Mountain Humor in Folktales and Other Media
Intro Lesson 1 Lesson 2 Lesson 4 Activities
Whats in a Picture Book?
- To equip students with skills for analysis of picture books
- To encourage sharing of opinions in pairs or groups
- To enable students to synthesize treatments of humor, folktale characteristics, and Appalachian values in picture books
- To focus on the writing process as students develop their own critical analysis of an Appalachian folktale picture book
Notes to the Teacher:
This lesson will probably take a couple of days to complete.
Pages in AppLit that are relevant to this lesson (see also Complete List of AppLit pages on Picture Books):
- Article: Wonder Tales in Appalachia by Grace Toney Edwards
- Article: Oral Traditions and Modern Adaptations: Survey of Appalachian Folktales in Children's Literature by Tina L. Hanlon
- Bibliographies: Lesson Plans and Resources for Teaching Contemporary American Picture Books to Older Students by Tina L. Hanlon
- Bibliographies: Annotated Index of Appalachian Folktales by Tina L. Hanlon
- Bibliographies: Background Resources on Appalachian Folktales and Storytelling by Tina L. Hanlon
- Bibliographies: Appalachian Folktales in Children's Literature and Collections by Tina L. Hanlon and others
- Study Guides: Activities for Teaching Appalachian Folktales and Dramatizations by the Jack Tale Players by Tina L. Hanlon and R. Rex Stephenson
- Study Guides: Notes on Language Use in Alan Schroeder's Smoky Mountain Rose: An Appalachian Cinderella by Stephanie Humphries
- Study Guides: Exercise on Appalachian Language in Jack and the Three Sillies by Ann Fulcher and Tina L. Hanlon
- Study Guides: In Support of Integrating Minority Dialect Literature Into the Classroom by Stephanie Humphries
- Study Guides: Resources on Appalachian Dialects background and teaching guides by Stephanie Humphries
- Study Guides: Some Features of Appalachian Dialects by Stephanie Humphries
The following book and URL are excellent general resources for examining picture books:
Nodelman, Perry. Words About Pictures: The Narrative Art of Childrens Picture Books. Athens: Georgia UP, 1988.
Kay E. Vandergrift Web Pages
Teachers may use any Appalachian folktale picture book for this lesson. A short bibliography is provided for your convenience. (Note: I, personally, do not believe that all of the books contained in this list present positive representations of Appalachia or Appalachians. However, I believe that it is often beneficial to have both good and bad examples of Appalachian literature so that students may form their own opinions while developing objective critical and analytical skills. Others are listed in AppLit's bibliography of Appalachian Folktales in Picture Books.)
Birdseye, Tom. Soap! Soap! Dont Forget the Soap! Illus. Andrew Glass. New York: Holiday House, 1993.
Compton, Joanne. Ashpet: An Appalachian Tale. Illus. Ken Compton. New York: Holiday House, 1995.
Davis, Donald. Jack and the Animals: An Appalachian Folktale. Illus. Kitty Harvill. Little Rock. Arkansas: August House Little Folk, 1995.
Haley, Gail E. Jack and the Bean Tree. Illus. Gail E. Haley. New York: Crown, 1986.
Haley, Gail E. Jack and the Fire Dragon. Illus. Gail E. Haley. New York, Crown, 1988.
Harshman, Marc, and Bonnie Collins. Rocks in My Pockets. Illus. Wendy Popp. New York: Cobblehill, 1991.
Hooks, William H. The Three Little Pigs and the Fox. Illus. S. D. Schindler. New York: Macmillan, 1989.
Hooks, William H. Snowbear Whittington: An Appalachian Beauty and the Beast. Illus. Victoria Lisi. New York: Macmillan, 1994.
Johnson, Paul Brett. Fearless Jack. New York: Margaret K. McElderry, 2001. N. pag.
Schroeder, Alan. Smoky Mountain Rose: An Appalachian Cinderella. Illus. Brad Sneed. New York: Dial Books, 1997.
Sloat, Teri. Sody Sallyratus. Illus. Teri Sloat. New York: Dutton Childrens Books, 1997.
Wooldridge, Connie Nordhielm. Wicked Jack. Illus. Will Hillenbrand. New York: Holiday House, 1995.
Wright, Jill. The Old Woman and the Willy Nilly Man. Illus. Glen Rounds. New York: Putnam, 1987.
