Thisby Thestoop and the Black Mountain

It’s fair to say that I read a good number of books children’s books. Having kids of my own, I like to pilfer their shelves from time to time. In our house, we like to stock “the classics” as a sort of quality guarantee. Since children’s books became a genre there have been writers who have tried to cash in on the children’s market as a way to make a quick buck with little effort. Reading “the classics” means that you get the best books from every era without having to wade through the formulaic twaddle, most of which has mercifully been forgotten over the years.
It’s a different story with modern children’s books. Picking up a new children’s book means taking a chance on wasting your time, and the modern children’s book publishing machine loves tried and true formulas. After the success of Harry Potter we got books about schools for magical/mythological/specially talented kids who are sorted into groups based on their personalities. After The Hunger Games took off, we’ve have had m…

Jack Tales and Grandfather Tales

Among the professions that have the ability to influence children for all of life, few rise to the level of school librarian. I was fortunate to have two of the best librarians ever during my time in elementary school. The first, and most memorable for me, was Mr. Tom Trott. Every week our class would file down to the library and hear Mr. Trott read stories to us. And boy did he have stories to read! Among the books he read to us, two of the most popular were Grandfather Tales and Jack Tales. There was always a waiting list for these two books, and I don’t know that I ever got to check out either of them more than once. Oh, but the stories were wonderful. They were folktales full of magic and giants and spooky things. So recently, I thought I would snag a copy of each to read to my kids.

Here is my review: Wow! Folklorist Richard Chase traveled around Southwest Virginia and North Carolina and collected stories from real people he met in small towns. He collected several versions of each tale, and then retold them for these two books. Jack Tales are stories that all feature a boy named Jack as the protagonist. Jack kills giants, outwits wicked kings, rides lions, and even captures Death in an old sack. Grandfather Tales are all various other tales from the area with a frame story of Mr. Chase visiting a family on Old Christmas Eve, and hearing the stories along with a few old Appalachian customs. Grandfather Tales also includes the story Chunk o’ Meat which has stuck with my all these years and which I have told to my kids more than once before getting these books.

Some of the stories are recognizable variants of old fairy tales: Jack and the Beanstalk, the Valiant Tailor, and other familiar stories are seen through generations of retelling in the Appalachian mountains. Other tales are uniquely American and have a very rural Appalachian flavor. In addition to the stories, the author has meticulous notes on where and from whom each story was collected. For those who are interested in the academic study of folklore, he also lists similar stories from various other countries and catalogues every story according to its Aarne-Thompson number.

The author cautions his readers that these tales are intended to be told, not read. Keeping them in a book is a sure way to kill them. They must be told and retold. In keeping with his advice, I did the same thing with my children, reading the stories first for myself and then telling them out loud in my own style. It was pretty easy for me, as I’m from Southwest Virginia myself and didn’t have to fake the accent.

If you are a fan of fairy tales or folk tales, then get your hands on a copy of these books and experience folktales from a southern American perspective.

Jack Tales by Richard Chase 5/5 stars
Grandfather Tales by Richard Chase 5/5 stars