Alice's Academy

Caroline Jones, editor

Playing to Girls in Virginia Hamilton’s Her Stories and Patricia McKissack’s Porch Lies: Frames of Selfhood, Community, and Audience

Karen Chandler

Karen Chandler, an associate professor at the University of Louisville, writes about and teaches courses on African American print and vernacular cultures. She is currently working on a book about representations of history in African American children's literature.

Virginia Hamilton’s Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales (1995) and Patricia McKissack’s Porch Lies: Tales of Slicksters, Tricksters, and Other Wily Characters (2006) redress the patriarchal focus of many prior collections of black folklore.[1] Such collections have foregrounded the antics and adventures of men or male animals—brothers, Bruhs, and John. If female characters figure in the action, they usually have subordinate roles as supports or obstacles to a male protagonist. Her Stories and Porch Lies, by contrast, explore a range of women’s and girls’ experience, both within the tales collected and in evocations of the interactive nature of storytelling. Both books redefine women’s and girls’ place in connection to folktales: Hamilton generally places women or girls at the center of tales as active protagonists; McKissack includes some tales that focus on women characters’ daring actions, but more commonly places a girl or woman in the narrative frames that shape the tales’ range of meanings. Both approaches expand on common understandings of the folkloric community, highlighting the importance of girls as audiences for folktales.

Together the books confirm the idea that tellers shape tales to fit within and respond to a storytelling environment, and thus challenge the conventions of relying on manhood as the standard for action and heroism within tales and assuming men as the standard audience (Jurich 29).[2] Her Stories and Porch Lies posit that girls had particular ways of negotiating power in systems in which they were at a racial and generational disadvantage; and their folklore has reflected these emphases. As Patricia Hill Collins has explained, African American women and girls, albeit diverse in class, educational experience, region, religion, and other aspects of identity, have shared a struggle both within and outside black American communities (26-27). And this struggle has yielded not a single perspective but rather a range of “alternative practices and knowledges that have been designed to foster U.S. Black women’s [and girls] group empowerment” (Collins 30). Her Stories’ and Porch Lies’ concern with selfhood, community, communication and power, class, and morality manifests such distinctly gendered contours. The collections both expose the vulnerability of women and girls in social systems that depend on racial, class, and gender distinctions and also reveal women’s and girls’ ingenuity in overcoming obstacles to self-realization that these distinctions enforce. As Collins has pointed out, “Groups organized around race, class, and gender in and of themselves are not inherently a problem” (23). Yet Her Stories and Porch Lies portray some of the ways such differences especially limit girls’ and women’s cognitive and social advancement. In exploring this gender dynamic, Her Stories and Porch Lies affirm the richness and flexibility of African American folklore and girls’ ingenuity and creative resilience.

Porch Lies and Her Stories represent McKissack’s and Hamilton’s longstanding concern that their books have a function in young readers’ lives akin to that of the oral storytelling long central to African-American vernacular culture. That this is a goal for the authors is suggested by their many books inspired by black folklore, inc-0luding Hamilton’s The People Could Fly, When Birds Could Talk and Bats Could Sing, and The Magical Adventures of Pretty Pearl, and McKissack’s Flossie and the Fox and Mirandy and Brother Wind. For Hamilton, sharing traditional stories, whether through writing or oral telling, is a “way of passing along heritage” (Clark 28). For both Hamilton and McKissack, stories crystallize aspects of culture—they are historical artifacts that provide insight into the values and beliefs that have sustained African Americans through a difficult history (“Children's Book Festival” 326; Porch Lies xi). Folktales served to entertain and orient members of a community, to test and reinforce beliefs and social practices. Tales’ survival, along with that of songs, riddles, visual art, and many other forms of black vernacular expression, enables, according to Daryl Dance, “a much more honest, objective, and direct reflection of a people than can be found in what those in the academy usually designate history, or sociology, or literature” (Dance From My People xxxvi). Dance explains that “folklore is a group creation that by its very being—its conception, transmission, and survival—reveals a great deal about the realities of the life of that group—about their experiences and reactions to those experiences” (From My People xxxvi). For folklorists such as Dance and collectors like McKissack and Hamilton, stories fill in gaps in the official histories of African Americans, gaps resulting from racial segregation, cultural misunderstanding, and other legacies of racism, as well as from the marginalization of black women’s and girls’ experience.

For Hamilton and McKissack, a sense of historical experience can serve as better orientation for the present, which is characterized by an often misogynist hip hop culture, the lingering of long-standing stereotypes of African American women, and disparities between white and black Americans’ economic and educational achievement.[3]  Hamilton’s Her Stories, featuring several genres of tales from throughout the African diaspora, foregrounds a range of narrative voices that portray feminine desire and aspiration. The stories comment on the power of women and girls to shape their experience and the at times overwhelming and repressive power of society and its agents. Concerned with the same themes, Porch Lies focuses on the genre of the trickster tale, dramatizes the practice of tale-telling, and suggests its place in a woman’s personal history. Both books show how stories offer lessons and highlight skills that girls can use for surviving in an unjust and dangerous world; they exercise readers’ capacity for engaging with the world thoughtfully and imaginatively. Their lessons are historical, pointing back to the ways girls and women, as well as boys and men, have striven to express themselves and secure personal and communal rights, and McKissack and Hamilton suggest that these lessons and skills remain relevant in today’s world (McKissack “That’s Why I Write” 63). Hamilton, for instance, sees folk tales as “a metaphor for present-day struggles and accomplishments of American blacks” (qtd. in Mikkelson Hamilton 115); furthermore, she argues that they “Illuminate the triumphs of talking and telling among the people of the present and reveal the connections of this ethnic group to its historical self” (qtd. in Mikkelson Hamilton 118).

Telling Tales in Her Stories

Hamilton’s Her Stories, the more conventionally shaped anthology, explores girls’ and women’s experiences through many kinds of tales, including fairy tales, legends, and biographical sketches. The book features interpretive frames with section introductions and post-tale annotations. A bibliography reveals the breadth of Hamilton’s sources for the tales, which range from late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century issues of the Journal of American Folk-Lore to collections of oral history undertaken by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s and 1940s. The most recent entry, based on an interview conducted for the Ohio Oral History Project, comes from a woman in Hamilton’s hometown.  In organizing and presenting the stories, Hamilton translates them into her own language, selecting and arranging them to express her vision as an artist and to honor their status as cultural artifacts that convey information about girls and women that is often overlooked in the general culture (Hamilton “Frances Clarke Sayers” 317). According to Hamilton in an interview in The Crisis, the book’s stories were “told by mostly girls who lived on plantations” and were means “to free themselves through their imagination”; she sought to capture this sense of potential, “to show the empowerment they gave themselves” (Clark 29). To retell or “recast” the stories is to accentuate their status as “liberational literature,” reflecting African American girls’ creativity and resilience in the face of oppression and danger (“Frances Clarke Sayers” 316-317). To emphasize this status, Hamilton, helped by her illustrators Leo and Diane Dillon, presents culturally specific parameters through which to understand the stories. For instance, she has included animal tales that foreground human interactions with non-human animals who display human attributes, rather than focusing on conflicts among the latter, which is common in black folklore.  Although such animal tales also may comment on human and specifically African American tendencies and conditions, Hamilton’s word-texts, underscored by the Dillon’s pictures, emphasize black girls’ interaction with a human or anthropomorphic world, interaction that may or may not evince a creativity that guards, and potentially liberates, the self.  Nevertheless, creativity in Her Stories is often put in the service of negative messages about individual power and the necessity that it remain subordinate to the interests of a larger social group, whether family or community. This restriction marks the contingent nature of the tales: if they do not offer a simple, uniform affirmation of black women’s and girls’ power, they do suggest the ways in which both tale teller and receiver might have explored conflicts in life imaginatively, whether the conflict between personal desire and family obligation, woman and man, human and devil, family and outsider, or the dangerous but familiar and the safe but strange.