1. Prepare and Distribute Handout 1 "Exploring the Connection Between Text and Illustrations" using the following information. Have students read the handout as homework in preparation for the following activity. (You may want to select from the following study questions that are most relevant to the books your class is examining.)
EXPLORING THE CONNECTION BETWEEN TEXT AND ILLUSTRATIONS
(From: Nodelman, Perry. Words About Pictures: The Narrative Art of Childrens Picture Books. Athens: Georgia UP, 1988, and Tina Hanlons Handouts for Childrens Literature classes.)
Assumptions we carry with us as we look at books:
- Is it hardback with textured, one-color covers (more forbidding and respectable), hardback with luridly colored plastic coatings (conventionally popular material), or softback (disposable and unthreatening)?
- Is it large (rambunctious, energetic) or small (fragile, delicate)?
- Is the paper stock glossy (distancing, making it difficult to focus on specific objects; implying a sense of serenity, stillness) or roughly textured (supporting atmosphere of involvement, intimacy)?
- Is the type large or small? It often conveys information about the intended audience (large print for children, small for adults).
- Of what significance is the size or shape of picture books? Beatrix Potter's original small books and Maurice Sendak's Nutshell Library have been very popular with young children for decades. Large formats are also popular in picture books (e.g., Dr. Seuss, Babar books). Do horizontal or vertical formats work better for certain types of texts? Should editions of picture books be published and sold that vary from the original size and shape? Do you know of other books for which size, shape, structure, or format are especially important?
- What difference does it make for an artist to illustrate a text written by someone else, and his or her own text? (Sendak and many others have done both.)
- What do you see as the essential ingredients of a "true picture book"? How does the function of the illustrations, and their relationship to the text, differ in illustrated books (longer books with illustrations of selected scenes) as compared to picture books? Are retellings of folktales ever found in "true picture books"? What do you think of Sendak's 1970 comment that it is "offensive" and "insane" to publish illustrated versions of adult novels?
- Does it matter whether the author or illustrator of a tale from a particular cultural tradition is a native of that culture? Pay attention to whether the books give background on the author or illustrator and their research, on the origins of the stories, or on the art work.
Questions for folktale analysis:
- The legends and folktales retold in many picture books are derived from ancient oral traditions; in some cases, such as Native American tales, they were told in languages that had no written forms. In what ways do they seem different from literary stories that are composed in written form by individual authors?
- Do the folktales contain the types of well-developed individual characters we find in other story traditions? How do the characters function in these tales?
- Myths and folktales are not realistic stories about nature or about life in a particular culture. But they do reflect realities of life that were important to the people who told the tales. One modern view of myth is that it means true story, and in addition, a story that is a most precious possession because it is sacred, exemplary, significant. What are some of the concerns or realities of life and belief that we learn about from reading tales originating in different cultural traditions? In what sense are the tales exemplary (representative), significant, or true?
- Modern analysis of folktales involves tracing common motifs or themes found in tales from around the world. Do any of these folktales contain motifs or themes that you see in other folktales, legends, fairy tales, myths or stories that you are familiar with? Notice how often people, events, and objects occur in threes in folktales from around the world. Some other examples of very common folk motifs are sibling rivalry, parent-child conflict, wicked stepmothers, a quest or journey, tests of the heros abilities or character traits, help from magical characters and objects, trickster characters who use their wits to overcome obstacles, old or poor characters who need help and often offer a reward in return, transformation of people into animals or objects, rewards for deserving characters (often involving money and/or marriage).
- Often in myths and folktales magic and supernatural elements and creatures reflect basic human fears and desires. How do magic and the supernatural function in the tales you have read?
- Do the books you have read contain culturally specific content? That is, do they contain material that is specific to a particular cultural tradition? How much significance is there in the cultural or ethnic background of the characters or setting?
In-depth questions for analysis:
- How do words and pictures interact in picture books? Look for examples in which elements of character, plot, setting, or point of view that are not revealed in words are portrayed through pictures. What details or scenes from the text has the illustrator chosen not to depict? What is the difference between perceiving various details through words and through pictures? How is the flow of the story (or progression of concepts or impressions if it is not a narrative) affected by the placement of pictures? In picture books with a substantial story line, are the pictures or the words the first to indicate what is happening in the plot, or do they work together on the same two-page spread at about the same pace?
