David Holt &
Bill Mooney, editors,
More Ready-to-Tell Tales
From Around the World

(August House, 2000)

For novice storytellers, one of the most difficult tasks is choosing a story to learn out of the myriad tales available. David Holt and Bill Mooney follow their previous collection, Ready-to-Tell Tales (August House, 1994), with -- what else? -- More Ready-to-Tell Tales From Around the World.

The 45 tales in this collection come from 46 professional storytellers, some of whom work in tandem. (Holt himself includes two stories.) The editors have made it easy to select a story by dividing them into sections: Comic Tales, Wise Fools, Trickster Tales, Tall Tales, How and Why Tales, Served With a Twist, Codes of Conduct, Wheel of Fortune, Family and Community, and Benediction. An index of stories by cultural source and one by recommended audience also help simplify the selection process.

Each tale identifies the cultural source, the teller and recommended audience. More detailed information on the story and a brief biography of the teller follow. After the tale, reprinted from the particular teller's repertoire, the storyteller offers tips on telling it in a section called "A Word From the Wise." This section may be brief or detailed, depending on the storyteller.

The collection has a broad international representation, including stories from Africa, Asia, Europe, North America (including representation from Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Mexico and more) and South America. The stories are brief and easily learned, and there is something that will appeal to almost everyone, from the silly Guyanese "Why Armadillos Are Funny" -- complete with optional gross-out song -- to the clever and instructive Cuban story "The Barking Mouse" to the Bahamian call and response of "B'Whale and B'Elephant" to the graceful Hindu parable "The Ruby." Furthermore, the stories introduce the beginner to some of the foremost names in the storytelling world, encouraging him or her to seek out more.

Holt and Mooney's introduction is essential reading: it is there that blanket permission is granted to use the stories in oral retellings only. They also discuss the storyteller's task to make a story his or her own; while verbatim memorization is all right, new tellers are encouraged to learn the bones of the stories, then retell them in their own words. (The one exception is the original story "The Praying Mantis," which should -- as most original stories -- be learned as close to verbatim as possible.) Holt and Mooney also emphasize the importance of the storyteller finding his or her own material.

In addition to being an easy to use source for when a story is needed in a short amount of time, More Ready-to-Tell Tales helps the beginner find a focus, as different types of tales can be "tried on" without a huge time investment. Not everyone who picks up this title has dreams of becoming a professional storyteller, but surely everyone can benefit by learning to tell a good story well.

On a sad note, I was startled to see one of the book's dedications to the memory of J.J. Reneaux, whose Wake Snake! was reviewed here. Reneaux died of cancer on February 29, 2000, and the storytelling world is poorer for its loss.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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