"Just So Stories"
Legends That Explain Why

Storytellers have long created legends to explain things they saw or events that occurred in nature. Rudyard Kipling wrote a collection of such legends and called them "Just So Stories." Tales that explain "why" are called pourquoi tales because in French, the word pourquoi (por-kwa) means why. Many porquois tales have the word why in the title.

For example, why is the loon a water bird? In her book The Common Loon, Spirit of Northern Lakes, Judith McIntyre summarizes a legend that tells why. The legend tells about an earlier time when loons lived on land. This legend was passed
down by generations of Micmac Indians.

"The loon was so tame, yet clumsy, that it annoyed all the villagers as it ran in and out of the wigwams, knocking over belongings and spilling food and drink. The Micmacs could finally stand it no longer, caught Loon, and threatened to throw him into the water. Thinking quickly, Loon begged them not to throw him into the water, but to throw him in the fire instead. The Indians, thinking they could finally get even, were sure to throw him into the water. When he was safely away from the village he called back to them with his wonderful laugh, saying, 'Just what I wanted, just what I wanted.' And that is how the Loon Became a Water Bird."

Loons and Legends
This lesson is an invitation to read some "Just So Stories" and you'll get the idea. Then, choose a loon fact from the list below and write your own pourquoi tale to explain it!

  1. Before you begin, look at the leads, or beginnings, from several of your favorite stories. You might like to start a collection of good leads in your writer's notebook. Then use what you learned to write a special lead for your legend.
  2. Brainstorm ideas for characters, setting, and plot.
  3. Make a story map or web to guide you as you draft your legend.
  4. Write your draft quickly. Plan to spend the most time on revising.
  5. End your story this way: And that's why the loon _________________.
  6. Illustrate your story using your favorite art techniques.

Loon Facts. . .But Why?
  • Loons are water birds, very clumsy on land.
  • Loons lose and then grow all their flight feathers at once, instead of one or two at a time, but they can't fly without ALL their feathers.
  • Loons have really big feet, but they can hardly walk on land.
  • Unlike other birds, loons have solid bones and can dive deep in the water.
  • Loons must run across the water, beating their wings and paddling their feet, to gain enough speed to fly.
  • Loons have red eyes when in their black-and-white breeding plumage.
  • Loons have "necklaces," or striking patterns of feathers around their necks.