Saturday, May 10, 2014

Course Redesign Update: May 10 - Russia and Rabbits

It is so stimulating to be able to go from one set of stories to another like this. Every day has a different feel to it because of the different combination of things I am working on.

Russian Folktales. The Russian fairy tale tradition is justifiably famous, but this collection by Ralston emphasizes actual Russian folktales, including tales of vampires, the undead, ghosts, witches, etc. I also want to add a unit on Russian fairy tales with princes and princesses, etc., but I am really excited to have a unit with vampires and the undead for students who like that kind of thing.

Brer Rabbit.  My main task today has been working on the Brer Rabbit stories. My love for these stories is boundless and, just like Julius Lester in his wonderful modern edition of the stories, I have no problems with deleting the Uncle-Remus-and-little-boy framework in order to focus in on the authentic folktales that Joel Chandler Harris collected. He actually collected HUNDREDS of stories, making it one of the most remarkable achievements of American folklore studies. I was really pleased to find a good scan at Hathi Trust with the old A. B. Frost illustrations, so all the stories have two illustrations, and some even have more than two. Given the difficulties of the dialect, it's good to have the pictures both to slow people down as they read and also to help them in visualizing the events. This illustration is from The Story of the Little Rabbits:

I'm also so excited that this unit will now be part of an African unit that also includes Jamaican stories, along with stories from Nigeria, the Congo, etc. The connections between West African storytelling and American folklore are so important, and I hope that students will take the change to learn about that in class! They will have some hard choices during that two-week period, though. So many good things to read... but if that's a message the students take away from the class, then it's a good message to take away: there are so many great stories out there that we don't even have time to begin to read them all! :-)

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