- How do wordless books convey character, plot, setting, point of view, tone, theme or plot? Are wordless picture books just for very young children? Why has the author chosen to put words on some pages and not others in picture books like David Wiesner's Tuesday (Caldecott winner, 1992) or The Knight and the Dragon by Tomi de Paola?
- How is action conveyed in picture books? Do different individuals, including children of different ages, read books and the actions they depict differently from the usual left to right and top to bottom? Perry Nodelman (in Words About Pictures) observes that action usually progresses from left to right, and pictures in which characters face left, or the picture is oriented toward the left, often indicate some interruption or obstacle in the action.
- Does amount of white space, use of borders (doorways, windows, arches of trees, white space) or no borders, placement of text (in boxes, superimposed on pictures, placed in different parts of pages), variations in size of pictures or words, or use of pictures overflowing outlined borders contribute to the meaning of the book? Do frames make it seem tidier, less energetic, invite the reader into another world? (Notice how Maurice Sendak manipulates these elements.)
- How is perspective conveyed or varied in pictures as well as text? Do we get a child's-eye view, or animal's-eye view in some pictures? If the illustrator shows certain characters looking straight out at us from the page, what is the significance of their gazing at us?
- Some contemporary picture books incorporate postmodern techniques like those found in other postmodern art and literature, including various experimental literary and artistic techniques such as multiple and shifting points of view, exploration of the unconscious mind and different ways of viewing reality, parody and blending of previous literary or artistic styles and stories, blending of influences from different media (such as film, comic books, painting, folk literature, etc.), drawing attention to the artificiality of fiction and art, questioning or satirizing or violating our usual expectations about the form and nature of books, fiction, art, etc. Do you see any of these techniques in the picture books you have read?
- What significance can be attached to the choice of cover picture? Are there pictures on the end pages, title page, dedication page? Do these pictures contribute to the essential nature of the story? Do they convey tone or mood? Do they present a color, shape, etc. that will be repeated throughout the story?
- Is the use of color symbolic (eliciting specific emotions from the reader) or non-symbolic (characters talk of red and the foliage contains red)? Is there a predominate use of color? Is there an overall darkness or lightness to the pictures? Is there an absence of color, the use of black and white with lines creating texture?
- Do the media chosen by the artist convey or impose certain moods upon the pictures? For example: crayon, supplemented with pen and ink, is pleasantly childlike; collage inhibits creation of depth; watercolor, in its translucency, creates the impression of light more readily than tempera. However, even though the characteristics of media influence the way they are used, they do not limit the artists to particular effects.
- What object offers the most visual weight? (The more we notice them, the more weight they have.) People tend to focus on people; however, size, particular objects, symbols, etc. can alter visual weight. Those familiar with Christian imagery will understand a shadow of a cross differently than those not familiar with Christian imagery. Are various symbols from various sources combined? Is the reader's reaction subconscious? (We are conditioned to associating physical ugliness with spiritual evil—we may ignore the plot of "Snow White," which indicates that the evil queen is the fairest in the land.) Are animal stories symbolic of human characteristics such as the fox/craftiness, lion/arrogance, peacock/pride, pig/gluttony, mice/timidity, rat/nastiness, or do they purposefully distort these classifications?
- Is there irony existent between the text and the pictures (words are different from the pictures)? For example, is there a fox following a hen that is never mentioned in the text? Does the tone of the words match the situation the picture shows us? For example, we see a boy chasing a dog with a fork but all the text says is that he was causing mischief.
(From Kay E. Vandergrift Web Page):
"Illustrations perform various functions with reference to the text in which they are embedded. At the simplest level they decorate the text and dramatize the action. . . . Illustrations can also interpret the text by portraying characters as dismayed or joyful, weeping or brave. . . . Illustrations may even reformulate the text by supplying information different or absent from the text. For the reader who glances at the illustration and even more for the listener whose eyes linger on pictures while someone else reads, the power of pictures to recast the text into memorable images is formidable."
Questions to consider when examining a picture book:
- How many of the key incidents from the text are pictures? Which ones? How does it affect the book?
- How do different sequences of pictures create different rhythms in the telling of the tale? What is the effect?
- Does the choice of incidents presented in visual images influence interpretation? How?
- Are omissions of particular incidents significant? How?
- How are specific compositional elements (character, mood, setting, etc.) enhanced or changed by their visual images? In other words, is the specific content of the story altered in any way by the illustrations–by the colors used by the type of illustration, etc.?
