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Inquiry into Cultural Authenticity in Traditional Literature: Sita’s Ramayana

by Judi Moreillon, Texas Woman’s University

“…Myth might be defined simply as ‘other people’s religion,’…”
Joseph Campbell

Sita’s RamayanaWhile folktales and fables are traditional literature of a secular nature, myths are sacred narratives. To people within a particular religious group, myths are true accounts of past events. Myths explain how the world came to be and how people’s behavior, societal customs, and institutional norms were formed. The main characters in myths are usually gods or heroes with supernatural powers and the humans with whom they interact. “…Myth might be defined simply as ‘other people’s religion,’ to which an equivalent definition of religion would be ‘misunderstood mythology,’ the misunderstanding consisting in the interpretation of mythic metaphors as references to hard fact” (Campbell 27). Continue reading

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Inquiry into Cultural Authenticity in Traditional Literature: Aesop’s Fables

by Judi Moreillon, Texas Woman’s University

Fables are another form of traditional literature. They are short stories written in prose or verse. The main characters are most often anthropomorphized animals whose behaviors demonstrate moral lessons. Fable tellers and writers end their stories with a maxim, or a statement that encapsulates the moral. The most famous fables in Western culture are attributed to a Greek named Aesop. Continue reading

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Inquiry into Cultural Authenticity in Traditional Literature: The Parade: A Stampede . . .

By Judi Moreillon, Texas Woman’s University

The week’s selection The Parade: A Stampede of Stories about Ananse, The Trickster Spider was selected for grades three through five on the 2012 USBBY Outstanding International Books list. This collection was written by KP Kojo, the pen name of Nii Ayikwei Parkes, who was born and raised in Ghana, the original homeland of Ananse (sometimes spelled Anansi or called Kwaku Ananse or Anancy). Many U.S. children are familiar with picture book versions of Anansi stories. Authors such as Verna Aardema, Eric Kimmel, and Gerald McDermott (who also illustrates), have retold these stories for a young readership; they are all cultural outsiders to West Africa. Illustrators of these titles include Lisa Desimini and Janet Stevens, who are also cultural outsiders. Continue reading

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Inquiry into Cultural Authenticity in Traditional Literature: The Great Snake . . .

By Judi Moreillon, Texas Woman’s University


In the Amazon, people often laugh at their own belief in fantastic stories. But all the same, they believe the stories.

Taylor p. 55

As we continue our inquiry into folktales, we travel south to Brazil to investigate The Great Snake: Stories from the Amazon written by Sean Taylor and illustrated by Fernando Vilela. Sean Taylor, a Brit married to a Brazilian woman, lives part-time in her home country. Taylor frames the retellings of these stories as stops along his journey up the Amazon River. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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The Hero’s Journey from Another Point of View: Here Lies Arthur

By Judi Moreillon, Texas Woman’s University, Texas Ambassador for USBBY

Book Cover for Here Lies Arthur
“Cei laughed off the slanders. ‘They’re only stories,’ he would say. ‘What do stories matter?’ But he wasn’t stupid. He knew as well as Myrddin that in the end stories are all that matter” (Reeve 204).

British author Philip Reeve uses the well-known legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable as a springboard for his novel Here Lies Arthur. Reeve offers explanations for the unexplained in the original tales, which may be part history and greater part folklore, and have been embellished by retellers since the late 5th and early 6th century when King Arthur supposedly performed heroic and even magical deeds. Along with his knights, Arthur has been credited with defending Britain from invading Saxons. He has embodied the virtues of loyalty, honor and chivalry. In his author’s note, Reeve provides historical and literary documentation for the novel.
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Healing Hearts with the Hero’s Journey: Heartsinger

By Judi Moreillon, Texas Woman’s University, Texas Ambassador for USBBY

Book jacket for Heartsinger by Karlijn StofflesKarlijn Stoffels tells the story of two characters, Mee and Mitou, both born into difficult circumstances in relationship to their special storytelling gifts. As each one travels on a hero’s journey, readers grow more and more certain that their meeting is inevitable. Yet, Mee and Mitou are so different that one wonders if a fairy-tale ending is possible for the “singer of sorrows” and the girl with a sunny outlook on life. Continue reading

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A Hero’s Journey Guided by Hindu Deities: Tiger Moon

By Judi Moreillon, Texas Woman’s University, Texas Ambassador for USBBY

In the theory of “suspension of disbelief” as suggested by British poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge, it is the storyteller or author who must spin such a compelling tale that the listener/reader will accept a fantasy as a plausible reality. In Tiger Moon, author Antonia Michaelis takes readers on a magical journey of love, deception, courage, fear, and sacrifice in India. Framed like the story of Scheherazade who told her tales for 1,001 nights in order to escape death, Safia tells her tale to Lalit, a servant who is supposed to be guarding her while she awaits her marriage night. On that night, her wealthy husband will learn she is not a virgin and will have the right to kill her.
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The Hero’s Journey in Global Literature: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

By Judi Moreillon, Texas Woman’s University, Texas Ambassador for USBBY

Storytelling is fundamental to the human search for meaning. (Bateson 34).
Book cover for Where the Mountain Meets the MoonFolklore, fables, myths, and legends, stories that originated in the oral tradition are the indigenous literature in every society. Since people were first able to use language for communication, oral storytelling is the way we have passed on our culture and history, beliefs and values. Traditional literature themes reoccur across cultures. These stories explain the relationships between human beings and the animal, plant, and astrological or seasonal worlds. Although the stories may include different symbols and representations, these “folk” ideas center on elemental figures—mother, father, God, trickster, hero, old man, crone, witch, or devil, and on elementary concepts—creation, destruction, birth, death, initiation or coming of age, separation from parents or community, marriage, or the union of opposites. Continue reading

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Nick Glass Interview – Part 4

By Judi Moreillon, Texas Woman’s University, Denton, TX

Newbery(L)This is the fourth of a planned four-part interview with Nick Glass, member of the 2009 Newbery Committee, conducted electronically by Judi Moreillon.

JM: Nick Glass and I are wrapping up this month’s Newbery Medal Award conversation with a look at the books that have earned this prize since it was first awarded in 1922. That year, The Story of Mankind written by Hendrik Wellem van Loon earned the medal. To support our historical look, we referenced a book now published annually by the Association of Library Services to Children (ALSC), The Newbery and Caldecott Awards: A Guide to the Medal and Honor Books.

In clarifying the criteria for the awards and defining terms, ALSC notes that the “award is for literary quality and quality of presentation to children. The award is not for didactic intent or for popularity” (p. 4). As we noted in early posts this month, the question of popularity should not enter into the committee’s deliberations. Still, every school and public library branch in the country purchases at least one copy of each Newbery award-winning book.

Do we expect Newbery Award-winning books to be enticing to readers? If not, can we rely on teachers and librarians to push titles that possess literary quality but are less popular with young people? What has been your experience?

NG: I absolutely believe the books that have been recognized as distinguished by the Newbery committee will be enticing –- with the caveat that not every book is for every reader. I loved the 2008 Newbery Medal-winning Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! It is both a wonderful book, and perhaps the one of the best curriculum-fit books I’ve read in a long time. It tells marvelous stories of the Middle Ages, and can be performed as fun, comprehension-grasping reader’s theater. Do I expect everyone to pick this book up and find it enticing? No. But for the people who love mini-dramas, goodness, they will love this treasure.
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