Friday, April 24, 2015


I discussed this ballad/legend in Stories from Songs. Here is Adam YJ's look at it:

"While the original story may be a bit bare bones, the ability of this story to change with the times and cultures and appeal to new generations really does make it The Stuff of Legends!"

Monday, April 6, 2015

I'm Going on Tour! Author Interviews: Gail de Vos

Gail de Vos

How did you get started in storytelling?

My mother would say that I started storytelling the moment I could string two words together but I did not officially begin my career as a storyteller until I was much older. I had travelled around South East Asia and Australia after I graduated with my B.Ed. but when I returned home, instead of teaching, I got married, had two daughters and decided to return to university to become a librarian. Because my daughters were still quite young I chose an evening course as my first foray back into the academic world. The course was storytelling, not a course I particularly wanted to take as I had dreams of being a research librarian working with ideas, not necessarily people. When I initially took the course I thought that it might help with parenting skills but….what I discovered absolutely changed the direction of my life!
I was very fortunate with both my instructor and the fact that seasoned storyteller, Tigge Anne Andersen, was auditing the course. She became my mentor and, for several years, my fellow storyteller in residence at Fort Edmonton Park, bringing history alive through story. She and I also collaborated on the first Fort Edmonton Park Storytelling Festival which celebrated its 25 anniversary last year. I finished my degree and became a librarian but never worked in a library in that capacity. Immediately after graduation the opportunity came to teach the storytelling course for the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Alberta and I went from graduating student to sessional instructor in the blink of an eye. These many years I am still teaching at SLIS as a sessional with additional courses such as Canadian Children’s Literature and Comic Books and Graphic Novels. I wished to remain a sessional instructor so I would be also free to follow my path as a storyteller and an author of resource materials on storytelling and folklore for educators and librarians.
I soon realized that my absolute favourite age of audience to tell stories to was teenagers and, while I love telling stories to all ages, that became a major focus of my story seeking, telling and writing.
I have since travelled this continent and a great deal of Europe telling stories, conducting workshops on storytelling and working with diverse groups of people, ages and backgrounds. I think I have the best occupation in the world and am so glad that I, however reluctantly, took that evening course those many years ago.

What (or who) inspires the stories you create and tell?

I am absolutely fascinated by the reworking of folklore and folktales in popular culture. When I sadly realized that many of our young people did not get the allusions to many of these tales, I began to tell these stories. Two of my books look at various folktales in the western cannon of tales but those are not the ones I usually tell. I want to introduce new audiences to old tales that are still relevant today but have not been shaped by the Disney machine. I also tell stories from my Jewish culture and, because of my lifelong fascination with Canadian history, local history highlighting place names, important historical figures and the tastes and smells of a past era. Because of this interest in Canadian history for young listeners I have the privilege of being the ongoing jury chair for the Canadian Children’s Book Centre Geoffrey Bilson Award for historical fiction.
My favourite stories have a twist or direction that gives pause for thought. Telling stories for me offers me the opportunity to encourage listening skills and critical thinking skills in audience members along with communication skills.

What was your favourite story as a child? Why?

Baba Yaga. I loved, and still do, stories about this Russian witch figure who sometimes eats children and sometimes helps them. I loved the imagery of the house on chicken feet and the thrill of the danger of the forest. The baba yaga (in Russian folklore it is not a proper name but a generic one) has recently “made” a comeback in North American popular culture with numerous depictions in comic books, novels, films, and plays. She is the ultimate earth mother and is neither totally benign nor horrendous.

How can teachers use storytelling in the classroom?

Values of Storytelling for students of all ages: Introduces listeners to a range of story experiences and increases knowledge and understanding of other places, races, and beliefs. Teachers can use a story to illuminate and discuss multiculturalism. It is a traditional teaching tool for Aboriginal students and should be employed when teaching all subjects regarding First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
Because storytelling provides students with models of story patterns, themes, characters, and incidents listening and retelling stories helps them in their own writing, oral language, and critical thinking. Having the students tell stories helps put children’s own words in perspective and creates a safe place for expression. The exposure to oral stories helps students to develop a sense of story, to make better predictions to anticipate what is next, to increase awareness of cause and effect while developing an awareness of essential story elements: point of view, plot, styles, characters, setting and theme. Listening to a teacher telling stories inspires students to create their own and to communicate them in oral and written forms. If the teacher tells stories in all of the subject matters, students soon realize that storytelling is a major communication tool that is an essential skill beyond the boundaries of the education system. They soon realize, as well, that the world is made of stories.
To summarize my long answer to this question: teachers can use stories and storytelling in every aspect of their teaching. For example, discoveries made by mathematicians may bring arithmetic alive for a student.

What are you looking forward to most during TD Canadian Children’s Book Week?

