American Tall Tales

by Mary Pope Osborne

Other authorsMichael McCurdy (Illustrator)
Hardcover, 1991



Local notes

398.22 Osb



Knopf Books for Young Readers (1991), Edition: Reissue, Hardcover, 115 pages


A collection of tall tales about such American folk heroes as Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind, Pecos Bill, John Henry, and Paul Bunyan.


Physical description

115 p.; 11.16 inches


0679800891 / 9780679800897



User reviews

LibraryThing member farfromkansas
Mary Pope Osborne’s version of “John Henry” (included in American Tall Tales) includes an introduction that lays the historical foundation of the story. She begins by describing the process of railroad construction and the origin of “steel drivers,” and then leads into the origins of the John Henry stories, dating their creation to the 1870’s. In the actual story of “John Henry” she has written, Osborne embraces the “fantasy” of tall tales, including the claims that John Henry was born with a hammer in his hand and that he did the work of five men at the same time. Clearly, Osborne enjoys the “larger-than-life” tone of tall tales and keeps this tone alive in her version of the story.

Michael McCurdy’s wood engraving illustrations are remarkable unique: like the tall tales described in the book, wood engravings come from an Americana tradition that evolved quickly into other graphic forms. Because of this, McCurdy’s illustrations seem almost quaint at times; however, he does “modernize” these pictures by adding stylized elements (particularly poses and settings) that lend a “cartoonish” quality that will make the artwork more accessible to young children.

Osborne, Mary Pope, and Michael McCurdy. "John Henry." American Tall Tales. New York: Knopf, 1991. 87-95. Print.
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LibraryThing member carrie.murphy
American Tall Tales is a great book to include in any collection because it includes many of America's Best Tall Tales. Each story is included with great illustrations made from wood carvings that adds a twist to the typical story books read by children.
LibraryThing member cnolasco
Osborne, M.P. (1991). American Tall Tales (McCurdy, M. Illus.). New York: Knopf.

American Tall Tales is a collection of tales retold by Mary Pope Osborne. Some of the tales included are: Paul Bunyan, Davy Crockett, Johnny Appleseed, and Pecos Bill. Before each of the tales is a page of notes on the story, which helps give a little historical perspective on where and how these tales came to be. The tales range from eight to ten pages in length and all have colored wood engravings portraying parts of the story. I enjoyed the wood engravings because I feel that they fit the stories well. The tales are old and have been passed down and the wood engravings have that same feeling to them. Included in the back is a bibliography listing the sources Osborne used to retell the stories. Overall, nothing new here, but a nice collection to the basic American tall tales… (more)
LibraryThing member SigmundFraud
using for my small class of eight year olds.
LibraryThing member tamilarson
A fun, kid friendly version of some American folk tales including Davey Crockett, Johnny Appleseed, John Henry.
LibraryThing member PatrickNavas
Osborne, M. (1991). American Tall Tales. Wood Engravings by Michael McCurdy; New York: Random House

Pecos Bill

Pecos Bill is a classic short story about “the best cowboy who ever lived.”Pecos Bill was so tough that, as a baby, he teethed on horseshoes instead of teething rings and played with grizzly bears instead of teddy bears. When his family accidentally left him in the desert, he was found and subsequently raised by a wild pack of coyotes! This is an excellent and imaginative story in the widely-loved American Tall tale tradition. The tale is thoroughly “American” as it takes place in the west with cowboys, guns, ranches, broncos and even 50 foot rattle snakes! Pecos Bill is a “larger-than-life” character that kids will find extremely humorous and amusing. I highly recommend this book for kids, especially if they are already learning about the “wild west” in school.

Paul Bunyan

The old lumberjack folk hero Paul Bunyan has been well known to many Americans since the late 1800s. The stories about him are remarkably entertaining. Like Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan was an extraordinary person even as a baby. When he was only 2 weeks old he weighed over a hundred pounds. Each morning he ate five dozen eggs, ten sacks of potatoes and ten stacks of pancakes. He even had a thick black beard as a baby. He is known mainly because of his exceptional size and strength, and also for his companion, Babe the Blue Ox. With the help of his companions, Paul Bunyan logged all the trees in the state of Minnesota, and then moved on to Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. The Paul Bunyan character is a classic and thoroughly “American” personality that will always have a welcomed place in the hearts of children.

