Writing a Book Review: Preliminary Reading and Collecting Information about Traditional Literature

The term ‘traditional literature’ is generally applied to epics, myths, legends, folktales, tall tales, and fables, which came to life in oral storytelling, being passed down between generations, communities, and nations. In most cases, the original authors or storytellers are unknown. However, due to an old literary tradition stories and folks are mainly associated with the name of the person, who first wrote down or collected oral versions of tales. For example, in the early nineteenth century, the Brothers Grimm were widely known as scholars, who collect and record the tales of the common people. Thus, two centuries ago recording folk stories has been recognized as an academic pursuit, and anthropologists were among the first who wrote a grant proposal of various kinds for scholarly cultural studies, carrying out projects for collecting and preserving the stories. Thus, most of non-European traditional literature was explored exclusively for these purposes and not for children’s entertainment or writing a book review.

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Hence, American children’s literature was originated with no more purpose for children, than a business plan sample and was initially presented as a scholastic archive of oral tales and legends. But once the stories were collected, they gradually came into the collectors’ field of vision as highly valuable for children’s reading due to a lot of fascinating, appealing and easily accessible to children features, namely: stock characters, concentrated action, elements of ultimate fantasy, patterned language and simple themes, such as the struggle between evil and good or superiority of the weak and clever over the strong. Secondly, it was library programming of oral storytelling that strengthened the link between children’s books and traditional literature. As there are lots of librarians trained in storytelling, they naturally search for tales from traditional oral sources as well as for candidates for their own recollecting and retelling. Therefore, critics, who are interested in writing a book review related to traditional material, seek for children’s books which are now closely connected to the library field of traditional literature.

At present, the evaluation of traditional literature experiences attentive reconsideration in order to come to an agreement for the final categorization. However, critics virtually comprehend that the strictness of such classification must not approach the formality of a chemistry lab report format. Therefore, for writing a book review one just need to determine the approximate category into which the story falls. Here is the list of the most common categories of children’s traditional literature:

  • - mythology. This category comprises tales and stories about the nature and existence of the world. Myths are generally considered to be descendants of sacred beliefs in their culture of origin. Their primary characters are gods and goddesses, connected with some mortals or the world of humans in general.
  • - epics are usually long stories about adventures and traveling of a mortal hero. Any website that writes essays will name The Odyssey and The Iliad the most famous epics in the Western World.
  • - legends are related to supposedly real individuals and their heroic adventures and deeds. Legends are predominantly evaluated as a mix of a real historical basis and fantasy – such as stories about King Arthur or Wandering Jew.
  • tall tales are somewhat similar to legends with the only difference that heroes are comical and their exploits are described in a hyperbolic style – one could name Don Quixote or Till Eulenspiegel just of top of one’s head.
  • - folktales. These short stories tell about animal or human characters and can be subdivided into several categories, namely: realistic, fairy tales, beast tales, pourquoi (ones that explain the origins of human natural traits), cumulative (ones with accumulation of details, such as ‘The House That Jack Built’).
  • - fables or parables are presented by brief stories, which teach a moral or a behavioral lesson. Fables often contain animal characters and rarely feature more than a couple of characters.

Certainly, knowing the category of children books is crucial for writing a book review. Critical writers should try different approaches to the targeted book in order to use more precise language and express their opinions of the book creatively. The student of a literary criticism course also will never ask classmates – do my essay for me! – if the tale type is clearly determined. Traditionally, tales and stories from all categories are published each year in the United States, although folktales remain the most favorite to this very day. Whatever the publication format (an illustrated single story or a collection of tales), all necessary critical standards must be applied to traditional literature before it can be retold for a child audience. Critical standards for children’s books ought to be maintained as thoroughly as for historical encyclopedias or textbooks that provide a help with statistics homework, because these standards refer to the context in which genuine literary masterpieces are created. First of all, these are the changes of oral literature as it passes from one storyteller to another; secondly, the features of the literature which enrich it for the future generations; finally, the specifics of traditional literature by virtue of which it reshapes and re-creates itself for becoming a book for children.

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