Sitting at the Feet of the Past: Retelling the North American Folktale for Children

Sitting at the Feet of the Past: Retelling the North American Folktale for Children

Sitting at the Feet of the Past: Retelling the North American Folktale for Children

Sitting at the Feet of the Past: Retelling the North American Folktale for Children

Synopsis

Can a folktale with universal applications be transmitted from one culture to another without loss? Is it legitimate for a reteller to create variants for a child audience? Children's literature is today the major conduit for folklore, and professionals in the field must consider these issues. Here 23 writers, illustrators, storytellers, and critics offer their experiences and views. The four major traditions comprising the North American folktale are separately presented, each with an introductory survey and a selection of essays by the writers and scholars: The Native American folktale, the African American folktale, the retold Western European folktale, and the American tall tale.

Excerpt

About two hours south of Grand Rapids, Michigan is an Amish community nestled in several small towns in northern Indiana. It is a region that both editors of this volume have enjoyed visiting, particularly in the autumn, when the wheat is being cut in great swaths, the apples are hanging heavy and pungent on the trees, and most of the summer tourists have gone. For both of us the Amish community is attractive for many reasons, not the least of which is its sense of story. We sense that there may be a depth of story and folktale there that would be fascinating to explore.

But who are we to tell those tales? As academics we are interested in discovering and understanding the folklore of the Amish. As storytellers we know the love of story for itself. But as outsiders we have to recognize that we are not part of the culture of the Amish. We do not share certain assumptions about how life ought to be lived. We do not share that community's background and cultural knowledge. We would not understand certain nuances of speech and gesture. We might not even comprehend the full meaning of a story in its original context.

Tensions like these--the desire to tell a good story versus the recognition that that story is grounded in a culture that may be alien to the teller--led teachers and writers in the fields of children's literature and American and medieval literature to ask how writers in children's literature who work with folklore resolve these issues. Must a folktale be connected to its culture? If so, in what ways? May a tale that has universal applications be transplanted from one culture to another without loss? Does a teller from one culture have the ability or the right to tell a tale from another culture? What happens to a tale when it goes from an oral telling and an adult audience to a print . . .

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