All over the world, people tell tales of good fighting evil. “The Boy Who Loved to Read,” a folktale from Mexico, tells of a boy who must outwit the devil. As you might guess from the title, reading helps the boy win.
One part of this story tells about a contest called transformation combat. To transform means to change shape. In transformation combat, the fighters change shape again and again.
The evil character in tales like this one is not always called the devil. The way to defeat the evil one is not always through reading or through transformation combat. Fighting methods vary from story to story. In most folktales and fairy tales, evil characters do not win.
1. Near the beginning of the story, the storyteller tells us that the boy who loved to read “took his nose out of a book long enough to look around and realized it was now time for him to make his own way in the world.” When he looked around, what do you think he saw that caused him to decide to find a job? How will you know when it is time for you to find a job (and if you already have one, how did you know it was time to get one)?
2. We know the devil wanted to find someone who could not read. In the United States, during the time when slavery was legal, it was against the law to teach a person who was enslaved how to read. Why would anyone want to forbid the education of another person?
3. The hero of this story lies when he says he does not know how to read. How do you know if or when it is acceptable to lie? In this story the hero denies having a skill in order to get a job. What if the lie had been to claim having a skill in order to get a job? Is that acceptable?
4. How and why does the rooster eating the kernel of corn mean the end of the fight? Why do you think the devil can’t just change shape again?
5. At the end of the story, the storyteller says that young men like to go around strutting like roosters with a bit of the devil inside. What does that mean? Do you agree or disagree? Why? Could young women have a bit of the devil inside too? Why or why not?
6. The storyteller says all the devils in the world are wary; they stay away from educated people. Do you agree? Why or why not?
1. A lie is very important in this story and in other stories in the World of Stories program. See Anansi and the Hat Shaking Dance (Grades K–5) and The Monkey’s Heart (Grades. K–12). Compare and contrast how telling a lie is handled in these very different tales.
2. The Boy who Loved to Read includes two characters with the power to change shape. They engage in combat by transforming themselves. For a look at a story featuring a transformation competition with a less combative tone, compare this tale with the classic picture book “The Runaway Bunny” by Margaret Wise Brown (New York: Harper Collins, 1942).
3. Include this story when you are studying proverbs and their meanings. This story includes the proverb “We may see the faces but we do not know the hearts,” which is similar to the proverbs “Don’t judge a book by its cover” and “All that glitters is not gold.”
4. Rock, Paper, Scissors is a game that involves a competition through transformation. This lesson plan explains a movement activity based on the Rock, Paper, Scissors game.
5. What is the storyteller’s attitude toward the devil in this story? How do you know?