The first tale in Her Stories signals Hamilton’s concern with foregrounding a girl’s power and suggests the extent to which she is willing to re-create a tale in exploring the possibilities and limits of female authority and autonomy.  Power can yield results, the story suggests, but effective power and responsible freedom are bound to social obligations. Focusing on the issues of personal responsibility and social awareness, “Little Girl and Buh Rabby” is an animal tale that recounts a girl’s efforts to obey her mother and protect her family’s property from intrusion in the mother’s absence. “Little Girl and Buh Rabby” calls on readers to see the importance of taking into account a language user’s words and the circumstances that inform them. A rabbit succeeds in tricking a girl into letting him into her family’s fenced garden, lying that her mother has given him permission to enter, to which the girl responds, “All right, if Mama said so” (Her Stories 3). The rabbit gets his food and escapes unharmed, but the next day the girl follows her mother’s new directions to allow the rabbit in to trap him. When the rabbit eats his fill and asks to leave, the girl tells him, “Buh Rabbit, can’t you see I am fixing these sweet peas for my mama? I can’t be bothered with you!” (Her Stories 4). Asserting her adherence to family, particularly the mother, the girl slyly refers to, or signifies on, the rabbit’s past manipulation of the mother’s supposed orders.  Signifying, a common African American form of verbal one-upmanship that uses indirection, here serves as the girl’s means of affirming her perspective—her allegiance to family and her sense of the rabbit’s unworthiness. As before, she follows her mother’s orders, but this time she does so knowing the full significance of her actions:

Next day, Buh Rabby hopped on over. . .
Little Girl stayed quiet, but she opened the gate, and Buh Rabby hopped inside. White puff tail, big feet, flippity-flop he goes.
Little Girl locked the gate behind Buh Rabby. Puff tail, up and down the sweet-pea row, ears just waving.
Buh Rabby stayed all day. Then, way late, he dragged his full-belly self to the gate. It was almost time for Little Girl’s daddy to come home from his labor, too. But that rabbit didn’t know a thing. (Her Stories 4)

Clearly, the girl has moved beyond the rabbit’s clever manipulation and acquired power over him. She has out-tricked the rabbit through her effective use of language. 

The rabbit, as outsider, is concerned with his own needs, but Hamilton makes the girl the thematic focus of much of the story and encourages readers to compare the two tricksters. At the end of the story, the girl and her father place Rabby in a sack and hang him from a tree, where he fools Wolf into changing places with him. Although this shift signals the ultimate success of the rabbit’s verbal trickery, it is notable that he does not outwit the girl. Indeed the story validates the family’s system of reciprocal support, which encompasses playfulness and cleverness, as well as the hard work of growing, harvesting, and selling food and protecting it from external threats.  The girl is part of a social group that directs their energies to enabling and maintaining their joint economic welfare. And her actions are aligned with those in other stories in the collection that stress individual initiative is necessary in a world of social disparities and natural threats, but that this initiative often works best when it is compatible with group needs. If this message is exclusive and restrictive, maintaining the familial order to the exclusion of needy others, it reflects a concern with shoring up social supports in a post-bellum era in which families were a central foundation of African American life (White 26). It also points to women’s role in keeping the family viable in a market economy.[4]  According to the mother, once the girl learns how to guard their house and grounds, they can go to market together, suggesting that the girl will be ready to venture beyond the relatively safe bounds of the home and take on more socio-economic challenges.

That Hamilton’s shaping of the story reflects her concern with feminine power is obvious from her revisions to the male focus characterizing many versions of the tale, including Joel Chandler Harris’s “Brother Rabbit and the Little Girl” (1881), and more recently, Julius Lester’s “Brer Rabbit and the Little Girl” (1987) and Alice McGill’s “Bruh Rabbit’s Mystery Bag” (2004). Harris’s story, as told by Uncle Remus, begins with a rabbit seeing a girl alone in a garden full of vegetables and fruit. He politely asks about her welfare, and at her reciprocal inquiry, tells her that he is feeling ill and has secured her father’s permission to enter the garden to eat. The girl lets him in and the rabbit relies on the lie on subsequent days. The story then shifts to the father, Mr. Man, who notices his diminishing yield and starts accusing his workers of theft, only to have the daughter remind him of the permission he supposedly has granted rabbit. Mr. Man then decides to trick the rabbit, advising the girl to continue her routine with the rabbit and afterward to run straight to father.  When this occurs, the man catches the rabbit and ties him up, but while the man is searching for a whip, the rabbit tricks the girl and regains his freedom (Harris 120-121). Lester’s version of the story also uses the girl as a pawn of both the rabbit and the father, but adds a new twist, emphasizing the girl’s vanity as a weakness that the rabbit repeatedly exploits (Lester 76-77). The principal difference between these versions of the tale and Hamilton’s is that in Lester’s and Harris’s the girl remains unenlightened about coping in a world of male competition: she proves more effective in serving her family’s interest in “Little Girl and Buh Rabby” and she might be seen as having more personal investment in overcoming the rabbit’s ploys and acting on a sense of retributive justice that she shares with her father and mother. She quietly acts on her fuller knowledge about the rabbit’s circumstances, his entrapment.  She can look forward to the journey to the market, after all, and find her niche within the family’s system of competence, industry, and productivity. She is a heroine in Hamilton’s rendition, an innocent individual who gains knowledge and competence, rather than a hopeless dupe.

