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World Folktales

North America - African American

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North America – African American (Gullah from Sea Islands, S.C.)


Hamilton, Virginia. 2003. Bruh Rabbit and the tar baby girl.  Illustrations by James. E. Ransome. New York: Scholastic.


Rating:  ♥♥♥♥♥ (out of  ♥♥♥♥♥).  (Cover photograph taken from


Summary:  Bruh Wolf makes a tar baby scarecrow to stop Bruh Rabbit from stealing crops. Bruh Rabbit gets stuck to the tar but outwits the wolf and ends up safe.


Type: beast tale


Characters: Both characters are one-dimensional. Bruh Rabbit, a favorite of Southern African-American storytellers during slavery, is lazy, smart, and tricky.  Wolf is industrious, vengeful, and not overly clever. According to Hamilton’s notes, “The early generations of African American tellers…began to identify the rabbit’s lowly status with their own” (unpaged). Seemingly, they also identified the larger animal with the plantation owner.


Setting: In her opening sentence, Hamilton writes that this tale happened “a far time ago” (unpaged).  While the setting is a rural farm where it snows, Hamilton never provides an exact location.


Plot: This is a standard trickster tale with the smaller, cleverer animal triumphing over the larger, more powerful one.  Like many of these tales, the small trickster gets away at the end. Unlike many of these tales, Bruh Rabbit uses reverse psychology to obtain his freedom.  Bruh Rabbit successfully steals from Bruh Rabbit three times, and Bruh Wolf tries to “fix” the rabbit during a fourth incident


Theme:  The theme is that cleverness can triumph over size or power.


Other Observations - Language: The language is rhythmic and filled with colorful expressions such as “scarey-crow,” “dayclean,” and “day lean.”  In her notes, Hamilton explains that “this version of the story was collected and recorded in fairly heavy Gullah speech of the Sea Islands of South Carolina” (unpaged). The tale is written in an oral way – one can easily imagine someone telling it.


Rating Considerations:  The poetic words and the striking illustrations complement and enhance each other.


Illustrations: Ransome’s watercolor paintings are memorable.  He draws readers into the single and double-page spreads with a rich palette and multiple perspectives. The illustrations are filled with humor, especially when Bruh Rabbit starts “studying” the tar baby and gets stuck from head to toe (unpaged).