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John Henry (Picture Puffins) Paperback – December 1, 1999


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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Series: Picture Puffins
  • Paperback: 40 pages
  • Publisher: Puffin (December 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140566228
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140566222
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 0.1 x 11.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #118,179 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A great American hero comes fully to life in this epic retelling filled with glorious, detailed watercolors. From his momentous birth, when all the animals come to see him and the sun won't go to bed, John Henry works wonders. As a child he helps his father by adding "a wing onto the house with an indoor swimming pool and one of them jacutzis"-and that's just before lunch. Other episodes trace the growth of his generous spirit. His greatest feat is, of course, in his battle against the steam drill, as he races the machine to cut through "a mountain as big as hurt feelings." He dies ("he had hammered so hard and so fast and so long that his big heart had burst"), but the onlookers understand that "dying ain't important.... What matters is how well you do your living." This carefully crafted updating begs to be read aloud for its rich, rhythmic storytelling flow, and the suitably oversize illustrations amplify the text. As only one example, the animal witnesses of his birth reappear throughout, most notably to watch John Henry's funeral train pass by. This may not supplant more traditional retellings, such as Terry Small's The Legend of John Henry, but it is a triumph of collaboration from the creators of the noted Uncle Remus retellings. All ages.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal

Kindergarten-Grade 5-Another winning collaboration from the master storyteller and gifted artist of Tales of Uncle Remus (Dial, 1987) fame. Based on several well-known versions of an African American folk ballad, Lester's tale is true to the essence of the steel-driving man; yet, it allows room for touches of whimsy and even includes some contemporary references that tie the hero to our own times. Told with just a trace of dialect, the story moves along briskly toward the climax. Its moral message of the importance of a well-lived life is clearly stated, and the ending is uplifting. Pinkney's marvelous watercolors, abundantly rich in detail, convey both the superior strength and the warm sense of humanity that make John Henry perhaps a more down-to-earth character than some other tall-tale figures. The paintings' muted earth tones add a realistic touch to the text, bringing this John Henry alive. When viewed from a distance, however, figures and details sometimes blend together, making the book better suited to independent reading that group sharing. It will appeal to an older audience than Ezra Jack Keats's John Henry (Knopf, 1987) and is a fine addition to any folklore collection.
Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, Wheeler School, Providence, RI
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Born in 1939, Julius Lester spent his youth in the Midwest and the South and received a B.A. in English from Fisk University in 1960.Since 1968 he has published 25 books of fiction, nonfiction, children's books, and poetry. Among the awards these books have received are the Newbery Honor Medal, American Library Association Notable Book, National Jewish Book Award Finalist, The New York Times Outstanding Book, National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, Caldecott Honor Book, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, and a National Book Award Finalist. His books have been translated into eight languages.He has published more than one hundred essays and reviews in such publications The New York Times Book Review, The New York Times Op-Ed Page, The Boston Globe, The Village Voice, The New Republic, Katallagete, Moment, Forward, and Dissent.He has recorded two albums of original songs, hosted and produced a radio show on WBAI-FM in New York City for eight years, and hosted a live television show on WNET in New York for two years. A veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, his photographs of that movement are included in an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution and are part of the permanent photographic collection at Howard University.After teaching at the New School for Social Research for two years, Mr. Lester joined the faculty of the University of Massachusetts/Amherst in 1971 where he is presently a full professor in the Judaic and Near Eastern Studies Department, and adjunct professor in the English and History departments. He also serves as lay religious leader of Beth El Synagogue in St. Johnsbury, Vermont.He has been awarded all four of the university's most prestigious faculty awards: The Distinguished Teacher's Award; the Faculty Fellowship Award for Distinguished Research and Scholarship; Distinguished Faculty Lecturer; and recipient of the Chancellor's Medal, the University's highest honor. In 1986 the Council for Advancement and Support of Education selected him as the Massachusetts State Professor of the Year.Mr. Lester's biography has appeared in Who's Who In America since 1970. He has given lectures and papers at more than 100 colleges and universities.His most recent books are John Henry, And All Our Wounds Forgiven, a novel about the civil rights movement, and Othello, a novel based on the Shakespeare play.

