Our children need heroes, role models from all walks of life, who can both inspire and teach them through words, actions, and deeds.

Legendary folklore characters, both real and fictional, are strong, clever, self-reliant, courageous, and full of adventurous spirit, qualities cherished by a young frontier country, qualities our children still need to confront contemporary challenges. Besides, reading folk stories aloud and swapping tall tales is just plain fun.

Book Suggestions to Read Aloud:

John Henry by Julius Lester, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (Puffin, 1994).
John Henry grew so rapidly, he broke the porch roof. He laughed so loud, he scared the sun! And as a grown man he could dig through a mountain faster than a steam drill. Great fun with award-winning illustrations full of vigor and strength enough to match that of John Henry.

Paul Bunyan, retold and illustrated by Steven Kellogg (HarperCollins, 2004).
Steven Kellogg invests his stories and illustrations with great humor and energy. You and your children will enjoy his retelling of the tale of Paul Bunyan and his great blue ox Babe. And when you are finished, go back to the library and find his other terrific folktale retellings: Mike Fink, Pecos Bill, Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind Crockett, and Johnny Appleseed.

Other tellings of Johnny Appleseed to check out include Johnny Appleseed: The Story of the Legend, written and illustrated by Will Moses, and Johnny Appleseed, written by Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benet and illustrated by S.D. Schindler.The first book gives a picture of both the legendary and the real Johnny Appleseed. It is illustrated with vibrant folk art by the great-grandson of Grandma Moses. In the second, a lyrical poem reminiscent of early American folk songs retells the Appleseed legend. It is illustrated with soft pencil drawings which expand the story, giving lovely visual details. A terrific book to read aloud for young children.

Swamp Angel by Anne Isaacs, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky (Dutton, 1994). Heroine Angelica Longrider, the Swamp Angel, and her great bear Tarnation can match Paul Bunyan and Babe deed for deed, rollicking adventure for rollicking adventure. A story told with wit and illustrated in a humorous style inspired by American folk painting. Also check out the sequel Dust Devil (Schwartz and Wade, 2010) in which Angelica moves to Montana and tames a dust storm into being her horse.

Wonderful Folklore Collections:

American Tall Tales by Mary Pope Osborne (Knopf, 1991).

From Sea to Shining Sea, A Treasure of American Folklore and Folk Songs, compiled by Amy L. Cohn and illustrated by Caldecott Medal winning illustrators (Scholastic, 1993).

Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children by Joseph Bruchac and Michael J. Caduto (Fulcrum, 1997).

The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales by Virginia Hamilton, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon (Knopf, 1993).

Follow-up Family Activity:

Don’t wait for a power outage or your next camping trip to have a family storytelling session. Next Saturday night, turn off the TV and cuddle with your kids on the couch. Have everybody take a turn telling a story about themselves and their greater-than-great accomplishments. The only rules are to exaggerate as much as possible and all fibs are allowed! Then vote and decide who told the “tallest” tale.

© 2015 The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance