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The People Could Fly: The Picture Book (New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Books (Awards)) Hardcover – November 9, 2004


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The People Could Fly: The Picture Book (New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Books (Awards)) + Frederick Douglass: The Last Day of Slavery
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Editorial Reviews

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.

From Booklist

*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
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Product Details

  • Grade Level: Kindergarten - 12
  • Lexile Measure: 480L (What's this?)
  • Series: New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Books (Awards)
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (November 9, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375824057
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375824050
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 0.4 x 12.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #685,307 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Virginia Esther Hamilton was born, as she said, "on the outer edge of the Great Depression," on March 12, 1934. The youngest of five children of Kenneth James and Etta Belle Perry Hamilton, Virginia grew up amid a large extended family in Yellow Springs, Ohio. The farmlands of southwestern Ohio had been home to her mother's family since the late 1850s, when Virginia's grandfather, Levi Perry, was brought into the state as an infant via the Underground Railroad.

Virginia graduated at the top of her high-school class and received a full scholarship to Antioch College in Yellow Springs. In 1956, she transferred to the Ohio State University in Columbus and majored in literature and creative writing. She moved to New York City in 1958, working as a museum receptionist, cost accountant, and nightclub singer, while she pursued her dream of being a published writer. She studied fiction writing at the New School for Social Research under Hiram Haydn, one of the founders of Atheneum Press.

It was also in New York that Virginia met poet Arnold Adoff. They were married in 1960. Arnold worked as a teacher, and Virginia was able to devote her full attention to writing, at least until daughter Leigh was born in 1963 and son Jaime in 1967. In 1969, Virginia and Arnold built their "dream home" in Yellow Springs, on the last remaining acres of the old Hamilton/Perry family farm, and settled into a life of serious literary work and achievement.

In her lifetime, Virginia wrote and published 41 books in multiple genres that spanned picture books and folktales, mysteries and science fiction, realistic novels and biography. Woven into her books is a deep concern with memory, tradition, and generational legacy, especially as they helped define the lives of African Americans. Virginia described her work as "Liberation Literature." She won every major award in youth literature.

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on January 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The death of author Virginia Hamilton in 2002 was a blow to the world of children's literature, no question. Hamilton was an extraordinary writer, creating complex fantastical books for children that seamlessly integrated contemporary interesting situations with aspects of African-American culture. Heck, one of the first ways I learned about the Underground Railroad was through her "House of Dies Drear". I hadn't read her collection of black folktales entitled "The People Could Fly" though I intended to. I was a little confused, therefore, when a brand spanking new "The People Could Fly" was published in 2004. I soon learned, though, that the book had taken one of the stories from the original collection, in a beautiful retelling of the amazing title story. This is a book that is beautiful to look at and a joy to read and reread.

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.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Veronica on November 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I have been trying to find out how to introduce my son to black history. I saw this book at the library and decided to check it out. Just curious. I don't care much for most African American books because...I don't know. Most seem boring? It doesnt grasp my sons attention. This book was so well written. My son was so absorbed. A little dismayed due to their plight, but he wanted me to keep reading. I am ordering it to add it to my collections. Job well done Virgina.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By M. Heiss on May 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This incredibly beautiful -- breathtakingly beautiful -- storybook features illustrations by Leo and Diane Dillon, one of my favorite teams. Their art is palpable.

This book is an oral folktale of slaves reaching the end of their endurance and rising up, flying away. It is beautifully done.

There are whippings in this book, and parents know best what the right age is for their children to hear about a baby being whipped.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J. M. brown on September 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book about 20 years ago - It was a favorite of my then young children. TO this day, my daughter, son and I remember the great stories and pictures. They are now 24 and 26 years old. I have given this book for a gift as well. You can't beat this one!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Beautiful and essential for teachers of 4th and 5th graders. I share this book with my students every year. We identify the literary devices and the students talk about the underground railroad which was really the explanation of the ability "to fly". Paintings are so awesome.
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By Amazon Customer on February 27, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Beautifully illustrated version of a touching black folktale. I used it in my fifth grade classroom to teach about the way illustrations reflect an authors tone. My students got a lot out of it and enjoyed the book.
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By Jan R. Schulman on February 23, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As always the Dlllon's provide the most exquisite illustrations for an old folk tale which provides the theme for Sue Monk Kidd's "The Invention of Wings." This really threw some light on that novel.
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The People Could Fly: The Picture Book (New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Books (Awards))
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