Customer Reviews

I loved the illustrations by Pinkney.
Roby Reader
The language is an interesting mixture of puns and idioms.
The Queen of Noirs
Either way - great story, nice telling!
Anna M. Ligtenberg

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on March 13, 2004
Format: Hardcover
If you haven't read a book that combines the individual talents of Lester and Pinkney (Julius Lester writes, Jerry Pinkney draws) then this might be a good place to start. The two artists have reinterpreted a variety of classic African-American tales to their own liking. From their, "The Tales of Uncle Remus: The Adventures of Brer Rabbit" to the more recent "Sam and the Tigers" (a reworked "Little Black Sambo") they are nothing if not prolific. With this book they tackle one of this country's tallest tales. The legend of John Henry. And whether you delight in their version or cling to the story you learned as a child (as I confess, I did while reading it) you have to step back and admire their enthusiasm.
In this version of "John Henry" the duo has consulted a variety of texts and versions, adding some special touches and flourishes of their own. This John Henry is a baby one day and an adult the next. He can outrace the meanest man in town and carve through solid rock with a rainbow draped across his shoulders. When the final showdown against a steam drill comes, John Henry's ready. He beats that drill only to die from a burst heart. We are assured, however, that he is buried on the White House Lawn and that at night you can hear his voice singing.
There's some getting used to here, certainly. No refrain of, "I'm gonna die with a hammer in my hand" is chanted. And John Henry doesn't work the railroads with everyone else. Rather, he accidentally stumbles across the man with the steam engine while on travels of his own. And then Lester has tried to make the story applicable to the youth of today. He did this in "The Tales of Uncle Remus" too, and I had some very similar problems.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By K. Norlander on June 27, 2002
Format: Paperback
Julius Lester's version of the legend of John Henry is well-told. I laughed out loud when Lester described Ferret-Faced Freddy, a man "so mean, he cried if he had a nice thought." Lester also uses marvelous metaphors (next to a large mountain, John Henry doesn't look "much bigger than a wish that wasn't going to come true"). Lester's version is very different from other versions I'm familiar with (such as Ezra Jack Keat's), but I love it.
Pinkney, who has teamed up with Lester on other books (my favorite is "Sam and the Tigers"), provides beautiful illustrations to accompany the text.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Bobbie Cox on July 5, 2007
Format: Paperback
This author/illustrator pair have teamed up for a great work. I am a teacher and have read this book with kids in k-8th grade for a variety of purposes. Wonderful illustrations is an understatement. The story itself is great even if different than the tale you may have heard before, and the language is so great. Fabulous book for teaching about many things-from tall tales to metaphors to thinking strategies. My kids at home loved this book too.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By The Queen of Noirs on September 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The story of John Henry fleshed out and made magical at the same time. The paintings are evocative watercolors, beautifully done. The language is an interesting mixture of puns and idioms. The story of John Henry is so compelling to my little boy that he resists reading the part where John dies because he just can't stand it. We have to skip over to the page where it explains that you can still hear the hammers ringing out if you listen in the night out front of the White House. He likes that. Odd and mystical. Recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Roscoe on December 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This was not a very good book storywise. It was an amalgam of different John Henry stories with a bit of modern reference thrown in (jacuzzi's) for what reason I can not fathom. The artwork is what makes this book interesting and would make a great picture book if the publisher's would just get rid of the written story. Get this book for your pre-readers and tell the story your own way or better yet, let them tell you a story.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Roby Reader on September 2, 2006
Format: Paperback
This wild and wonderful retelling of the classic John Henry folk tale will not disappoint any reader. From the moment John Henry is born and all the animals come to see, excitement and splendor beg the reader on. John Henry is a man of indomitable spirit. He works hard and large at whatever he sets his hand to. We are left with a feeling of 'can do' by the example of this mighty legend.

I loved the illustrations by Pinkney. They come to life on the page and add wonder to the story. I was reminded of Paul Bunyan and his might blue ox Babe as John Henry bore down ever harder on that drill. Not willing to give up or quit. This book won both the Caldecott Honor and The Boston Globe-Horn Book Award.

......Julius Lester was not an author I was familiar with, but he is one that I will certainly look for now. He has written some 25 books in his career and won many awards for his titles.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Laurie J. Neverman on February 12, 2008
Format: Paperback
The John Henry I remember from my childhood was strong, honorable and could outwork any 20 other men. He would not have "added a wing onto the house (his parent's house)with an indoor swimming pool and jacuzzi". The text flowed somewhat awkwardly in spots - I assume there's some John Henry song that I haven't heard that perhaps would make it more lyrical. I feel that adding details that do not fit in historical context detract from the story itself. Adding random rainbows also did nothing to add to the story, for my part. Strangely sappy and a poor tribute to the original legend. Good illustrations.
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