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John Henry

John Henry

3.6 5
by Julius Lester, Jerry Pinkney (Illustrator)

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Nothing can stop John Henry-no boulder, no mountain, and definitely no steam drill.  Newbery Honor winner Julius Lester writes with such power that this African-American folk hero becomes as awesome as a natural phenomenon.  Jerry Pinkney received a Caldecott Honor for his exuberant, glowing watercolor paintings of the hero.  The book, celebrating


Nothing can stop John Henry-no boulder, no mountain, and definitely no steam drill.  Newbery Honor winner Julius Lester writes with such power that this African-American folk hero becomes as awesome as a natural phenomenon.  Jerry Pinkney received a Caldecott Honor for his exuberant, glowing watercolor paintings of the hero.  The book, celebrating its tenth year in print, was also a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winner, a Parents magazine Best Book, and an ALA Notable Book, among other honors.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Marilyn Courtot
"This tale attempts to be faithful to the indomitable human spirit John Henry embodies" is the opening line on a soft yellow page that introduces this African-American folk hero. John Henry challenges a steam drill in a tunnel-digging contest. He wins, but the exertion proves to be his undoing. Award winning artist Jerry Pinkney's absolutely beautiful watercolors reflect the strength, emotions and awe of John Henry and his exploits. A book for reading aloud and to be treasured for a lifetime.
Children's Literature - Jan Lieberman
Many versions of the legend of John Henry exist, but the most exciting version to date is Julius Lester's. The combination of dynamic tall tale language and powerful paintings set this picture book apart from all the others. "John Henry sang and he hammered and the air danced and the rainbow shimmered and the earth shook and rolled from the blows of the hammer." A read-aloud gem.
School Library Journal
K-Gr 5-Another winning collaboration from the master storyteller and gifted artist of Tales of Uncle Remus (Dial, 1987) fame. Based on several well-known versions of an African American folk ballad, Lester's tale is true to the essence of the steel-driving man; yet, it allows room for touches of whimsy and even includes some contemporary references that tie the hero to our own times. Told with just a trace of dialect, the story moves along briskly toward the climax. Its moral message of the importance of a well-lived life is clearly stated, and the ending is uplifting. Pinkney's marvelous watercolors, abundantly rich in detail, convey both the superior strength and the warm sense of humanity that make John Henry perhaps a more down-to-earth character than some other tall-tale figures. The paintings' muted earth tones add a realistic touch to the text, bringing this John Henry alive. When viewed from a distance, however, figures and details sometimes blend together, making the book better suited to independent reading that group sharing. It will appeal to an older audience than Ezra Jack Keats's John Henry (Knopf, 1987) and is a fine addition to any folklore collection.-Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, Wheeler School, Providence, RI
Hazel Rochman
. Based on the popular black folk ballad about the contest between John Henry and the steam drill, this picture-book version is a tall tale and a heroic myth, a celebration of the human spirit. Like Lester's great collections of the Uncle Remus tales, also illustrated by Pinkney, 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. ("This was no ordinary boulder. It was as hard as anger . . . a mountain as big as hurt feelings"). The dramatic climax of the story is set at the time of the building of the railroad through the Allegheny Mountains in West Virginia, but Lester begins with the hero's birth, when all the birds and animals come to see the baby and the sun is so excited it forgets to go to bed. Pinkney's dappled pencil-and-watercolor illustrations capture the individuality of the great working man, who is part of the human community and who has the strength of rock and wind. John Henry swings his hammer so fast, he makes a rainbow around his shoulders, and the pictures show that light everywhere, "shining and shimmering in the dust and grit like hope that never dies."

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
1st ed
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
9.80(w) x 11.75(h) x 0.35(d)
AD720L (what's this?)
Age Range:
4 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

Julius Lester is a celebrated author whose accolades include a Newbery Honor and a Coretta Scott King Award. He is also a National Book Award Finalist, a National Book Critics Circle nominee, and a recipient of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. In addition to his critically acclaimed writing career, Mr. Lester has distinguished himself as a civil rights activist, musician, photographer, radio talk-show host, and professor. For thirty-two years he taught at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He lives in western Massachusetts.

Jerry Pinkney is one of America's most admired children's book illustrators. He has won the Caldecott Medal and five Caldecott Honors, five Coretta Scott King Awards, five New York Times Ten Best Illustrated Awards, the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, and the Society of Illustrators' Original Art Show Lifetime Achievement Award, and many other prizes and honors. Recently a member of the National Council of the Arts and inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he has also served on the U.S. Postal Service Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Committee. His artwork has been exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the country, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Schomburg Center, and the Norman Rockwell Museum. Jerry Pinkney lives with his wife, author Gloria Jean Pinkney, in Westchester County, New York.

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John Henry 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Synopsis: When John Henry was born animals from everywhere came to get a glimpse of the new baby. John Henry grew up to be very big and strong. Once when he was a young boy he was able to build a porch, add a wing to the house, and chop down an acre of trees into fireplace logs all before supper. John Henry could outrun horses and could break through boulders with his sledgehammer better than dynamite. After John Henry completed remarkable tasks, a rainbow would appear around his shoulders and he would sing. One day John Henry made a bet that he could drill through a mountain faster than a steam drill. As always, he flabbergasted people when he was able to drill more than a machine. His power was extraordinary and the people cheered for his amazing accomplishment. The rainbow had appeared on his shoulders and John Henry fell to the ground. After he had died people swore they heard the rainbow whisper words saying that dying is not important, what matters most is how well you lived. Evaluation: In the beginning of the book there is a brief history written about John Henry and the quest to discover if he was a real person or not. The original source of the story was given and readers learn that John Henry achieved his place in American literature through a novel, John Henry (1931) by Roark Bradford. The sources for the Black folk ballad were also mentioned since this book contains lines directly from the songs about John Henry. This historical information gives the reader good background knowledge in order to have a better understanding of the story. The plot of the story is very simple and direct. The language is written in a way that portrays the language that John Henry would have used during his time. This really makes the reader connect to the story and feel like they become part of John Henry¿s world while reading. The theme of the story is that people need to take pride in hard work and have good personal qualities. The moral at the end of the story is that is does not matter if we die because all people will die. What truly matters is how you live your life because that is something that lives on long after the body dies. The illustrations in the book add to the story and add details about John Henry¿s culture. The reader needs to examine these pictures closely because they have an abundance of details that make the story come alive.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Caldecott, You can still hear the hammers ringing out ¿RINGGGG! RINGGGG!¿ John Henry is a man of unconquerable spirit. He works hard and large at whatever he sets his hand to. Nothing can stop John Henry-no boulder, no mountain, and definitely no steam drill. This is neat book and my kids love books like this one. Julius Lester was born on January 27, 1939 in St. Louis, MO and currently lives in Belchertown, MA. Bibliography Lester, Julius. John Henry. New York: Puffin Books, 1994.
Guest More than 1 year ago
John Henry, written by Julius Lester is a brilliant retelling of an old classic. The illustrations are magnifcent children as well as adults will be delighted by the breathtaking colors. This is a wonderful addition to any child's library.