John Henry

by Julius Lester

Other authorsJerry Pinkney (Illustrator)
Hardcover, 1994


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Scholastic Inc (1998), 35 pages


Retells the life of the legendary African American hero who raced against a steam drill to cut through a mountain.

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User reviews

LibraryThing member jcardwell04
The tall-tale of John Henry and his challenge of beating a steam drill.
LibraryThing member LeAnn327
I love using this book in my first grade classroom as a resource for satisfying Georgia Performance Standard SS1H2. It states- “students will read or listen to American folktales.” John Henry is one of the folkheroes included in this standard.

This book takes students on an emotional
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rollercoaster ride, but it is one they always enjoy. The book immediately captures the attention of students as they wait in anticipation to see if John Henry will win the race against the steam engine. Their cheers for his victory, however, are quickly replaced with disbelief at his death. At the end they are always intrigued, however, at the thought that he is buried on the White House lawn and can still be heard singing.
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LibraryThing member bh101971
Brent Hagen
Children’s Lit
April 16, 08

John Henry
By Julius Lester
Caldecott Honor Book

This is an African American tale about John Henry. John Henry reaches to the can do of the human spirit. There is no evidence to prove or disprove that John Henry ever lived. There have been
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ballads about John Henry and his steam drill. In my opinion that has been too much mention of the character for one never to have existed with some incredible traits such as strength and determination.
The story starts out with a baby that just continued to grow and grow. The baby not only grew in strength and body but also in determination. What the average man needed extra plows or saws John Henry just needed his grit and determination. When John Henry went to work for the railroad in digging through a mountain with his steam drill and made so much progress that he beat the railroad in time and energy.
At the end of the railroad digging John Henry collapsed and died from a heart that was just worked to death. Still that is not the end of the story. No one is sure where he is buried some even suggesting he is buried on the White House lawn. John Henry evokes the human spirit and the sense that we all can achieve for the good of man kind.
The artwork is very detailed and lends to the reading of this story. Each time the reader looks at the pictures throughout the book, new details from the artwork are discovered.
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LibraryThing member JackieKuhlman
This book tells the story of an African American folklore legend, John Henry. When John Henry was born the birds, panthers, bears, deer, rebbits, and even a unicorn came to see him. He grew to be so big that his shoulders busted out of the porch. John Henry worked hard and always left things better
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than when he found them, wheather it was people or places. One day John Henry headed for the railroad because he was so good with his hammer. The railroad tracks had to go through the mountain, but the boss was going to use a steam drill until John Henry asked to have a contest. John Henry started on one side and the steam drill on the other, was John Henry that good?

I've heard of John Henry, but never had read the story or knew what he was about. I am finding out that there are so many wonderful books with wonderful lessons.

This book is a wonderful story to use as an example of hard work and determination. This book would be a good Language Arts lesson, it would be a wonderful conversation book.
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LibraryThing member MrsLee
A lovely telling of the tale with exquisite illustrations. This also has a nice little bit about where the legend of John Henry came from.
LibraryThing member justinscott66
This Caldecott winner immediately brings to mind Pete Seeger's (and Bruce Springsteen's version) song "John Henry." The book, like the song, follows John Henry's life from birth to death and all the struggles in between. A great companion when exploring other tall tales with predominantly white
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character heroes. Pinkney's watercolors and Julius Lester's rendition of the age old tall tale of John Henry brings to life a hero for primary school children no matter the color of their skin.
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LibraryThing member sweetiegherkin
This is a re-telling of the legend of John Henry, a man with incredible strength and speed, combined with a willingness to work hard and always lend a hand. The narrative is so beautifully written that it is almost poetic. My favorite lines contain an important message: “Dying ain’t important.
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Everybody does that. What matters is how well you do your living.” The illustrations were a bit disappointing. They are well executed technically, but with very few bright colors, giving the illustrations all a muddy, faded out look.
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LibraryThing member mrsstone
Excellent book! It is one of my favorites!
LibraryThing member hazelrah75
Julius Lester's fantastical retelling of the story of John Henry, highlighted by beautiful illustrations from Jerry Pinkney. With wonderful attention to detail and accuracy, this book is perfect blend of fantasy and reality.
LibraryThing member teason
Like any story about John Henry, the book leaves you sad yet inspired. John Henry is the story of a railroad worker who battles a steam-powered machine for not only his job but also the jobs of all the other workers. In the end, John Henry wins, but his victory his bittersweet because he ends up
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collapsing from exhaustion and dying. The illustrations were beautiful and fit perfectly with the flow of the words. I think that it will be good for children to read because it is important that children learn about loss.
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LibraryThing member farfromkansas
Julius Lester’s take on the John Henry legend takes some creative liberties with the story but maintains the core message: that one determined man can do more than any man-made creation. Lester’s writing is simple poetry, incorporating a number of original metaphors and images to complement the
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John Henry myth, and making cross-temporal references to connect with today’s young readers. Even more powerful than Lester’s text, though, are Jerry Pinkney’s breathtaking illustrations: they capture the majesty and humanity in John Henry’s actions, breathing life into a legend whose origins are still shrouded in mystery. This book, although not perfect, is a masterpiece in the making.

