Storyworks for grades 3–6 features fiction and nonfiction by today’s top children authors, poetry, read-aloud plays, student-written book reviews, and more to helps kids build reading and writing skills.
Pecos Bill riding a tornado Tall tales are exaggerated, funny stories about larger-than-life heroes. (Bill Cigliano)

Pecos Bill Rides a Tornado

A tall tale from the Wild West

Surely you’ve heard tell of Pecos Bill. He was a cowboy down in Texas. He was about the bravest cowboy that ever lived. I seen with my own eyes the time Bill used two rattlesnakes as a lasso. And then there was the time Bill shot all the stars out of the sky—all of ’em except the Lone Star, that is.

But my favorite Pecos Bill story is the one about the time he rode a tornado. You see, there wasn’t a horse in the world that was too wild for him. So it’s not surprising that one day, Bill decided he wanted to ride a tornado—and not just any tornado. No, sir. Bill waited for the biggest, the mightiest, the most terrifying tornado ever born from the clouds. It was so big that folks on the moon could see it swirling. It picked up elephants from Africa and whales from the Pacific Ocean. But that didn’t scare Bill. He just reached up and grabbed that tornado out of the sky. He threw it down to the ground and hopped right on.

That tornado whirled and swirled and wiggled and wagged like an alligator with its tail on fire. Bill hung right on. It sucked up Lake Michigan and dumped the water into the Grand Canyon. Bill hung right on. At last, that tornado got tired. It stopped its whirling, and Bill fell off. He fell so hard that the ground sank. Folks call that spot Death Valley. Now, most people would be pretty banged up by such a fall. Not Bill, though. He was as happy as a bear in honey.

Lots of folks heard about Bill’s tornado ride, no doubt. That’s where they got the idea for rodeos. Of course, nobody but Bill ever rode a tornado. Most cowboys just ride broncos.


For the pioneers and cowboys who settled the american west, life was rough. They froze in blizzards, got slammed by tornadoes, and were attacked by wild animals. One way they coped was by telling each other wild and funny stories about people who were outstanding and brave. The people were real. But storytellers exaggerated to make them into inspiring, larger-than-life heroes. Many tall tales were so popular that we still tell them today, like those of Johnny appleseed and Paul Bunyan.

Dozens of famous tall tales have been passed down, and they all have certain ingredients in common. Read through the list below, then go back and find each element in “Pecos Bill Rides a Tornado.”

HYPERBOLE: This is a fancy word for a statement that is exaggerated. Circle two examples of hyperbole in the story of Pecos Bill.

A FUNNY TONE: Tall tales are supposed to make you laugh. Find two examples of humor, which creates a funny tone.

WORDS LIKE “AIN’T”: Tall tales are written the way cowboys would tell them around a campfire, with words they really used in conversation. The everyday language of people who live in a particular place or time is known as a dialect.
Find two examples of cowboy dialect in the story.

SIMILES: Tall tales include great descriptions. One way to describe something is to use a simile, in which one thing is compared with another using like or as. Find two similes.

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2012 edition of Storyworks. For more from Storyworks, click here.

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    Bone Prequel: Tall Tales

    Bone Prequel: Tall Tales

    by Jeff Smith and Jeff Smith

    Long before the Bone cousins were ever lost in the uncharted desert on the outskirts of the Valley, Big Johnson Bone, the discoverer of the Rolling Bone River, founded Boneville. But little is known of the mighty explorer's adventures before he started his famous trading post. So when Smiley Bone sits down with a group of young campers to retell the legendary stories of Boneville's origin and its tough, no-nonsense founder, what they hear are tall tales in typical BONE fashion--wild antics complete with rat creatures, dragons, and a snarky little monkey!

    Previously published in black and white as STUPID, STUPID RAT-TAILS, this edition will feature new material and full-color art.

    Learning Curve
    "Graphic novel" is a term used by librarians, educators, and booksellers to indicate a publishing format--books written and illustrated in the style of a comic book, consisting of "sequential art"--a series of illustrations which, when viewed in order, tell a story. Although today's graphic novels are a recent phenomenon, this basic way of storytelling has been used in various forms for centuries--early cave drawings, hieroglyphics, and medieval tapestries like the famous Bayeux Tapestry can be thought of as stories told in pictures. The term graphic novel is now generally used to describe any book in a comic format that resembles a novel in length and narrative development.

    School librarians and educators have reported outstanding success getting kids to read with graphic novels, citing particularly their popularity with reluctant readers, especially boys--a group traditionally difficult to reach. At the same time, graphic novels with rich, complex plots and narrative structures can also be satisfying to advanced readers.

    Want to learn more about graphic novels? Check out our discussion guide here .

    books;hardcover books;hardcovers | Ages 9-12
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    Bone Prequel: Tall Tales
    Ages 9-12 $22.99
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    Scholastic Trio Individual Theme Unit Set 4, Language Arts - Tall Tales, Grades 4-5

    Scholastic Trio Individual Theme Unit Set 4, Language Arts - Tall Tales, Grades 4-5

    Visit the Scholastic TRIO website for more information.

    Scholastic Trio is a series of themed reading collections that engage students at THREE levels of reading ability - Below, On, and Above - all in the SAME content-area topic. Now your whole class can participate in learning about a single science, social studies, or language arts topic as they develop strategic reading skills!


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    Each individual theme unit includes a Below, On and Above level book (6 copies of each) plus teaching materials.

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    Paperback Book Collection | Grades 4-5
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    Scholastic Trio Individual Theme Unit Set 4, Language Arts - Tall Tales, Grades 4-5
    Grades 4-5 $159.00
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