Children's Lit Book Reviews

Thursday, February 11, 2010

John Henry
By: Julius Lester
Publisher: Puffin
Copyright: 2008
Pages: 40
Reading Level: 4-8
Genre: Picture Book/Legend
Award: Caldecott Honor Book

"A tall tale and heroic myth, a celebration of the human spirit....The story is told with rhythm and wit, humor and exaggeration, and with a heart-catching immediacy that connects the human and the natural world."
- Booklist Review

Summary: The story of John Henry begins with his birth where it is said that, upon his birth, birds came flocking from everywhere as well as unicorns, moose, deer, panthers, and bears from the forest nearby. It was said that, as a baby, John Henry jumped out of his mother and started growing. Then, as the story continues, John Henry continued to grow big, strong, fast, and fearless. Growing up, John Henry helped his father a lot around the house by adding an extension to the home for a swimming pool and also cutting down trees and splitting them for firewood. What made him well known was his achievement, and it was also the cause of his death. That achievement was winning a competition against a steam hammer to break through a mountain, digging a tunnel for the railroad. Making it easier for rail travel throughout the country. On one side of the mountain, the railroad boss used a steam drill and on the opposite side of the mountain was John Henry, and he only used his hammers and amazing strength. When John Henry and the stream drill met inside the mountain, the boss was amazed to find that while he had come only a quarter of a mile using the steam drill, John Henry had come a mile and a quarter. John Henry walked out of the tunnel to the many cheers of the all those that had gathered together to witness this moment in history. Shortly after winning the competition, he fell to the ground and died. It has been told that John Henry's body was taken to Washington D.C and was buried in the front yard of the White House while the President and his wife were fast asleep.
Who would benefit from reading this book?: This great book would benefit all that took the time to read it. It follows the legend of John Henry really well and the readability is fairly easy. This is a classic African American tale which has been told for decades throughout the United States.
What problems/conflicts would this book potentially cause?: I don't think that there is anything within this book that would cause any problems. It was well written and follows the legend accurately. Some might venture to say that John Henry never really existed either way this story was created to inspire people. Whether John Henry existed or not isn't really the point of the book.
My reaction: Both of my parents grew up in West Virgina and I'm sure they had this story told to them many times growing up. I have great memories of my mom actually taking the time to tell me the story of John Henry. They took me to the New River Canyon where the tunnels were dug, and that is where the tale of John Henry began. In actuality, there were several John Henries and several tunnels, one of which is the Big Bend tunnel. I think the rhythm of book flows well and the illustrations done by Jerry Pinkney are simply gorgeous. I would recommend this book to all.

posted by Jon Dale at 9:15 AM


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