Monday, October 1, 2012

Kentucky Folktales Given New Life

Book Review
Kentucky Folktales
Revealing Stories, Truths, and Outright Lies
Mary Hamilton’s email:

Reviewed By Linda Goodman

            Reading Mary Hamilton’s new book, Kentucky Folktales, is like taking a storytelling master class that leaves you with its full text instead of sketchy notes and skimpy handouts.  Through the use of scary tales, tall tales, folktales, and family tales Hamilton sheds light on such issues as fear, parental neglect and abuse, healthcare, hunting, war, kingly challenges, smart women, and raising babies.

            Each tale is followed by a commentary that relates Hamilton’s sources for her tales and notes on how she adapted them for her own storytelling performances. Most of the stories are also followed by the script of one of the original tales, making comparisons and detail mentioned in the commentary easy to follow.

            Experienced tellers reading this book will see old tales in new ways. I have been telling stories since 1989, and never would have realized that a story like The Princess Who Could Not Cry could be used to advocate for healthcare.  ”…Just as having car insurance does not mean we can always afford to pay a mechanic to keep our car running, having health insurance does not mean we can always afford to pay for health care,” a poor woman’s daughter tells a queen, and my own head begins to fill with numerous tales that can help to spread that message through the charm of story, as opposed to rhetoric.  I wish that I had read Hamilton’s family tale This Is the Story  ten years ago. It may have saved my daughter’s family from three years of sleepless nights as my youngest granddaughter wailed away each evening.

            New storytellers will find this book to be an excellent “how to” source that speaks in a language easily understood by novices. Particularly useful are Hamilton’s step-by-step instructions, following the text of her version of Kate Crackernuts, for creating story and word maps. She also shares here questions that she will ask and answer for herself to deepen her own understanding of the story so that she can share it in a more meaningful way with her audience.

            Educators who read this book will find what they need to relate storytelling to their curriculum. The commentaries will be particularly useful. The Enormous Bear Comparison Chart that follows the story The Enormous Bear is a good education in how stores stories change from teller to teller.

            In her introduction, Hamilton calls this collection “oral tales frozen in print” and reminds us that true oral storytelling is amorphous: No two tellers will tell the same tale in the same way, and no storyteller will tell a story the exact same way twice. This book is a springboard to bigger and better things: unfettered creativity, imagination that knows no bounds, and a platform for outside the box education.

            If you take storytelling seriously or want to nurture a wider scope of telling, this book should be on your shelf.


  1. I totally agree, Linda! Glad you wrote a review of this wonderful book. It's been fascinating watching Mary Hamilton's process in writing this unique and clear vision of folklore, and it's even better having the finished version in hand!
    Lynn Ruehlmann

  2. I loved comparing the different versions of each tale. This is one of the most fun "how to" books I have read in a while.