want to find them in the reference section of your library.
About Story: Writings on Stories and Storytelling, 1980 to 1994, by Ruth Stotter, Stotter Press, 1996. Insights from a master storyteller and teacher. Also available from this author: More About Story: Writings on Stories and Storytelling, 1995-2001, Speaking Out Press, 2002.
Shadow Spinner, by Susan Fletcher, Aladdin, 1999. This ingenious novel retells the story of Scheherezade, legendary spinner of the 1001 Nights, from the point of view of a young lady who helps her through the final ones.