Why should you read tall tales with students? Here are five great benefits…
1. They are fun, interesting stories that students love.
Who doesn’t want to read about the giant lumberjack who carved out the Grand Canyon simply by dragging his axe behind him? Or a Kentucky frontiersman who fought in the Battle of the Alamo?
2. They are based on real people.
What better way to learn about John Chapman (“Johnny Appleseed”), Daniel Boone, Annie Oakley, and John Henry than tall tales? Through tall tales, we learn about the real-life challenges of historical people. We learn about live on the frontier and how hard it was just to survive every day. Tall tales grow out of people’s fears, and tall tale heroes show us the problems and worries of people in that moment and place in time.
3. They are regional.
Students who live in the originating region may already know the tall tale hero through statues, parks, brand names, animations, ballads, or films about the hero. Students not in the region will still enjoy a fun story about the geography of that region and what it was like to live at a time when that region was being settled. Some tall tale heroes are credited with creating landforms or battling extreme weather in that area, which can also help students learn about geographical forms and climates.
4. Survival stories and the oral tradition
Frontier life was HARD. Death from sickness, harsh weather, starvation, and accidents was a constant reminder of just how fragile human life is. People created tall tales to entertain themselves, but it was also to show how the larger-than-life (but still human) characters could conquer nature and save the day. Most importantly, the heroes never gave up, no matter how difficult the challenge may seem.
5. Creative writing opportunities
Please, please ask your students to try writing (and sharing!) their own tall tales! I think exaggeration comes naturally to children, and writing tall tales will help them tap into their creativity. The larger-than-life characters in tall tales are kind of like today’s superheroes. They have strengths and weaknesses, but they are always there to save the day. Writing tall tales helps students stretch their imaginations while exploring the importance of character development and setting.