Folktale motif: Paul Bunyan

Paul Bunyan is a North American folktale, with the first history of its printed mention in 1904. It’s origins are unknown for sure; but it may have originated around Quebec, and has been adopted by many American Midwest towns as their own. In the root stories, Paul was a giant and a lumberjack. He created the Great Lakes, mountains and valleys across the U.S. There are mentions of oral history that are apparently nothing like the written tall tales that have been published. Paul Bunyan was used in advertising for an American lumber company, which is where the exaggerated, tall tale was formed and cemented. Because this is the potential etymology of Paul Bunyan, some people refer to it as “fakelore.”

Many books have been written about Paul Bunyan – most of which are children’s books. I’ve compared 3 versions here:


Paul Bunyan Swings His Axe. Dell J. McCormick. The Caxton Printers, ltd, 1936. 111 pages. $11.95, ISBN 0870040936.

Ages 4-8. Chapter book, with illustrations.

This is a series of 17 classic tall tales about Paul and his blue ox Babe. The stories tell of Paul’s adventures; how he created the Grand Canyon and Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park, and other well-known places in the U.S.

Illustrations are simple line art with textured detail, that are nicely done and compliment the text.

This book would be good for kids who are starting to read chapter books. This book would also be engaging enough for story-time reading.

s-l300.jpgPaul Bunyan, a Tall Tale. Steven Kellogg. HarperCollins, 1984 (other versions as recent as 2004). 44 pages. $10.53, ISBN 0688058000.

Ages 1-3. Picture book.

This picture book tells generally the same, traditional story of Paul Bunyan, with a few, variations.

Illustrations are fun and whimsical, but slightly cluttered for my preference. Type is large and surrounded by white space, so it’s easy to read.

Images and simple text are good for early readers and read-aloud. Also, I’m craving pancakes!

644955._UY400_SS400_The Bunyans. Audrey Wood, illustrated by David Shannon. Blue Sky Press, 1996. $7.49, ISBN 0590480898.

Ages 5-8, 32 pages.

The tall tale of Paul and his ox Blu, with the spin (in that way, fractured) of his wife and children too.

Illustrations by David Shannon are fun and fantastic, and the stories lead readers across the U.S. National Parks, and tell of how the Bunyan family created them.

Good for early chapter readers and read-aloud.

Paul Bunyan has also been the subject of poems, an operetta, and movies; like this short video created by Walt Disney Studios in 1958:


Duluth News Tribune. (1904). Caught on the run. Retrieved from

Kellogg, S. (1984). Paul Bunyan, a tall tale. New York, NY: W. Morrow.

McCormick, D. J. (1936). Paul Bunyan swings his axe. Caldwell, ID: The Caxton Printers, ltd.

Vardell, S. (2014). Children’s literature in action. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, an imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC.

Walt Disney’s ”Paul Bunyan” (1958). (2013, July 31). Retrieved from

Wood, A., & Shannon, D. (1996). The Bunyans. New York, NY: Blue Sky Press/Scholastic.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s