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The Folkstories of Children

By Brian Sutton-Smith

Publication Year: 2012

What prompts children to tell stories? What does the word "story" mean to a child at two or five years of age? The Folkstories of Children, first published in 1981, features nearly five hundred stories that were volunteered by fifty children between the ages of two and ten and transcribed word for word. The stories are organized chronologically by the age of the teller, revealing the progression of verbal competence and the gradual emergence of staging and plot organization. Many stories told by two-year-olds, for example, have only beginnings with no middle or end; the "narrative" is held together by rhyme or alliteration. After the age of three or four, the same children tell stories that feature a central character and a narrative arc. The stories also exhibit each child's growing awareness and management of his or her environment and life concerns. Some children see their stories as dialogues between teller and audience, others as monologues expressing concerns about fate and the forces of good and evil.

Brian Sutton-Smith discusses the possible origins of the stories themselves: folktales, parent and teacher reading, media, required writing of stories in school, dreams, and play. The notes to each chapter draw on this context as well as folktale analysis and child development theory to consider why and how the stories take their particular forms. The Folkstories of Children provides valuable evidence and insight into the ways children actively and inventively engage language as they grow.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-xiv

The present work is composed of stories collected from children between the ages of two and ten years. The location of the fieldwork for Part 1 of this work was the Soho Center for the Arts and Education on Prince Street in the Soho section of New York. We are indebted to...

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pp. 1-43

The title of this work, The Folkstories of Children, presents something of an anomaly. The stories that are dealt with in this book were made up by the children and so do not, on the surface, seem to be of a folk character—not if folklore is defined as "traditional items of...

Part 1: Verse Stories: Ages Two through Four

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Two Years

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pp. 47-68

The verse stories in this section were collected over a period of slightly more than one year. This means that the children were at the age level mentioned when the earliest stories were collected, but they were older when they told the later stories. Birthdates are given after each name, and these along with the story dates...

Three Years

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pp. 69-98

Four Years

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pp. 99-115

Part 2: Plot Stories: Ages Five through Ten

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Five Years

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pp. 119-143

Stories for this group were collected over a period of two years. Initially, all children are the age cited, but some children may be two years older when they tell later stories. Specific birthdates were not available for this older age group. Again, names have been changed to preserve privacy and, where relevant...

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Six Years

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pp. 144-175

One night I slept on the floor with my dog Ruff, Ruff. And I was sleeping with my dog on the rug. But the rug started to open and then I went down into a Wonder World. I fell into a bowl of lava. And when I fell into it, I could swim in it and it hurt just a little [he pinches me a little...

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Seven Years

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pp. 176-215

This is how it started. Do you know Michael in our class? He had this monster and was trying to destroy the British. But then the Americans were also trying to destroy it. And the Germans were trying to destroy the sea monster, too. But then the Americans changed their minds...

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Eight Years

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pp. 216-262

Once there was a cheetah. The cheetah was his name and he lived in the forest. He was a very smart cheetah. Once in the middle of the night he heard footsteps. He thought it was a hunter he ran up a tree. He said, "yum" because he saw a big deer walking along the path in which...

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Nine Years

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pp. 263-288

Once upon a time there was a boy named Jerome and he was walking down the street and he saw his friend that wasn't in school for a week and his name was Miles, and he was playing with my brother. When I was coming back from school, 'cause my brother didn't go to school that...

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Ten Years

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pp. 289-311

Once there was a man who was very poor and he was fishing out by the sea. And he caught a fish that could talk. And the fish said, "I'm a magic fish and I'll grant you any wish you want if you let me go." So the man went back up to his house and asked his wife for what she wanted...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812207392
E-ISBN-10: 0812207394
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812211085
Print-ISBN-10: 0812211081

Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 559040793
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Folkstories of Children

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Folklore and children.
  • Child authors.
  • Fantasy in children.
  • Children -- Folklore.
  • Folklore and children -- New York (State) -- New York.
  • Children -- New York (State) -- New York -- Folklore.
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