A Whopper of a Tale
Most young readers study tall tales and folklore at some point in school. Even those who haven’t actually studied the genre may be familiar with stories about Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, Blackbeard, Davy Crocket, Daniel Boone, Annie Oakley or Buffalo Bill. Most of these stories have a tall tale element. Since June 28 is Paul Bunyan Day, libraries may take the opportunity in June to have some fun with tall tales. Discuss the following elements of the genre:
- Hero is larger than life and stronger than real people
- The hero has a specific task
- The problem is solved in a humorous or outrageous way
- The details are exaggerated
- The story is difficult to believe
1. Read aloud a Paul Bunyan story (American Folklore: Paul Bunyan). Apply the characteristics of a tall tale to the story read aloud. How do the exaggerated details make the story humorous? Why is the story unbelievable? Discuss why the stories called “tall tales.”
2. Discuss symbolism with readers. Ask them to discuss how Paul Bunyan symbolizes “might,” “a willingness to work,” and “a resolve to overcome obstacles.”
3. Libraries should have books that include many different Paul Bunyan stories. Display them and encourage readers to borrow them for their own personal entertainment.
4. Introduce other tall tales such as American Tall Tales by Mary Pope Osborne and illustrated by Michael McCurdy (all ages). Allow readers to work in small groups and read aloud a tall tale other than Paul Bunyan. Have them consider the following questions:
a. Why is the story considered a tall tale?
b. Is the story based on a real person?
c. How is the person a hero?
d. What is the exaggerated element?
5. Have readers read about a hero or heroine of their choice, and write a tall
tale about the person. Encourage them to illustrate their story, placing emphasis on the exaggerated part of the story. Suggestions from Random House include:
The Bravest Woman in America by Marissa Moss & illus. by Andrea U’Ren (picture book)
The Daring Nellie Bly by Bonnie Christensen (picture book)
Dust Devil by Anne Isaacs & illus. by Paul O. Zelinsky (picture book)
New York’s Bravest by Mary Pope Osborne & illus. by Steve Johnson & Lou Fancher (picture book)
The Mighty Lalouche by Matthew Olshan & illus. by Sophie Blackall (picture book)
Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming (middle grade)
6. Encourage older readers to create a tall tale from a work of fiction. Let them know that tall tales are traditionally short and often grew out of the oral tradition. For this reason, they should use a specific scene from the book, and plan to tell the tale to the group. Allow them to make the larger than life hero or heroine either the main character or a secondary character from the novel. Ask them to think carefully about the details to exaggerate. What is the outrageous resolution? How does the hero of their story embody the symbolism of Paul Bunyan? Suggestions from Random House include:
All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel by Dan Yaccarino (picture book)
Chomp by Carl Hiaasen (middle grade)
Holes by Louis Sachar (middle grade)
Johnny Swanson by Eleanor Updale (middle grade)
Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool (middle grade)
May B. by Caroline Starr Rose (middle grade)
One Came Home by Amy Timberlake (middle grade)
The River by Gary Paulsen (middle grade)
Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm (middle grade0
Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel (young adult)
North by Night by Katherine Ayers (young adult)
Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larsen (young adult)
Nature Girl by Jane Kelley (young adult)
Roy Morelli Steps up to the Plate by Thatcher Heldring (young adult)
Shackleton’s Stowaway by Victoria McKernan (young adult)