The Tales of Uncle Remus: The Adventures of Brer Rabbit as told by Julius Lester
Lester, J. (1987). The tales of Uncle Remus: The adventures of Brer Rabbit. Hong Kong: Puffin Books.
I have heard/seen many versions of Brer Rabbit stories over the years, and I am always drawn in by them. The stories of Brer Rabbit tricking and being tricked by all the other animals (especially the sneaky Brer Fox) are always very entertaining. This collection has 48 tales of all kinds of adventures experienced by Brer Rabbit. In this retelling, Julius Lester brings in some contemporary features of writing and references to more current items (such as Dr. Pepper and Adidas shoes) to appeal more to the modern-day reader, and especially to a child. I think that most middle school students would really love reading this book because of its ease-of-read, humor, and clever story lines.
I don’t know much about it, but I know there has been controversy concerning the Brer Rabbit tales because the original version has the stories being told by a black slave named Uncle Remus on a southern plantation. In some ways, the dialect and attitudes have been perceived as racist. In the introduction to this collection, however, a woman named Augusta Baker discusses the rich African history of these tales and how they actually should provide African Americans with much pride. I think it would be really neat to have students research this topic themselves. It would be interesting to see what they discovered about the origin of the tales and what the tales portray.
#1: Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe
Steptoe, J. (1987). Mufaro’s beautiful daughters: An African tale. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books.
Loved this book! It won the Caldecott Medal and I can definitely see why – the illustrations are amazing. There was a note saying that the illustrations were inspired by the ruins and surrounding area of an ancient city in Zimbabwe. The text of the book is about a man named Mufaro who has two daughters, Manyara and Nyasha. One day, Mufaro’s daughters are invited to appear before the king so that he can choose which one will become his wife. Manyara sets off before everyone else in hopes of reaching the king first. Her pride and selfishness, however, become her downfall, as Nyasha’s generosity and kindness lead her to become the next queen.
The message of the book was wonderful, but I think it could be used in lots of other ways in the classroom, as well. Students could use the book to examine characteristics of folktales as well as the African heritage/culture. The book can also be compared to the classic tale of Cinderella, so this might be a fun and interesting way to have students compare and contrast texts. I found one lesson plan online that I thought was pretty cool (http://teacherlink.ed.usu.edu/tlresources/units/byrnes-africa/katshe/index.html) and could be tweaked some if need be. Overall, a good book to have in the classroom!
#2: Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind Crockett
Kellogg, S. (1995). Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind Crockett. New York: Morrow Junior Books.
Most of us have heard of Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier! I know I was obsessed with him when I was kid :). But before reading this book, I do not think I ever remember hearing anything about Davy’s wife, Sally Ann. This book tells the backstory of Sally Ann and how from the time she was a little baby she could out-talk, out-run, out-swim, out-everything anyone else she knew. It tells several tales of her greatness, including sending a group of alligators flying across several states! The stories are based on tall tales found in the Davy Crockett almanacs. It could definitely be a cool book to use in the classroom if exploring American folklore.
#3: Rapunzel and the Seven Dwarfs
Claflin, W. (2011). Rapunzel and the seven dwarfs, illustrated by James Stimson. Atlanta: August House LittleFolk.
This one was definitely interesting and different from anything I’ve seen. It basically took a combination of the tales of Rapunzel and Snow White and made it over-the-top silly and wacky. Middle schoolers (especially if they are familiar with the traditional fairy tales) would probably LOVE this book because it is so out-there and ridiculous. I think it could be a really fun resource to use in a classroom to introduce and get kids thinking about fairy tales and how they have been adapted or changed over centuries of retelling.