Tall tales are stories with outrageous elements that are difficult to believe. Although the elements of tall tales are related as if they were factual, the reader knows they are exaggerated and are meant to simply be a form of entertainment.

Tall Tale Definition

Tall tales often are told as if the narrator was part of the story, and the tone is usually light and playful. There are three key characteristics of a tall tale. First, the main character is larger than life, has incredible abilities and uses strength and smarts to accomplish great things. Second, the main character is helped out by either an object or an animal. Finally, tall tales use regular language and seemingly the characters are common, everyday people. Tall tales and legends are similar, but tall tales are so exaggerated that they simply cannot be true. Legends, on the other hand, have some element of historical fact or accuracy.

Tall tales are believed to have originated in the 1800s when frontiersmen in the United States would gather around the fire and tell stories, bragging about the adventures they have had. At the time, explorers were traveling to the Wild West and had many stories to tell about it. The name, “Tall Tale”, is said to come from the fact that the heroes in the story are larger than life, as is the story itself, even if the tall tale is based on a real person.

Tall tales are often taught in classrooms as part of a literary unit or a writing unit. The stories are fun to read and analyze, and often contain a great deal of figurative language. Students will also enjoy writing their own tall tales after they have read and studied all about them.

Tall Tale Examples

  • Johnny Appleseed
  • Pecos Bill
  • Daniel Boone
  • Paul Bunyon
  • Davy Crocket
  • John Henry
  • Casey Jones
  • Old Stormalong
  • Steamboat Annie

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