Inquiry into Cultural Authenticity in Traditional Literature: When Apples Grew Noses

By Judi Moreillon, Texas Woman’s University

Each year the United States Board on Books for Young People (USBBY) selects and promotes a list of Outstanding International Books (OIB) for children and young adults. On the USBBY Web site, the annual list divided by instructional levels (K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12), is available as a downloadable bookmark. Educators can also find a Google map showing the setting of each book or the place of its publication.

As a storyteller and teacher of storytelling, I am always on the lookout for stories in the public domain that are suitable for oral telling in schools and libraries. When the annual OIB is announced, I especially notice the traditional literature titles that appear on the list. I am pleased to read and recommend the folktales, fables, legends, and myths that have been deemed worthy of USBBY recognition. On the WOW Currents this month, graduate students in LS5633: The Art of Storytelling and I will discuss five traditional literature books that have appeared on OIB lists in the past few years. We have read and shared our personal responses and connections to these titles in literature circles within our online course management tool. While we will post our responses on the blog, we will also share our process as storytellers who seek to determine the cultural authenticity of these stories. We invite you to join in the conversation.

Folktales, which are shelved in the Dewey decimal library in 398.2, is the genre I recommend for school- and community-based tellers who want to share tales that story listeners can read in published texts and perhaps learn to retell themselves. While published retellings from books cannot be told verbatim, no one owns the copyright to the stories themselves, and tellers are free to adapt and retell their own versions. One challenge for tellers is to ensure that the variants they are using as springboards for their own retellings are culturally authentic and accurate. We use the term “culturally authentic” to mean the story elements ring true with the language(s), values, norms, traditions, religion(s), gender roles, and the like of a particular culture. For example, using the word “majestic” to describe a mountain in a story about a culture without a tradition of royalty would be inauthentic. Accuracy refers to whether or not the details are correct. Using a family name that would not exist in a particular culture could be an example of an inaccuracy. (See Details Matter—especially if it’s my culture!)

Noticing the cultural background of the author or illustrator can be important. Many believe that “cultural insiders” who grew up within a culture are more likely to portray their heritage cultures with authenticity and accuracy. To write or tell stories from a “cultural outsider’s perspective” requires more than careful research. It requires outsiders to know how their own lives connect with the insider’s culture; that they enter into the experiences and language of a culture by having “sat down at the table” with cultural insiders (Woodson 45). Reading the author’s or illustrator’s note or source notes can provide additional information about the research process and the support the author or illustrator may have received from within a cultural community.

Even with some assurances by virtue of choosing a carefully vetted book from the OIB list, tellers will still want to do their homework. We often find that published book reviews do not address authenticity and accuracy. (The book reviews on WOW Review are an exception.) This requires tellers, especially those who are telling stories from outside their own cultural backgrounds, to conduct research, consult with one or more cultural insiders, and seek additional feedback from their audiences. This process can be lengthy especially if the story deviates from researchable aspects of the culture (e.g. children that disobey their parents in cultures in which that act goes against cultural norms). For the next five weeks, we will wrestle these two central concepts for storytellers, authenticity and accuracy, and share our personal responses to five OIB list titles. We will begin with three folktale collections, then a retelling of well-known Aesop’s fables, and finally a myth in graphic novel format.

When Apples Grew Noses and White Horses Flew: Tales of Ti-Jean (Andrews and Petriĉić) is a collection of Canadian folktales that appeared on the 2012 OIB list. When I read this book, I had a surprising realization that the only other Canadian traditional literature I had ever read was from indigenous cultures. While Canada is one of two nearest geographic neighbors to the U.S., their folktale tradition was completely unknown to me. This particular collection is from the French-Canadian oral narrative tradition.

British-born author Jan Andrews, who is the founding president of Storytellers of Canada, offers readers a brief note about Ti-Jean, which means “Little John” in French (short for “petit” Jean). She notes, “He is wise, he’s foolish. The only thing he isn’t ever is rich” (11). Says Andrews, Ti-Jean stories have a long oral history and in her author’s note, gives readers permission to retell or to make up Ti-Jean stories. Some of the tales include little songs or refrains, some in French, which offer tellers a handy way to invite audience participation. Illustrator Dušan Petriĉić depicts the antics of Ti-Jean with black pencil and Photoshop software. His work adds humor to the character’s pratfalls and missteps.

