Folklore in Children’s Literature

Contents and Discontents

Authored by: Betsy Hearne

Handbook of Research on Children’s and Young Adult Literature

Print publication date:  October  2010
Online publication date:  April  2011

Print ISBN: 9780415965057
eBook ISBN: 9780203843543
Adobe ISBN: 9781136913570

10.4324/9780203843543.ch15

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Abstract

What could Cinderella and Brer Rabbit possibly have in common—a seemingly passive pawn and a sly trickster? As Betsy Hearne, noted library science professor, children’s book author, and folklorist explains, both tales emerge from the oral tradition, appear in a variety of guises as they move onto the written page, and comment boldly on the human condition. Whether dressed in rags or sporting rabbit ears, the characters of folklore in books for the young demonstrate the subversive potential in all of us, and the tales themselves survive by adapting to ever-shifting sociopolitical climes. Hearne’s perceptive chapter adds depth to the extensive research surrounding folklore by commenting extensively on the personal relationship between researcher and story. And Julius Lester’s Point of Departure commentary adds further insight into social history by reminding us that folklore is transformed in the mouth of the teller, for princesses and rabbits were never expected to lie passively on the page, but step out and teach us all a bit more about life.

Those who engage with children’s literature professionally or academically often have a secret that started in childhood: story addiction. Grown up, we may disguise our addiction in a variety of institutional codes: postcolonial discourse, ethnography, child development, pedagogy, performance studies, information access, and theoretical frameworks ad infinitum. But underneath it all, we are story listeners, story takers, story givers, storytellers, story stealers, story dealers. Whatever distance stretches between our adult story-work and childhood story-experience, between our objective and subjective understanding, can become a journey of insightful connections. For this reason, I’ve used both telescopic and microscopic approaches here: to review some landmark work done in the field, to indicate complexities of contemporary children’s literature as a print vehicle for folklore, and—incorporating specific examples—to suggest the importance of scholars’ social and personal relationships with the folkloric children’s literature we study.

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