Saturday, July 21, 2012

Lies and Other Tall Tales, by Zora Neale Hurston and Christopher Myers

Lies and Other Tall Tales
collected by Zora Neale Hurston
adapted and illustrated by Christopher Myers
40 pages
New York: HarperCollins
ISBN 9780060006556

Zora Neale Hurston's tall tales are full of humor, vivid imagery, and down-home dialect -- illustrated in this case with cut-paper silhouettes of folks performing impossible deeds.

Liars, back in the day, could tell a lie so good,
You didn't even want to know the truth.

That's the introduction to a wild, rollicking good time, like hanging out with your older cousins on the back porch swapping whoppers. Myers has adapted passages from "Every Tongue Got to Confess: Negro Folk-Tales From the Gulf States", a collection of interviews published by Zora Neale Hurston when she was at Columbia University. The tone is familiar, irreverent, and almost bawdy, but still suitable for schoolchildren. I recently saw a musical stage adaptation of Hurston's stories, called Spunk, and was surprised to learn that the play (which includes themes of domestic abuse, adultery, and prostitution) had been performed for local high school students; this book is decidedly milder in flavor. Myers' use of slang, Southern Black dialect, and colorful language gives the text a rhythmic, musical feel reminiscent of the Harlem jazz in Hurston's other writing.

The illustrations in Lies and Other Tall Tales are paper collages formed of cut-out shapes; they show human figures and sometimes animals on a background of fabric squares. The result is something like a folk quilt of intense colors and imperfect edges. Myers has won awards for his illustrations (including a Caldecott Honor and several Coretta Scott King Honors), and while they are simple in this book, they complement the enthusiastic fonts of the text.
This collection would be suitable for older readers who can distinguish the literal from the figurative -- those who don't see things in only black and white, but in all shades of gray, brown, and many bright colors. Tall tales are an excellent example of hyberbole: for instance, the man so tall he "could stand knee deep in hell and shake hands with Gabriel" and metaphor. Students could try their hands at creating their own tall tale, to be illustrated with cut-paper shapes.

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Media: paper collage

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