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Stories of Kansas and the Great Plains
Teacher/Librarian Resources for
Johnny Kaw - The Pioneer Spirit of Kansas
Kansas Katie - A Sunflower Tale and
Twister Twyla - The Kansas Cowgirl
Extending Johnny Kaw, Kansas Katie and Twister Twyla in the library and classroom
Tall Tales - Where do Johnny Kaw, Kansas Katie and Twister Twyla fit in?
Tall Tales
Storytelling for a New Land

Take a look at our
Tall Tale Bibliography

American tall tales gained popularity in the 1800s with the pioneer expansion into wilderness lands.
    They were a way to combat in story the extreme weather, unusual and dangerous animals, the difficulty of travel, homesteading and breaking the sod, even the boredom.  They conquered the new, untamed land with superhuman feats.

Tall tale heroes were usually:
  - gigantic - restless - courageous - powerful - heroic - flamboyant

The stories also offered:
 - a strong sense of place
 - a sense of community and past (through shared stories and experiences)
 - a showcase for local landscape, animals, weather, occupations, etc.
 - absurd humor and outlandish feats

They originally weren't just stories for children: they were the "TV" of the day, entertainment and performance around campfires or at community gatherings.

Tall Tales -

Were they about real people?

Were they folk tales?

Some were true "folk" stories that grew out of the oral tradition.  Others were real people whose stories became legendary over time through storytelling.  A third group were literary characters invented by a particular person that later gained popularity and moved into the folk tale area. 

Some examples:
- Davy Crockett and Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman) were real people.
- Pecos Bill was first written by Edward O'Reilly
- Febold Feboldson was invented by a Nebraska lumberman
- Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind Crockett was invented by Mary Pope Osborne (Davy Crockett had a wife, but there is little information about her; Osborne created the tales)
- Paul Bunyan: it isn't known whether his stories started with logger's tales, but both a journalist and a lumberman have been credited with the first written accounts of his exploits.
- John Henry may have started as a real person but this is uncertain.

What about
Johnny Kaw?

Johnny Kaw statue
How Johnny Kaw "came to life."

George Filinger, the creator of the Johnny Kaw stories, followed a long, honored tradition when he wrote the Johnny Kaw stories in 1955. He knew tall tales and Kansas history and geography well, and he wanted Johnny to be bigger and better than all the rest. He particularly wanted a farmer tall tale hero because he felt farming was so important to Kansas. 

He wrote the stories to connect them with Kansas life in so many ways that Johnny was "responsible" for just about everything we associate with the state of Kansas, from the Kansas (Kaw) River Valley to sunflowers, from wheat farming to the rivalry between the Jayhawk and the Wildcat. Johnny created the pioneer trails and even invented catfish.

For more information about George Filinger, the history of the original Johnny Kaw book, and how and when the giant statue was built, see our book,
Johnny Kaw - The Pioneer Spirit of Kansas
or visit:
More about the 30 foot tall Johnny Kaw statue
The Johnny Kaw story is now in print in our anthology:
Kansas Tall Tales.

What about
Kansas Katie?

How Kansas Katie "came to life."

Jerri Garretson enjoyed retelling the tale of Johnny Kaw and wanted to create another Kansas tale with a woman as the hero. She got the idea for Kansas Katie while driving across the Kansas prairie one September when the sunflowers were blooming in profusion all along the highway. 

In writing the story, Jerri integrated these two Kansas stories and added information on sunflowers. 

At a craft show, Jerri discovered a classmate of hers, Gayla Brown, whom she hadn't seen in many years. Gayla had been a friend of hers in elementary school and now was selling dolls she made . . . and there was "Kansas Katie."  Click here to see a photo of the Kansas Katie doll.

Kansas Katie is the first book Jerri illustrated alone. The book (cover at left) is now out of print but is included in our anthology: Kansas Tall Tales.

What About
Twister Twyla?

Cover of Twister Twyla
How Twister Twyla "came to life."

Jerri Garretson got the idea for Twister Twyla while listening to weather reports about tornadoes. Tall tales about the weather are part of the genre, and there are other tall tale in which a character either rides, or is swept up into the sky by, a tornado. In stories of the pioneers, there are accounts of women who supposedly went crazy out on the prairie from loneliness and the constant sound of the prairie winds.  Jerri thought that a character who loved with wind would be perfect for Kansas.

One of the challenges of this story is "personifying" dust devils and tornadoes. While Jerri wrote the story, she had no idea how that could be illustrated. Diane Dollar did a wonderful job of giving these weather phenomena personality and emotion with her illustrations for this book.

Twister Twyla is now also in print in our anthology:
Kansas Tall Tales.

For more information related to the book, see the links below.
***Click Here for the Activities Pages***
Johnny Kaw Links
More about  the book: Johnny Kaw - The Pioneer Spirit of Kansas
More about the statue of Johnny Kaw
More about the background of Johnny Kaw and the books
Diane Dollar   |   Jerri Garretson     |      Additional Teacher/Librarian Resources
Tall Tale Bibliography
Johnny Kaw themes - links     |     Kansas links      |     Manhattan, Kansas links
Kansas Katie Links
More about the book Kansas Katie - A Sunflower Tale     |     Tall Tale Bibliography
Jerri Garretson     | Teacher/Librarian Resources     |     Fun for Kids
Kansas Katie themes - links
Twister Twyla Links
More about the book Twister Twyla - The Kansas Cowgirl     |     Tall Tale Bibliography
Diane Dollar     |     Jerri Garretson     |     Twister Twyla themes - links

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Teacher/Librarian Resources 
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Our Books     |     Izzie     |    Johnny Kaw    |     Imagicat     |    Kansas Katie
Kansas Tall Tales     |     The Secret of Whispering Springs     |     Trespassing Time Twister Twyla
Books Set in Kansas     |   Links
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Last updated October 8, 2011