- How does the illustrator manage details from the text? Do they add to or detract from the book?
- How do illustrators use additional background details? Do they add to or detract from the book?
- How does the placement of pictures on the page and from page to page contribute to the spirit and movement of the story?
- Why might a particular image have been chosen? What does it convey to readers? If presented prior to the telling of the tale, can the illustration influence reader's interpretation?
2. Choose an Appalachian folktale book to use as a model for discussing Handout 1. Read aloud and show the pictures to the class. Allow for open discussion that relates to Handout 1. Be sure that students understand that the text and illustrations should work together, adding to each other. Encourage students to comment on Folktale Characteristics, Appalachian Values, and Appalachian Humor. Because many students may be unfamiliar with picture books in general, and because Appalachian students may be particularly sensitive to comical texts or illustrations, teachers need to help students see that not all comic illustrations are stereotypes (a log house is not; a shack with trash around it, pigs and chickens running in and out of the house, moonshine jugs, etc. is) and that use of regional dialect is not necessarily stereotyping (students need to learn to be proud of their dialect; however, if eye-dialect is used, it may indicate little more than an attempt to show ignorance). (Refer to Lesson 2, Handout 3: Modified).
3. Bring in as many Appalachian folktale picture books as you can locate. (Check your school and public libraries.) This will allow in-class time for students to work.
4. Pair students and provide one book for each pair. (If you do not have enough books to pair students, have them work in small groups.) Pairing students will allow them to discuss and learn from each other. Advise students to use notes and handouts from Lesson 2, along with Lesson 3, Handout 1 to analyze their book.
5. Prepare and Distribute Handout 2 "Appalachian Picture Book" using the following information. Students will be writing individual essays. Advise students to follow the writing process. Allow for in-class time for revision and editing workshops.
APPALACHIAN PICTURE BOOK
Directions: Use notes and handouts from Lesson 2, Handout 3: Modified, along with Handout 1 from Lesson 3.
1. Working in pairs, or small groups, analyze an Appalachian folktale picture book, writing down notes as you read and discuss. Be sure that you analyze both the text and the illustrations of the book.
2. Write an essay exploring one of the suggested questions, or choose another topic of interest to you.
3. Final paper should be typed or word-processed. Include internal citations and Works Cited page.
Write an essay that includes the following:
- The title (underlined), author, and illustrator
- A brief summary of the book
- The answer to one of the following questions:
Does this book reveal something about Appalachian values?
Does this book reveal something about Appalachian humor?
Does this book accurately represent Appalachia, its culture, and its people?
- Support your answer by incorporating information obtained from your analysis of the book. Use specific details and information from the text and illustrations of the book to support your thesis.
Suggestions for structuring your paper:
- Start with your introduction/thesis paragraph. Begin with an interesting opening sentence that attracts the reader's attention.
- Be sure to include the title of the book (underlined), the author, and the illustrator somewhere in the first paragraph, possibly integrated in the first sentence.
- Then, transition smoothly into a brief summary of the book (3-4 sentences). Again, transition into your thesis statement, which will be the last sentence. "For Appalachians, the land is . . . ." OR "Rylant's book presents one of the most positive qualities of Appalachians, that of . . . . " OR "Mama is a Miner is an accurate representation of women working in the coal mines, especially . . . ." OR "There are times when the text and illustrations of a book contradict each other, presenting both a positive and a negative picture of the region . . . ."
Body Paragraphs (at least three):
- Each paragraph should support your thesis.
- Each paragraph should begin with a topic sentence (controlling idea) which limits the content of the paragraph. (Choose three points of analysis from Lesson 2, Handout 3: Modified. Be sure to incorporate Lesson 3, Handout 1 into your analysis.)
- Primary support sentences answer the questions "how?" and "why?" for each of the topic sentences (they elaborate upon the basic idea put forth in the topic sentence). Secondary sentences give details—examples to explain or clarify the primary sentence.
- The first sentence begins with the specific point of the thesis statement (sums up everything said in the paper in a precise way).
- The second and following sentences should effectively make general statements about the subject.
- OR You can summarize the main points; give your personal opinion, why you enjoyed or did not enjoy the book; explain whether or not you would recommend it, why or why not, to whom; and offer any suggestions you feel might be relevant to others.
Mountain Humor in Folktales and Other Media: Intro
Complete list of AppLit pages on Folklore
This Page Created: 11/08/2001
Last Update: 7/13/05