Cover image for The people could fly : American Black folktales
The people could fly : American Black folktales
Hamilton, Virginia.
Personal Author:
First paperback edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1993.

Physical Description:
xii, 178 pages : illustrations ; 26 cm
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.
General Note:
Originally published: New York : Knopf, c1985.
Reading Level:
660 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 4.3 4.0 44962.

Reading Counts RC 3-5 4.3 6 Quiz: 08965 Guided reading level: W.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PZ8.1.H154 PE 1985C Juvenile Non-Fiction Fairy Tales
PZ8.1.H154 PE 1985C Juvenile Non-Fiction Fairy Tales

On Order



"The well-known author retells 24 black American folk tales in sure storytelling voice: animal tales, supernatural tales, fanciful and cautionary tales, and slave tales of freedom. All are beautifully readable. With the added attraction of 40 wonderfully expressive paintings by the Dillons, this collection should be snapped up."--(starred) School Library Journal.

This book has been selected as a Common Core State Standards text Exemplar (Grade 6-8, Stories) in Appendix B.

Author Notes

Virginia Hamilton was born March 12, 1934. She received a scholarship to Antioch College, and then transferred to the Ohio State University in Columbus, where she majored in literature and creative writing. She also studied fiction writing at the New School for Social Research in New York.

Her first children's book, Zeely, was published in 1967 and won the Nancy Bloch Award. During her lifetime, she wrote over 40 books including The People Could Fly, The Planet of Junior Brown, Bluish, Cousins, the Dies Drear Chronicles, Time Pieces, Bruh Rabbit and the Tar Baby Girl, and Wee Winnie Witch's Skinny. She was the first African American woman to win the Newbery Award, for M. C. Higgins, the Great. She has won numerous awards including three Newbery Honors, three Coretta Scott King Awards, an Edgar Allan Poe Award, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, and the Hans Christian Andersen Award. She was also the first children's author to receive a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant in 1995.

She died from breast cancer on February 19, 2002 at the age of 67.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 3-9. The stirring title story in the late Virginia Hamilton's 1985 collection of American black folktales is an unforgettable slave escape fantasy, retold here in terse, lyrical prose that stays true to the oral tradition Hamilton knew from her family and her scholarly research. Leo and Diane Dillons' illustrations for the collection were in black and white, but the art here is beautiful full color, in the style of the cover of the collection. The large paintings are magic realism at its finest, with clear portraits showing individuals and the enduring connections between them. The images depict mass cruelty close up, but the faces of the characters Hamilton names are always distinct, even in the packed hold of the slave ships, when those who could fly lost their wings. Laboring in the cotton field, Sarah and her baby are whipped by the overseer. When elderly Toby helps them escape, the rhythmic paintings dramatize people flying to freedom, joining hands together in the sky. Each one is an individual, exquisitely (and differently) dressed in traditional African garb, an inspiration to those left behind, who had only their imaginations to set them free. A final portrait shows Hamilton in kente cloth smiling above a loving family at home. This special picture-book story will be told and retold everywhere. --Hazel Rochman Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Three winners of multiple honors have created this incomparable book. The Dillons illustrate Hamilton's 24 stories with marvelous pictures alive with the spirit of each: sly humor, mystery, pathos and, most powerfully, the human need for freedom. In the author's introduction and notes, we find information on black history, on the original slave storytellers``voices from the past''that include her own ancestors. The stories are given full effect by Hamilton's use of colloquial language, evoking the artless entertainer relating the exploits of ``Bruh Rabbit'' and other animal tricksters. The reader's emotional response, however, is to the artists' depictions and the author's narrative in ``The People Could Fly.'' They are the slaves from Gulla who, according to legend, escape the master's abuse one day. ``They rose on the air. Say they flew away to Free-dom.'' (All ages). (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 4-7 The well-known author here retells 24 black American folk tales in sure storytelling voice. In four groupings she presents seven animal tales (including a tar-baby variant); six fanciful ones (including ``Wiley, His Mama, and the Hairy Man'' and a tale of which Harper's Gunniwulf Dutton, 1967 is a variant); five supernatural tales (including variants of the Tailypo, John and the Deviland a wild cautionary tale, ``Little Eight John''); and finally, six slave tales of freedom, closing with the moving title story. Depending on the sources, some of the tales use a modified dialect for flavor; one told with quite a few words of Gullah dialect has a glossary. All are beautifully readable. The book has a bibliography, and comments follow each tale, including one personal note of a family account involving one of her grandfathers. Two other collections of black folk tales, Courlander's Terrapin's Pot of Sense (Holt, 1957; o.p.) and Faulkner's The Days When the Animals Talked (Follett, 1977; o.p.) are both out of print. With the added attraction of 40 bordered full- and half-page illustrations by the Dillonswonderfully expressive paintings reproduced in black and whitethis collection should be snapped up. Ruth M. McConnell, San Antonio Public Library (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. ix
He Lion, Bruh Bear, and Bruh Rabbit, And Other Animal Talesp. 3
He Lion, Bruh Bear, and Bruh Rabbitp. 5
Doc Rabbit, Bruh Fox, and Tar Babyp. 13
Tappin, the Land Turtlep. 20
Bruh Alligator and Bruh Deerp. 26
Bruh Lizard and Bruh Rabbitp. 31
Bruh Alligator Meets Troublep. 35
Wolf and Birds and the Fish-Horsep. 43
The Beautiful Girl of the Moon Tower, And Other Tales of the Real, Extravagant, and Fancifulp. 51
The Beautiful Girl of the Moon Towerp. 53
A Wolf and Little Daughterp. 60
Manuel Had a Riddlep. 65
Papa John's Tall Talep. 76
The Two Johnsp. 81
Wiley, His Mama, and the Hairy Manp. 90
John and the Devil's Daughter, And Other Tales of the Supernaturalp. 105
John and the Devil's Daughterp. 107
The Peculiar Such Thingp. 116
Little Eight Johnp. 121
Jack and the Devilp. 126
Better Wait Till Martin Comesp. 133
Carrying the Running-Aways, And Other Slave Tales of Freedomp. 139
Carrying the Running-Awaysp. 141
How Nehemiah Got Freep. 147
The Talking Cooterp. 151
The Riddle Tale of Freedomp. 156
The Most Useful Slavep. 160
The People Could Flyp. 166
Bibliographyp. 175