“Grandmother Spider Brings the Light”


Bibliographic Information:

Norfolk, Sherry. “Grandmother Spider Brings the Light.” More Ready-To-Tell Tales

from Around the World.  Ed. David Holt and Bill Mooney. Little Rock: August House, 2000. 105-110.


Ethnic Origin:

Native American Indian

Kiowa People of North America


Running Time:         

4-5 minutes


Power Centers:         

First, the audience feels desperation when we discover that the animals live in darkness and do not know how to solve the problem. Next, the story is suspenseful as we wait eagerly to find out if the animals are successful in bringing back the light. Then, there is a feeling of disappointment when Buzzard and Possum fail in their attempts to carry the light back to the other animals. However, there is humor mixed with disappointment in the story. For instance, we chuckle when Buzzard becomes bald and when the hair on Possum’s tail is burned off. Finally, there is a sense of triumph and a feeling of happiness when Grandmother Spider succeeds in bringing light to the world.



Council of animals




Grandmother Spider



1. The animal council meets to decide what to do about the darkness.

2. Buzzard fails in his attempt to bring light to the world.

3. Possum is unsuccessful in carrying light back to the other animals.

4. Grandmother Spider succeeds in bringing light to the world.



There is darkness in the world. The animals agree that they need light and decide to send someone to bring back some light. Buzzard volunteers to fly to the crack in the sky. After he breaks off a piece of light, Buzzard places the light on top of the feathers on his head. However, the light burns the feathers off Buzzard’s head. Also, the light goes out, and the world is dark again. Next, Possum heads for the crack in the sky and obtains some light. Unfortunately, when Possum places the light in his tail, the light burns off all the hair on his tail. In addition, the light goes out, and there is darkness again. Finally, Grandmother Spider convinces the other animals to let her try to bring back the light even though she is old and small. Grandmother Spider carries the light in a bowl and succeeds in bringing light to the world.


Rhymes/Special Phrases/Flavor:

“There was darkness, darkness, darkness” appears three times in the folktale. For instance, the folktale begins with this sentence and then reappears after Buzzard and Possum allow their lights to burn out. Also, three times throughout the folktale the animals ask, “Who will go? Who will go get the light?” Buzzard, Possum, and Grandmother Spider each respond, “I’ll go. I will go get the light.” 


The folktale also includes several memorable sound effects and humorous moments. For instance, when the animal run into each other in the darkness, they say, “Ouch!, Stop that! Get off my tail!” Also, when the light burns them, Buzzard yells, “Oooouch!” and Possum screams, “Ooowwww!” In addition, it is laughable when Buzzard becomes bald and when the hair on Possum’s tail is burned off.  



Preschool and grades K-2      


Grandmother Spider Brings the Light is appropriate for preschool children because it is a simple telling of a popular folktale. Most of the details and narration from other versions have been removed, thus allowing preschool children to follow the story easily and to recall the main events. Also, repetition, sound effects, humor, and dialogue have been added to hold the children’s attention and to help them retell the story. For instance, the basic story is repeated three times, each time with a different animal. Also, preschool children smile when the light burns Buzzard’s head and Possum’s tail. In addition, this version includes sound effects and dialogue, including “Ouch!” and “Hmmm” and “I know!” Finally, this shorter version can be told in less than five minutes. This is important because preschool children can pay attention for only a short time.


Bibliographic information on other versions/variants:

Welker, Glenn. How Grandmother Spider Brought Fire to the People.  4 Oct. 2003 



Stonee’s WebLodge. Native Lore: Grandmother Spider Steals the Fire. 4 Oct. 2003



Brief comparison of all versions/variants:

In “How Grandmother Spider Brought Fire to the People,” the world is cold because it does not have fire. Thunders place fire in a sycamore tree. First, Raven is chosen to bring back the fire. However, he returns without the fire after the fire burns his feathers. Second, Screech Owl flies to the tree, but his eyes are burned when he gets too close to the fire. Third, when Hooting Owl and Horned Owl fly to the tree, the ashes from the fire make white rings around their eyes. Next, Snake swims through the water, but the fire scorches Snake’s body when he goes through a hole at the bottom of the tree. Then, Climber, the black snake, swims to the tree and climbs up the side of the tree. However, the black snake begins choking on the smoke when he puts his head in the burning tree. Finally, Water Spider weaves thread into a bowl. She places the fire in the bowl and returns with fire for her people.  


In this version, seven animals attempt to bring fire to the people. Since there are so many animals, preschool children may have difficulty following the sequence of events. Also, the animals’ names are Indian names. For instance, the screech owl is referred to as wa’huhu, and the hooting owl is named Uguku. Consequently, it would be difficult for preschool children to retell the folktale with these names. Finally, this version is more difficult to understand because it consists entirely of narration and does not include dialogue or sound effects.


In “Grandmother Spider Steals the Fire,” the Animal People, Bird People, and Human People are unhappy because their world is dark and cold. Therefore, they decide to steal fire from the people in the East. First, Grandmother Spider volunteers to steal the fire. However, Opossum is the chief of the animals and convinces the others to let him go instead because he can hide the fire in his bushy tail. When Opossum arrives in the East, he places the stolen fire in his tail. Unfortunately, when Opossum’s tail starts to burn, the people see that Opossum has stolen their fire. Consequently, the people take the fire away from Opossum and send him back to his home. Once again, Grandmother Spider volunteers to steal the fire, but Buzzard is chosen instead. Buzzard hides the stolen fire in the feathers on his head. However, the people in the East spot him when his head catches fire. After Buzzard’s unsuccessful attempt to bring back the fire, Crow is sent to steal the fire. However, Crow’s white feathers turn black when he stands in front of the fire too long. Finally, the council members agree to let Grandmother Spider steal the fire. She creates a clay container and places the fire inside the container. Because of her small size, Grandmother Spider carries the fire back to the others without being seen by the people in the East. From that day forward, Grandmother Spider teaches humans how to build a fire, to make pottery, and to spin.


This version includes mostly narration, but there are several places where dialogue is used. Although this version includes dialogue, the conversation between the people is not humorous. Also, this version includes various references to Native American Indian history and beliefs. For instance, the folktale begins by explaining that all people enter the world in a cocoon. In addition, according to the folktale, Grandmother Spider is responsible for fire, clay, weaving, and spinning.  Finally, “Grandmother Spider Steals the Fire” is not an appropriate version for preschool children because it teaches children that stealing is acceptable.


In “Grandmother Spider Brings Light to the World,” the basic story is repeated three times, each time with a different animal. The story is rather predictable as Buzzard and Possum’s attempts to bring back the light are thwarted. Also, since most of the details have been removed, young children can follow the story easily. While other versions are narrated, this story includes repetition, sound, effects, humor, and dialogue. For instance, the folktale includes “Oooouch!” and “darkness, darkness, darkness.” As a result, children remain attentive and are able to retell the story. Finally, this shorter version is ideal for preschool children who have shorter attention spans because the story can be told in less than five minutes.