Jeanne Pitre SoileauJul 6, 2021
Yo' Mama, Mary Mack, and Boudreaux and Thibodeaux
Louisiana Children's Folklore and Play
University Press of Mississippi 2016
Children’s folklore is simultaneously a conservator of tradition and a site for creativity and innovation. For over five decades, Dr. Jeanne Pitre Soileau documented and collected the jokes, chants, rhymes, and games that that she observed on school playgrounds throughout her career as a public school teacher in southern Louisiana. From the early days of integration to the first decade of the 21st century, Dr. Soileau has taken note of the evolving forms in which children’s play take and its reflections of contemporary times. Her book, Yo’ Mama, Mary Mack, and Boudreaux and Thibodeaux: Lousiana Children’s Folklore and Play (University Press of Mississippi, 2016), examines forty-four years of children’s folklore and play collected in southern Louisiana schools. The book has won the 2018 Chicago Folklore Prize for excellence in folklore scholarship and the 2018 Opie Prize for the best published scholarly book on children’s folklore.
In this podcast, we hear about Dr. Soileau’s early fascination with the sounds of children chanting and handclapping at Louisiana school playground and her subsequent efforts to collect and document them and mores. She shares the playground jokes she heard, the “dozens,” an African American insult ritual with specific patterns with “clean” and “dirty” versions. We also discuss chants and ring games that were played among girls, some of which had origins from the late 19th century, but still expressed expectations of womanhood. The rhymes and playing that children engaged with were often reflective of current trends and popular culture. While the 21st century saw the rise of electronic media in the play of children, traditional rings games and chants still persisted on the playground. Such inventions did not replace these familiar games, but simply added to them, allowing for a different type of creativity and play for children.
Dr. Jeanne Soileau was born in New Orleans and taught public school and university classes in Louisiana for forty-seven years. Though retired, she continues to collect and study children’s folklore. Her upcoming publication What The Children Said: Child Lore of Southern Louisiana (University Press of Mississippi, 2021) will explore children’s play and its influence on learning about race, history, and sexuality.
Nancy Yan received her PhD in folklore from The Ohio State University and taught First Year Writing, Comparative Studies, and Asian American studies for several years before returning to organizing work.