Hamilton’s handling of the tale also differs from McGill’s animal-centered version, underscoring a sense of girls’ power as community-based—that is, supportive of and supported by others, especially a strong mother. Both versions replace Mr. Man with such a matriarch, but the tone and dynamics of the relationship between mother and daughter differ. In the McGill story the girl’s relationship with her mother is characterized by the latter’s frustration with the daughter and resulting accusations of wrongdoing or negligence:

At last, one day, Mama Bear missed so many turnips, tomatoes, and cabbages, she called Little Girl Bear to the gate. “Did you eat out of the garden while I was looking for honey?”
“No, Mama,” the little bear answered.
“You been watching the garden like I told you?”
“Yes, Mama.”
“Then why so many cabbages be missing? Look like somebody been here.” (McGill 32)

The mother’s questions signal doubt about her daughter’s capacity to support the family’s interests, targeting in turn the girl’s appetite and effectiveness. The accusing questions suggest the girl’s moral shortcoming and recall stereotypical associations between African Americans and childishness. The dynamic in Hamilton’s story is quite different because the relationship between mother and daughter is based on mutual trust and respect. It is the girl who approaches the mother with news of the rabbit’s visit after his first foray in the garden, and the mother shares her plan with the girl rather than simply using her to help enact it. Hamilton’s revision to the tale thus demonstrates the importance of the individual within the family group and emphasizes the need for exercising personal resourcefulness and ingenuity to support the group.

In Hamilton’s hands, even a tale that emphasizes individual success, such as “Malindy and Little Devil,” about a girl who outwits the devil through her play with language, affirms the importance of making choices that ultimately benefit family. “Malindy and Little Devil” emphasizes the necessity for being resourceful in combating those who would disadvantage and subordinate the self. After spilling the family’s milk and dirtying her dress, Malindy negotiates with the devil to escape her father’s punishment. When the devil tells her “I want to help you,” she does not jump at his first offer:

“I’m listening,” Malindy said.
“I’ll restore your milk to its pail for a price,” he told her.
“Will you dry my dress off, too? My mama will spank me for getting my dress all dirty,” Malindy said.
“I can do that,” said Little Devil. “But first, you must promise to give me your soul when you pass beyond this earth.”
“But I want to stay here a long time,” said Malindy. (Her Stories 62)

Malindy never seems in awe of the devil: she deliberates and then voices her desire to abide by her mother’s standards and live as long as her mother has, and the devil consents. Another sign of the uncertain hierarchy within the relationship is the dance that seals their deal: “She did a twirling dance in her sandals as Little Devil spun her just so” (Her Stories 63). Hamilton suggests a balance: if the devil is spinning her, he is not controlling her, for she “did” the dance, which suggests she chooses her action. Not surprisingly, when the devil comes to collect on their promise when she is 29 years old, Malindy presents the devil with the sole of a shoe. The story’s individualist edge is tempered somewhat by the closing words: “Malindy? Well, she went dancing along through life. So did her many children. They all lived happily ever after. See, because the devil can get your sole but one time. After that, he has to quit” (Her Stories 65). Through her cleverness, Malindy lives in accordance with her desires and ensures the welfare of her family line, thus paralleling other protagonists whose actions are favorable to their families.

Hamilton’s concern with community or group welfare shapes her representations of individual pursuits, and relates her to other women writers who emerged in the 1960s and 1970s during debates about the artistic principles that should inform African American art. Many writers who embraced black culture and black identity emphasized the importance of community, for “the economic, political, and aesthetic program of black nationalism was authorized by its commitment to the black community, which was theoretically conceived in stark contrast to the white U.S. ideology of individualism” (Dubey 21). As the folklorist John Roberts has asserted, “as a community unified and acting in harmony, [African Americans] enhanced the opportunities that they could overcome the harshness of their conditions” (Roberts 93). These conditions included racism, poverty, and segregation, and securing the solidarity needed to negotiate them often meant that women had to sacrifice their voices and personal needs. Indeed, many African American women writers, while representing the benefits of community, also acknowledged and challenged the communal practices that legitimated women’s subordination and self-suppression (Dubey 20). Where home, family, and community often appear as sites for self-actualization in the Black Nationalist literature by men, women writers such as Alice Walker, Toni Cade Bambara, and Toni Morrison also explore the dangers for girls and women of conforming to society (Dubey 20). Hamilton’s representation of community and family in Her Stories often relates to this tendency, for in some tales she indicates that society runs on a soul-killing conformity and routine that discourages girls’ curiosity and self-expression.

Tales such as “Mary Belle and the Mermaid,” “Who You!,” and “Mermaid Out of the Sea” warn about the dangers of groups that do not fulfill some members’ needs, but the stories’ emphases differ. Hamilton’s version of “Mary Belle and the Mermaid,” for instance, presents a young girl who finds help from an outsider, a kind mermaid, after her father and stepmother neglect her basic needs.  The mermaid is a surrogate for Mary Belle’s dead mother and a type of Mami-Wata, the benevolent goddess of West African legends, leading the girl into the sea for “lots of goodies to eat and some sugar, and cream to drink,” an experience that is repeated until Mary Belle tells her family about her adventure (Her Stories 34). The father subsequently tracks down and, as Mary Belle watches, shoots the mermaid. With his use of technology to kill the mermaid, the father represents the destructive power of modernity and patriarchy unchecked by the virtues of understanding, tolerance, and respect for the mysterious and feminine forces of nature. By the end of the story, a confused and grieving Mary Belle returns to the shore to find the mermaid, and when she cannot, “walked out into the river . . . .  [and] disappeared under the rippling waves” (Her Stories 37). The story suggests that when a girl wants satisfaction and relationship outside of approved society she will suffer severe consequences. Yet the story also exposes the injustice of the father, of social authority, in seeking to correct errant energies and desires. “Who You!,” in which Hamilton portrays a society that discriminates against an individual because of her status as an outsider, carries a similar message, but it is the group, rather than the apparently vulnerable stranger, that suffers punishment this time.

The community in another mermaid tale, “The Mer-woman Out of the Sea,” is less insensitive, but it is still intent on maintaining boundaries between the group and those who do not fit. Hamilton adopts a second-person plural narrative voice to bring her readers into the story as witnesses and actors and to portray group solidarity and judgment. When a mermaid in “The Mer-woman Out of the Sea” is rumored to be held captive by an exploitative “doctor to the dead things” (Her Stories 79), the community feels compassion for her:  “the thought of her there made us sad enough to cry” (Her Stories 80). The conjecturing second-person plural narrative voice opposes the mysterious doctor, who represents the destructive power of science. The doctor’s experiments allude to the long history of scientists’ abuse of African Americans because of their supposed biological difference from whites (Washington 7-8). The story presents the doctor as a Frankenstein figure who defies the order of nature, reportedly experimenting on “terrible, half-alive things that ought not to have seen the light of day” (Her Stories 79), while the community whispers about him warily. In taking the mer-woman from the sea, he has upset the balance of nature and brought on continuous rain that interferes with the community’s welfare. In acting against the doctor, the community is roused both to protect itself and to rescue the mermaid, storming the doctor’s house and demanding that he “let her out, let her go back to where she belongs!” (Her Stories 80). “The Mer-woman Out of the Sea” also underscores the importance of maintaining standards that ensure individual actions, such as the scientist’s, do not harm others, whether they are members of a community or exist outside it. Hamilton is encouraging readers to weigh the consequences of individualism, suggesting that individual pursuits need to fit within the parameters of community to ensure the welfare of the social and natural order. Yet the communal cry pointedly conveys the group’s unquestioning acceptance of social segregation, which many tales of mermaids echo (Cooper 49). As in “Who You!,” in which a group shows no interest in getting to know the person it is excluding, a community maintains its solidarity in part through the ways it remains detached from and excludes outsiders.

