- Yo' Mama, Mary Mack, and Boudreaux and Thibodeaux: Louisiana Children's Folklore and Play by Jeanne Pitre Soileau
Winner of the 2018 Chicago Folklore Prize and the 2018 Iona and Peter Opie Prize, Jeanne Pitre Soileau's Yo' Mama, Mary Mack, and Boudreaux and Thibodeaux: Louisiana Children's Folklore and Play is an important exploration and analysis of African American children's expressive culture in Southern Louisiana during the latter half of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, from the advent of "the era of integration" to the dawn of "the age of computers and the internet" (p. 3). Drawing upon her interactions with children and youth (ages 3 to 18) on playgrounds, in classrooms, and in parks over an impressive 44 years, Soileau traces the evolving role of folk play for African American children amid racial integration and rapid technological, social, and political change. In her analysis of jokes, oral narratives, jump-rope rhymes, taunts, teases, and a slew of other forms of play, Soileau argues that African American children's play and verbal interactions are frequently used to navigate problems and delineate ethnic boundaries. In simpler terms, play teaches children "how to fit into their rapidly changing society" (p. 10).
Given the breadth of her fieldwork, Soileau is well-positioned to address what Gary Alan Fine called "Newell's Paradox" to describe folklorist William Wells Newell's ideas of "conservatism" and "inventiveness" in children's folklore—how children preserve traditions while simultaneously adapting their lore in response to their experiences and surroundings (p. 7). Soileau observes of her collection that, while [End Page 237] the structure of children's lore remains consistent over time, the content and performative expressions have changed to reflect technological innovations and media content, from boom boxes, computers, and cell phones to MTV, Michael Jackson, and martial arts. Soileau seems equally concerned with detailing how children's play has changed as she is with describing why it changed, including the effects of "integrated school settings," "technological modifications," or "media influences" (p. 7). Better yet, she wonders how African American children's play and verbal interactions influence popular media.
Structurally, the book is loosely divided into thematic sections, though the book contains neither formal sections nor chapter numbers. After addressing her methodology in the introduction and recounting the history and scope of her project, Soileau splits the book thematically into two parts: the first, composed of two chapters, "Boys' Verbal Play" and "Girls' Verbal Play," consists of gender-based case studies; the second, also composed of two chapters, traces the evolution of content in children's folk play between the 1970s and 2000s and the growing influence of the media and technology on that content. Nestled between the final chapter and the conclusion are a selection of black-andwhite photos from Soileau's collection. Many of the images are juxtaposed to show children engaging in similar—or, in the case of the boy rolling a car tire and the boy playing on a Kindle, very different—forms of play in the 1970s and in the 2010s. Yo' Mama also includes three appendices featuring (1) a transcription of an interview Soileau did with seven high schoolers in 2009; (2) additional jokes, rhymes, and song parodies from Soileau's Southern Louisiana collection; and (3) variations of songs and rhymes collected from girls.
In the chapter "Boys' Verbal Play," Soileau analyzes three representative speech events: third grade boys from J. W. Faulk Elementary School in Lafayette, Louisiana, "playing the dozens," 5th and 6th grade boys at John Dibert Elementary School in New Orleans telling jokes, and 14-year-old "Gregory" babysitting a group of second graders at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in New Orleans. In her careful recounting of each episode, Soileau notes structural and performative elements that remain consistent over time, such as the ability to provide a witty rejoinder to a "Yo' Mama" joke...