Lies and Other Tall Tales



These tales are so tall they touch the sky! From Caldecott Honor artist Christopher Myers and Zora Neale Hurston.

While traveling in the Gulf States in the 1930s, Zora Neale Hurston collected and recorded some real whoppers told by folks from all walks of life. Not "dog ate my homework" kind of lies, but tales so wild you didn't ever want to hear the truth. And now today's picture–book readers can enjoy these ...

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These tales are so tall they touch the sky! From Caldecott Honor artist Christopher Myers and Zora Neale Hurston.

While traveling in the Gulf States in the 1930s, Zora Neale Hurston collected and recorded some real whoppers told by folks from all walks of life. Not "dog ate my homework" kind of lies, but tales so wild you didn't ever want to hear the truth. And now today's picture–book readers can enjoy these far–fetched fibs, with Caldecott Honor artist Christopher Myers's spirited adaption and bold, expressive collages.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This collection of interlinking tall tales reads like a lively, bantering conversation. Collected by Zora Neale Hurston as she traveled through the Gulf States "back in the day," and retold and imaginatively illustrated by Myers takes on powerful resonance in light of recent events. The colorful, hyperbolic tone that carries through the collection begins with Myers's introduction: "Zora Neale Hurston, who was studying anthropology/ With a bunch of educational-type liars at Columbia University,/ Came down south to talk to the professional liars she growed up with." Text appears in boldly colored, grainy typeset with some words highlighted for proper emphasis, opposite full-bleed or framed collage illustrations quilted from paper and fabric scraps. The opening spread depicts a man's head emerging from wavy blue paper swirls set against three earth-toned bands of cloth: "Once I seen a man so ugly, they threw him in Dog River and they could skim ugly for six months." The next page carries through the earth tones and horizontal lines, but adds touches of green and dancing monkeys: "You think he was ugly? I seen a man so ugly he can go behind a jimson weed and hatch monkeys." The tales segue seamlessly, some building upon the preceding tale, others structured as a call-and-response, but all imbued with details and phrases from the South. Myers's arrangement of text and his bold, compelling artwork exuberantly portray the tales' human subjects in outlandish predicaments. The humor gleaned from these "professional liars" carries through the decades, offering a window into traditional African-American storytelling. Ages 6-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
"Signifying," or the good humored exchanges of extravagant boasts and insults, is a great African-American folk tradition. As is true for many such forms, the transmission of the art form was largely oral and informal. Back in the day, only a few anthropologists such as Zora Neale Hurston understood the importance of documenting the rich use of language that used humor to give voice to the frustrations and indignities of living as a person of color in the American South. Now Christopher Myers has used Hurston's documentation and added his own bold and sassy cloth and paper collages. Myers, like Hurston, keeps the colloquialisms of the original speakers. And the book has the natural progression typical of signifying—the first page begins "Once I seen a man so ugly, they threw him in Dog River and they could skim ugly for six months." A speaker on the next page tries to top that tale and someone else retorts with another exaggeration of another quality. The funky typeface Myers uses defies conventions as it varies in size and color. Like the illustrations, it does a wonderful job of recreating the tone of voice in which these mini tall tales must have been told. In an introduction and final artist's note, Myers offers an eloquent but lively appreciation of Zora Neale Hurston. All in all, this is a book that will appeal to every age. 2005, HarperCollins, Ages 6 up.
—Mary Hynes-Berry
School Library Journal
Gr 3 Up-Myers joins the growing list of writers and illustrators who are mining the southern folklore collected by Hurston in the 1930s. His jocular introduction avers that, "Way, way back in the day,/Back when George Washington's hair on the one-dollar bill hadn't yet turned white./Back when computers ran on steam power,/Back when cellular phones had rotary dials,-/There were lies,/Real lies-." The lies are set here in a bantering, conversational scheme as tellers try to top one another in traditional exchanges. ("If you haven't heard about it, you better ask your mama!") "That reminds me of this one man. He was so mean, he greased another man and swallowed him whole." Myers captures the spoken rhythm, often incorporating the original Black English and placing some words in print of a contrasting color for emphasis. Most episodes fit on a single page and face a spare, bold collage scene. Some scenes use the entire page, while others are set on hemmed fabric pieces to resemble small quilts on the page. Myers uses a judicious eye and ear, conveying the silly nuances without overwhelming them. The collection of small bits may need introducing to many children, but the silly claims evoke chuckles and could certainly spark further telling among listeners-just as they did originally. The economical views could inspire viewers to create their own story interpretations in art, and both the story scheme and origins will serve well where folk material is covered in the curriculum.-Margaret Bush, Simmons College, Boston Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
"Once I seen / a man so ugly, / they threw him / in Dog River / and they could skim ugly / for six months. / You think he was ugly? / I seen a man/ so ugly, / he can go behind / a jimson weed / and hatch / monkeys." In the 1930s, Hurston gathered tall tales and inventive insults suitable for "playing the dozens" from the African-American community in the Gulf States. Here, Caldecott Honor-artist Christopher Myers adapts selections from her collection-funny, rhythmic, conversational and deliciously ungrammatical-to celebrate the essential art of storytelling. (He says he found them in a government office, "Which is where they are keeping all the lies nowadays / and that's the truth.") Crisp, graphically bold collages of scraps of fabric and paper in a saturated, mostly autumnal color palette sometimes literally, sometimes more imaginatively, interpret these colorful tall tales. Varied type styles, textures, sizes and arrangements reflect the chorus of voices echoed here, in the vibrant, ever-changing language the artist likes to hear on street corners, hair salons and "the right kind of eating establishments." (artist's note) (Picture book. 6-10)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060006556
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/11/2005
  • Pages: 40
  • Sales rank: 995,911
  • Age range: 6 - 9 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.00 (w) x 10.75 (h) x 0.25 (d)