Within the culture, an individualist drive might be construed as disruptive, and many tales in Her Stories highlight the danger of woman’s desire, with two narrative lines predominating: tales that foreground destructive competitions among women, usually over a man; and tales that emphasize either parental or romantic conflict between a female and male character. Tales about competing women, including “Good Blanche, Bad Rose, and the Talking Eggs,” “Lonna and Cat Woman,” and “Macie and Boo Hag,” advance the idea that womanly desire injures either self or other. In “Macie and Boo Hag” a woman’s recurring struggle with a demon is initiated because, she says, “I suspect some jealous girl put the hag up to it. Some young woman didn’t like the young men come to court me because I was so pretty” (Her Stories 51). A similar competition drives “Lonna and Cat Woman,” in which Lonna asks for a conjure woman’s help in undercutting a rival. The two tales indicate the highly competitive nature of social relations and suggest that innocence does not necessarily triumph in such a world. Yet in “Good Blanche, Bad Rose, and the Talking Eggs,” a naive protagonist, a put-upon young woman who follows a witch’s directions in comporting herself, receives riches. The envious sister, by contrast, who is only concerned with amassing wealth for herself and her mother, suffers because she is not deferential. Because of her self-centeredness and lack of social graces, Bad Rose receives vermin rather than gold and jewels and loses her status as human in a sense, when her mother “sent Rose away like a dog” (Her Stories 32). The story suggests that self-indulgence can reduce a woman to a dog. The polite Good Blanche is set up as model: though she runs away from her mother and sister’s abuse, she is mostly passive, and she is rescued by the witch and does what she is told to do: act with respect for the witch’s authority and not ask questions. 

Self-subordination, though standard in Her Stories, is not the only option for girls and women. As in “Malindy and Little Devil,” and much children’s literature that features strong-minded girls, indirection is a means by which girls and others with marginal authority can secure some power over others who have authority over them (Paul 188). Malindy succeeds because she appears to defer to the devil. Other protagonists depend on wise helpers who guide them out of the trouble, displacing bold acts onto older figures whose knowledge of the natural and supernatural circumvent or openly defy official hierarchies of power.  Lena of “Lena and Big One Tiger” is tricked by a tiger into marriage because she has repeatedly expressed her desire to avoid a mate with any disfigurement: “He heard Lena talking from a way off” and he decides to exact revenge on the demanding, “glory-looking” woman.  When the tiger uses a spell to look like a man “dressed . . . up all swell” with a “real fine buggy” (Her Stories 7), Lena, trusting too much in appearances, enthusiastically accepts his offer of marriage. The tiger promptly takes her to an abandoned place and deprives her of food. Her punishment—isolation and starvation—results from her voicing of her desire. Yet she ultimately escapes the punishment and survives through the help of an elderly male acquaintance of her father. The man intercedes to break the tiger’s spell and helps Lena see her husband is not an unblemished man. The tale emphasizes the patriarchal rescuer’s wisdom and the tiger’s cognitive advantage over Lena (“I tricked you to show how you didn’t know everything”), which Hamilton posits circulated as a tale told by men to “protest against [African] matriarchal order” (Her Stories 10). Yet it is important to note that Lena does gain insight into her circumstances and endures, albeit through the help of an elder. This kind of aid is important to resolving narrative conflicts in several of the collected tales, suggesting that individuals act more wisely when they are guided by experienced associates.

Such an alliance is central to “Catskinella,” a version of the Cinderella tale that features a woman who succeeds in expressing her will by relying on her own cunning and that of her wise godmother.  Although the story emphasizes the protagonist’s triumph, it underscores both the pressures she faces as a woman of marriageable age and potentially dominant influence of men. “Catskinella” initially foregrounds the young Ella’s conflict with a father who requires that she marry a man she does not love. Using her wit, Ella sends the suitor on what she hopes will be an unsuccessful errand, finding a talking mirror. When he comes back with one, Ella turns to her godmother, Mother Mattie, for help.  At her behest, Ella tells her father to skin a cat for a dress and have the intended groom secure a ring. These strategies buy her time, but also keep her connected to the two men who assume her compliance. The father in particular remains nearby, restricting her mobility. Once the father gives her the dress and ring, she uses them, however, along with the talking mirror, to trick the men and escape. Mother Mattie plays an indispensable role in this plot, aiding in Ella’s transformation into Catskinella, which associates the young woman with sorcery and manifests her independence and agency (Her Stories 27; Hannah 35): “Catskinella had run away, fast as she could go” (Her Stories 24). It is significant that the mentor figure supports rather than discourages these tendencies and helps Ella move out of her father’s realm into a world of possibility and choice.  

Admittedly, the second part of the story narrows that possibility to the traditional path of heteronormative romance, but Hamilton’s version of the story balances male pursuit and power, with female objectification and choice. After her escape, Ella sees a castle and seeks shelter. Immediately, the prince sees and falls in love with her, in spite of the alarming cat skin she continues to wear. The story then proceeds to emphasize the prince’s passion for and pursuit of Ella, as object of his admiration. Rather than working with another patriarchal figure to secure Ella as his own, however, the prince devises a contest that she chooses to enter. The story’s focus on the prince complements its concern with Ella’s agency, for when all the eligible women in the kingdom eagerly enter the baking contest to win the prince, she shows some hesitance, commenting, “Why should I? Oh, well, I will. He found me a place to work and a cabin to live in” (Her Stories 26). In making the cake, she drops her ring into the batter, and later, when he seeks the cake’s baker, she steps forward. His proposal of marriage follows, provoking her assured assent: “Of course I’ll marry you!” and his thanks. The story balances Ella’s status as object and subject. It allows that Ella’s choices are circumscribed, but also insists on her power to have some control within this system of compromise. Like “Lena and the Tiger,” the story portrays the importance of building alliances that can support the self.