According to The Canadian Encyclopedia, French Canadian folklore “enjoyed a ‘golden age’ of oral literature lasting into the 20th century. This was largely a result of French colonial policy, which did not allow the establishment of a press in New France, and later of the policies of English authorities, who consistently used English to introduce that language and Protestantism.” This historical perspective reminds me that some stories remain in the oral folk tradition for political reasons; they were not allowed to be published. This also makes a connection for me with the first story in the collection, “Ti-Jean and the Princess of Tomboso,” in which our folk hero gets over on the princess. Besting royalty could have been a common desire of the “folk” at the time these stories were first being told and retold in French-speaking Canada.

The author writes this in the source notes for this book, “The stories have been with us a long time now. All have come to us from Europe, but it seems they might no longer need the kings and queens that are so much a part of European history. The stories might need the history that is our own” (69). With his innocence and blind-luck, does Ti-Jean give us a peak into the human psyche? Does he show us anything about being French Canadian? What are your connections? How do you know if these tales are culturally authentic?

Next Week: The Great Snake: Stories from the Amazon by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Fernando Vilela

Works Cited

Andrews, Jan. When Apples Grew Noses and White Horses Flew: Tales of Ti-Jean. Boston: Groundwood Books, 2011. Print.

“Folklore.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Web. 15 Mar. 2013. <http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/folklore>.

Short, Kathy G. “Details Matter—especially if it’s my culture!” WOW Currents Blog. 29 Jun. 2009. Web. 15 Mar. 2013. http://tinyurl.com/detailsmatter

Woodson, Jacqueline. “Who Can Tell My Story?” Stories Matter: The Complexity of Cultural Authenticity in Children’s Literature. Eds. Dana L. Fox and Kathy G. Short. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers, 2003. 41-45. Print.

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13 thoughts on “Inquiry into Cultural Authenticity in Traditional Literature: When Apples Grew Noses

  1. Audrey Cornelius says:

    This book brings up some interesting issues of cultural authenticity. As Jan Andrews notes, the Ti-Jean stories originally came from France and made their way to Canada, a country rich in history from many different peoples, both European and native in origin. Because of the history of these folktales it causes me to think about what it means to have cultural authenticity in folktales. Are the Ti-Jean stories only culturally accurate if they adhere to the original French tellings? Or are they just as true to their cultural heritage through the Canadian retellings? In the forward, “A Word About Ti-Jean,” Jan Andrews talks about this dilemma briefly. She explains that the power of the Ti-Jean folktales lies in their ability to shift and shape to the needs of the audience, thus each story becoming new with each telling. As also noted in the above blog post, Andrews urges readers to make Ti-Jean their own, make their own Ti-Jean stories, and to, “be careful to share” them with others (11). I would surmise that for the author the cultural authenticity of the tales is linked to their purpose, to share a story that teaches us something about ourselves through a character we can all relate with. Perhaps that is the genius of folktales in the New World, they are open for everyone to adopt.

    Some specific clues in the text helped me to feel more comfortable with the cultural authenticity of Andrew’s text. When looking at how the Ti-Jean stories have changed over time to take their place firmly in Canadian culture I look at the types of noble characters Ti-Jean encounters in the three tales shared by Andrews. For example, from the old French European authority construct, a king and princess are featured in the first story, “Ti-Jean and the Princess of Tomboso.” However, the third story, “How Ti-Jean Became a Fiddler,” references the, “les seigneurs,” wealthy French colonists who came to Canada (Andrews 53). These people are a uniquely Canadian part of history and link the story directly to Canada’s history and culture.

