The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales

Folktales full of humor and history.
Coretta Scott King Medal and Honors

What parents need to know

Positive messages
Not applicable

Separation and isolation; other characters, witchcraft, animals, and even the Devil himself threaten characters. Violence and death loom.

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Drinking, drugs, & smoking
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Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that these engaging folktales contain nothing of concern.

What's the story?

The theme of freedom prevails in these twenty-four folktales, most of which came to this country on a "slave boat out of Africa." Each story tells of a loss--of family, beliefs, customs, and language--but also celebrates the rich heritage and spirit that continues despite these losses.

The author retells two dozen black American folktales centered around several themes. In the first section, which includes animal tales, characters such as Bruh Rabbit and Tappin the land turtle take on the characteristics of people met in this new country. Fanciful fairy tales and stories of the supernatural are also included, along with accounts of slavery and efforts to gain freedom.

Is it any good?


This anthology of stories told by and about African-American slaves, and accounts from their history, should be required reading for anyone studying American history. Animal tales based on stories brought over from Africa by the slaves' forbears communicate through the antics of their clever underdog heroes the slaves' desires for freedom and triumph over their masters, while other fanciful stories convey hope for the future.

Virginia Hamilton aptly captures the longing and the loss, the hope and the hurt, that carried these stories (often passed on orally) through the generations. The black-and-white drawings that illustrate some selections are rendered in a unique style. The compositions are bold, and some elements break free from their borders, echoing story themes. Moods and feelings are captured with shades and shadows.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the power of storytelling. These stories are more than just mere fantasy: What did they mean to the storytellers and the listeners?

Book details

Author:Virginia Hamilton
Illustrators:Diane Dillon, Leo Dillon
Book type:Fiction
Publication date:January 1, 1985
Number of pages:168
Publisher's recommended age(s):4 - 7
Award:Coretta Scott King Medal and Honors

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Written byAnonymous May 27, 2010
age 10+

Ok but on the edge.

I think that the particular story is not violent, but a touch scary for the fact that there is whipping involved and many details about it; in which I believe shouldn't be exposed to younger aged children.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Educational value
Kid, 12 years old March 31, 2012
age 13+


I think that this book is suitable for children, because though there is whipping in it, it shows the reality of slaves back then. Also I assume that kids are studying about slaves in school, so I think that this book would give a good impression on them.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages


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