Andrew Sedillo has taught Language Arts, Social Studies, and Technology at a middle school level. He currently holds a Bachelor's of Arts in Education, Master's of Arts Educational Learning Technology, and a Graduate certificate in Online Teaching and Learning.
Defining a Tall Tale
One thing that many of us have in common is the kind of stories we read and heard growing up. This statement alone may trigger flashbacks to some of your favorite childhood books. Were any of them about larger-than-life characters accomplishing incredible feats? If so, then you might have been a fan of tall tales. These stories have consistently been one of the most popular types of genres, and many tall tales written hundreds of years ago are still relevant to this day.
A tall tale tells the story about a main character who is described to be extraordinary compared to people in real life. (A main character is also called a protagonist.) These stories are highly exaggerated. This is done intentionally by the author to engage the reader in a story that allows the reader to get in touch with their imagination. Oftentimes, these tales are funny as well.
Tall tales were popularized in the United States in the 18th century. They were told by people as a means of entertainment and relaxation after a long day's work.
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Most Popular Tall Tales
Below are the names and descriptions of some of the most well-known and popular tall tales. As you go through them, see how many you remember!
Paul Bunyan is a tale about the tallest man in Maine. He wasn't just tall, he was giant. In the tale, people of Maine credit Paul Bunyan for digging their lakes, creating the Grand Canyon, taming a river, and digging Lake Michigan. Paul Bunyan is also recognized as the best lumberjack of all time. He is often seen with his pet, Babe the Blue Ox, who would grow to also be a giant!
Pecos Bill tells the story of a boy who was left behind by his family and was raised by coyotes near the Pecos River. Pecos Bill was later found by a cowboy who took him under his wing. Pecos Bill would go on to become one of the best cowboys in all of the land. Bill's legacy begins to build as he takes out gangs, fights a rattlesnake, and lassos a tornado. He is even credited for creating the art of becoming a cowboy.
John Henry was born a slave in the 1840s. He worked as a steel driver in Ohio and was known as the strongest man working at the railroad. John Henry would drill holes and hit steel spikes into hard pavement. People tried their best to match his strength but no one came close. His greatest accomplishment was the tunnel he made through Big Bend Mountain using two 20-pound hammers. This was a large mountain that took the lives of many men who worked in it. Unfortunately, upon its completion, it also took the life of John Henry, due to a blood vessel bursting in his brain.
Made popular in the 1800s, tall tales tell stories about people who are seen as larger than life. These figures are often extraordinary individuals compared to people in real life. The stories were created as a means of entertainment. To this day, they continue to entertain people who read them. Some of the most popular stories include Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, and John Henry.
After you complete the lesson, you should be able to:
- Define a tall tale
- Discuss the tall tales of Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill and John Henry
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What is a Tall Tale? - Definition, Characteristics & Examples
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