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
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*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 RochmanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved