The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales

Book review by
Mary Dixon Weidler, Common Sense Media
The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales Book Poster Image
Two dozen folktales full of humor and history.

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Kids say

age 16+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Stories offer hope through the generations amid longing, suffering, and loss. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Stories feature clever underdog heroes, slaves who triumph over their masters.



Themes of separation and isolation. Characters threaten each other and are threatened by witchcraft, animals, and even the Devil himself. Violence and death loom.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this anthology of 24 folktales features stories told by and about African-American slaves. It includes animal tales, including characters such as Bruh Rabbit, fanciful fairy tales, and stories of the supernatural, along with accounts of slavery and efforts to gain freedom. It's a must-read for anyone studying American history.

User Reviews

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Teen, 13 years old Written byjiminy53t35tt April 19, 2020
Kid, 12 years old March 31, 2012


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 s... Continue reading

What's the story?

The theme of freedom prevails in these 24 African-American 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 folktales center on 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' forebears 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.

Author 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.

Talk to your kids 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

Our editors recommend

For kids who love African-American stories and history

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