Archive | May 2016

Of Voice and Memory


Folk tales—stories as old as speech. They are, along with ballads, fairy tales, and epics, part of the great oral tradition of mankind. They were spoken throughout communities reflecting local beliefs and eventually were adapted around the world. The central themes of narratives are the beauty of goodness and the ugliness of evil. Infusing magic to entertain and instilling a sense of wonder, folk tales are the original audio book. They use cleverness as a weapon to defend good while defeating evil. The great imagery and brutality of folk tales, popular during the Middle Ages, describes life in all its forms and all of us are richer for it.

The giants of folk tale are Perrault and Grimm. From the streets of villages and hamlets, the art of storytelling made its way to the French court of Louis XIV. Charles Perrault, a member of the court and a lawyer, penned the world’s most beloved folk tales, The Sleeping Beauty, Red Riding Hood, Blue Beard, Puss in Boots, Toads and Diamonds, and Cinderella, among others. These children’s stories were the first literature beyond The Horn Book. From there, we thank the Brothers Grimm, lawyers turned linguists, for collecting and publishing German folklore.

Finnish father and son Julius and Kaarle Knohn developed a scientific method of plotting the history and geography of folk tales. The Finnish movement resulted in a world organization for folklore scholars and enthusiasts. From that movement, the Motif-Index of Folk Literature was published, the first and most extensive organization of folk tales in the world.
Source: Anthology of Children’s Literature 4th Edition, 1970, Houghton Mifflin Company.

The Grimms gave us The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids. Before Mother Goat goes to the forest to find food, she warns her the Wolf and the Seven KidsKids of the wolf. The Kids tell her “Don’t worry, Mother, we can take care of ourselves.” The Wolf tries to fool the Kids, but in the end it was the Wolf who was fooled by the Mother Goat.





Charles Perrault

Charles Perrault

Toads and Diamonds is the tale of a widow and her two daughters.
The older was like her; the younger, like her deceased father. One day, while drawing water from a spring, the younger daughter met a fairy disguised as an old woman who gave her a magical gift. The mother send her older daughter to be given the same gift and the fairy gave each daughter her just due.

There is one more folk tale I’ll mention. This one is close to my heart because, like I am, it’s Irish.

The Children of LirSource:

The Children of Lir
King Lir had four beloved children. Their wicked step-mother, Aoifa, turned them into swains. Fionnuala, the girl swain proclaimed, “O Wicked Woman, a doom will come upon you heavier than the doom you have put on us today. And if you would win any pity in the hour of your calamity, tell us now how we may know when the doom will end for us.” Thus, the children of Lir told a story terrible and magical, deep and mysterious. To this day, the Irish bless swains, “My blessing with you, white swain, for the sake of Lir’s children.”

I invite you to read these three folk tales and more. Let me know what lessons you find in them so that you and your children can discover again and again its wonder.


Tales with a Purpose

“Once upon a time when everything could talk, the Wind and Sun fell into an argument as to which was the stronger…”

“A certain Wolf, being very hungry, disguised himself in a Sheep’s skin and joined a flock of sheep…”

“A mischievous Shepherd’s Boy use to amuse himself by calling, ‘Wolf, Wolf’….”

“A Hare was once boasting about how fast he could run when a Tortoise, overhearing him, said, ‘I’ll run you a race.” “Done,” said the Hare…”
Source: Anthology of Children’s Literature 4th Edition, 1970, Houghton Mifflin Company.

Well, hello again. I just quoted some very famous fables for that is what tales with a purpose are. Two great volumes from the ancient world are the Greek Aesop’s Fables, written three centuries after they were told in 300 B.C. and the Indian Panchatantra or Five Books, written in the beginning of the time of Christ. Eastern fables are known as the Jataka tales.
Aesop's Fables
Aesop, a black slave to a Greek master, gave us a clever observation on life. How I would have loved to have listened to this man tell his very short stories with a moral.
May I suggest three fables for you to read? The first is the mice plan to hide from a cat. They are bothered whenever the cat approaches. A young mouse suggests they put a bell around the neck to hear him coming. All the mice agreed, yet an old mouse points out a problem in Belling the Cat.

The storyteller Apion, born in ancient Rome, gives us the story Androcles and the Lion. Androcles, a runaway slave, hides in the forest for safety. He notices a lion in pain. The lion puts out a torn and bloody paw. Androcles removed a thorn, much to the lion’s relief. Discover why they felt mutual kindness and gratitude by reading this fable.

Androcles-and-the-Lion                                                           Source:

And some fables are closer to our time. In 1852, John G. Saxe wrote The Blind Men and the Elephant about how each blind man “sees” something different about this gigantic creature. Check out this fascinating story that shows both truth and falsehood in opinion.

All of us, both children and adults, need to hear stories with a purpose, lessons of life in all its forms to teach.

A Film Tribute to Books

The_Fantastic_Flying_Books_of_Mr._Morris_Lessmore_posterSource: Wikipedia

Last week, I commented on the beautiful picture book The Little House. And then I had a happy thought because I thought about the 2012 Academy award-winning short film about books, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.

This short movie is both picture book and tribute to original film—silent, accompanied only by music; so rich with metaphor that it is both brief and deep. Right away, you recognize The Wizard of Oz. The silence is a metaphor for reading.

I want to keep my comments light because I want you to see the film. I will write that you will see life’s loss in nature and color, in solitude and with community, balanced with life’s gain by the young girl held aloft by flying books, and the transformation of environment in living color.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore uses Shakespeare’s method of story within story as it demonstrates the life of a man and books. The final powerful metaphor we see is when Morris’ own life story supersedes him, passing on to a young girl to read.

Magically, that’s the idea behind the film—stories endure. I love how this film became a book. I hope if you’ve seen the film, these comments will prompt you to see it again and if you aren’t familiar, please watch and let me know your thoughts.

Happy seeing and happy reading!


A Story in View

The Little House


Hello, again!

Last week, we heard the music of rhyme. Now, that we are a little older, we will feast our eyes on a picture book, and it’s one of my favorites. The Little House is the true story of Virginia Lee Burton’s own little house and how her family moved it from a street to a field of daises and apple trees growing around.

Virginia was born into an artistic (mother) and academic (father) family. After studying art, she produced the entire design and text of her stories, from illustration to type facing to lay out. She first drew, then wrote the story, allowing both pictures and text to influence each other. Her books were known for the importance of teamwork, environmental awareness, perseverance, and adapting to change while recognizing the importance of the past.
Source: Wikipedia

The concept of being surrounded by the environment is central in her book design and key to the beauty of her illustration. The art is so captivating because it has a recurring theme—roundness. With door mats that smile and eye curtains, we see the little house as round.

Roundness is a metaphor in the perpetual ownership through the builder’s generations, through time from day to night, and in the changing of the seasons, each scene changing yet remaining in the same space, and of the changing environment, until finally, the little house is back where she started—on a hill in the middle of a field of daisies with apple trees growing around. Her shutters were fixed and she was painted a bright pink color again. She was lived in and taken care of.

No wonder that The Little House is considered “The Top 100 Best Books for Children” by the National Educational Association and in the “Top 100 Picture Books” of School Library Journal
Source: Wikipedia

I read this story to my children and gave it to my son when my grandson was born.
The Little House End


Picture books are truly a story with a view. A view that we love to see again because each time we do we see a detail that we may have missed before. That is the reason why picture books endure, just as The Little House does.