The People Could Fly: The Picture Book Library Binding – Nov 9 2004
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From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 2-6–Some Africans flew on shiny black wings before their capture into slavery, and though they shed their plumes when forced to board the crowded slave ships, those people with the flying magic still had their special power. Hamilton's version of this old tale of longing and hope was the title story of her 1985 collection (Knopf); it has been read, anthologized, and told so often as to seem truly timeless. The Dillons add much to savor in this elegant picture-book rendering. A richly robed band of men, women, and children flying happily over an African landscape wraps around the book cover, rooting the story in early times. Black endpapers embossed with shiny feathers mark the loss of wings. Rich, deep-hued paintings decorate each spread, a smaller view on the left with a larger scene on the right. A simple framing scheme encases art and text in thick lines on three sides; the top remains open and draws the eye upward with the ascending figures. Early scenes of slave misery ground viewers with darkened tones. Sadly, not all of the people could fly. But those who couldn't continued to tell the marvelous tale, even in their eventual freedom. The book is a lovely tribute to Hamilton. Some of her original notes on the tale appear as preface and afterword.–Margaret Bush, Simmons College, Boston
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
*Starred 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 © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
For you see, they say the people could fly. Long ago in Africa there lived people who had beautiful bright black wings and who could soar in the sky. When they were captured by white slavers, the people shed their wings in the tight confines of the slave ships and forgot how to soar. They were sent to work in the field under the whips of the "masters" and overseers. One day, a woman and her babe were suffering too much to go on much longer. With the ancient words of the old man Toby, the woman and the babe remember how to fly and soared away from the farm. The story recounts how the people who knew how to fly learned to do so again with the help of old Toby and how the slaves who did not know how to fly watched them escape and retold the story to their children just as this book tells it to you.
It's a lovely story, all the lovelier due to the illustrations of Leo and Diane Dillon. The Dillons have illustrated the covers and books of Ms. Hamilton for years, so it is not surprising that they should do so again here. I've always been a huge fan of the Dillons, and this latest effort of theirs is as beautiful as anyone could hope. Even its endpapers are gorgeous, all matt black with shimmery feathers floating down the pages. What "The People Could Fly" does best is introduce children to the concept of slavery within the context of a folktale. Through this story kids understand the horrors of enslavement, rejoice in the escape of some, and understand that most slaves remained trapped and unable to fly. What really set this book apart for me, though, was the use of Editor and Author's Notes. Some great picture books (such as "Ellington Was Not a Street") are beautiful and interesting but never set their story within any context and leave you feeling very confused. "The People Could Fly", on the other hand, tells you everything you need to know about Hamilton, the origins of this tale, the various interpretations of flight (and how you can find a similar idea in Toni Morrison's excellent "Song of Solomon"), and the degradation of slavery.
All intelligent dialogue aside, this book is just a great read to kids. It'll capture their attention with the beautiful pictures, and the words will give them the additional thrill of wondering what it would be like to fly with wings. It's written with slightly older children in mind. Those kids who still like picture books but may want something a little more sophisticated than your average "Horton Hears a Who". With all the folktales out there, it's sometimes difficult to find African-American tales that aren't ALL based on Brer Rabbit. Fortunately, we now have this story to read to all the children we can find. This is a gorgeous addition to any collection and should be adored for as long as it exists.