Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Folktales and Tall Tales ~By Suzy Leopold

The following tall tale heroes may sound familiar to you: Pecos Bill, John Henry, and Johnny Appleseed. Tomorrow is the birthday of my favorite tall tale character. 

Happy Birthday Paul Bunyan! 

February 12, 1834
Paul's Birthday Cake
According to a legend from Bangor, Maine, February 12th is the birthday of Paul Bunyan. I know this legendary hero is claimed by and celebrated in several states, across the Northwoods as their hero. Paul Bunyan is celebrated in Minnesota, Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin, and North Dakota. Even Oregon and California remember this top "feller" in the woods.

The fiction genre of Folktales and Tall Tales are often stories passed down by word of mouth and have been around for centuries. Kids delight in these exaggerated stories that often times connect them with current books and movies about modern superheros of today.

Reading Genres
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Many of the tall tale characters are based on historical events or people. Most of the stories are about fictional heroes and heroines who were brought to life with the retelling and passing down of the stories from generation to generation.

As a kid who grew up in Minnesota, my favorite folk tale hero is Paul Bunyan the Lumberjack. The tall tale that I recall was how Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox stomped across the Northwoods. Babe created many lakes wherever he stepped, thus the nickname for my home state, "Minnesota the Land of 10,000 Lakes". 
On the Left: Picture of Suzy at Paul Bunyan Land Circa 1989
On the Right: A Postcard from Paul Bunyan Land Brainerd, MN
My favorite book about Paul Bunyan is one that I read as a kid. It was purchased from the gift shop at Paul Bunyan Land in Brainerd, Minnesota.

Paul Bunyan Swings His Axe
Author/Illustrator Dell J. McCormick 

Stories of Paul Bunyan, the giant woodsman, and Babe the Blue Ox, have been collected and written for many years. This lumberjack is one of the best-loved legendary heroes. The author shares seventeen interesting authentic yarns about Paul Bunyan's adventures throughout the Northwoods. Everyone loves Paul!

Many of us are familiar with the many excellent collections of American folklore and tall tales that are passed down from generation to generation and are shared as literary lessons with students. 

Folktales and Tall Tales are an excellent lesson to introduce the literary device of hyperbole with students. Kids love the humour and outrageous exaggeration of this genre.

Have you ever heard of multicultural folktales and tall tales? There are many beautifully written folktales and tall tales that share stories of people from throughout the world.

The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales
By Virginia Hamilton Illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon
The twenty-four American folk tales included in this book are animal tales, cautionary tales and slave tales of freedom. This tale is about slaves who possessed the ancient magic words to fly away to freedom. 

This beautiful book is the winner of numerous awards including the Coretta Scott King Award, A Booklist Children's Editors' Choice, A School Library Journal Best Books of the Year and many others. The book meets Common Core State Standards for grades 6-8.

Horse Hooves and Chicken Feet: Mexican Folktales
By Neil Philip Illustrated by Jacqueline Mair
Classic themes of fairytale elements are blended with magic  and infused with Roman Catholic imagery to create a distinctive Mexican flavor and flare in this book. The collection of fifteen unique folktales and depict the rich storytelling traditions found in Mexico along with the customs and cultures of the Mexican people. 

The illustrations depict Mexican folk art and whimsical paintings in bright fiesta like colors. The author includes Notes on the Stories and a Bibliography.

There are specific elements that classify a book as a folktale or a tall tale. These stories follow a story arc and include a character, a specific setting and a plot filled with action.

A folktale or a tall tale begins with hooking a reader by introducing the main character along with his/her super powers.

The Character
The main character is bigger than life with super-human abilities and has a problem to solve.

The Setting
The setting is important because the story emerges from experiences of characters who lived at a certain time and place.

The Plot
The plot is funny and impossible beyond belief and has many exaggerations along with action.

The story ending is important as the main character solves the problem, overcomes the obstacle or beats the "bad guy".


The following links are a source of additional information about Folktales and Tall Tales: 

Tall Tale Elements on You Tube.

Tall Tales T Chart


Reading Rockets

Do you have a favorite tall tale hero or heroine? 
Share a recommended title or two of your favorite folktale or tall tale.


