The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales

by Virginia Hamilton

Other authorsLeo Dillon (Illustrator), Diane Dillon (Illustrator)
Hardcover, 1985

Call number

J 398.2 H


Knopf Books for Young Readers (2009), Edition: 1st, 192 pages


Retold Afro-American folktales of animals, fantasy, the supernatural, and desire for freedom, born of the sorrow of the slaves, but passed on in hope.

User reviews

LibraryThing member flying_monkeys
"These tales were created out of sorrow. But the hearts and minds of the black people who formed them, expanded them, and passed them on to us were full of love and hope. We must look on the tales as a celebration of the human spirit." (from the Introduction)

Offers a varied selection of tale types
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with some repetition among the individual stories. Tales are divided into: He Lion, Bruh Bear, and Bruh Rabbit And Other Animal Tales; The Beautiful Girl of the Moon Tower And Other Tales of the Real, Extravagant, and Fanciful; John and the Devil's Daughter And Other Tales of the Supernatural; Carrying the Running-Aways And Other Slave Tales of Freedom.

Highly recommended to all ages. Though, if you're able to find it, I would go for the edition that includes the CD with narration by James Earl Jones. My library was unable to get that edition. :(

Purely for entertainment reasons, "The Peculiar Such Thing" was my favorite story. I could see folks telling that one at night sitting around the campfire. It felt like a tale that should've been included in the Scary Stories series from my tween/teen years.

Two stories really nailed the real-life origins of folktales: the first was "Carrying the Running-Aways" because it is such a personal story to Hamilton's own family history. The second, "The People Could Fly," packed serious emotional punch. A powerful way to end the collection.

4 stars
(Only reason not 5 stars is that I wish the illustrations had been in color like the cover was.)
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LibraryThing member Whisper1
Powerful, incredible, poignant and emotional, this is a book to own and read often. There is no softness in the portrayal of black slaves slashed, degraded and tired, oh so tired. There is hope in an old man named Toby, tall and able to inspire those who are beaten down by their lot to fly, fly
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away upward into a life better, oh so much better.
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LibraryThing member MeredithYvonne
The People Could Fly is a children's book which is a collection of folktales. I had to read this in 5th grade and have loved it ever since. My favorite story is the final one called "The People Could Fly" which tells the story of slaves who finally escaped the fields by flying away.
LibraryThing member laurieleewalsh
The Story of the Creation by Jane Ray is a lovely illustrated book. The sectioned layouts and the colors are amazing. The story was from Genesis; I thought this was a wonderful way to share the story and to make it memorable to youngsters. It is also a reminder about how the story of creation is
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such a great story.
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LibraryThing member sharese
A collection of stories of American Black folktales including early tales of Brer (Bruh) Rabbit and Tar Baby. After each folktale a few paragraphs are devoted to telling more about the story's origination and important parts or facts about the story. It is a rich book full of information
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about early African-American life and is a wonderful way to expose children to folk tales they may not have heard yet. Wonderful black and white drawing go along with the stories and the emotion on the animals' and peoples' faces is enchanting.