Hamilton’s retelling of the legend of Annie Christmas foregrounds a protagonist whose queerness proves antithetical to compromise and signals the impossibility of finding a viable place in a society that does not accommodate expressions of selfhood that exceed the conventional definitions of womanhood. “Queer” is a fitting term for Annie, because as Michelle Ann Abate and Kenneth Kidd explain, it describes uniqueness or strangeness, as well as “nonheteronormative sexual and cultural identity” (4). In Annie’s case, queerness encompasses ambiguities that are never resolved and inspire a narrative without closure. Annie is larger than life, “coal black and tree tall,” “the biggest woman in the state of Loo-siana,” weighing nearly 300 pounds and wielding exceptional physical strength [5] (Her Stories 84).  She is the mother of twelve sons, but feared by other men. She uses her physical power and presence in her work as a keelboat captain and in the fights that are a commonplace on and along the river: “she could make fists hard, and she would fight boatmen by the dozen and beat them down every time” (Her Stories 84). Like Ella, her clothing manifests aspects of her gendered performance, but unlike Ella’s form-hugging cat skin dress, with its associations of magic, trickery, and sex-object status, Annie “dressed like a man, in harsh men’s clothes. She had a mustache, too” (Her Stories 84). Yet Annie can also “dress up like a fine lady” and take an excursion on the river with her “dressed-up girlfriends,” who one by one forsake the sisterhood for “dandies, all fussy and overstuffed in their shirts and scarlet bow ties” (Her Stories 85). Annie’s friends choose men they most likely can dominate, meeting the challenge of patriarchy by assuming the masterful, active role usually taken by men. Yet this is a path to romantic satisfaction and union that Annie does not accept. She aims for a relationship of equals, but after the boat captain she loves rejects her, her story passes into a realm of community conjecture whose contradictions point to the insufficiency of any one narrative trajectory for rendering Annie’s complex experience.

The story’s last sections present Annie in incongruous poses that emphasize the uncertainty of her experience and the need for readers to be active in imagining and understanding her life. According to the narrator, the final truths of Annie’s experience are the man’s rejection, her sense of estrangement, her cursing the would-be lover, and her departure.  Hamilton indicates that what follows is hearsay and thus less certain. Some believe a love-struck Annie kills herself: “They say Annie couldn’t get over the captain . . . . She got dressed up in her prettiest satin dress . . . went out on the river, and jumped overboard.” Yet the story discourages readers from seeing Annie simply as the victim of a broken heart, for this conclusion conflicts with the previous statement about her emotional estrangement from the captain: “She was in love and then out of love in about a minute flat” (86).  The story also is contradictory about the supposed drowning: “She was never seen again. Poor thing drowned like a rat” and “some say her sons found her washed ashore” (Her Stories 86, 87). The discrepancy between the larger-than-life Annie’s disappearance and the diminishing simile (“like a rat”) underscores the narrative’s discontinuity and status as a community effort, cobbled together from different commentators’ perspectives. The image of Annie as rat is subverted by the account of her grand, well-attended funeral parade, which ends with the description of Annie’s funeral barge, coffin and living sons, all of which “vanished from sight and were forever gone.” About this account, the narrator comments, “Now you can believe this last, or not. But this is what the black folks say.” This framing of the account can also refer to the story’s subsequent, final description of the barge’s return ”out of the mist” with “Annie, sitting on her own wood grave, singing a river tune to the thundering sky” (Her Stories 88). This reference to the recurring vision and sound of Annie leaves readers with a sense of her enduring importance, encouraging them to piece together the various, sometimes contradictory pieces of her story.  

Of course, “Annie Christmas” may be read as a caution against a strong woman’s assertion of desire or as a critique of a woman’s incapacity to sustain her power in the world. As such, the story seems to depart from the liberatory nature of much of Her Stories. Yet the story promotes interpretive openness in ways befitting Annie’s sense of adventure and mystery. In defining her unconventionality as queerness, Hamilton insists that the protagonist’s identity and power is not limited to one simply understood way of being: Annie embodies feminine and masculine qualities and pursues homosocial and heterosexual desires. She also demonstrates a kind of asexuality, not merely as lack of sexual desire but also as autonomy or self-reliance: her twelve sons have no apparent father, for instance, and she seems content to ride the river alone for a while after her girlfriends leave her. After her death, Annie continues to inhabit, to ride, the river, along with her sons—a river that here and in many other works of fiction, represents life. If Annie fails to succeed in conventional romantic and narrative terms, she nevertheless survives through her uncontainable spirit. She provides a complicated set of images for young readers to ponder.

These stories about women’s power and compromises prepare for the three true tales that, along with Hamilton’s afterword, cap the collection. Each autobiographical narrative is about a woman’s ability to weather hardship, and resonates thematically with girls’ or women’s  negotiations of social roles or social obligation in other parts of the collection. Hamilton adapts “Lettice Boyer: From Way Back,” for instance, from an oral narrative first published in 1939, offering an overview of Boyer’s life that encompasses her time as a domestic slave, the later, more demanding experience of field labor, and the long struggle to subsist after she attains freedom. Notably, the 110-year old Boyer, who displays ingenuity, resilience, and vulnerability in narrating her story, explains that her chronic pain is the work of “witches,” but comments further that “The only thing I’ve been afraid of is the living, not the dead, and not the haunts” (Her Stories 97). As in some of the fictional tales, supernatural forces complicate her experience, but the dynamics of a socially and economically stratified world prove most challenging. At the end of the narrative Boyer is worried about her dependence on her granddaughter’s family: “It bothers me having to come here and put up on Hallie and [her husband] Will. I’ve got nothing to pay them for taking me in. I have never done anything for Will. There’s two children here, too, to eat off the one bale of cotton he made last year, without me causing a crowd. Sometimes when I get to table, I sit there and cry, because I’m so hungry, and I hate so bad to eat up Will’s food” (Her Stories 98). This working-class woman’s spirit of self-reliance and the resulting shame align Boyer with American mainline values, but her portrait is complicated, because after speaking of her dependence and suggesting her sense of failure, she asks her interviewer for food: “I wouldn’t mind some cheese and light bread. If you bring me some, I’d sure be proud of it” (Her Stories 99). Rather than downbeat, her request is hopeful, affirming her self-regard and thus conforming to the “hopescape” of Hamilton’s aesthetic vision (Mikkelson “Insiders” 45). The story suggests that Boyer is both vulnerable and capable; through her own initiative she makes her tale-telling a commodity that may bring her some material comfort. In the process, she reinforces the idea that suffering can be tempered through familial ties and individual resourcefulness.

Like the other stories in the final section, Boyer’s emphasizes the power of storytelling as a means of weighing the limits and possibilities of selfhood, family, and community.  Even in telling a personal tale, Boyer suggests, imagination is central, which recalls Hamilton’s characterization of the sometimes grim tales in her collection as liberatory. Boyer’s tale telling both refers to her hardship and serves as a means of remedying it, at least temporarily. Instead of filling a marginal social position as an elderly, poor black woman, she becomes speaker about and shaper of her life story, potentially commanding an audience’s attention and influencing their perspectives on the past. Moreover, Boyer reminds us that tales are not set off from the flow of life: they are part of that flow. Indeed, Boyer’s tale helps Hamilton bring the collection to a close by acknowledging real women’s struggle, resilience and ingenuity and by suggesting the continuity between this real experience and the more fantastical entries in the collection.

