Nov 30, 2014

Uncle Remus ~ His Songs and His Sayings and Read A Classic Month

Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings

In 1880, Joel Chandler Harris, a moderate white Southern journalist, published a collection of black folktales, proverbs, songs, and character sketches based on stories he had heard as a child. In his introduction, Robert Hemenway discusses the book's enduring popularity, pointing out that the character of Uncle Remus, the docile and grandfatherly ex-slave storyteller, is a utopian figure-a literary creation by Harris that reassured white readers during the tense and tentative Reconstruction. By contrast, the feisty Brer Rabbit was a mainstay of black folklore long before Harris heard of his exploits. Brer Rabbit's cunning and revolutionary antics symbolically inverted the slave-master relationship and satisfied the deep human needs of a captive people.

So, here's a bit about my reading for the month before I get to my "sort of" review.  I have an author/blogger friend named Robert Zimmerman (his blog is A Life Among The Pages) who has a habit of talking me into things I don't want to do.  Sometimes I'm happy about it after all is said and done, like the fact I like Gilmore Girls now and sometimes it just ends up being a thorn in my side, like "Read A Classic In November" has been.

I have been so busy lately.  I have barely read a book every other week the last couple months.  It has been terrible.  So in November not only am I trying to read, but I'm reading a classic which I have a hard time due to my past experience with them not being the best.  I hated reading them in school and the couple times I have tried since I have hated it within a couple chapters.  It just isn't really for me.  So this time I thought I would maybe listen to a classic.  It's almost the same as reading and to some it is the same.  I had 8 hours in the car to myself while driving to Yallfest in November so this was going to be cake!  Yeah, not so much.  Within 3 chapters I was about to fall asleep at the wheel, not because the book I was listening to was bad (The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells) but just because the listening and driving wasn't a good mix for me over a long distance.

A couple weeks pass and I start thinking about what else I could maybe fit in and might be a bit more fun to read AND something my kids might enjoy at the same time.  I remembered seeing the Disney movie "Song of the South" as a kid and loving it.  I have always loved the stories told by Uncle Remus because they were so funny.  So I talked my 9yo into letting me read her a story about Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox.  After a page or two she stopped me with "I don't get a thing you're saying Mom!" That's because I wasn't really good at reading "Southern" out loud which is how these stories are written.  I had to keep stopping and telling her what was happening and before long she was bored.  I pulled out the Disney version of the book and redeemed myself with her at least.  It was much easier for her to get and we had a fun time laughing over these few stories I remembered.
Then the teens came home and I MADE THEM sit down and let me read the book to them as well. They thought it was funny too and I felt like I at least passed a little something different I enjoyed as a kid on to them.

The next night we were all hanging out and I decided to read them some of the differences in the versions of the stories.  We listened to a few of them on audio as well and this week I have heard "de Tar-Baby, she ain't sayin' Nuthin'" and "Brer Fox, he lay low" about 100 times....literally! We all loved the Tar Baby story and have been laughing about it all week.  Since my kids speak fluent southern is sounds fairly authentic as well.

I went through and read a few more of the stories and although I didn't read the entire book, I wanted to share the small experience I did have with reading a few of these adventures with my kids.  It was a lot of fun and I'm glad we did it.  I want to finish reading them, or listening to them, sometime soon. Perhaps when I'm wrapping Christmas gifts in the coming weeks.  I found the writing EXTREMELY hard to read out loud, but not so bad to read to myself.  Years before living in the south (I have been here 16 years now) I would have probably found it even more difficult, but I actually found it getting easier the more I read.

I thought I would be fun as well to ask my kids what their favorite part of the stories were and here's their replies:

Ainsley ~ 9 
"I liked the story where Brer Rabbit talked Brer Bear into trading places with him for the dollar a minute job when he was in the trap Brer Fox set."

Meaghan ~ 13 
"de Tar-Baby, she ain't sayin' Nuthin' and "Brer Fox, he lay low." (That was her exact answer when I asked her her favorite part! I told you....I've heard it all week!)

Beighley ~ 17 
"I liked the Tar Baby story and when they threw him in the Brier Patch." (He's a man of few words.)

I want to thank Rob for making me, once again, do something I didn't really want to do that didn't turn out too bad.  If nothing else, my kids and I have something else we share that we all like.

You can catch Rob's Read A Classic In November post HERE and maybe you will be inspired just a bit to read a classic yourself sometime soon.


  1. Wow, Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit! I remember them fondly from my childhood....and as for Gilmore Girls, I discovered them for the first time when the show was rerun on Soapnet, the now defunct channel...and now I'm binge watching the whole series on Netflix.

    Enjoy your week...and here are MY WEEKLY UPDATES

    1. I am watching GG through for the first time with my teenagers on Netflix and we are LOVING IT! I loved these stories as a kid and look forward to finishing up what I started. Thanks for stopping by Laurel!

  2. I think I should recommend Huckleberry Finn for you to read to the kids next. Get even more practice with your reading of dialect ;) Plus it's a pretty good book if you can get into the dialogue enough.

    Also, I think you captured what the challenge was all about. You checked out different versions of the stories, experienced it in audio, oral, and silently reading. More work than I put into it. And I brought you all together. Keep it up.

    1. Thanks Rob! I had a good time with it in a round about sort of way. It's good to stretch yourself sometimes and I always love involving the kids where I can. They really liked the stories as well because they span all ages. I haven't given up on The Invisible Man yet. I liked the first few chapters, but it wasn't something to do while driving.

      I know my husband read Huckleberry Finn in recent years and loved it. I was supposed to read it in school but really didn't. I was a terrible English student doing just enough to get by. I guess now I'm paying for it with my slowwwww reading.

      Thanks again for the challenge.