Why Cumulative Stories Are Cool!

storytime magazine, kids magazine subscriptions, old woman and her pig, cumulative stories, chain tales, best bedtime stories, best magazines for kidsOnce upon a time, there was company called Luma and they wanted to publish a wonderful story magazine for children, so they went to the bank and asked for some money, but the bank said, “No. We can’t help you until you’ve found a big magazine distribution company to work with.” So they went to the big magazine distribution company and told them they could only get money from the bank with their help, but the big magazine distribution company said, “No. We can’t help you until you’ve found a good printer.” So they went to a good printer and told them they could only find a big magazine distribution company to work with and get money from the bank with their help, and the printer said…

You get the idea. In this week’s blog, we’re talking about cumulative stories – also known as chain tales. These fun folk tales and rhymes form an important part of the story cannon, and they exist in every culture around the world.

In our latest issue, Storytime 35, we’ve got a classic cumulative story you might remember from your own childhood: The Old Woman and her Pig (with fantastic illustrations by Cristina Yepez). There are variants of this folk tale all over Europe and, though it’s a story you hear less often today, it still goes down brilliantly with kids. Why is that?

Repetition, Humour and Brilliant Endings

At the risk of repeating ourselves, we think it’s down to that magic story ingredient: repetition. Stories with repetition allow children to appreciate the rhythm of a text and anticipate what’s coming next, which makes them feel smart. Even better, it allows them to participate in a meaningful way. But there are more reasons why repetition is important in children’s stories and you can read them here.

Another winning feature of cumulative stories is the humour. As the story gets longer and more convoluted, the list of characters involved usually becomes wackier; and the actions that unfold more surreal. You feel like you’re being led along a safe path of repetition until, suddenly – as in The Old Woman and her Pig – she’s having a chat with a pond or persuading a rope to return to its owner.

But probably the best thing of all about cumulative stories is the ending, when the repetition reaches its climax, followed by a swift and satisfying conclusion. The grand finale is always full of rhythm and great fun to read aloud, but do remember to take a deep breath before you get stuck in! Cumulative stories have their own unique reading style and, if you can relax and get into it, reading them can be an enjoyable experience, which truly engages your child.

So if you loved The Old Woman and her Pig and want to try some more cumulative stories, here are a few gems we recommend:

6 More Cumulative Stories for Children


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There Was an Old Lady… a cumulative rhyme from Storytime Issue 5, illustrated by Irene Dickson.

1. The Gingerbread Man – This classic fairytale is so popular with toddlers, and it has many international variants. You’ll find it in Storytime Issue 2.

2. The House that Jack Built – Cumulative rhymes have a long history too and are still much loved by children. Don’t miss our version in Storytime Issue 16.

3. Henny Penny – Sometimes known as Chicken Little or Chicken Licken, a hen convinces a series of friends that the sky is falling in. Read it in Storytime Issue 19.

4. There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly – Another enduringly popular cumulative rhyme, with really fun illustrations in Storytime Issue 5.

5. The Red Mitten – A lovely winter’s tale with adorable animals, which featured in our cosy Christmas Storytime Issue 27.

6. The Enormous Turnip – A much-loved fairy tale from Russia, which featured in Storytime Issue 29.


In future, we’d also love to feature Tikki Tikki Tembo – a cumulative story from China about the challenges of giving your child an exceedingly long and ridiculous name. And if you’re looking for a cumulative story in book form, you can do no better than the brilliant Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss.

How do you feel about cumulative stories – do you love or hate reading them? Any top story-reading tips to share with other parents or teachers? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook! Let’s spread the reading knowledge and love.


By the way, we should say that our own cumulative story had a happy ending!