Monday, July 12, 2010

FIlling the Barn Tale Type Search and Some Books, Old and New

Mary's Penny

Mary's Penny by Tanya Landman is a new release, a picture book using a traditional tale as inspiration.  I received an email last week asking if I could identify the source tale, but alas, I am not familiar with it and after spending some time trying to track it down, I know almost nothing more besides finding a few other versions have appeared in print.

Here's the description for Mary's Penny:

Sometimes the smallest and most unexpected things have the greatest value, as shown in this stylish feminist fable. This is a story of one farmer, his three children, Franz, Hans and Mary, and an ingenious competition that will determine who should inherit the farm. Which of the farmer's children will be able to fill the house with something that costs a mere penny? Will straw do the trick? Will feathers be sufficient? Or will it take something a little more creative?  
I'm not sure what the winning answer is in this one, either light or music.  Here are the other versions I found:

One Bright Penny 

First of all, the email also mentioned this one, One Bright Penny by Geraldine McCaughrean.  Here's the book description:

In this clever tale, Pa gives his three children a challenge. He declares with a chuckle, "If one of you can fill the barn for a penny, I'll give you the farm and go sleep in the chicken coop!" Clearly, Pa doubts any of his children will succeed. Of course, that just makes Bill, Bob, and Penny even more determined to win. Each of the children thinks long and hard and comes up with an idea-but only Penny's plan is ingenious enough to restore harmony to the family.

This version ends with the winner filling the barn with music. 

I also found The Three Brothers by Carolyn Croll.  This one credits German and Latvian sources for the tale.  In this one the challenge is to three brothers, the winner fills the barn with light.

I also found some references on the internet to an Ethiopian version but with no source notes:  The Cleverest Son or Who is the Cleverest?  are the working titles for those in the classroom helps I found.  This one also ends with the winner filling the barn with light.  See A Collection of Puzzling Tales for the best example of the tale, but no source notes.

So does anyone else know of other versions or sources for tales of this type?  My motif index search was fruitless and I don't have the time to spend hours hunting this down. 

I always love clever answer stories although they aren't my speciality.  My plan for several years has been to make Clever Manka the 50th and final annotated fairy tale on SurLaLune.  I do plan a collection of the tales someday as I have been collecting them for several years now.

So is anyone familiar with these "fill the barn" tales?  I imagine the brother versions are more prevalent since they tend to be the inheritors in years past.  All of the "older" clever daughter tales tend to get them husbands, such as in Clever Manka.

Either way, check out the new book, Mary's Penny.  The others are out of print and I imagine this one will only be around for a few years before it too falls out of print, alas.  Not my hope, but the inevitable state of most picture books of more obscure folktales unfortunately.


  1. There is a version of this story in More Ready-To-Tell Tales by Holt and Mooney. It is called The Farmer's Fun Loving Daughter.

  2. There is a version of this story in More Ready-To-Tell Tales by Holt and Mooney. It is called The Farmer's Fun Loving Daughter.