Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Let's Do Two - Folktales and Whoppers 

Ruth Manning-Sanders & Alvin Schwartz (The Scary Stories Guy)

Folktales are the survivors of all stories.  Passed down orally from generation to generation, these stories of regular folk - no royalty need apply - existed in multiple variations among different peoples and cultures long before the written word became commonplace.  As literacy became more widespread, more and more of these folktales were collected and committed to paper.  As time went on, a methodology was established for the collection of folktales/folklore that outlined the manner in which the stories were to be collected, recorded, analyzed and presented.  Paramount in this process was the identification of source material.  Who told you this? Where? When?  And where did they get the information?  Mother?  Grandfather?  The old woman who lives at the end of the street?

You get the idea.

Many modern collections of folktales and folklore offer extensive source materials.  Alvin Schwartz is an excellent example of an author who does just that.  On the other end is Ruth Manning-Sanders, who, outside of referencing a country of origin for her tales in the Forwards of her collections, cites no source material at all.  Does this lack of source material affect the readability of her stories?  Not at all.  A good story is a good story, and all Manning-Sanders is concerned with is telling a good story.  But from an academic viewpoint, and a personal one, the more sources, the better.

The American Folklore Society maintains a Folklore Wiki for anyone interested in learning more.

Book #7:  Whoppers: Tall Tales and Other Lies (1975) Alvin Schwartz, illustrated by Glen Rounds.
                 127 pages.

Alvin Schwartz (1927 - 1992) is best known for his Scary Stories series, a wildly popular  set of anthologies that consistently land on the most challenged books list of the ALA.  Schwartz published over 50 books in his lifetime,  including a number of books on folklore for children that were all illustrated by Glen Rounds.  Schwartz was meticulous in citing his sources.  In the 127 page Whoppers,  his notes, sources and bibliography take up 24 of those pages.

Alvin Schwartz at Wikipedia

Glen Rounds (1906 - 2002) was born in a sod house in North Dakota and before becoming an author/illustrator worked at number of jobs including cowboy and carnival medicine man.  The books he authored reflected his upbringing, the Whitey series of picture books on cowboys, and his later books on horses and ponies.  Rounds suffered from severe arthritis later in life, and as a result learned to draw with his left arm and continue illustrating.

Glen Rounds at Jacketflap

Whoppers is a collection of American Folklore that focuses on the tall tale.  The short (sometimes very short, like one sentence) stories are divided into chapters, some of which are Ordinary People, Ordinary Things, The Weather, and the sure to be a hit with kids Putrefactions and Other Wonders.  Schwartz tells of the day that the heat was so bad, the farmer had to feed his hens cracked ice to keep them from laying hardboiled eggs, to the man who swam halfway across the ocean, decided he couldn't make it, and swan back to the old doctor pulling teeth in Demijohnville.  Fun all around, with terrific illustrations by Rounds.

Whoppers: Tall Tales and Other Lies at Amazon

Book #8:  A Book of Witches (1966) by Ruth Manning-Sanders, Illustrated by Robin Jacques.
                 127 pages.

Ruth Manning-Sanders (1886 - 1988) was born in Wales, the daughter of a Unitarian minister, and grew up in Cheshire, England.  A prolific author and poet, she wrote over 90 books, among them a series of books of folklore for children, a total of 23 volumes all beginning with A Book of …, that ranged from changelings to wizards to dwarfs.  Manning-Sanders was not an academic, there are no lists of sources of bibliographies, but she was a wonderful storyteller who believed in happy endings and the triumph of good over evil.

Ruth Manning-Sanders at Wikipedia

Robin Jacques (1920 - 1995) had no formal art training, but went on to illustrate over 100 books in his lifetime, 25 of which were written by Ruth Manning-Sanders.  He was born in London, England and served as art editor for The Strand magazine.

Robin Jacques at Wikipedia

A Book of Witches was the fourth in Manning-Sanders series on children's folklore.  Beautifully illustrated in black and white by Robin Jacques, it includes twelve tales of witches from around the world, four of which are from Germany.  The tales are well-told and enjoyable.  The endings are never in doubt, for as Manning-Sanders writes in the Forward:

               "…however terrible the witches may seem…they are always defeated….it is the
                 absolute and very comforting rule of the fairy tale that the good and brave shall
                 be rewarded, and that bad people shall come to a bad end."

If only that were true.

A Book of Witches at Amazon

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