Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Wiley and the Hairy Man by Molly Garrett Bang

American folklore is full of spooky tales appropriate to the coming holiday. One of my favorites has been beautifully illustrated and retold for beginning readers by Molly Bang. The Hairy Man is one of those bogeymen parents caution their children against. He's not only ugly and disgusting, he's a conjure man and proud of it. And that's the flaw that Wiley and his mother use against him.

It is all too rare that a book for beginning readers is well written enough to read aloud fluidly but Bang has managed to use a limited vocabulary to advantage. Of course the plot has an internal rhythm, like most folktales, that works well with the repeating vocabulary. But to my mind, the best part of this book is the wonderful pictures. They capture the misty swamp along the Tombigbee River. And when the Hairy Man transforms, the illustrations show us a giraffe and then an alligator that each remain unmistakably the Hairy Man.

Mr. Miacca in Joseph Jacobs' collection of English Fairy Tales is another sack-carrying bogeyman who is outwitted by a clever child. The Headless Haunt and Other African-American Ghost Stories by James Haskins is a collection of stories from the Federal Writers Project that will give you a feel for the kind of stories Bang used to create Wiley and the Hairy Man. Pat McKissack's family stories in The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural are very tell-able. For my other favorite swamp critter, look in Spooky Campfire Tales retold by S. E. Schlosser for Tailypo

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