  1. Happy Birthday, Paul Bunyan! Have you ever seen the Disney animated Paul Bunyan, Suzy? A favorite from my childhood -- watch it here
    Another favorite tall tale of mine is the Irish story of Finn McCool.

    1. Patty: Why have I missed this movie about Paul Bunyan, my lumberjack hero? I look forward to watching it! While doing research for this post, I came across a reader's theater about Finn McCool by Aaron Shepard. Your comment is appreciated.

  2. Great read, Suzy! I spent a few years in northern Wisconsin as a child and we heard a lot about Paul Bunyan there too. I don't know that I have a particular favorite tall tale hero or heroine myself but you've brought back some great memories from my childhood and I'm now singing "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" :)

    1. Oh, Rebecca! Greetings to you from across the pond. Thank you for sharing a sweet childhood memory of spending time in Wisconsin. Davy Crockett, a frontiersman, a folk hero, a congressman and Alamo defender, a true hero! Thank you, Rebecca for reading and sharing your thoughts. ~Suzy

  3. I've visited the Brainard MN site as well as the giant Paul and Babe in Bimidji, MN. His "larger than life" persona is all over the state. Thanks for sharing this bit of folk tale history Suzy. Well done!

    1. No way, Darlene! You've been to Paul Bunyan Land in Brainerd and saw the stature of Paul and Babe in Bemidji, Mih-nuh-SOE-tu-tuh! Thank you for your praise and for reading this post on our GROG Blog.


      P. S. I am on chapter 12 of Wheels of Change.

  4. Thank you, Suzy, for reminding us of the fun to enjoy by reading folktales. As a child, my imagination ran wild with the humor and adventure of these great stories. You've made me smile thinking about them.

    1. Greetings to you, Cute Charlotte: Thank you for sharing your love for folktales. It's always a good day when I shared a smile with someone. 😊 ; ]

  5. I love teaching about Paul Bunyan as well, so fun! I'll have to refer back to this post when that unit comes up. Thanks, Suzy! And I like how you found tall tales in other cultures.

  6. You are appreciated, Tina. Enjoy sharing the love of Folktales and Tall Tales when teaching this genre with your kids. I'm sure Paul and Babe made their way through Iowa, too. Do you know about James Stevens [1892-1971], who was born in Albia, Iowa? Two of his published stories are Saginaw Paul Bunyan, Paul Bunyan Bears.

  7. Thank you, Sydney. You are appreciated. I am happy to know that you have memories story memories of Paul Bunyan as a kid. Hope you find some useful stuff with the links. ~Suzy

  8. O dear Suzy, you had me at "folk."

    Paul Bunyan Land? How FUN that sounds! My favorite PB one is by the husband/wife team Audrey Wood with giant illustrations from David Shannon- THE BUNYANS.
    I love seeing the very book that captured you so long ago.

    Since you asked...
    Sharing faves, which are just a few.

    MOMOTARO, The Peach Boy, A Traditional Japanses Tale / from artist/author Linda Shute, who has a strong personal connection to the story through her Japanese son-in-law.
    SWAMP ANGEL written by Anne Isaacs & illustrated so beautifully by Paul O. Zelinsky.
    Collections -
    CUT FROM THE SAME CLOTH, American Women of Myth, Legend and Tall Tale by Robert D. San Souci & Brian Pinkney
    MIRROR, MIRROR, Forty Folktales for Mothers and Daughters to Share, by Jane Yolen & Heidi E.Y. Stemple (fabulous Janes' fabulous daughter )
    FAVORITE FOLKTALES from around the WORLD, edited by Jane Yolen

    Appreciations for spinning a great post!

    1. Hi Jan: Yep. Paul Bunyan Land is a cool memory! The Bunyans is a fun tale. I have that book, too. Thank you for the many, excellent titles that you shared. Some are new to me and I look forward to reading them.

  9. Enjoyed your post. I guess my favorite steel driving hero is John Henry. I've been to his statue in Talcott, WV and looked down at the Big Bend Tunnel where he beat the steam drill.

    1. Thank you, Janet for sharing your hero, John Henry. He is one tough guy! What a neat experience for you to look down the Big Bend Tunnel. ~Sue