John Henry

Like Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill, John Henry was an American character with the strength and powers of a superhero. Historians disagree on whether or not the John Henry tale was inspired by a real black man named John Henry. When he was just a baby, his arms were “as thick as stovepipes. He had great broad shoulders and strong muscles.” And most amazingly, he was born with a hammer in his hand!
The tale of John Henry is highly imaginative and has its roots in real American history, back to the time shortly after the Civil War, when the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Company laid hundreds of miles of railroad track in West Virginia. John Henry was known to be the best steel driver in the country. He had hammered steel from the time he was ten. Ever since, he was able to hammer for hours without missing a beat. It was said that his hammer moved like lightning. All children should be familiar with the story of John Henry and all the classic American tall tales. Although fanciful, the stories have the potential to enrich child’s understanding of, and interest in, American history, at the same, time encouraging children to read and use their imaginations.
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LibraryThing member alliek710
Use during a tall tales unit. To teach about folk tales and the classic characters and their stories.
LibraryThing member LydiaBree
I've grown up like many Americans knowing the stories of Paul Bunyan, John Henry, Pecos Bill, and Johnny Appleseed. A new tall tale for me is Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind. This is a fun and exaggerated tale about a woman who will become the wife of Davy Crockett. Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind makes the best of any situation. Even when she's afraid, for instance having a bear in her house, Sally Ann makes the most of the situation by asking the intruder to dance and churning butter all at the same time. The story is full of metaphors which include her future husband's old coconut getting stuck in the crotch of a tree. Sally Ann uses her natural resources and makes a rope out of tied together snakes to lasso a tree branch to free his head. The story is very entertaining with both Davy and Sally Ann trying to out-exaggerate each other.… (more)
LibraryThing member Jill.Haner
The wood engravings really add an old timey feel to this book, which is so appropriate. I do like the way she focused on the humanity of the characters and am glad she was able to add one of her own. Sally Ann Thunder was a delightful character, and there was not a huge focus on her beauty; the focus was on her strength. "Johnny Appleseed" and "John Henry" were my favorites. "Johnny Appleseed" because it was a good mix of John Chapman, the real man, and Johnny Appleseed, the folk hero. "John Henry" I loved because I had forgotten his story from when I was little and re-reading it I realized what a fine man he was and it made me so sad when he died.
I can see myself reading this in class and coming up with many follow up activities. With Johnny Appleseed we could use it for science and start growing an apple tree to plant somewhere. We could use Stormalong to learn about the sea. Quite frankly John Henry could be read in a high school history class or government class to have them debate about technology driving away blue collar jobs, and the benefits and detriments that causes. Its a great book.
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LibraryThing member ElenaEstrada
American Tall Tales by Mary Pope Osborn is a collection of American tall tales which include, among others, Davy Crockett, Johnny Appleseed, Pecos Bill, and Paul Bunyan. It incorporates part of American history as it documents larger than life characters whose primary purpose was to establish a new country by settling the rouged frontier lands. Since there is really no tall tales of American women, the author takes the liberty and combines several female characters into a single heroine and she calls her Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind. I think this fabrication is a bit of a misrepresentation of the American Tall tales since she invented the tall tale as she wrote the book. Although it is a fabrication, I can understand why the author felt compelled to combine some documentation of different female frontier women and make at least one heroine up. According to the author, stories of strong frontierswomen do exist, but they never received the notoriety that the male characters received. In fact, the author points out that Davy Crockett spoke of these strong women and described them as “outrageous” and “comical”. It maybe that women who ventured too far from the social mares of that time where not accepted as part of that society.
Ages: 5-10
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LibraryThing member kwisem1
I found these Tall Tales to be quiet boring. There was no interesting facts that would pull a reader in to make them want to read this book. I felt like the plots were very plain. The illustrations are colorful, but not exciting to look at, like other books I have read.

I honestly do not know what the main idea of any of the Tall Tales were because I did not understand a single one.… (more)
LibraryThing member slee74
This book did a great job of giving the reader a chance to read all different tall tales that have been told throughout so many generations. The language in these tales was great. It was clear and descriptive. The author chose to retell the well loved fairytales with language that captivates the reader and keeps them into the stories. Another thing that was well done in this book was the plot. It is many traditional literature stories in one book but the plot of each story is unchanged. That means that they still follow the plot that all traditional literature follows which is very brief with no flashbacks or odd story lines. It has one conflict that gets resolved and most of them teach a lesson at the end. The main purpose of this story is to entertain.… (more)
LibraryThing member missamellon
Mary Pope Osborne has compiled a collection of American folktales, which she tells in a distinclty American voice that brings the stories vividly to life and evokes the eras in which they evolved. Each story is prefaced by a brief history of its development. This is a great introduction for kids to the characters they will encounter in the broader world.… (more)
LibraryThing member pennsylady

Tall Tales" featuring 9 American folk heroes of the 19th century.

Family listening... performed by Scott Snively.

Age Range: 8 - 12 years
Grade Level: 3 - 6
Knopf Books for Young Readers

..include Davy Crockett, Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind, Johnny Appleseed, Stormalong, Mose, Febold Feboldson, Pecos Bill, John Henry, and Paul Bunyan.
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LibraryThing member KimJD
A wonderful resource for teaching tall tales. Mary Pope Osborne gets the folksy voices just right, and her introductions to each of the tall tale characters give invaluable information on the history of how that particular tall tale developed. Bold illustrations capture the adventure and energy of these exaggerated tales.




(50 ratings; 3.8)
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