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American Tall Tales

Last updated Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Author: Mary Pope Osborne
Illustrator: Michael McCurdy
Date of Publication: 1991
ISBN: 0679800891
Grade Level: 3rd    (GLCs: Click here for grade level guidelines.)
Date(s) Used: Jan. 2013

Synopsis: From Publishers Weekly

American folk heroes of the 19th century spring to life in these splendidly retold sagas. Osborne's reputation as a gifted raconteur ( Favorite Greek Myths ; Beauty and the Beast ) is reaffirmed in this compendium, which retells the legends of familiar figures (Davy Crockett, Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed, Pecos Bill), as well as lesser known personalities, such as Crockett's fictional wife Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind, a composite character shaped by tales of various real-life women. Also chronicled are heroes hailing from places other than the backwoods, including Stormalong, a giant sailor who as a baby was washed onto a Cape Cod beach by a tidal wave, and Mose, a New York City fireman immortalized in an 1848 Broadway play. As tantalizing as Osborne's storytelling are McCurdy's ( The Owl-Scatterer ) elaborate, full-color wood engravings, which in their robust stylization dramatically render the grandeur of these engrossing yarns.

Note to readers:
•  There are a total of 9 American Tall Tales in this book. For the purpose of this month's reading club we will focus on 3 tales. These include the stories of Davy Crockett, Stormalong, and John Henry. Be sure to read the "Notes on the Story" which can be found of the first page of each tale.
•  Tall tales are stories written from someone's imagination. The story can be funny or silly. they are filled with exaggerations, similes, metaphors, and lots of descriptive language. They are always told as if they are true, even though the listener knows the story could never really happen.
•  Some of the characters were real heroes and heroines whose stories were hugely exaggerated, others were characters such as cowboys, railroad workers, loggers, sea captains, and firefighters. Tall tales combined true events with fantasy. Most of these tall tales were written back in the 1800's when the pioneers were trying to conquer the American wilderness. These stories made the taming of America seem possible.

Discussion topics for before reading:
•  What is a tall tale? See the above note for a detailed explanation.
•  Do you recognize any of the characters on the cover?

•  Alleghenies- a mountain range in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia that is part of the Appalachian mountain system
•  Shale- a rock that is formed by the consolidation of clay, mud, or silt
•  Regulation- a principle, rule, or law that is designed to control conduct
•  Mythical- something imaginary or fictitious that is not based in fact
•  Backwoodsman- a person with rustic behavior or speech who lives in a remote area
•  Homestead- an ancestral home
•  Satirize- to attack or ridicule with wit
•  Immortalize- to bestow unending fame upon or perpetuate
•  Transport- to carry, move, or convey from one place to another
•  Steamship- a large vessel, especially one driven by steam

Discussion topics for during/after reading:
•  How might the tall tales about Stormalong have originated?
•  How was Stormalong born or how did he come to be?
•  Mike Fink and Davy Crockett have some difficulties that they settle by fighting. How would you get Davy and Mike to settle their problems more peacefully?
•  Was John Henry real or mythical? Refer to the author's note at the beginning of the story to find out!
•  What railroad company did John Henry work for? Refer to the author's note at the beginning of the story to find out!

Craft ideas:
•  Create your own tall tale hero or heroine. Share your hero's story with the group!
•  Illustrate one of the scenes from the book.

*Note: These craft ideas are just suggestions. You can use them, but you don’t have to use them. You can expand upon them, or add your own twist. Remember, though, that the focus of your time should not be on the development and execution of a craft; the focus should be on the read-aloud and the enjoyment of the book!