Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales Told by Virginia Hamilton (Illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon)

Published in 1995
Folktales / Fairytales

Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales told by Virginia Hamilton is a book of 19 tales that won the Laura Ingall's Wilder Award and a Coretta Scott King Award in 1995. The book is told from a nostalgic perspective and is filled with stories of strong-willed, determined, legendary women.

In the opending pages, Hamilton dedicates her book to "our mothers and grandmothers, aunts and great-aunts. To all the women who stood before us, telling us about where they came from, what they saw, did, and imagined. They let us know they stood for us. Talking, they combed our hair, rocked us to sleep, sang to us, told us tales of then and now--and tomorrow. They worried about us. They hoped for us and showed us the way. They cared."

In her author's note at the end of the book, Hamilton explains how much the women in her life meant to her as she was growing up. She recalls a time when her mother calmed her fears during a dangerous storm and the way her mother's talking often made her forget her fears. She says, "All of Mother's stories taught things, little things about life and nature. [Her stories] were family stories--how her brother, my uncle, had been swinging with me on the porch swing moments before he got in his car and was killed on the highway. She told about the day I was  born; how she lived in Canada and had met my father there. My sister, Nina, was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. My mother and father together told stories about their lives. But it is the women of my family I was most attuned to."

All the tales in Her Stories are about women. The book is divided into three major categories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales. Most of the stories are written in prose fiction, but three true tales are included at the end of the book. Four are animal tales, like "Lena and One Big Tiger." Four are fairy tales, like "Catskinella," which was one of my favorites. Four are supernatural tales, like "Malindy and the Little Devil." Four are Folkways (which I had never heard of before) and Legends, like "The Mer-Woman Out of the Sea." At the end of each tale, Hamilton provides a "Comment Section" which provides the history of the tale, how it came about, and how it was collected. Other noteworthy facts are included. The comments at the end of each tale really add meaning and substance to the book.

Here is just a taste of the authentic language often used in the book. This example comes from one of the true tales and is told from a slave's perspective, "Millie Evans: Plantation Times":

"MY BIRTHDAY always comes in the fodder-pulling time. My mama told me she was pulling fodder until the hour before I was born. Me, born in 1849. At the time of Surrender, I was a young lady.

Don't remember the owners' names. But I remember there was about a hundred of us kind. The owners were rich. Mistress tended to us, the women. The Master took over the men.

At four-o'clock each morning, he would ring the bell for us to get up. Oh, you could hear that bell all over the plantation. I can hear it now--ting, ting-aling-aling. I can see all us stirring, getting up in Carolina.

Mistress raised me. But I stayed with my mama every night. My mama had to work very hard. And if Mistress thought the little black children like me were hungry between the meals, she would call us up to the house to eat.  We had johnnycake sometimes and plenty of buttermilk to go with it" (Hamilton, 93).

Later in the story, Millie remembers being freed, but recounts the fear many of the slaves felt. They didn't know what to do or where to go. The Master and Mistress didn't want them to leave, so they all decided to move west to Arkansas. However, the Master died along the way, and his body was taken back to North Carolina. The Mistress begged the slaves to stay with her, and they did stay until she died and was taken back to North Carolina. After her death, the slaves went on with their lives and lost track of the rest of the family. The comment at the end of the tale provides the source of the tale and additional background information.

Although the stories themselves are memorable, the framed paintings by award winning illustrators Leo and Diane Dillon are absolutely beautiful. The Dillons have been awarded the Caldecott Medal twice, the Boston Globe Horn Book Award four times, the New York Times Best Illustrated Award three times, the Society of Illustrators Gold Medal, and were nominees for the international Hans Christian Andersen Medal. They are considered two of America's most creative and prized illustrators (back book jacket cover). The illustrations in Hamilton's book were painted with acrylics on illustration board and were printed on eighty-pound Mymolla Matte paper, which gives the book a strong, sturdy feel to it.

If you enjoy reading folktales, fairy tales, or true stories, you will enjoy this book. Although the book is recommended for ages 4 & up, I believe it would be best suited for older children and adults.

Virginia Hamilton's Official Website

1 comment:

  1. Catherine,
    You write about such intriguing books that I have never heard of! I would like to read this one, as well as several others that you have written about. I am sure my students would enjoy this, too!