Thursday, July 22, 2010

Folktales - Just When We are Writing One

I've heard from two teachers just recently panning folktales. No one is interested, they said.  Then I saw the Fuse # 8 Production  blog post from reviewer and NYC librarian Elizabeth Bird,  "Where have all the folktales gone?"  She was reviewing Bobbi's Miller's tale, One Fine Trade and wrote that ever-so-few tales are being published. Oh, dear, and just when we are writing one.
Then comes Bobbi Miller's compilation of essays about folktales from  practitioners and editors.  
Listen to Emma Dryden.  
She writes that folktales, 
"...which require time to read, which require thought to process, and which require the reader to reflect and ponder in addition to laugh or cry—are considered too quiet, too slow, too ponderous for today's adults and children who are moving too quickly, whose attention spans are too short, and, really, who have not been educated or brought up to appreciate how what's come before them still matters and informs what comes next.... History and mythology are the stuff of which great folktales come—and so folktales do not quite fit in with the current societal trends. This is tragically short-sighted, and this way of operating is doing a tremendous disservice to our children and to our future as a culture."
Wow, Emma.

Bobbi writes,
"To my mind, a folktale does you little good if it doesn’t fall trippingly off the tongue." She calls it an appreciation of language itself. 

Just heard On Point, the NPR show, recently on "India's Great Texts Revisited." Conversation was on epic myths,  the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, and the link to contemporary Indian films and stories. Fascinating.
We've got work to do with this wonderful call to arms. Are there characters from folktales or myths that you still bump into today in the grocery store?  


  1. I had a long conversation with my 12-year-old son just yesterday about how much he's loving the folktales/fables unit at school.

    I agree, whole-heartedly with Emma's quote--very sad, though.

  2. I'm glad your son likes the tales. They carry wisdom and complexity. I was just reading in Bookbird about a goal of some tales is to offer ambiguity and leave the resolution to the reader. How wonderful.
    Good wishes

  3. Thank you, Emma, Lynda and Terry, for such insightful comments. I have great reverence for time-honored folk wisdom and appreciate the idea that some tales offer ambiguity and leave the resolution to the reader.

    There seems to be a disconnect regarding folk tales. The children’s departments at the many libraries I’ve visited have extensive collections of folk, fable and fairy tales — both old and new titles. There are plenty of elementary schools that incorporate folk tales into their curricula (in fact, NY State has just mandated this concept this year). The grassroots demonstrate that they still enjoy these time-honored tales, and yet, many publishers say that the big box stores won’t carry this genre, which in turn influences what editors will acquire. Perhaps the shaky ground upon which the big box stores live nowadays, combined with commercial success of modern-day tales that modernize the old may change this? Just a few, fantastic new takes on the old that have hit the scene include: Interrupting Chicken, Fairly Fairy Tales and Other Goose: Re-Nursuried, Re-Rhymed. It seems that what is deemed popular today in the eyes of some book business people is driven by what can derive new income.