Benefits of research (and the love of old books)

I have always loved old books. When I was a kid I loved the design of paperbacks my parent read, especially the Pan and Penguin titles. There was a style I loved. Although those paperbacks had cool covers, there was something about reading and holding a hardcover book. There seemed way more permanence with these books. Visiting places like Hay-On-Wye, a city of books I have seen grow over the years, I know that paperbacks have a much shorter life and are passed on far more readily. Hardcovers stay in a home for much longer. So it is wonderful when you find a treasure. I recently came across a fabulous book by Molly Bang called The Buried Moon and other stories.

The tales come from England, India, and China. One story is retold by Ms. Bang by combining a Japanese story and the Grimm story of Wolf and the Seven Kids. I know a Chinese version of this tale - Lon Pon Po

A story I found in The Buried Moon and other stories I had not read or heard before which excited me no end. I am now on the search for other versions of it. Maybe you have heard of it. It's called William and Jack and te King of England. The King of England is not really in the story, so the title might be a little misleading. It is about two brothers who look very similar (twins?), who go on an adventure. The first brother goes without his mother's blessing and gets pierced by a thorn and falls into a deep slumber. This is a sort of male version of Sleeping beauty, but his brother comes to his rescue. The younger or second brother goes on to be gifted a cloak of invisibility and shoes of flight and saves a woman and defeats a devil. It's a great story.

And so begins a black hole of researching a story!

As a storyteller, I read a lot of folk and fairy tales. In the quest to find great stories to tell I do not seek out literary tales (copyright issues) and I also try to find at least two, hopefully three or more versions of the same story. One reason for this, is that someone went to a great deal of effort to find and share a story. If I can only a single source, I get in touch with that source (author or storyteller) and ask permission to tell the story, or where I might find some other sources. Right now there is a very fun story from Japan I am trying to find another version of! Why do I do this? Because I make money from what I do, and I believe in being ethical. Teachers, librarians, parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents etc., do not have to do this, but it can be a lot of fun (as well, sometimes, a lot of work).

Some stories don't need to be set in a particular place when a tale can be found in one form or another anywhere on the planet. But when a story has strong cultural anchors, one should keep the story in its place - its home. Stories can be like people - there are world citizens, and those who/which do not leave their country/culture (sometimes home town)! Digging and delving into story variants and alternate sources often puts you on the trail of other stories, and can lead you to new stories you might never have found otherwise. If something doesn't make sense (a word, phrase or what seems to be a mis-placed action), I look into it.

A story which seems overly reactionary - a camel allows a donkey to fall to its death, for example – can come from a culture which has a harsh or reactionary past. Sometimes these places in history, you might discover as I did with this particular tale, were always being invaded. It was a dangerous region in which to live. When the donkey and camel escape from their captures (in the story I think it was a farm of sorts) they promise when they cross the hills and deserts to be quite. But the donkey is so thrilled at being free, it begins to sing. They are heard and are chased. The camel is able to flee safely however, the donkey comes to an untimely fate.

Researching some of these folk and fairy tales can be incredibly educational, and is a great way to explore the world, its cultures and histories. It can also be a black hole, but a very fun one! Doing this sort of research with your kids (or the kids of others if you are an educator or librarian) is a sneaky way to teach with the fun of stories. If you are doing this research on your own, you can add a lot to the stories you end up telling. You can give them far more depth and richness than some re-tellers of stories provide, and keep (or return) the roots solidly on the tree of story.

Anyway, back to Molly!

The book is filled with amazing illustrations by Molly Bang, who has written a book about what makes a good artist. That book is called Picture This. It is about how to ramp a story's illustrations up from sort of scary to down0right frightening! I think I might have to get that book too!

What books and stories have you found. Shoot me a message or email me and let me know.