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Chapter 6 Children's Literature Outine

In: English and Literature

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A Perspective on Traditional Literature • Traditional literature can provide a window on cultural beliefs and on the spiritual and psychological qualities that are part of our human nature.
The Origin of Folk Literature • Children sometimes identify these stories as “make-believe,” as contrasted with “true” or “stories that could really happen.” • The origin of the myths has fascinated and puzzled folklorists, anthropologists, and psychologists. • Folktales are also of special interest to scholars of narrative theory because of the way the tales are honed by many generations of telling; only the most important elements of the story survive.
The Value of Folk Literature for Children • When Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published the first volume of their Household Stories in 1812, they did not intend it for children. • Originally folklore was the literature of the people; stories were told to young and old alike. • Traditional literature is a rightful part of a child’s literature heritage and lays the groundwork for understanding all literature.
• Folktales have been defined as “all forms of narrative, written or oral, which have come to be handed down through the years.” • Questions often arise about which of the available print versions of a tale is the “correct” or authentic text.
Types of Folktales • There will be features of these stories that are unique to each culture, but children will also find particular aspects of plot or characterization that occur across cultures. • Probably the favorite folktales of young children are beast tales in which animal’s act and talk like human beings. • Surprisingly, there are a few realistic tales included in folklore. The story in Marcia Brown’s Dick Whittington and His Cat could have happened; in fact, there is evidence that a Richard Whittington did indeed live and was mayor of London.
Characteristics of Folktales • An authentic tale from Africa will include references to the flora and fauna of Africa and to be tribe’s people’s food, huts, customs, foibles, and beliefs. • Repetition is a basic element in many folktale plots and frequently three is the magic number. • The introduction to the folktale usually presents the conflict, characters, and setting in a few sentences. • Qualities of character or special strengths or weaknesses of the characters are revealed quickly because this factor will be the cause of conflict or lead to resolution of the plot. • The introductions and language of the folktale should maintain the “flavor” of the country but still be understood by its present audience. • Many of the stories once provided an outlet for feelings against the kings and nobles who oppressed the poor. • Feminists have expressed concern that folktale themes most often favor courageous, independent boy adventures and leave girl characters languishing at home. • Motif has been defined as the smallest part of the tale that can exist independently. • Magical powers, transformations, the use of magical objects, wishes, and trickery are just a few of the motifs that run through the folklore of all countries, as we have seen. • In contrast to folktale versions, folktale variants do not derive from the same original source but share many characteristics, similarities, or motifs in common.
Folktales of the World • A study of the folktales of West Africa, Russia, Japan, or North America can provide insights into the beliefs of these peoples, their values, their jokes, their lifestyles, their histories. • The first folktales that most children in the United States hear are the English ones. This is because Joseph Jacobs, the folklorist who collected many of the English tales, deliberately adapted them for young children, writing them, he said, “as a good old nurse will speak when she tells Fairy Tales.” • German folklore is enlivened by elves, dwarfs, and devils, rather than the fairies of other cultures. • Most of the Scandinavian folktales are from the single Norwegian collection titles East o’the Sun and West o’the Moon. • Scandinavian tales often seem to reflect the harsh elements of the northern climate. Animal helpmates assist heroes in overcoming giants or wicked trolls. • French folktales were the earliest to be recorded, and they are also the most sophisticated and adult. • The best-known French wonder tale, other than those by Perrault, is Beauty and the Beast, adapted by Marianna Mayer from a long story written in 1757 by Madame de Beaumont. • Russian folktales are often longer and more complicated than those of other countries and frequently involve several sets of tasks. • Folktales from the Middle Eastern countries would take several books, for these areas are the birthplace of many of our Western stories. • There are increasing numbers of outstanding, well-illustrated single-tale editions of folktales from Japan, China, Korea, India, and Southeast Asian Countries. • Katherine Paterson’s The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks presents a Japanese tale of a greedy lord who captures a magnificently plumed drake so as to have a beautiful caged bird. • Children today are the fortunate recipients of a rich bounty of African folktales collected by folklorists such as Harold Courlander. • The very act of storytelling was considered to be a ceremonial importance in various tribal groups. Storytelling took place at night and, in certain tribes such as the Iroquois, it was permitted only in the winter. • Almost all Native American folklore traditions contain a trickster figure who mediates between sky world and earth. • Authors continue to Americanize European folktales. • Each year a little more of the rich story heritage of the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central and South America becomes available. These stories have their roots in the many cultures that have inhabited this vast region. • Mexico has contributed many delightful stories to the corpus of folktales for children. • Caroline Pitcher’s Mariana and the Merchild: A folktale from Chile tells of a lonely old woman who longs for children to play with.
• Fables are usually associated with Aesop, a Greek slave who is supposed to have been born in Asia Minor about 600B.C. • We know that some of the fables appeared in Greek literature two centuries before Aesop’s birth and in India and Egypt before that.
Characteristics of Fables • Fables are brief, didactic tales in which animals, or occasionally the elements, speak as human beings. • Because of their brevity, fables appear to be simple.
• Younger children might appreciate some fables, but they are not usually able to extract a moral spontaneously until about second or third grade. • Ullustrator Aki Sogabe has woven several of Aesop’s fox fables into a single tale in Aesop’s Fox. • Older children might enjoy comparing treatments of several of these fables. In this way they would become familiar with the spare language, the conventional characters, and the explicit or implied morals of fables.
• Mythology evolved as primitive peoples searched their imaginations and related events to forces, as they sought explanations of the earth, sky and human behavior. • Myths deal with human relationships with the gods, with relationships of the gods among themselves, with the way people accept or fulfill their destiny, and with people’s struggles with good and evil forces both within themselves and outside themselves.
Types of Myths • Every culture has a story about how the world began, how people were made, how the sun and the moon got into the sky. • The nature of myths include stories that explain seasonal changes, animal characteristics, earth formations, constellations, and the movements of the sun and earth. • The hero myths, found in many cultures, do not attempt to explain anything at all.
Greek Mythology • The myths with which we are most familiar are those of the ancient Greeks collected by the poet Hesiod sometime during the eighth century B.C. • Greek mythology includes the creation story that Earth and Sky were the first gods. Their children were the giant Cyclopes and the Titans, one of whom was Cronus, who drove his father away with a scythe (the source of the traditional picture of Father Time). • Older children who have been introduced to Greek mythology through the simpler stories will be ready for the longer hero tales of Perseus, the gorgon-slayer, Theseus, killer of the minotaur; Heracles and his many labors; Jason and his search for the golden fleece; and the wanderings of Odysseus.
Norse Mythology • The land of the Norse was a cold, cruel land of frost, snow, and ice. Life was a continual struggle for survival against these elements.

