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Earth Shake! House Break!

By Aaron Shepard

Printed in Australia’s School Magazine, Feb. 2001, and Spider, Aug. 2003

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Copyright © 2000, 2016 by Aaron Shepard. May not be published or posted without permission.

PREVIEW: Three brothers aim to build houses to withstand the Earthquake God, but each has his own idea how.

GENRE: Fables (original)
CULTURE: East Asian (faux)
THEME: Stability vs. flexibility
AGES: 3–9
LENGTH: 500 words

Once in a land far to the east, there were three brothers who lived in a cave. But they were not happy about it.

The oldest brother asked their mother, “Why must we live in a cave?”

“Everyone does!” she told them. “It is because of the Earthquake God. If we built houses, he would come and wreck them.”

The middle brother said, “What if we built a house he couldn’t wreck?”

“No one knows how,” said their mother.

The youngest brother said, “Then we should try and find out.”

The brothers all agreed they should build such a house. But they could not agree how. So, one after the other, they set off to build houses of their own.

The oldest brother built his house from stone and mortar. He told himself, “It is as strong as a mountain.”

The middle brother built his house from wood and pegs. He said, “It is as strong as a tree.”

The youngest brother built his house from bamboo and cord. He said, “It is as strong as the grass.”

One day, the Earthquake God came down the mountain. On legs like pillars, he strode up to the oldest brother’s house of stone.

“So!” he said. “They try to build houses, do they?”

The Earthquake God stamped his feet. And as he stamped, he shouted,


The earth shook and the house shivered. The mortar cracked and the stones fell down. The Earthquake God laughed.

The oldest brother crawled out and ran to his brother’s house of wood. But it was not long before the Earthquake God arrived.

“Another one! Well, this one won’t last any longer.” He stamped his feet and shouted,


The earth shook and the house shuddered. The pegs snapped and the walls leaned over. The Earthquake God laughed.

The two brothers crawled out and ran to their brother’s house of bamboo. But soon the Earthquake God arrived there too.

“Still another! But this one looks weakest of all!” He stamped and shouted,


The earth shook and the house swayed. The cord strained and the bamboo wobbled—but then it sprang back straight!

The Earthquake God frowned. He stamped harder, then harder still. But nothing he did could wreck the bamboo house.

At last, in a fury, he stamped back up the mountain.

The brothers were happy to see him go. But the oldest asked the youngest, “Why did your house stand when ours did not?” And the middle brother said, “Yes, why?”

The youngest brother answered, “You tried to make your houses stronger than the Earthquake God. But I made mine weaker. Whatever bends does not break.”

And that is why, forever after, everyone in that land built houses of bamboo.

Poor Earthquake God!