NOTE TO TEACHERSTALL TALES TEACHERS GUIDE
featuring New York's Bravest
, American Tall Tales
, and John Henry: An American Legend
The tall tale is a distinctly American story form that celebrates an ordinary citizen’s ability to overcome obstacles. Of course, the heroes of tall tales are anything but ordinary, and therein lies the fun and charm of the stories.
This guide, for grades 2-6, uses several outstanding books of tall tales to explore the genre and to discover the American character in activities across the curriculum.
ABOUT THIS BOOKNew York’s Bravest
Beloved author Mary Pope Osborne adds her own two cents to introduce young children to the legendary Mose Humphreys, the 19th-century New York City firefighter who was eight feet tall and able to swim the Hudson River in two strokes.American Tall Tales
Meet America’s first folk heroes in these nine wildly exaggerated and downright funny stories. In the tradition of the original 19th-century storytellers, Mary Pope Osborne combines, edits, and also supplies fascinating historical headnotes.
John Henry: An American Legend
This tall tale is another celebrated work by Caldecott Medalist, Ezra Jack Keats.
*“The heroic figure of John Henry is captured in a simple rhythmic picture book. Dramatic pictures with large bold figures express the feeling of this tall tale.”–Starred, School Library Journal
ABOUT THIS AUTHORMary Pope Osborne
is the author of many highly acclaimed books for children and young adults, including the Magic Tree House series, which has sold over 12 million copies, and One World, Many Religions
, an Orbis Pictus Honor Book. She lives in New York City and Connecticut with her husband, Will.Steve Johnson
and Lou Fancher
have collaborated on a number of notable children’s books, including My Many Colored Days
by Dr. Seuss, The Salamander Room
by Anne Mazer, The Frog Prince Continued by John Scieszka, Bambi retold by Janet Schulman, and Robin’s Room
by Margaret Wise Brown. Steve and Lou live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with their son, Nicholas.Michael McCurdy
has designed and illustrated many books, including The Owl-Scatterer
, a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of 1986. He has also written books for young readers, including Hannah’s Farm: Seasons on an Early American Homestead
. Mr. McCurdy lives with his wife, Deborah, and their two children on an old farm in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts.Ezra Jack Keats
long crossed social boundaries by being the first American picture-book maker to give the black child a central place in children’s literature. He illustrated over 85 books for children, and wrote and illustrated 24 children’s classics. He received the prestigious Caldecott Award for the most distinguished picture book for children in 1963. He passed away in 1983.
TEACHING IDEASPRE-READING ACTIVITY
Ask your students to name their favorite tall tales. Show the students the illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher in New York’s Bravest
. Discuss the traits that make these characters “larger than life.” Brainstorm a list of the different characters in the tall tales. Have students draw a picture of a tall tale character, and then have them discuss in groups why they admire these characters.ACTIVITIES FOR USE WITH NEW YORK'S BRAVEST
•After reading New York’s Bravest
by Mary Pope Osborne, discuss with your class what it means to be brave. Focus on the dedication page and the historical note. How was Mose brave? How are real-life firefighters like Mose? How was firefighting different in Mose’s day than it is now? What qualities of firefighters are the same? Which ones are different? The children should write their responses in their journals.
•Have a Mose Humphreys Day at your school to honor the firefighters in your town. Write letters to firefighters thanking them for the job they do. In the letters, have the children tell about Mose’s feats. Decorate your room to look like a firehouse. Invite a firefighter and present him/her with the letters. Have the children dress up as Mose Humphreys and ask each to tell about a fantastic feat that Mose could do.
•Encourage your students to be good citizens in the spirit of Mose Humphreys. Create a Mose Humphreys Good Deed Award. Every month give out the award to a student who does something “above and beyond.”
•Rewrite the story of Mose Humphreys in play form. You can add new characters and new extraordinary feats that he did. Make hand puppets of the characters and perform it in a puppet theater.
•Davy Crockett and John Henry have songs written about them. It is fitting that Mose Humphreys have one, too. Write a song about Mose, New York’s bravest firefighter. Use a tune familiar to the children.LITERATURE STUDY
Tall tales come out of an oral tradition. Stories were passed from one person to the next changing along the way. Exaggerations grew and facts were altered, and as a result there are often several versions of the same story.
•Read and compare New York’s Bravest
by Mary Pope Osborne and John Henry
by Ezra Jack Keats to the different stories of John Henry and Mose Humphreys in Mary Pope Obsorne’s American Tall Tales
. Make a chart showing what is the same about each and what is different.THE COLORFUL CHARACTERS OF TALL TALES
•As your class reads the books and meets the characters, each student should keep a running chart that identifies the characteristics of the heroes and heroines of the tall tales.
•Divide the children into groups of six and have them play Tall Tale Charades. Write the names of the characters on index cards and place them in a box. A child draws out a name and acts the part of the character without using words. The other children have to guess which tall tale hero is being portrayed. THE LANGUAGE OF TALL TALES
•Have children collect adjectives and descriptive phrases that are used to describe the characters in the tall tales. Write the names of the characters on one set of index cards and the descriptions on another set and play a matching game. The children should notice that the adjectives often apply to more than one character.
•Play with the language of tall tales. Tall tale heroes were brave, strong, big, fast, smart, tough, strange, tireless, ornery, funny, talented, etc. In fact, they could outdo just about everybody with everything they did. Use these descriptors, and any others the class can come up with, and play the response game How Big Was He?
To play this game, use Mose and all the other tall tale heroes mentioned in the books. Have the students illustrate all the fantastic qualities of the heroes. Display the illustrations with captions on a tall tales bulletin board.
DISCUSSION AND WRITINGTALL TALE WRITING ACTIVITIES
•Tall tale heroes were ordinary folks about whom extraordinary stories were told. Write tall tales about contemporary people: firefighters, teachers, nurses, students, etc.
•Create a tall tales newspaper with your class. Have the children write and illustrate newspaper articles telling about the lives of the tall tale heroes. Be sure to talk about the structure of a newspaper article (headline, byline, dateline, story).
Ask students to find unfamiliar words and try to define them from the context of the stories. New York’s Bravestpumper, volunteer, tenement, wedged, trolley
.American Tall Tales
Davy Crockett: varmint, bragging, panther, keelboat
Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind: coonskin cap, hickory sapling, bonnet, dumpling, butter churn
Johnny Appleseed: pioneer, missionary, orchard, wilderness, frontier
Stormalong: fathoms, outcast, bowsprit, sea chantey
Mose: Bowery, tenement, volunteer, cobblestone, valiant
Febold Feboldson: plains, sod shanty, prairie schooner, panned, postholes
Pecos Bill: coyote, cowpoke, Hell’s Gate Canyon, lariat
John Henry: steel driver, Allegheny Mountains, steam drill, dignity, contestants
Paul Bunyan: mackinaw, ox, logging, Grand Canyon
. John Henry: An American Legendrascal, riverboat, paddle wheel
AWARDSAmerican Tall Tales
--IRA Children’s Choice
--Notable Children’s Book in Field of Social Studies
--School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
Prepared by Clifford Wohl, Educational Consultant.