Girls, Women, and Their Porch Tales

McKissack’s Porch Lies also defines storytelling as an expressive and interpretive process through which a teller and audience creatively negotiate disparities of power and opportunity. Yet her approach is more akin to that of Zora Neale Hurston with Mules and Men (1935): in Porch Lies, McKissack recreates the storytelling event and demonstrates how a teller’s understanding of audience and immediate social environment contributes to a tale’s emphases. Like the “Folklore” section of Mules and Men, McKissack’s book assembles a variety of tellers who share trickster tales. Yet rather than crafting a continuous narrative in which a series of storytelling sessions unfold as in Hurston’s book, McKissack provides a more episodic structure. [6] In Porch Lies, McKissack uses an autobiographical persona’s nostalgic recollection of storytellers that she listened to during her childhood. Before each tale, she introduces a teller and remarks on circumstances from which the tale emerges. This approach allows McKissack to focus on aspects of the African American community in and around Nashville in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Especially central to the tales are the tellers’ representations of issues of gender, class, and racial power, and they are pertinent to the girl-auditor McKissack’s base of social and historical knowledge.

In the domestic space of her upstanding grandparents’ front porch, the narrator as a child embraces stories told by other respectable community members about mostly African American outlaws and men of disrepute, whom she calls “slicksters . . . a cross between a Mississippi bluesman and Brer Rabbit, though there were a few women as well” (Porch Lies xi). With the book’s tension between the quiet domestic space and the maneuvers of tricksters, McKissack sets the stage for tales that will seek to redress stereotypes of gender and class. Through their tales, tellers seek to bridge social differences and help young readers to see the possibilities in apparent social weakness.  Through the tales, the young McKissack learned to appreciate the ingenuity and effectiveness of persons from different social classes; her persona developed a personal connection to the messages of the tales, which include staying attuned to one’s circumstances, becoming actively engaged in interpreting others’ behavior, and using one’s discernment with care. Although many of the tales feature male tricksters and outlaws, McKissack’s insistence that her female narrator has drawn life lessons from the tales underscores the idea that a tale’s meaning emerges from the interaction of teller and listener and reflects the worldview of both. Noting her grandfather’s use of tales to address the challenges of living in the Jim Crow South, the narrator explains that stories commented on social trouble and allowed for both escape from and reckoning with it: “Whenever we were unsure of ourselves, or when our ever-changing world collided with our concepts of justice and honesty, Daddy James would summon up [the “slickster”] Pete Bruce. He used Pete Bruce as a vehicle to teach a value, to encourage us to think critically or just to entertain us by putting a little joy in an otherwise gray day” (Porch Lies xi). Like Hamilton, McKissack stresses the importance of seeing folktales as a necessary part of many African Americans’ orientation within society, including that of girls in the past, and potentially an audience of girls in the present and future.

For McKissack, this orientation is defined both by such middle-class values as diligence, honesty, self-restraint, and piety, associated, albeit not exclusively, with ladyhood, and by a code of situational ethics associated with certain men. Central to the book is the tension between its proper, professional, at times identifiably Christian tale tellers and the clever, opportunistic trickster protagonists. In the frame for “Aunt Gran and the Outlaws,” the teller, Papa Jack, decides that the young McKissack, who he usually tells “about little girls who outsmarted foxes or captured the wind,” is ready to hear a more grown-up trickster tale about an all-black town’s resistance to white oppression in the Reconstruction-era New South (Porch Lies 37). [7] The tale’s heroine is a dignified black Christian woman who out-maneuvers a white businessman intent on taking over African Americans’ land to develop industry in the area. While the businessman, Farley, depends on the tactics of the terrorist Knights of the White Gardenia to implement his plan, Aunt Gran befriends and enlists the help of Frank and Jesse James to subvert it. Aunt Gran’s moral complexity is obvious in two scenes that show her resistance to Farley. When he approaches her about helping him secure neighbors’ land, she “snatched the door open. ‘Get thee behind me, Fallen Angel,’ she declared, and ordered him out of her house” (Porch Lies 40). When he objects to her behavior, Aunt Gran firmly explains, “I’ve got Somebody on my side who watches over me” (Porch Lies 41), and she prays for God’s help in finding an aggressive ally or “a wolf” to fight “foxy” Farley (Porch Lies 40). While singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” Aunt Gran recognizes the James brothers, who are approaching her farm, as the answer to her prayer: “A band of angels coming after me, / Coming for to carry me home” (Porch Lies 42). Through her inventiveness, she secures their long-term help in keeping Farley and his associates from gaining control of African American land and terrorizing African American persons.

Aunt Gran’s power springs from her ability to play against conventional concepts of selfhood and affiliation that promote narrow thinking and detrimental social divisions. To protect her homestead and her neighbors, she collaborates with murderous outlaws, treating them as extensions of her family. Thus, she both embodies and defies aspects of traditional middle-class womanhood. Yet this combination is necessary for effectual action in her racially divided world: being an African American lady will get her only so far; her ladyhood must co-exist with her cunning and she must use her genteel ways to mask it. In demonstrating her unconventionality, she exemplifies a lesson that is highlighted throughout Porch Lies, as when one storyteller stresses the necessity to “be careful ‘bout the way I judge other people, and the way I judge myself. . . . [for] there’s good and bad in all of us” (Porch Lies 59). By not turning in the James brothers and by playing to their desire for sensuous comforts (e.g. a home place, good cooking), Aunt Gran subtly shows her command of human psychology, her imaginative gifts, her domestic accomplishments, and her general resourcefulness. She treats the James brothers well, and they, in turn, respect her, as a matriarchal property-owner whose cooking reminds them of their mother’s. If Aunt Gran depends on the James brothers, she also tricks them into coming back to the community regularly by suggesting that a fortune might be buried on her land and granting them permission to look for it. These visits help maintain social order, suggesting that trickery can serve the cause of social justice, when tricks are deployed by persons like Aunt Gran, whose personal interests are interconnected with her fellow townsfolk’s well-being. She is “one of the leaders in the community” (Porch Lies 40), the story’s moral compass, and she parallels other women and girls in Porch Lies in her balance of seemingly opposing values, her complication of apparent cultural opposites such as black and white, morality and immorality, good and bad, agency and dependence.  

In other tales in Porch Lies the women like Aunt Gran are more observers and appreciators of male tricksters than tricksters themselves, but they occupy important thematic positions that underscore the themes of female accomplishment and wisdom, and communal heterogeneity and solidarity. The opening story, “When Pete Bruce Came to Town,” also advances a feminist message, even though its focus is a male trickster’s manipulation of a woman. The story includes a frame introducing Mis Martha June, “a churchgoing woman who spoke in quiet, refined tones with her mouth pursed in the shape of a little O” and who carried on the family tradition of making “the best coconut cream pies in the world” (Porch Lies 1). McKissack further comments, “the idea of Mis Martha June having anything to do with the likes of [Pete Bruce] was about as odd as a fox and a hen striking up a friendship” (Porch Lies 1), an analogy pointing to the similar dynamics of animal and human trickster tales. Yet the story McKissack recalls Mis Martha June telling about her relationship with Pete Bruce registers the importance of seeing the black community as inclusive, with persons from various backgrounds supporting the growth of its young persons. In the story, Martha June is a girl who sees Pete Bruce fool her mother into giving away, rather than selling, multiple pieces of pie, and she realizes Bruce is aware of and approves of her act of discernment. Her vision, along with her own skill at baking, eventually allows her to replicate and exceed her mother’s professional accomplishments: rather than selling pies outside the bus station, as her mother has done, Martha June is able to open her own bakery.

