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Cordel: literature through woodcut books

Typical from Northeast Brazil, Cordel literature (from the Portuguese term Literatura de cordel, literally "string literature") can inspire inexpensive printed booklets or pamphlets about popular myths, folk novels, poems and songs. It can be used at school, for children literacy, at home as an instrument to promote dialogue between children and parents.

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Cordel (from the Portuguese term Literatura de cordel, literally "string literature") are popular and inexpensively printed booklets or pamphlets containing folk novels, poems and songs, which are produced and sold in fairs and by sidestreet vendors in the Northeast of Brazil. They are so named because they are hung from strings in order to display them to potential clients.

They are usually produced in black and white, in quarto format, and are illustrated with woodcuts. The cordel literature found its zenith in the decades of 20s and 30s, with the popular legend created by thecangaceiros of Lampião, a band of outlaws and bandolier bandits who terrorized the region for almost 20 years. The War of Canudos, a military conflict in the state of Bahia, 1896-1897, has been also a frequent theme of cordel literature, due to its epic dimensions and importance for the history of the Northeast backlands.

Cordel is an example of how to use popular culture into education, and flexible to promote dialogue between children and parents, as well as among generations through the popular culture manifestations like songs, poems, mythologies, etc. The topics currently approached by cordel literature is widely diverse, from politics to love stories.

How could we take advantage of local popular culture to make children thrive?


Cordel literature:

Who will benefit from this idea and where are they located?

Local communities and their popular culture, as they are used as tools for children literacy and education, promoting their identification with their cultural background.

How could you test this idea in a quick and low-cost way right now?

The idea can be tested through simple prototypes of local poems, songs, stories. etc printed on simple booklets and pamphlets. It can also be adapted to other printing or fabrication methods using local materials, not only to woodcut printing. One inspiration that can be taken from cordel is to develop with children activities like: 1) A teacher/adult, etc. tells a story for the children; 2) Then, the children have to continue the story according to their imagination creating their cordel; 3) Finally, they present their stories to their peers

What kind of help would you need to make your idea real?

Any help from teachers, poets, writers, artists, anyone interested to spread their cultural and traditional stories to the children in their communities.

Is this an idea that you or your organization would like to take forward?

  • This idea is meant to inspire. I hope someone else takes it on!


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