Historical Fiction / Folktales & Traditional Literature
The Town Musicians of Bremen/The Bremen Town Musicians /The Musicians of Bremen Town
A fairy tale originally credited to the Brothers Grimm, it has been adapted and recreated a number of times. In the Aarne-Thompson classification, it is a folk tale of type 130: “outcast animals find a new home”. This story is both a cumulative tale, these are “very repetitive with a reiteration of story details or refrains over and over again” and a beast tale, “where animals act and talk like humans” (Vardell, p. 88 2014).
Version 1: Plume, I., Grimm, J., & Grimm, W. (1980). The Bremen-town musicians. Garden City, NY: Doubleday. ISBN: 0385151616
The characters in the story are both people and animals. The main characters are the animals; a donkey, a dog, a cat, and a rooster. The plot of the story is that each of the animals has been kicked out of their homes or were threatened to be killed by their masters because they are too old and are of no use anymore. The donkey is the first animal to tell its tale of woe and decides to leave its master to become a musician in the town of Bremen. On the donkey’s journey to Bremen, he comes across the dog, then they come across the cat, and then the rooster. They travel together until they find a house that has robbers in it. They scare away the robbers with their singing and decide they won’t go to Bremen, and live in the house in the forest and make music there. The illustrations are made up of muted colors, there’s a variety of colors but they are not bold or pop out. The layout of the book has all the words on the left page of a spread and the picture on the right page. The very last page is mostly words and a couple of small pictures. I would recommend this for grades 1-3. Penguin-Random House recommends for ages 3-7 years old.
Version 2: Wilhelm, H. (1992). The Bremen town musicians. New York: Scholastic Inc. ISBN: 0590447955
In this version there is also a donkey, a dog, a cat, and a rooster. It also follows the same sequence as the previously mentioned version (first the donkey then the dog then the cat then the rooster). The illustrations are more cartoon-ish than the previous version. There are a lot of colors used and they are bright. The lines used are soft. The illustrations take up a majority of each page. The robbers at the end are also made up of the owners that were going to do away with the animals of the story. The text does not say this, only the pictures show this. The layout of this had words and pictures on all pages. The text is also a bold, larger style font, making it easy to read. I would recommend this for grades 1-3. According to a Publisher’s Weekly review I found, they recommend this for ages 5-8.
Version 3: Rao, S., & Vyam, D. (2008). The old animals forest band. Chennai: Tara Pub. ISBN: 9788186211458
In this version, the characters are changed up a little. There is a dog, a cow, a donkey, and a rooster. For this one, the dog is the first character we come across and leads the band of animals. This is an Indian version of the Grimm’s tale. The illustrations are done by a Gond tribal artist and give it a unique look compared to other versions. In this one, the animals don’t go to Bremen, but decide to go to the forest outside the village they live in. The illustrations in this version are very unique since it is not in the traditional European style or more common (to us) American style. The pictures use a lot of lines and shapes and shading. Not too many colors are used, different shades of green, blue, brown, and yellow mostly; a little red and orange. Before knowing this was an Indian version of the story, based off the cover I guessed it was a tribal version. The title is worded differently compared to the previous versions (and others that I saw) and the illustrations are not what I’m used to seeing in children’s picturebooks. This version does not give a specific location for a setting, it just says a village. Whereas the first two specifically say that the animals are going to Bremen, which if you look up (or already know) the location of, it is in Germany. I would recommend this for grades 4-6. A Kirkus review I found recommends this for ages 3-7.
I don’t think any of these would necessarily be appropriate for younger than kindergarten or age 5. I feel that the story would go over their heads, and the animals being threatened with death, being shot, drowned, or cooked, might frighten many of them. The only version of these that has a positive message ending (they all end positively as the animals live happily ever after) is the Indian version I found. It turns out that the hut the animals found the thieves in had gold and jewels that belonged to the village people, including their owners, who once they came to see what the noise was about were proud of their animals. Though the animals told them to go away. They were so quick to get rid of them earlier in the story, why did they care now? A number of messages can be found in any version, being that the story is a folktale, and it can be used in different ways. You could also do a lesson with students going over 2 or 3 versions and asking them to compare and contrast what they see in the story. These would be best read aloud to children, rather than them read to themselves, to really hear and feel the rhythm of the story. Children will also enjoy the patterns and repetition of the brief journey the animals have as they come together.
Vardell, S. M. (2014). Children’s literature in action: a librarian’s guide. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, An Imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC.