John Henry is a larger than life character along the lines of Paul Bunyan. What is particularly good about this chapter book is the introductory information explaining what a tall tale is and how it may or may not be based on the life of an actual person. In this case there is a good chance that a man named John Henry actually did work for the railroad as a free black man. His prowess is described from early childhood when he was beginning to develop his strength with a hammer but did not quite have it under control. He would break things in the house and put dents in trees until he found work driving fence posts. From there he gravitated to the railroads where he could outwork any other man. As technology arrived and a machine was brought in to drive stakes and drill holes, John Henry challenged it to see who was the best. He won the contest, but it cost him his life. The story is well told. The illustrations have an impressionist quality and are heavily shaded with yellow, which does make the blackness of John Henry stand out.
School Library Journal
Gr 1-4-These easy readers introduce tall-tale characters from American history. Each two-page opener discusses the nature of folklore and tall tales and is identical from book to book except for a few opening paragraphs devoted to the figure profiled. With simple vocabulary and some dialogue, Krensky gives children a feeling for the characters as well as the flavor of the time and the story's setting. Full-page or full-spread paintings illustrate the texts. Solid purchases.-Lynda Ritterman, Atco Elementary School, Waterford, NJ Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.