    I also think that the way the hero (Ti-Jean), a common everyman, is able to always outwit his social betters, be they princess, strange evil dwarf, or overbearing Lord, is a very New World perspective. In this way Ti-Jean is a distinctly Canadian character. In Europe the divine right of kings was still very much in play during the time of colonizing the New World and I doubt such tales of greedy princesses and easily duped Lords by common workers would have gone over well. It smacks of too much revolution. However, Ti-Jean with his wide-eyed honesty and simple character flies in the face of accepted European social behavior. The concept of a poor, simple man overcoming the hindrances of an overbearing and corrupt aristocracy is a radical position to be take so openly, but not unheard of to people living in the Americas during this time of colonization. I think the portrayal of aristocratic individuals, the incorporation of Canadian specific characters, and Ti-Jean’s world view present aspects to the story that signal its cultural authenticity to Canada. In this way the Ti-Jean stories are a beautiful, powerful blending of New World traditions with Old World heritage to form a new culture for the young Canada.

    ~Audrey

    References:

    Andres, Jan. (2011). In When Apples Grew Noses and White Horses Flew. Toronto/Berkeley: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press.

    Andres, Jan. (2011). “A Word About Ti-Jean.” In When Apples Grew Noses and White Horses Flew (p 11). Toronto/Berkeley: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press.

  2. Elizabeth Nelson says:

    I found When Apples Grew Noses and White Horses Flew: Tales of Ti-Jean to be an easy read. Like most folk tales the stories themselves have a deeper meaning and a lesson to be learned. The stories themselves were interesting and I loved the moral lesson of each along with the payback for a greedy princess who takes what isn’t hers. However, I am concerned about the cultural authenticity of the work. Unlike Audrey, I did not find Ti-Jean to be distinctly Canadian. The everyman concept is universal. We find common people overcoming odds in writings from all over the world. I kept looking for specific cultural markers. And, except for the occasional French word or phrase, I did not really find anything that would instantly make me say, “This is a Canadian or even French folk tale.” With a little tweaking I could easily put Ti-Jean into Texas and make the story familiar and workable, which I will admit is most like a reason that the story has survived and been retold.

    Before reading the selection I consulted three book reviews. All of the reviews were short and none of them truly took on the idea of culture. All three reviews were positive and were recommended for use in classrooms and as a read aloud. And while I agree that the stories are entertaining and could teach a moral lesson, are they culturally specific enough to enhance a unit about Canada. I don’t honestly know. I don’t think so, but at the same time if I was teaching a unit on folk tales I would probably use these stories because they would keep the interest of the students and have many of the traditional folk tale aspects. And, I most likely would use one of the tales as an introduction to Canada. So, what does that say?

    Overall, I love the traditional aspects of the story, the use of the third son as the hero, the journey, the lessons, I just wish that there was more culture. I wanted something to say, “This is Canada, Ay.” I found myself with more questions than answers about the authenticity of the work.

    ~Elizabeth

    References:

    Allen, K. (2011). When Apples Grew Noses and White Horses Flew: Tales of Ti-Jean. School Library Journal, 57(8), 94.

    Andrews, J. (2011). When apples grew noses and white horses flew. Toronto: Groundwood.

    BADER, B. (2011). When Apples Grew Noses and White Horses Flew: Tales of Ti-Jean. Horn Book Magazine, 87(4), 166.

    When Apples Grew Noses and White Horses Flew: Tales of Ti-Jeon. (2011). Library Media Connection, 30(2), 84.

  3. Ashley Weibling says:

    When Apples Grew Noses and White Horses Flew: Tales of Ti-Jean was a wonderful story full of anticipation, suspense, laughter and even a few tears. The retelling by Jan Andrews was excellent and allowed readers the opportunity to connect with the main character, Ti-Jean. The tales are French Canadian in origin and they remain true to their roots. French words are present at the beginning and end of each tale. Andrews explains the Canadian origin at the front of the book and goes on to talk about how the tales have evolved and been carried on to be shared with other cultures. Ti-Jean is a likable character that readers will root for through his troubles and triumphs. This book was favorably reviewed by Kirkus Reviews.

    Andrews, J. (2011). When apples grew noses and white horses flew. Toronto: Groundwood.

