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Friday, October 30, 2020

Harper - The Gunniwolf - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

Normally I'd have posted a scary story every week in October.  This year I just didn't feel like it.  (I've noticed, ever since 9/11, a similar unpredictability in bookings for a time that used to be so guaranteed it was known among storytellers as "the storyteller's Christmas", providing the money to buy presents.)  

Today I want to give a humorous story that a generation of children in Mount Clemens grew up screaming over and laughing at the "Gooney Wolf," as one child called it.  I've never recorded it and if I did, it would only be with a live audience of children.  It is safest to use from Kindergarten on.  There are a very few Preschoolers unable to handle the tense threats of the Gunniwolf.  My Gunniwolf puppet stayed hidden in a large colorful roomy bag until he popped out.  He returned to the bag (with a bit of movements and grumbling while hidden) once the girl was out of the woods.  The song melody is unimportant as long as it's fairly monotonous.  (One storyteller I know uses the ABC song.)

While I never made a video of the story, there are some pictures from a workshop I gave.  If you want to see the other pictures, go to A to Z, Puppets are EASY!  The workshop included my telling the story as an  example of how puppets can be used to tell stories.  I considered inserting the pictures, but think you should get the story first.  The photos are at the end.

The Gunniwolf has caught me!

He's a lover of lullabies

(He's falling asleep)

Those great photos were taken by Kathy Calhoun at the program I did for the Birmingham Storytellers Guild.  THANKS, KATHY!!!  I'm awful when it comes to taking photos and so I'm immensely grateful to Kathy.

When the story ended and I talked with my young audiences, I pointed out how the little girl used her head to escape.  We also talked about if they would return to get the forgotten flowers.  Usually the response was "NO WAY!"  There were a few who advocated being prepared to attack the wolf.  That led into more talk about using your brains being better than violence.  It also is why I learned not to let the children near the puppet, in or out of the bag, afterwards as a few wanted to hit him.  Aside from the need to avoid violence, I hated replacing his styrofoam teeth!

The story first appeared in the 1918 book, Story-Hour Favorites; Selected for Library, School, and Home Use, compiled by Wilhelmina Harper.  It proves last week's comment about "when a teacher or a librarian or anyone else who does a lot of storytelling puts together an anthology of stories, they are more likely to be Ready-to-Tell."  After Harper's name we are told she was "Children's Librarian, Queensboro Public Library."  It was the first of her anthologies.  She died in 1973 and published throughout the first half of the 20th century.  She was an excellent example of those who created storytelling in libraries and schools in the early 20th century.  She also, unlike some publishing at the time, gave fairly thorough explanations of sources.  In the case of The Gunniwolf, she notes it is "Adapted from a Southern Nonsense Tale."  

I always thought the William Wiesner illustrations for the original picture book version missed the Gunniwolf's character.

That book is now out of print and considered a classic.  This review by Karen O'Hanlon, however, does an excellent appraisal of the value of this story.  

The good news is the book was again brought back for a time in print, so a copy is a bit easier to find.  The newer editions had all new illustrations, some of which capture both the Gunniwolf's menace and humor.  That's a neat trick and I think the children who have seen my wolf puppet will agree it's the secret to this story working.


This is part of a series of postings of stories under the category, "Keeping the Public in Public Domain."  The idea behind Public Domain was to preserve our cultural heritage after the authors and their immediate heirs were compensated.  I feel strongly current copyright law delays this intent on works of the 20th century.  My own library of folklore includes so many books within the Public Domain I decided to share stories from them.  I hope you enjoy discovering new stories.  

At the same time, my own involvement in storytelling regularly creates projects requiring research as part of my sharing stories with an audience.  Whenever that research needs to be shown here, the publishing of Public Domain stories will not occur that week.  This is a return to my regular posting of a research project here.  (Don't worry, this isn't dry research, my research is always geared towards future storytelling to an audience.)  Response has convinced me that "Keeping the Public in Public Domain" should continue along with my other postings as often as I can manage it.
Other Public Domain story resources I recommend-
  • There are many online resources for Public Domain stories, maybe none for folklore is as ambitious as fellow storyteller, Yoel Perez's database, Yashpeh, the International Folktales Collection.  I have long recommended it and continue to do so.  He has loaded Stith Thompson's Motif Index into his server as a database so you can search the whole 6 volumes for whatever word or expression you like by pressing one key.
  • You may have noticed I'm no longer certain Dr. Perez has the largest database, although his offering the Motif Index certainly qualifies for those of us seeking specific types of stories.  There's another site, FairyTalez claiming to be the largest, with "over 2000 fairy tales, folktales, and fables" and they are "fully optimized for phones, tablets, and PCs", free and presented without ads.

    Between those two sites, there is much for story-lovers, but as they say in infomercials, "Wait, there's more!"
The email list for storytellers, Storytell, discussed Online Story Sources and came up with these additional suggestions:            
         - David K. Brown -
         - Richard Martin -
         - Spirit of Trees -
         - Story-Lovers - is now only accessible through the Wayback Machine, described below, but the late Jackie Baldwin's wonderful site lives on there, fully searchable manually (the Google search doesn't work), at .  It's not easy, but go to snapshot for October 22 2016  and you can click on SOS: Searching Out Stories to scroll down through the many story topics and click on the story topic that interests you.
       - World of Tales - 
           - Zalka Csenge Virag - doesn't give the actual stories, but her recommendations, working her way through each country on a continent, give excellent ideas for finding new books and stories to love and tell.
You're going to find many of the links on these sites have gone down, BUT go to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to find some of these old links.  Tim's site, for example, is so huge probably updating it would be a full-time job.  In the case of Story-Lovers, it's great that Jackie Baldwin set it up to stay online as long as it did after she could no longer maintain it.  Possibly searches maintained it.  Unfortunately Storytell list member, Papa Joe is on both Tim Sheppard's site and Story-Lovers, but he no longer maintains his old Papa Joe's Traveling Storytelling Show website and his Library (something you want to see!) is now only on the Wayback Machine.  It took some patience working back through claims of snapshots but finally in December of 2006 it appears!
    Somebody as of this writing whose stories can still be found by his website is the late Chuck Larkin -  I prefer to list these sites by their complete address so they can be found by the Wayback Machine, a.k.a., when that becomes the only way to find them.
You can see why I recommend these to you. Have fun discovering even more stories!

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