Lester, Julius, and Jerry Pinkney. John Henry. New York: Dial, 1994. Print.
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LibraryThing member crew28
The poetic language in this book makes me want to read it again and again.
LibraryThing member KimReadingLog
In this version of John Henry, John of course is larger than life and is good hearted and performs amazing physical feats. When he goes up against the steam drill, he is undaunted, and his hammers make a rainbow as he pounds away at the rock. You get the feeling that all of nature is on John
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Henry’s side. When he finally breaks through to the steam drill, it is discovered that John Henry went a mile and a quarter, while the drill only went a quarter. He dies because his heart burst. The coolest line in the story is a rainbow whisper: “Dying ain’t important. Everybody does that. What matters is how well you do your living.” Includes a note from the author about the origins of John Henry, and includes discussion on whether he was a real person. Compares him to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
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LibraryThing member paroof
When you look at the cover of this book it looks so serious. The illustrations are so beautiful it's a shock really to read the text and find it so funny. Of course on closer examination the pictures are reflective of the tall tale. This is a great book for the 7-8 year-old crowd.
LibraryThing member kmacneill
I LOVE this book. This book is full of so many good, creative writing ideas for students to emulate in their own writing. This book could be used for an exaggeration minilesson, a personification minilesson, or a voice minilesson, just to name a few. The pictures enhance the memorable, creative
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language that Lester uses. Lester would be a great author for students to stand on the should of. He would also be interesting to do an Author's study on. The book could also be used to teach the importance and impact of powerful illustrations. I have so many ideas on how to use this book that I'm having a hard time writing them all. This book also packs a punch with a strong hook right at the beginning and a impactful ending. The beginning uses a strong (and steady) voice which carries through the whole story until the ending.
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LibraryThing member JanaRose1
Wonderfully written and illustrated, this is a folk tale that any child would enjoy. The dialogue is song-like and instantly engaging. The pictures are very intricate and beautiful watercolors.
LibraryThing member awiltenburg
Overall a nice book! The story of John Henry is told with colorful statements and nice imagery....The Almighty said, "Its getting too noisy down there!" "....shining and shimmering in the dust and grit like hope that never dies...." IDEA:
LibraryThing member szanes
Beautifully painted, this book is a truly deserving award winner. The text also paints a picture with extremely descriptive language and a dignified retelling of a classic tall tale.
LibraryThing member jessgee
This is the story of John Henry, a big man with a big heart. John Henry is an american folk hero. He works hard, and he inspires those around him.

Personal Experience:
I've always loved the story of John Henry. This book does a really good job of telling the story. The illustrations are
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really good.

Classroom Extensions:
I would definitely use this book during Black History Month. It is a great story for all children to read.
It could also be used to demonstrate hard work.
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LibraryThing member JohannaJ
This is the story of John Henry and his hammer.
LibraryThing member haleyg
Julius Lester's story of John Henry begins with his birth and immediate growth to a size so large that "his head and shoulders busted through the roof which was over the porch" of his family's home in 1870s West Virginia. The tall tale continues with the saga of how John Henry grew big, strong,
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fast, and fearless. His crowning achievement, and the cause of his death, was winning a competition to break through a mountain so the railroad could go through. On one side of the mountain, the railroad boss used a steam drill. On the other side, John Henry used his hammers and amazing strength. When John Henry and the stream drill met inside the mountain, the boss was amazed to find that while he had come only a quarter of a mile, John Henry had come a mile and a quarter. John Henry walked out of the tunnel to the cheers of the other workers, then fell to the ground and died. Everyone who was there came to the realization that "Dying ain't important. Everybody does that. What matters is how well you do your living."
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LibraryThing member elpowers
Interesting tall tale, very creative. Pictures are a bit dark.
LibraryThing member aconant05
This is a superbly written tall tale about John Henry. John Henry was barely a baby for a day when he started growing. By the next day he was building all sorts of things. He could outrun a horse, was more powerful than dynamite, and could hammer faster than a steam drill. Unfortunately his super
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speed causes his heart to burst and he dies. The townspeople remember him for what a full life he lived.

The best part about this book was the analogies and hyperboles. It is chalk full of over the top statements which truly give this book that tall tale feel.
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LibraryThing member Eclouse
This is a tall tale about a man who was able to beat a machine drilling through a cliff in order to expand the railroad in the West. This book is good to use for cultural studies or even just to inspire students.
LibraryThing member hetrickm
This book is an amazing stretch of the imagination. The comparisons of man vs machine are funny and a bit hard to believe. This would be a fun book to talk about/read with fourth graders because they are so incredibly literal. This would be a fun book to introduce with other versions of the story
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as well. The giant man called John Henry leaves a great impression of the way we would love to see humanity.
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Original publication date


Physical description

35 p.


0590539361 / 9780590539364


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