Epic and Legendary Heroes • The epic hero is a cultural or national hero embodying all the ideal characteristics of greatness in his time. The Epic of Gilgamesh • The Epic of Gilgamesh, recorded more than four thousand years ago in Mesopotamia, is one of the oldest hero stories. • Gilgamesh’s experience with human kindness is transforming, and the two become like brothers.
The Iliad and the Odyssey • According to tradition, a blind minstrel named Homer composed the epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey about 850 B.C.; but scholars generally believe that many persons sang parts of the stories and that they were woven into one long narrative before they were written. • Odysseus has one terrifying experience after another, which he manages to survive by his cunning.
The Ramayana • The Ramayana is the great epic tale of India that tells how the noble Rama, his devoted brother, and his beautiful, virtuous wife, Sita, manage to defeat the evil demon Ravana. • Composed in India by the sage Vlamiki during the fourth century B.C., the Ramayana represented some 24,000 couplets that were memorized and repeated. • Surely Western children should know something of this epic hero who is so important to a large part of the world.
Heroes of the Middle Ages • The oldest hero tale with European roots is the epic saga “Beowulf,” recorded in Old English sometime after the tenth century. • Some historians believe there was a King Arthur who became famous around the sixth century. • Other illustrated books about Arthur and Merlin also introduce children to these stories. • Children who wish to learn more about the legendary King Arthur would appreciate Kevin Crossley-Holland’s The World of King Arthur and His Court. • All of these books contribute to a child’s knowledge of the mystique that surrounds the story of King Arthur.
The Bible as Literature • All children deserve to know the spiritual and religious beliefs that have shaped the world in which they live. • The literacy scholar Northrop Frye believes it is essential to teach the Bible, for it presents humans in all their history.
Collections of Bible Stories • Walter de la Mare provides an excellent background for understanding the problems of translation. • In Does God Have a Big Toe? Marc Gellman, a rabbi, follows a long-held Jewish tradition of telling midrashim, stories about stories in the Bible.
Single Bible Stories • Many individual picture books based on individual storied from the Bible are especially useful to introduce children to this literature. • Leo Dillon and Dian Dillon have illustrated a full-length picture book around the well-known Bible verses from Ecclesiastes in To Everything There Is a Season. • Many legends are associated with the Christmas story as well.

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