John Henry by Julius Lester

April 19, 2011

John Henry, written by Julius Lester and illustrated by Jerry Pinkey, brings the larger than life African-American hero of the same name to life.  In this version of the familiar folk tale, John Henry begins growing on the very day he is born – growing so fast that he is able to leap from his mother’s arms as a newborn and grow to the size of an adult.  His brute strength and positive attitude help him to overcome several obstacles throughout his short-lived life.  He is faster than the wind and is able to change Ferret-Faced Freddy, the meanest man in the state, into Frederick the Friendly.  John Henry is also able to use two sledgehammers to break down a rock that even dynamite couldn’t destroy.  His most significant test of strength occurs when he takes ona steam engine.  John Henry is able to accomplish more than this machine, but the immense amount of hard work literally kills him. 

John Henry is a very well-written picture book.  The dialect used throughout the story makes the tale of this famous folk hero even more authentic.  Julius Lester has an obvious talent for writing – one that makes me want to read more of his work.  The pictures within the story are also beautiful and well-worth mentioning.  Jerry Pinkney’s illustrations actually won a Caldecott Honor Medal. As a fan of tall tales and legends, I really enjoyed this book.  I am anxious to read more of Mr. Lester’s work, because this book is absolutely fantastic!

Image obtained from http://www.the-best-childrens-books.org/Caldecott_Award_Winners.html

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