    Kirkus Reviews. (2001). When apples grew noses and white horses flew. Retrieved on March 30, 2013 from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/jan-andrews/when-apples-grew-noses-and-white-horses-flew/

  4. Elizabeth Nelson says:

    I believe the tales were French in origin and were brought to Canada by the French who settled there. However, I actually found a story where Ti-Jean is Cajun. In The Greenwood Library of American Folktales Ti-Jean is listed as Cajun in origin. His characteristics in the short tale are very similar to those in the Canadian versions. He is honest and yet clumsy and accident prone. Does, this finding make the work less authentic? Or, does it lend to the characters authenticity because the origin of the Cajun culture is French?

    References:

    Green, T. (2006). The Greenwood Library of American Folktales. Westport, Con.: Greenwood Press.

  5. Audrey Cornelius says:

    These are delightful stories that made me laugh, worry, and love Ti-Jean even though I had never heard of him before this book.  I cringed along with Ti-Jean’s brothers as one by one he took each of their inheritance’s to the princess only to be tricked out of them. I sunk in my chair as Ti-Jean greedily pushed his luck with that unsavory marble hustling little dwarf man. I cheered when in the second story he pushed his luck at marbles in order to better his father’s land holdings, and then he continues on to face his consequences without shirking his duty.  He goes on to bravely protect the princess from the wrath of her wicked father as he honorable holds up his end to every bargain. I found myself loving Ti-Jean, despite his obvious shortcomings.  I love his humility and his perseverance.  I love his ready way of seeing the good in people and trusting them to help him.  Ti-Jean is a generous kind-harted character who teaches many enduring qualities I would love to better emulate myself, as well as share with those around me.  I think that is part of the reason why these fun stories are still with us.  These are great tales to share in a book club or classroom to help teach about culture, but also to illustrate the power of folktales to show us how to be better people ourselves, while at the same time learning to see the best part of who we are, even though it sometimes might not be so obvious on the outside. Ti-Jean is real and approachable and that is one of the biggest reasons for me why his stories should be, and will continue to be, shared.

  6. Mallorie Flanigan says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed the stories of Ti-Jean. I had not read these folk tales before our masters class and the main character Ti-jean has captured my hear. I think that the author did a superb job of bring Ti-Jean to life and making the stories relatable to any reader. The stories in the book are folk tales originating from Canada. At the begining of the book, the author expalins the origin of the tales and also includes some French words and phrases throughout the book. I am not very familiar with the Canadian culture and I was dissapointed that the author did not include more. I am also unsure if the work is authentic to the culture because there are few cultural aspects to compare to the Canadian culture. Overall, as an educator I would use this book for a folk tale unit or to introduce Canada.

    Andres, Jan. (2011). In When Apples Grew Noses and White Horses Flew. Toronto/Berkeley: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press.

  7. Mallorie Flanigan says:

    Elizabeth,

    I thought it was interesting that there is also a Cajun version of Ti-Jean as well. As an outsider, I would think that because Cajun has some French influence that the story might still have some authenticity to it. However I am not very familiar with the French or Cajun culture and would have to research it further to determine the authenticity. When I looked through the book there are some difference in the version from Jan Andrews and the Greenwood version. In the Greenwood version, the setting is set in Louisiana at the bayou. Overall, I enjoyed both version. In my opinion, what makes folk tales so interesting is that they become new and different every time they are told. Folk tales are usually passed down orally so some of the details change but the major theme of the story stays the same. Thanks for finding the other version!

    Mallorie

    Green, T. (2006). The Greenwood Library of American Folktales. Westport, Con.: Greenwood Press.

  8. Ashley Weibling says:

    I absolutely loved reading these delightful tales. I really loved how different cultures can identify with Ti-Jean. These tales will be easily incorporated into the classroom and can be used when studying fairy tales from around the world. I love the story where he outwits the princess that is trying to steal all of the brothers inheritance. The story makes you worry, laugh and become extremely anxious while anticipating the results of each of his visits to the princess. I am looking forward to introducing Ti-Jean to teachers and students.