Meet the Author

Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston was born in Notasulga, Alabama, in 1891, and died in 1960. In addition to her most celebrated work, the 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston's books include The Six Fools, Lies and Other Tall Tales, The Skull Talks Back, and What's the Hurry, Fox?, which speak to her legacy as a storyteller and cultural anthropologist.

Christopher Myers illustrated the Caldecott Honor and Coretta Scott King Honor Book Harlem and the Coretta Scott King Honor Book Jazz, both written by Walter Dean Myers. He wrote and illustrated the Coretta Scott King Honor Book Black Cat. His work has been shown at the Studio Museum in Harlem; PS1, an affiliate of the Museum of Modern Art, in Queens; the Akron Art Museum in Ohio; Sàn Art in Ho Chi Minh City; and the Contrasts Gallery in Shanghai. He teaches at Parsons School of Design and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Joyce Carol Thomas is an internationally renowned author who received the National Book Award for her first novel, Marked By Fire, and a Coretta Scott King Honor for The Blacker the Berry and for her first picture book, Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea. Her picture book I Have Heard of a Land received a Coretta Scott King Honor and an IRA/CBC Teachers' Choice Award and was an ALA Notable Book. Her other titles include The Gospel Cinderella, Crowning Glory, Gingerbread Days, and A Gathering of Flowers. Ms. Thomas lives in Berkeley, California.


During the 1920s, African-American culture in the United States received an exhilarating shot in the arm in the era known as the Harlem Renaissance. For the first time, black American art, music, and literature was being taken seriously among the intelligentsia as a significant force in contemporary culture. At the front of that movement were several writers, including Zora Neale Hurston.

Hurston's work reflected the liberation and experimentation of post-war America. She published stories and co-founded the groundbreaking journal Fire! with poet Langston Hughes and novelist Wallace Thurman. By the ‘30s, Hurston was a bestselling writer, but with the Renaissance on the wane and a new era of politics, economic depression, and the "social realism" movement, Hurston's once glorious literary career was running into dire straits. She would end her life destitute, practically forgotten, buried in an unmarked grave in Florida. However, a resurgence of interest in her work during the 1970s and the tireless work of writer Alice Walker would help reestablish Hurston in her rightful place as one of America's greatest and most influential writers.

