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Children's Folklore

A Source Book

Brian Sutton-Smith, Jay Mechling, Thomas W. Johnson, and Felicia R. McMahon

Publication Year: 1999

A collection of orginal essays by scholars from a variety of fields-- includng American studies, folklore, anthropology, pyschology, sociology, and education---Children's Folklore: A Source Book moves beyond traditional social-science views of child development. It reveals the complexity and artistry of interactions among children, challenging stereotypes of simple childhood innocence and conventional explanations of development that privilege sober and sensible adult outcomes. Instead, the play and lore of children is shown to be often disruptive, wayward, and irrational.

Published by: Utah State University Press


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi- xii

This book began when the late Sue Samuelson, my first teaching assistant in 1977 for the children's folklore course at the University of Pennsylvania, told me that it would not be possible to do a thesis in children's folklore because there...

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Introduction: What is Children's Folklore?

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pp. 3-10

Children's folklore is not easy to define. Folklore itself as a scholarly discipline is in a process of transition. In earlier definitions, attention was given predominantly to traditional stories, dances, proverbs, riddles, poetry, material culture, and customs, passed on orally from generation to generation. The emphasis was upon recording the "survivals" of an earlier way of life, believed to...

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Chapter 1: Who Are The Folklorists of Childhood?

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pp. 11-18

Most scholars date the serious study of children's folklore to two nineteenth century collections of children's games: The Traditional Games of England, Scotland, and Ireland: Tunes, Singing-Rhymes and Methods of Playing According to the Variants Extant and Recorded in Different Parts of the Kingdom (1894-98)...

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Section 1. Overview: History Of Children's Folklore

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pp. 19-22

This section continues to be centrally concerned with who the children in children's folklore are. It approaches that question through two reviews of the field of children's folklore. The first, by Zumwalt, is about the history of the concept of the child; the second, by McDowell, is about the way in which folklore gets...

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Chapter 2: The Complexity of Children's Folklore

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pp. 23-48

When I first started work in children's folklore, I dutifully asked my five, six-, and seven-year-old informants all the prescribed questions: Where did you learn that? Why do you think it's funny? What do you call it? They would, after the weeks passed, bear this with strained patience. With their heads cocked to one side and their eyes narrowed, they would answer, "I didn't learn it...

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Chapter 3: The Transmission of Children's Folklore

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pp. 49-62

The transmission of children's folklore naturally falls within the broader question of the transmission of folklore in general. Every conceptualization of folklore must contain a theory, whether explicit or implicit, regarding the transmission of folklore, since folklore is universally recognized as an inherently social phenomenon....

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Section II. Overview: Methods in Children's Folklore

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pp. 63-74

In this section we begin our study of methods in children's folklore by presenting two studies of children at play. The first is by Ann Richman Beresin, who conducted extensive video fieldwork in a mult-iethnic urban playground. The second, by Linda A. Hughes, is her report on several years of study of a group of elementary-school girls playing the game of foursquare. Both are unique insofar...

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Chapter 4: Double Dutch and Double Cameras: Studying the Transmission of Culture in an Urban School Yard

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pp. 75-92

It can be said that within the children's game lies an entire cosmos. For Jean Piaget, the study of marbles uncovered the wrestlings of the moral judgments of the child. For Brian Sutton-Smith, the flexibility of children's games revealed play itself as a process of invention and reversal. For John McDowell, the riddle texts unfolded...

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Chapter 5: Children's Games and Gaming

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pp. 93-120

Most studies of children's folk culture are based on collecting and analyzing items of folklore like rhymes, jokes, riddles, and games. Few describe or analyze the ways children use their folklore, or how its form and function vary...

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Chapter 6: Methodological Problems of Collecting Folklore from Children

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pp. 121-140

Most chapters in this Source book cover some aspect of child lore, providing a descriptive account of the range and content of that genre. This chapter has a different goal. I wish to describe techniques for effectively collecting children's lore of all types. While...

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Section III. Overview: Children's Folklore Concerns

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pp. 141-144

Children's folklore concerns are much more extensive than have been dealt with in folklore research. Indeed most of the chapters that follow in this central section of the Sourcebook are about some form of speech play, whether rhymes, songs, riddles, teases, or tales. This focus on speech play has its source in the...

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Chapter 7: Songs, Poems, and Rhymes

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pp. 145-160

Poetry and song came early in the development of Western civilization. Much of what we have left to us of the earliest literary works- Beowulf or Homer's Iliad and Odyssey-were probably recited in chanted or sung versions long before they were written down...

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Chapter 8: Riddles

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pp. 161-192

In this chapter, I survey four areas relevant to the study of children's verbal and nonverbal riddling. The first of these sections involves situational and interactional contexts. The second considers common rhetorical strategies of English-language riddles. The third takes up developmental concerns, reviewing the literature...

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Chapter 9: Tales and Legends

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pp. 193-212

Children are natural storytellers, and collectors of folklore can get a great deal of enjoyment from recording their tales and legends. On playgrounds, at parties, and around campfires--especially on dark, spooky nights-the stories children tell are amazing in their variety. They range from brief, hastily mumbled renditions...

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Chapter 10: Teases and Pranks

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pp. 213-224

Writing about pranks and teases is an especially attractive task, possibly because the study of these two particular forms of expressive activity bring the researcher in such close contact with the child's delight in playful interaction and immense enthusiasm...

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Section IV. Overview: Settings and Activities

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pp. 225-228

There is a striking contrast between the male-centered interest of the following three chapters by Mergen, Bronner, and Mechling, and the focus on females in the work of Zumwalt, Beresin, and Hughes. The latter chapters were micro-scaled and highly...

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Chapter 11: Children's Lore in School and Playgrounds

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pp. 229-250

Schools and playgrounds are virtually synonymous with childhood in contemporary America, but their importance to children's folklore is of relatively recent origin. Only after the middle of the nineteenth century did the majority of children attend school, and those that did rarely went for more than a few years...

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Chapter 12: Material Folk Culture of Children

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pp. 251-272

"One of my favorite toys when I was four years old was a piece of stiff wire roughly twelve inches long, bent into the shape of a double letter C. It must have been the piece that holds a thermos bottle firmly in the lid of a metal lunch box. I found it on the beach in southern California and named it 'gropper,' because...

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Chapter 13: Children's Folklore in Residential Institutions: Summer Camps, Boarding Schools, Hospitals, and Custodial Facilities

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pp. 273-292

Even when they are not literally so, young people in American culture sometimes feel like prisoners in the institutions controlled by adults. Their primary institutional experience during the course of a day is one of being in "the custody of" adults, from parents to teachers to athletic coaches to Scout leaders and...

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Conclusion. The Past in the Present: Theoretical Directions For Children's Folklore

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pp. 293-308

We believe that with this collection of articles the groundwork has been laid for future studies of children's folklore. The articles themselves vary between older or newer approaches to the discipline-in that respect they are fairly representative of the field as it currently stands-and they also indicate the areas in which...

Glossary: An Aid for Source Book Readers

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pp. 309-316

Bibliography of Children's Folklore

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pp. 317-370


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pp. 371- 378

E-ISBN-13: 9780874213577
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874212808

Publication Year: 1999