It is important to note that the story treats both women as successes, and their ability to maintain a relationship with a customer like Bruce is key: he returns repeatedly to partake of their wares, charming the mother and the knowing Martha June, who admits, the “old confidencer” Bruce “could always make me smile—in spite of myself” (Porch LIes 7). In “When Pete Bruce Came to Town” and a later tale in the collection, “A Grave Situation,” an opportunistic, exploitative man uses his wit to gain an advantage over others, namely women who are unfamiliar with the ethical code that informs their lives. Yet these men’s trickery has some positive effects for those who can see and appreciate its machinations. The tricksters express a level of daring and inventiveness within a dominant culture that often suppresses or punishes exceptional or innovative African American achievement, and thus their clever indirection and deception can inspire others. In “A Grave Situation,” Link Murphy uses his wealthy white employer’s car to run a jitney business without her permission. Yet when she learns of this, instead of firing him, the woman accepts a big stake in the jitney’s profits so that the business can continue. She invests her stake in a college fund for the tale’s narrator, Bea Perriman, another employee who sees, but does not condemn, Link’s trickery.  As David Roediger has observed, the trickster has long served as a “symbol for sustained, creative, gritty struggle” among working-class African Americans (qtd. in Kelley 24), but it is possible for persons who operate outside this group, like the future business owner Mis Martha June, Dr. Beatrice Perriman, and her sponsor, Link’s clever and kind employer, to be moved by a trickster’s ingenuity. Tricksters contribute to the black community by securing success, albeit illicit, and inspiring confidence, for they are often effective at realizing their goals. Although their actions sometimes serve as cautionary examples of how not to act, McKissack’s male tricksters generally function to encourage girls and boys, and men and women, to develop their defenses against exploitation and tricks of various kinds. 

Stories that do not feature women narrators or characters speak to the importance of being imaginative in confronting a world in which appearances are often deceiving or institutions and individuals unfair. A girl’s response to a story like “Change,” about the competition within the male province of a barber shop, might differ from that of a boy, who is being socialized to join the realm of men. Yet author McKissack shapes the story to affirm young persons’ ability to negotiate the challenges of adult competition, including the verbal sparring, exaggerations, and indirection that define male patterns of communication in the story. Narrated by Jesse Primo, who while a boy worked in a barber shop frequented by the cunning Mingo Cass, “Change” recounts the efforts of the barber and his clients to get Mingo to pay what he owes young Jesse for a shoeshine. Mingo usually does not pay for goods and services because no one can give him change for the hundred-dollar bill he supposedly carries. When the men in the shop corner him and start to bet on whether Mingo has the big bill, Jesse alone sees that “Mingo’s whole persona changed. The humble and conciliatory posture evaporated. Though he was still smiling, his eyes changed to those of a predator. If Benny [the barber] had been observant, he would have seen that he was now the prey” (Porch Lies 15). Although Mingo, or rather his opponents’ collective estimation of him, is at the center of the action, Jesse’s observational skills establish a model for readers (and the young McKissack as auditor) to emulate. He is intrigued by Mingo, patient about receiving the money due him, and refuses to bid against him with the other men; the young Jesse does not rush judgment, blind himself through his self-interest, or act in a way that will expose and embarrass the man who he addresses as “Mr. Cass.” Ultimately, Jesse is the only one who is not surprised by Mingo’s subsequent ploys, which lead to his producing the hundred-dollar bill and winning the bet (Porch Lies 15-16); Jesse is also the only one other than Mingo to not lose money, for Mingo pays for the shoeshine and tips him. The trickster and the attentive youth both succeed over the men who, based on their past dealings, are too certain about their ability to anticipate Mingo’s actions, but do not consider the extent of the man’s power to mislead them.

The need to be attuned to others’ behavior and words and to imagine the range of their possible significance is the recurring message in Porch Lies. The implications of this message may differ for different readers, and McKissack insists that considering its relevance for girls and women is important in understanding the African American culture of her youth.  By extension, McKissack suggests that the tales remain relevant. She makes this clear in the introduction to “Change,” when Jesse, who as an adult works as an insurance agent, is collecting a payment from the young McKissack’s grandmother. The woman tells him she will have to pay her one-dollar fee with a hundred-dollar bill. He starts to laugh so hard that “Tears rolled down his cheeks and his whole body shook with wave after wave of laughter” (Porch Lies 8). Apologizing for the professional lapse, he asks if she recalls Mingo Cass, prompting her startled response, “Yes! But what does that rascal have to do with me?” (Porch Lies 8-9). The tale, about Mingo’s triumph and Jesse’s forbearance and discernment, provides the answer. Mingo’s and Jesse’s examples are pertinent to the grandmother and her ward, the young narrator. They may belong to a different social class from a slickster like Mingo, but they, like Jesse, must know how to deal with him and should be able to see the genius of his manipulative skills. Porch Lies pushes against the idea that the world of women and girls is a narrow one, and the book’s many tales, whatever their focal points, speak to the female nostalgic narrator within the text and to all potential readers.


Porch Lies reminds us that the tales in Hamilton’s Her Stories were once oral and circulated in ways comparable to the storytelling occasions McKissack’s narrator recalls. The books are also related through their shared thematic emphases, for both dramatize the benefits and challenges of living in a social group. And both emphasize the importance of being careful and discerning in a world in which truth is hard to see. In the preface to Porch Lies McKissack declares that “I spent a lot of time listening . . .” (ix), and this attentive, receptive stance is one that the stories collectively put forth as a model to emulate. Bea’s mother in “A Grave Situation,” about the tenuous partnership between the slickster Link and his upper-class employer, tells her daughter to “Keep you’ eyes open” (Porch Lies 84), suggesting the need for the daughter to pay close attention to the man’s maneuvers. Whether cautionary, absurd, or celebratory, the tales speak to the human need to test boundaries and defy social norms, but also to realize the dangers of this kind of experimentation and of living in a world that is not attuned to individuals’ needs and desires. Ultimately, both Porch Lies and Her Stories aim to underscore that their tales are means by which cultural knowledge is negotiated, preserved, and shared. They place women and girls in central roles in this process, underscoring their importance as actors within American and African American culture.


