Teenage-izing the classic ‘Canterbury Tales’

“Sometimes We Tell the Truth” by Kim Zarins
“Sometimes We Tell the Truth” by Kim Zarins Simon Pulse

It’s likely been a while since you read (or even thought about) “The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer, the writer-philosopher regarded as “the father of English literature” (1343 to 1400).

His classic story concerns a band of pilgrims en route from London to Canterbury Cathedral. Bored, they pass the time with a storytelling contest, the winner to get a free dinner. Chaucer wrote 21 of the stories in verse, the other two in prose.

In a similar vein, Kim Zarins, a Sacramento State professor of children’s and medieval literature, has a new YA book, “Sometimes We Tell the Truth” (Simon Pulse, $18, 448 pages).

In this contemporized (and hormones-filled) retelling of “Tales,” a band of teens on a civics-class field trip boards a bus for a six-hour ride from Connecticut to Washington, D.C. To help temper the high drama of youth from exploding in such a confined space, teacher-chaperone Mr. Bailey wisely throws them a challenge: Whoever can tell the best story will get an A in class. The story can be “fact or fiction, realistic or fantastical, dark or funny or sad.” Which puts our protagonist, the angst-filled Jeff, in a tight spot. But, to quote another guy known for his way with words, “All’s well that ends well.”

Zarins will appear at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 8, at CSU Sacramento’s University Library Gallery, 6000 J St., Sacramento; 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 11, at Avid Reader, 617 Second St., Davis; 4 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 29, at the Sylvan Oaks Library, 6700 Auburn Blvd., Citrus Heights; and 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30, at the Fair Oaks Library, 11601 Fair Oaks Blvd.

Stories from the wilderness

With this year’s centennial celebration of the National Parks Service in mind, consider these disparate titles:

“The Man Who Built the Sierra Club” by Robert Wyss recalls the life and accomplishments of late outdoorsman David Brower, known as “the 20th century Henry David Thoreau” and “the steward of the modern environmental movement” (Columbia University Press, $35, 400 pages).

The decades-old story of Elmer, the boy who got lost (and found) in Yosemite National Park, is explained in “The Story of Elmer in Yosemite” by Richard Barna, with delightful illustrations by Alden Olmsted (Lulu, $15, 32 pages). Parents will appreciate the supplemental chapter “Elmer’s Tips on Visiting Yosemite.” Filmmaker-photographer Olmsted is the son of parks champion John Olmsted, who envisioned a cross-state trail from Mendocino to Lake Tahoe. Visit the project at

Editor’s note: Scheduling information for Kim Zarins’ appearances have been changed since the information was originally provided.