Folkways in Appalachian Children’s Books

Panel at Appalachian Studies Association Conference
Building a Healthy Region: Environment, Culture, Community
March 30, 2003

This panel reflects our belief that "building a healthy region" includes providing high quality literature for children that depicts the environment, culture, and communities of southern Appalachia. As we focus this year on folkways in Appalachian children’s books, we are mindful of the pitfalls of stereotyping or over-emphasizing the folklife of the region as quaint customs of a past culture. Some of the books we discuss represent Appalachian folkways within modern and culturally diverse settings.

"Folk Medicine for the Wee Folk" by Roberta Herrin.
Anthropologists, sociologists, and even lexicographers have examined the history of folk medicine in Appalachia, the survival of folk healing traditions in the 20th century, and the use of these traditions in various narrative forms. Most of the scholarly attention, however, has been focused on adults who gather and sell herbs, adults who are the keepers of healing lore and wisdom, adults caught in the conflict between folk and modern medicine. This paper will examine the role of folk medicine in Appalachian fiction for children from the mid-20th century (Hubert Skidmore’s 1940 Hill Doctor and Jesse Stuart’s 1961 Andy Finds a Way), to the present (Virginia Hamilton’s 1983 The Magical Adventures of Pretty Pearl and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s 1998 Sang Spell), with emphasis on Vera and Bill Cleaver’s classic 1969 Where the Lilies Bloom. In fiction for children, folk medicine is depicted as critical to the economy and health of the culture, and in the more complex cultural narratives, the conflict between folk and modern medicine is used as a pivotal theme. The appearance of folk medicine as a theme in Appalachian fiction for children demonstrates the strength of this tradition and assures that healing lore and wisdom continue to be passed from generation to generation, if only in print.

Roberta T. Herrin
Professor of English and Associate Dean, School of Graduate Studies
East Tennessee State University
Box 70720
Johnson City, TN 37614-0720

Roberta T. Herrin is Professor of English and Associate Dean, School of Graduate Studies, at East Tennessee State University. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee. Roberta’s numerous publications on Appalachian children’s literature include articles on contemporary authors and attitudes toward language, reviews, and surveys. An acknowledged scholar of Appalachian children’s literature, she has been working on an annotated bibliography of Appalachian children’s literature, which will be published in the near future. (Update: In December 2003 Roberta Herrin became director of the Center for Appalachian Studies and Services at ETSU. Her bibliography was published by McFarland in 2010.)

"The Unexamined Shadow? Not in Appalachian Picture Books!" by Judy Teaford. Folklore typically identifies and symbolizes the group that practices it. It expresses the group’s values, which include keeping traditions alive, re-creating memories, keeping connected, and being creative. This paper focuses on Jungian archetypes in the text and illustrations of picture book retellings of "Wicked Jack/John and the Devil" and "Tailypo." Jungian archetypes in picture books are like dreams, containing both text and visual images, or symbols. Therefore, they can be interpreted similarly. Like dreams, which often reveal aspects of the individual, the stories found in picture books reveal cultural aspects of a group of people, a collective unconscious. In the picture books Wicked John and the Devil, Wicked Jack, Tailypo!, and The Tailypo: A Ghost Story, for example, the darkness of Appalachian culture is faced in the form of a trickster, a devil, an old woodsman, and a portrait of a woman who are laughable. Thus through story people can recognize, laugh at, and integrate the darkness in their culture. Other Appalachian picture books that could be analyzed using this Jungian approach include Junk Pile by Lady Borton and Kimberly Bulcken Root, Sally Arnold by Cheryl Ryan and Bill Farnsworth, and Barry Moser’s Polly Vaughn, a revisionist adaptation of a popular ballad.

Judy A. Teaford
English Instructor, Mountain State University
Home Address: P.O. Box 51
Shady Spring, WV 25918

Judy Teaford is an English Instructor at Mountain State University, Beckley, WV. She received her M. A. in Humanities from Marshall University Graduate College (Thesis: Contemporary Appalachian Picture Books, directed by Tina Hanlon). She has given presentations on Appalachian children’s literature at previous ASA conferences, Appalachian Teacher's Network Conferences, the Virginia Humanities Conference, Children’s Literature Association conference, and SAMLA. She is co-director of AppLit, the web site on Appalachian literature that won ASA’s e–Appalachia award in 2002.

"Folktales in Appalachian Fiction for Children and Young Adults"
by Tina L. Hanlon. As an extension of my 2000 ASA paper surveying folktales in children’s literature, this paper focuses on the ways retellings of traditional tales and folk motifs and themes are woven into longer works of fiction for young readers. May Justus, a pioneer educator and writer for children, incorporated traditional folklore into books about the real social problems of children and their Smoky Mountain families and communities. In her fiction and Cornelia Cornelissen’s Soft Rain: A Story of the Cherokee Trail of Tears, folklore provides culturally specific details and sheds light on particular episodes. In other realistic novels, folktales and legends become metaphors informing a central theme of the book. The young heroine of Laurence Yep’s The Star Fisher and Dream Soul discovers the relevance of the old star tales as she develops a better relationship with her Chinese parents and her new West Virginia community. It is more rare for Appalachian novelists to experiment with lengthy adaptations of folklore. George Ella Lyon’s new novel, Gina. Jamie. Father. Bear. blends a contemporary family story with one set in a timeless parallel world where the family’s situation is based on the folktale "Whitebear Whittington." In Virginia Hamilton’s fantasy The Magical Adventures of Pretty Pearl, characters from African mythology and folklore travel to the American South to intervene in the real troubles of former slaves.

Tina L. Hanlon, Session Chair
Associate Professor of English
P.O. Box 1000
Ferrum College Ferrum, VA 24088
Voice mail: (540) 365-4327

Tina Hanlon is Associate Professor of English at Ferrum College, Ferrum, VA. She received her Ph.D. in English from The Ohio State University. Tina teaches children’s literature and has also developed a special topics English course on Folktales and Literature. She has written a number of conference papers and published articles on Appalachian folktales in picture books, films, and dramatic adaptations by the Ferrum College Jack Tale Players. She directed the project Teaching Appalachian Literature, funded by NEH in 2000-01. She is co-director of AppLit, the web site on Appalachian literature that won ASA’s e-Appalachia award in 2002.

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Complete List of AppLit Pages on Folklore
Folklore Themes in Longer Appalachian Fiction
Complete List of AppLit Pages on Fiction for Children and Young Adults