Born in Eatonville, Florida, in 1891 to a father who was a Baptist preacher, Hurston was well-versed from birth in the dynamics of the Southern black experience. She brought that keen vision to her writing and published her first story in the Howard University literary magazine while attending the school in 1921. Still, it was not until Hurston moved to New York City in 1925 that she really began to make waves on the literary scene. Her writing was characterized by its unflagging honesty and strength, qualities that Hurston herself exuded. She often ruffled feathers by refusing to adhere to the constricting gender conventions prevalent at the time. This strength and self-confidence was already apparent in the writer's very first works. Her debut novel Jonah's Gourde Vine was praised by The New York Times as "the most vital and original novel about the American Negro that has yet been written by a member of the Negro race." Her second was a bona fide classic, Mules and Men, a compendium of African American folk tales, songs, and maxims that drew on Hurston's extensive studies in Anthropology.

By the time Hurston published her signature work Their Eyes Were Watching God, the freestyle experimentalism of the Harlem Renaissance was being increasingly overcast by the Great Depression. As a result, a backlash ensued. Their Eyes Were Watching God, which told of a woman named Janie Crawford who goes through three marriages to separate men as she struggles to realize herself, was too steeped in the experimentalism of the Renaissance to please critics. Furthermore, her portrayal of a black woman's search for personal liberation was too much for many black men to stomach. Richard Wright, the acclaimed author of Native Son, even dismissed Their Eyes Were Watching God for not being "serious fiction." Today, such criticism may seem absurd, or at the very least, incredibly short-sighted, but at the time, Hurston's daring prose was not in vogue amongst the social realists.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, instead, displays a true structural adventurousness, splitting between the eloquence of the narrative voice and the idiomatic, ungrammatical dialogue of the black, southern characters. While works of the social realism movement were easily categorized by their left-wing politics and gritty delivery, Their Eyes Were Watching God was less simple to pigeonhole. It is at once a product of the Harlem Renaissance, an example of Southern literature along the lines of Faulkner, and a work of feminist literature. Consequently, the novel was criticized for being out of step with the times, and it went out of print very shortly after being published, leading to the collapse of Hurston's career and her standing as a significant literary figure.

Hurston would die in 1960, back in Florida, destitute, forgotten. Her books long unavailable, her death barely registered. She would not return to the public eye until 1975, when Alice Walker published an essay titled "In Search of Zora Neale Hurston" in Ms. magazine. Along with other writer including Robert Hemenway and Tony Cade Bambara, Walker went on a crusade to revitalize Hurston's career fifteen years after the writer's death.

When Their Eyes Were Watching God was finally republished, it was reevaluated as a classic. Today, the novel is required reading in universities all over the country, and Hurston is widely acknowledged as one of the first great African-American women writers. As a final tribute to her idol, Walker also traveled to Florida where Hurston is buried and placed a marker on her grave, a long-overdue tribute to a great American writer reading with beautiful simplicity: "Zora Neale Hurston: Genius of the South."

Good To Know

Hurston's earliest work was a comedic play called Mule Bone, which she co-wrote with Langston Hughes. However, the play would not be performed until 1991 due to an arduous legal battle that also brought an untimely end to the friendship between Hurston and Hughes.

Spike Lee's audacious debut film She's Gotta Have It has been viewed by some as a hip adaptation of Their Eyes Were Watching God, and the fact that the film opens with a quotation from Zora Neale Hurston may prove such theories correct.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      January 7, 1891
    2. Place of Birth:
      Eatonville, Florida
    1. Date of Death:
      January 28, 1960
    2. Place of Death:
      Fort Pierce, Florida
    1. Education:
      B.A., Barnard College, 1928 (the school's first black graduate). Went on to study anthropology at Columbia University.

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