  9. Andrea Brown says:

    Well, I must say that When Apples grew Noses and White Horses Flew is in a class all by itself. I am not very familiar with the oral traditions of France, as mentioned in the note sources of the book. However, compared to other tales that I’ve been exposed to growing up, Ti-Jean’s stories seem to be pretty authentic. French origins are clearly evident in the use of sayings at the beginning, and in some cases, the end of each tale which is how I finally settled on the origin of the writing because before I read the book, I had not associated the name Ti-Jean with French. “Ti” in Ti-Jean threw me off a little. Like other tales, I noticed elements that make up the story are grouped in threes (3 brothers, 3 gifts, 3 run ins with Bonnet Rouge, Bonnet Rouge’s 3 sisters, etc.) which seems to hold true for many universal fairy/folk tales. And Ti-Jean’s character seems to embody hard work coupled with dumb luck and some magic here and there, which seems to be one of the major themes connecting each story. I think that the quotes, “When people succeed, it’s because of hard work. Luck has nothing to do with success,” and, “Success is 99% hard work and 1% luck,” could probably match the overall theme of these tales.
    Despite not initially knowing the origin of these tales, I really enjoyed reading these stories and was thoroughly engaged. I think my engagement was partly due to the fact that even with the identifiable characteristics of a fairy/folk tale, (groups of 3, magic, adventure/journey, etc.) the stories themselves were not predictable. I liked how the inferences that I was making during the reading, became incorrect and took me down a different path with a thought provoking ending. In this way, the character of Ti-Jean reflects all of our lives. We think things will end up one way and then life takes us down a different path with a though provoking end. I guess that’s why aspects of authenticity are important to our work as storytellers. We want our stories to be unique and engaging while also subtly giving the reader a lesson, final thoughts, or a moral to ponder by the time they’ve reached the end.

    Works Cited:
    Andrews, Jan. When Apples Grew Noses and White Horses Flew: Tales of Ti-Jean. Boston: Groundwood Books, 2011. Print.

  10. Andrea Brown says:

    As an elementary school librarian, I am excited at the opportunity to share the tales of Ti-Jean with my students. Not only did this book receive favorable reviews from School library Journal, but they also noted that this book, “…would be an entertaining read-aloud for a classroom and a good companion piece to the study of American folktales” (SLJ). I believe that the lessons of the stories along with the ability to relate to the main character of Ti-Jean will cause students to enjoy his adventures just as much as I enjoyed reading them. I also believe that introducing the stories of Ti-Jean would be an excellent way to delve into learning about the oral traditions of French Canadian stories. The “A Word about Ti-Jean” introduction as well as the “A Note on Sources” section at the back of the book was very helpful in discovering the true nature and origin of these tales. And just like it was mentioned in the review of these delightful tales, “Quite frankly, three stories are simply not enough!”

    Work Cited:
    Andrews, Jan. When Apples Grew Noses and White Horses Flew: Tales of Ti-Jean. Boston: Groundwood Books, 2011. Print.
    Andrews, Jan, and Duésan Petriécić. When Apples Grew Noses And White Horses Flew : Tales Of Ti-Jean. n.p.: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2011. Book Index with Reviews. Web. 6 Apr. 2013.

  11. Ashley Weibling says:

    Elizabeth, I love that you found a Cajun version of Ti-Jean. It just goes to show that many fairy tales can be adapted for other cultures. I have enjoyed researching how different fairy tales have been adapted over the years and how they have evolved into other cultures and those cultures have made the fairy tales their own.

  12. Elizabeth Nelson says:

    Ashley,
    It actually was a little surprising to find Ti-Jean as a Cajun. But, when I really thought about it it made sense. Afterall, the Cajun people are of French decent as are French Canadians. So, why wouldn’t they have a version?

  13. Andrea Brown says:

    Mallorie,

    I agree with your post. Like you, I too had never read or heard of Ti-Jean. I also believe that the author did a superb job with bringing Ti-Jean to life. He’s such a relatable character which is why I think his adventures can be shared with any age or cultural background. I think this book would be a great introduction to Canadian culture, but honestly, I could just share Ti-Jean’s stories for any occasion not just a lesson or unit.

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