I am looking forward to revisiting various places in the province of Quebec. I have told stories there several times now and am always refreshed by the people, history, and landscape of the province. I am looking forward to hearing stories (echoes of tales) from members of the audiences in our discussions. I am most looking forward to sharing my versions of the old tales and Alberta history to listeners who, hopefully, will take the stories and the spirit of the storytelling experience, home to their own classroom, homes and family.
Click here to read Gail's author profile.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Excitement building for this year's CCBC TD Bank Book Tour

I am beginning to get a sense of the places, times and audiences that I will be telling stories to in just over a month. I will be basically in the Montreal, Quebec area -- and I am not complaining one little bit! I will be posting on this site throughout the tour as well as on Facebook with the odd tweet or two on Twitter. Do come along with me on my storytelling tour May 4-8, 2015

Monday, September 1, 2014

2015 TD Book Tour

I have been selected by Storytellers of Canada/Conteurs du Canada to tour Quebec as a storyteller for the TD Canadian Children's Book Week, sponsored by the Canadian Children's Book Centre during May 2-9, 2015. Updates to this blog as more details are forthcoming. Information on past tours can be found at

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Mercy, Mercy Brown

Just finshed reading Kathleen Tierney's Blood Oranges, the first book in a proposed trilogy by one of my go-to-authors (recognized more readily as Caitlin R. Kiernan). This is a witty parody, filled with tropes and commentary on many of the current poular fantasy novels and films featuring vampires (definitely doesn't sparkle) and werewolves in a contemporary urban setting. While I enjoyed/cringed/gulped the adventure, I was particularly taken by the many references to Rhode Island's historical famous "vampire," Mercy Brown.

I spend a little time with Mercy and legend tripping behaviour in What Happens Next? Contemporary Legends and Popular Culture (page 48). Two of Kiernan's earlier works are annotated: the novel The Red Tree (2009) and the short story "As Red as Red" published in Haunted Legends (2010).

Kiernan, writing as Tierney, has her narrator Quinn say this about the gravesite:

The tombstone's nothing fancy, a slab of marble with dates of birth and death, just the usual. Visitors had left a random assortment of tokens lined up along the top of the storn: pennies, small stones, a pewter pin from the Newport Folk Festival. In front of the stone there was no grass at all, just a dirt patch worn smooth by long years of the feet of those who came to see. The letters engraved in the marble had become ever more indistinct as a hundred and sixteen years of rain had eaten at the stone. Another hundred, it'll likely only be an anonymous slab. But maybe I'll still be around, and I'll remember.

The stone was securely bolted down with iron bands and concrete to ensure some damned frat boy, goth kid, or eBay huckster wouldn't try to make off with it (241).

Doesn’t Come with a How-To Manual: Blood Oranges by Kathleen Tierney

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Contemporary Legend Spotting: The Mistletoe Bough

Looking forward to reading how Mosse has adapted this tale.
(the following is from the review blurb linked above)

“The Mistletoe Bride” chronicles the wedding day of a young woman five hundred or so years ago. The party is held in Bramshill House in the middle of the winter, thus “there is mistletoe and holly, white berries and red,” and—in a tradition as old as time—a fine feast, made finer with wine. When all the sweetmeats are eaten, the new wife of Lord Lovell suggests “a game of hide-and-seek, for all those who yet have strength in their legs.”
The play is a way, attentive readers will realise, of delaying the daunting prospect of the wedding bed, an inevitability which leaves our narrator feeling conflicted. “I can see Lovell’s eyes on me and know he means to be the one who discovers my hiding place. There is part of me that shrinks at the thought of it, but he is a gentle man.”
Nevertheless, when the game begins, the mistletoe bride—Mosse gives her no other name—decides on one hell of a hiding place: in a “wooden coffer [that] is deep and long, the length of a man, and bound fast by four wide metal bands.” She settles into it as if it were a bed, and though she does not mean to sleep, sleep she does... with haunting consequences:"

"As the author asserts in her short survey of the various versions of this tale, which has been told almost as long as there were tales to tell, “The Mistletoe Bride” is “grisly, oddly compelling [...] the sort of story that sticks in the imagination,” and indeed it does. Some say it is founded on fact. Others suggest it springs from a song. In any event, it’s been an inspiration to many authors through the ages:
Charles Somerset produced a play of the same name in 1835, Henry James wrote ‘The Romance of Certain Old Clothes’ in 1868, transposed to eighteenth-century Massachusetts but clearly inspired by the story, and Susan E. Wallace published a short story—‘Ginevra or The Old Oak Chest: A Christmas Story’—in 1887. The tragic tale, a favourite of the protagonist, Brandon Shaw, is recounted in Hitchcock’s 1948 film, Rope. Jeanette Winterson wrote a haunting Christmas version of the story in 2002.
Whatever its legacy, “The Mistletoe Bride” is a fitting fiction with which to kick off this collection—and in a sense to bring it to an end as well, because the final short is another take on the same tale, if anything more impressive than the first: a strangely straightforward story for all its suggestiveness."

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Spotting contemporary legends in popular culture: Wisp of a Thing

"I can by to bring Doyle his lunch one day, and he was up under a car working on it," Berklee explained. "I was felling kinda silly, so since his legs were sticking out, I bent down and unzipped his pants on my way into his office."
"Where she found me sitting at my desk," Doyle added.
"Seems he'd hired this Barnes boy without mentioning it to me," Berklee said, " And now the poor kid cam staggering in, bleeding from where he'd smacked his head when he jumped 'cause somebody opened his fly." (105-106)

Published 2013.
Subject headings:
1. Musicians- Fiction
2. Magic- Fiction
3. Great Smoky Mountains (NC and Tenn.) - Fiction

Also found numerous allusions to ballads such as "Omie Wise" and others I will add when I uncover them with further reading. This is a sequel to The Hum and the Shiver (highly recommended as well).