1. These collections are related to such works as Phelps’s and Yolen’s anthologies, Tatterhood and Not One Damsel in Distress, respectively, and such single-tale works McKissack’s Flossie and the Fox. Hamilton’s The People Could Fly contains some tales about women and girls but only one or two in which they are the main characters: “The Beautiful Girl of the Moon Tower,” in which the title character has a mostly passive role, complements “A Wolf and Little Daughter,” in which an apparently defenseless girl uses song to escape a predator. Women are essential aides to the protagonists in “Wiley, His Mama, and the Hairy Man,” in which a mother’s wit and conjuring power aid the protagonist, and “John and the Devil’s Daughter,” in which a young woman defies her father to help a lover. “Little Eight John” subverts this trajectory, focusing, as it does, on a boy who does not follow his mother’s tradition-based advice. Dance’s Shuckin’ and Jivin’ includes stories about women triumphing over obstacles but these positive tales are outnumbered by disparaging ones.

2. For a discussion of the masculine perspective of scholarly classifications of tale motifs, also see Lundell. In “That’s Why I Write,” McKissack recalls that her grandfather personalized stories he told her: “he often featured a little girl with my name. She was bright, witty, confident, and independent. ‘No granddaughter would let no fox take her basket away, now would she?’ Of course, not!” (65).

3. See Kelley for an insightful analysis of working-class African Americans’ resistance to economic disparity; see Collins for a discussion of patriarchal values in black culture.

4. See Jones for a detailed discussion of women’s central financial roles in black families.

5. See Saxon, Tallant, and Dryer 376-377 for the first published version of the tale, as well as Cohn 277-279 and San Souci 35-40.

6. In its portrayal of the tale-telling sessions Hurston’s autobiographical persona attends on a return to her hometown of Eatonville, Florida, Mules and Men foregrounds the often competitive nature of such get-togethers, which were rife with jokes, signifying, and strained interpersonal dynamics between some of the tellers. For more on Hurston’s “Folklore,” see Baker 82-88.

7. This is an allusion to McKissack’s Flossie and the Fox and Mirandy and Brother Wind.


Works Cited

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Cohn, Amy L., ed. From Sea to Shining Sea: A Treasury of American Folklore and Folk Songs. New York: Scholastic, 1993. Print.

Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge, 2000. Print.

Cooper, Grace. “The Mythical Mermaid: A Part of Black Heritage.” Sankofa: A Journal of African Children’s and Young Adult Literature (2002): 46-52. Print.

Dance, Daryl. From My People: 400 Years of African American Folklore. New York: Norton, 2002. Print.

---. Shuckin’ and Jivin’: Folklore from Contemporary Black Americans. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1981. Print.

Dubey, Madhu. Black Women Novelists and the Nationalist Aesthetic. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1994. Print.

Hamilton, Virginia. “Children’s Book Festival.” Virginia Hamilton: Speeches, Essays, and Conversations. Eds. Arnold Adoff  and Kacy Cook. New York: Blue Sky, 2010. 321-332. Print.

---. “Frances Clarke Sayers Lecture: Looking for America: A Progeny’s Progress.” Virginia Hamilton: Speeches, Essays, and Conversations. Eds. Arnold Adoff  and Kacy Cook. New York: Blue Sky, 2010. 307-320. Print.

---. Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales. New York: Blue Sky, 1995. Print.

---. The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales. New York: Random House, 1985. Print.

Hannah, Barbara. The Archetypal Symbolism of Animals: Lectures Given at the C. G. Jung Institute, Zurich, 1954-1958. Wilmette, IL: Chiron, 2006. Web. 3 April 2014.

Harris, Joel Chandler. “Brother Rabbit and the Little Girl.” The Complete Tales of Uncle Remus. Ed. Richard Chase. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002. 118-121. Print.

Hurston, Zora Neale. Mules and Men. New York: Harper Collins, 2008. Print.

Jones, Jacqueline. Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women Work, and the Family from Slavery to the Present. New York: Vintage, 1985. Print.

Jurich, Marilyn. Scheherazade’s Sisters: Trickster Heroines and Their Stories in World Literature. Westport: Greenwood, 1998. Web. 7 June 2012.

Kelley, Robin D. G. Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996. Web. 5 June 2012.

Lester, Julius. “Brer Rabbit and the Little Girl.” The Tales of Uncle Remus: The Adventures of Brer Rabbit. New York: Penguin, 1987. 74-77. Print.

Lundell, Torborg. “Gender-Related Biases in the Type and Motif Indexes of Aarne and Thompson.” Fairy Tales and Society: Illusion, Allusion, and Paradigm. Ed. Ruth Bottigheimer. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1986. 149-164. Print.

McGill, Alice. “Bruh Rabbit’s Mystery Bag.” Sure as Sunrise: Stories of Bruh Rabbit and His Walkin’ Talkin’ Friends. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004. 31-37. Print.

McKissack, Patricia. Flossie and the Fox. New York: Dial, 1986. Print.

---. Mirandy and Brother Wind. New York: Dragonfly, 1988. Print.

---. Porch Lies: Tales of Slicksters, Tricksters, and Other Wily Characters. New York: Schwartz and Wade, 2006. Print.

---. “That’s Why I Write.” Schmidt and Hettinga 63-68.

Mikkelson, Nina. “Insiders, Outsiders, and the Question of Authenticity: Who Shall Write for African American Children?” African American Review 32 (1998): 33-49. Web. 5 June 2012.

---. Virginia Hamilton. New York: Twayne, 1994. Print.

Roberts, John. From Trickster to Badman: The Black Folk Hero in Slavery and Freedom. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1989. Print.

Paul, Lissa. “Enigma Variations: What Feminist Theory Knows about Children’s Literature.” Signal 54 (1987): 186-201. Print.

Phelps, Ethel Johnston, ed. Tatterhood and Other Tales. New York: Feminist Press, 1978. Print.

San Souci, Robert D. “Annie Christmas.” Cut from the Same Cloth. Illus. Brian Pinkney. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988. Print.

Saxon, Lyle, Edward Dreyer, and Robert Tallant, eds. Gumbo Ya-Ya: A Collection of Louisiana Folk Tales. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1945. Web. 21 Aug. 2013.

Schmidt, Gary, and Donald Hettinga, eds. Sitting at the Feet of the Past: Retelling the North American Folktale for Children. Westport: Greenwood, 1992. Print.

Washington, Margaret. Medical Apartheid. New York: Random House, 2008. Web. 5 June 2012.

White, Deborah Gray. Too Heavy a Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves, 1894-1994. New York: Norton, 1999. Print.

Yolen, Jane. Not One Damsel in Distress: World Folktales for Strong Girls. San Diego: Silver Whistle Books, 2000. Print.



Karen Chandler

Volume 17, Issue 2, The Looking Glass, March/April 2014

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"Playing to Girls in Virginia Hamilton’s Her Stories and Patricia McKissack’s Porch Lies: Frames of Selfhood, Community, and Audience." © Karen Chandler, 2014.

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