Pleasant DeSpain,
Sweet Land of Story:
Thirty-Six American Tales to Tell

(August House, 1998)

Pleasant DeSpain takes the reader on a storytelling tour of the United States in Sweet Land of Story.

DeSpain divides the 36 stories in the book equally into six regional sections: Northeast, Southeast, Gulf States, Midwest, Rocky Mountains and Pacific Coast. He prefaces each section by briefly describing the region and identifying his connection with it.

The stories are a mixed collection of anecdotes such as "Agnes and Henry, a Love Story," "Salting the Pudding" and "Old Joe and the Carpenter," and local legends such as "The Legend of Peter Rugg" and "La Escalaria Famosa (The Famous Stair)." There are Native American stories ("The Bluebonnet," "What You Wish For"), ghost stories ("Poor Tail-eee-poe," "The Haint That Roared") and stories about historical or tall-tale figures such as Johnny Appleseed, Pecos Bill, Calamity Jane and Jesse James. The examples given here aren't even half of what you'll find in this collection.

The stories are brief, usually not more than four or five pages long, and are tightly and smoothly written. They're just right to read aloud around a campfire, at bedtime or in a classroom to supplement the curriculum. At the same time, there is plenty of room for interpretation for storytellers. Detailed source notes at the end round out the volume and expand on the stories.

Don Bell's scratchboard style illustrations at the beginning of each tale provide just the right accent, enhancing the stories without distracting from them.

Whether read aloud or to oneself, in the classroom or at home on the couch, DeSpain's Sweet Land of Story has something to enrich and add dimension to anyone's perspective of the culture of the United States.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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