This book does everything for me that Disney's Brer Rabbit does not: it takes the traditional African-American folktales and gives them the respect and place they deserve. With wonderful explanations of every story and why they were important, I found myself wanting to read more simply to gain knowledge of a people stripped of their originial tales and stories. A wonderful book that should be read to every child.
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LibraryThing member CjWilson
This book is about fables and tall tales. The tall tales are stories that orginated in Africa that were bought to this country by black slaves. The stories are entertainig and have morals.The tales are acted by characters in the book that are animals. The book's most memorable character is the
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mischevious trickster bruh rabbit. Information on the book and author can be found at
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LibraryThing member brittneywest
I really enjoyed reading this book. The book contains several folktales concerning African Americans and their history of slavery. We are used to hearing about Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill but this book takes on a different idea of American folklore. In The People Could Fly, one can expect to find
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characters such as Bruh Rabbit who add magic to the book. This book is intended for readers in the range of 3rd grade and up.
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LibraryThing member liss2
This book was about African American's desire for freedom, it was told as a folktale to produce hope. I would use this in my classroom to demonstrate what folktales are and how they come from many different heritages. It could be used in a history lesson. A good age group for this book would be 2nd
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or 3rd Graders.
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LibraryThing member gjchauvin504
This book was truly interesting. I had no idea that American Blacks had so many different kinds of books. I loved all of the stories and all of the pictures that went along with them. I would truly recomend this book to people that are trying to learn about American Black stories. I would defiantly
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read this book to my students.
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LibraryThing member rjones34
Summary: “The People Could Fly” told the story of Africans who knew the magic in order to fly. They were taken as slaves and had to abandon their wings. One day, a woman was carry her baby on her back while working in the fields when the baby began to cry and the Overseer whipped the baby. This
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resulted in the woman crying and trying to console the baby. However, the Overseer whipped the woman to try and make her get back to work. Soon a old man named Toby appeared and said the magic words to her where she was able to fly away. Toby helped countless others in the field fly away before the Overseer drove him off. When the Overseer went to tell the master what had happened, the master did not believe him. Toby could not save everyone but the people who could not fly stayed and told the stories of the people who could fly for generations.

Review: The main idea of this story is African slaves kept their secret of flying hidden until one day a old man whispered the magic words for them to fly when slaves were suffering from oppression. Overall, this book had very good illustrations that helped the reader visualize the story. Also, the all the illustrations had similar colors of brown and tan throughout the book which helped the reader further understand the environment and culture of these times.
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LibraryThing member RachelHollingsworth
This is a volume of many folktales. The first is a tale of the animals in the forest being scared. They go to see the source of the problem and it is the lion. He has forgotten that there is also men,
LibraryThing member ShakelaWilliams
In the book The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton, I read The Beautiful Girl of the Moon Tower. Due to my inexperience with folktales, I didn’t enjoy this story. However, the tale was well written and sounded like it was being told, not read. For example, in the beginning it states “ There
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was a son named Anton, he dreamed that a girl placed a handkerchief over his face.” This is written in third person, which sounds exactly like someone else reading the story. After reading the information about this folktale, I understood that this is a common folktale from the Cape Verde Islands. However, I didn’t really see the exaggerated-reality scenes in the story. This folktale just seemed like a fantasy more than exaggerated-reality, especially when the main character Anton was able to transform into various insects and animals to find the girl in his dream. I thought that this aspect alone was far from exaggerated-reality and just fantasy. I think that the themes of struggle and triumphs will be very challenging to appeal to children, but the use of animals and magic will capture their attention. Overall, I thought this folktale wasn’t the best, but it contained aspects of a good traditional folktale.
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LibraryThing member ShakelaWilliams
I read the story Little Eight Jon in the book The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton. I really enjoyed this short story, however I don’t think its suitable for young children. It might be best for kids in grades 4-6 because of the scary content. Firstly, I think that the language of the tale
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is written to sound like it’s being told, not read. For example, on page 122, “Little Eight Jon went right ahead on and found him a toad and a frog. And he squished the toad. Then he squashed the frog.” It really sounds like the story is being told from someone else, rather than just reading a typical fiction book. I definitely believe that the language of the book contributes to the culture of origin coming through. For instance, the reader can immediately tell that Little Eight Jon and his family are from the south because the opening sentence is “ Little Eight Jon come be small boy, say he lived long ago”(pg.121). The reader can infer than the dialect is from the south a long time ago. Also, to help the reader, there is a short paragraph to tell the audience exactly which culture this folktale takes place. This book is slightly scary because Little Eight Jon is turned into grease at the end because he didn’t listen to his mother, and is never seen again. However, I think the moral of the story resonates with children, because all kids disobey their parents, but sometimes there are consequences to your actions.
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LibraryThing member reader1009
audio production of expertly curated folktales. The intermittent music between stories was not optimal for my drifting-off-to-sleep purposes, but the collection itself is solid, with explanatory notes of historical significance after each. Recommended.




0394869257 / 9780394869254
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