The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales


"The well-known author retells 24 black American folk tales in sure storytelling voice: animal tales, supernatural tales, fanciful and cautionary tales, and slave tales of freedom. All are beautifully readable. With the added attraction of 40 wonderfully expressive paintings by the Dillons, this collection should be snapped up."—(starred) School Library Journal. 

This book has been selected as a Common Core State Standards text Exemplar ...

See more details below
Paperback (Reprint)
$9.75 price
(Save 25%)$13.00 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (80) from $1.99   
  • New (17) from $6.62   
  • Used (63) from $1.99   

All Available Formats & Editions

Note: Kids' Club Eligible. See More Details.
Sending request ...


"The well-known author retells 24 black American folk tales in sure storytelling voice: animal tales, supernatural tales, fanciful and cautionary tales, and slave tales of freedom. All are beautifully readable. With the added attraction of 40 wonderfully expressive paintings by the Dillons, this collection should be snapped up."—(starred) School Library Journal. 

This book has been selected as a Common Core State Standards text Exemplar (Grade 6-8, Stories) in Appendix B.

Many of the stories in this collection were told among slaves as they dreamt of freedom or remembered their lives in Africa. Hamilton focuses on several themes—animal tales, magical and supernatural tales, and tales of freedom—and following each story is a note explaining its history and meaning. Black-and-white illustrations by Caldecott Medalists Leo and Diane Dillon round out this important book.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This widely lauded anthology boasts stunning black-and-white artwork and stirringly told stories with such evocative titles as ``The Beautiful Girl of the Moon Tower'' and ``Wiley, His Mama, and the Hairy Man.'' All ages. Feb.
Children's Literature - Debra Briatico
This classic collection contains twenty-four tales, stories, and riddles about animals, fantasy and the supernatural handed down by African slaves before and during the Civil War period. These stories, born out of the sorrow of slaves, focus on freedom and triumph and bring hope to all who read them. Bruh Rabbit and the Two Johns are just some of the fascinating characters featured in this enchanting anthology. Dillon's mystical and inspiring black-and-white illustrations perfectly complement Hamilton's well-written prose.
Children's Literature - Ken and Sylvia Marantz
Hamilton's retelling of this African American folktale appeared originally in her Coretta Scott King Award-winning collection of the same title. It stands alone in this picture book edition newly-illustrated by the Dillons. Some slaves are cruelly treated by their overseer. They have forgotten the magic that enabled them to fly in Africa. An old man reminds them. Whispering the magic words to them, he helps them fly triumphantly to freedom. The illustrations that tell the visual tale, one per page, are treated as pocket dramas. Set off by the thick gold bands that frame each scene, they use pigments that seem to glow. Figures are sculptural, faces animated by the emotions of the story, colors chosen to enhance these emotions. The flying figures are depicted with a dance-like sense of grace. The magic is instilled in the pictures as well as the words. Notes from the editor and the author provide additional information. The accompanying CD has James Earl Jones and Virginia Hamilton reading the text. Don't overlook the book's endpapers. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 4-7 The well-known author here retells 24 black American folk tales in sure storytelling voice. In four groupings she presents seven animal tales including a tar-baby variant; six fanciful ones including ``Wiley, His Mama, and the Hairy Man'' and a tale of which Harper's Gunniwulf Dutton, 1967 is a variant; five supernatural tales including variants of the Tailypo, John and the Deviland a wild cautionary tale, ``Little Eight John''; and finally, six slave tales of freedom, closing with the moving title story. Depending on the sources, some of the tales use a modified dialect for flavor; one told with quite a few words of Gullah dialect has a glossary. All are beautifully readable. The book has a bibliography, and comments follow each tale, including one personal note of a family account involving one of her grandfathers. Two other collections of black folk tales, Courlander's Terrapin's Pot of Sense Holt, 1957; o.p. and Faulkner's The Days When the Animals Talked Follett, 1977; o.p. are both out of print. With the added attraction of 40 bordered full- and half-page illustrations by the Dillonswonderfully expressive paintings reproduced in black and whitethis collection should be snapped up. Ruth M. McConnell, San Antonio Public Library
School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-Virginia Hamilton's collection of 24 black American folk tales (Knopf, 1985) receive new vitality as an audio presentation. After an informative introduction by the author, the tales are arranged into categories with explanatory notes for each story. In the "Animal Tales" section, Hamilton retells familiar stories about Bruh (Brer) Rabbit who almost always outwits Bear and Fox. There are tales described as real, extravagant, and fanciful, but reality takes a back seat in most of these sometimes scary tales. Struggles between good and evil are included in stories such as "Jack and the Devil" in the "Supernatural" group. Hamilton concludes with "Slave Tales of Freedom" where the title story relates the mythic escape by air of people too long oppressed. Andrew Barnes tells each story with ingenuity, a mix of vocal styles and, occasionally, a pleasant singing voice. Selections are set apart with brief, appropriate music. The cover features artwork by the book's illustrators, Leo and Diane Dillon. This is an enduring, much-honored book based on oral tradition and it returns to its roots in an audio format. Equally enjoyable listened to one story at a time or in its entirety, this is a solid purchase for school and public libraries.-Barbara Wysocki, Cora J. Belden Library, Rocky Hill, CT Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
From The Critics
Leo and Diane Dillon illustrate this beautiful collection of American black folktales, which comes with a compact disc narrated by James Earl Jones and Hamilton. Parents will want to use The People Could Fly as a readaloud themselves: it provides over twenty folktales for all ages and this reprint with its new cd will appeal to new audiences.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679843368
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 1/28/1993
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 203,169
  • Age range: 8 - 14 Years
  • Lexile: 660L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.17 (w) x 9.93 (h) x 0.58 (d)

Meet the Author

Virginia Hamilton

Virginia Hamilton, storyteller, lecturer, and biographer, was born and raised in Yellow Springs, OH, which is said to be a station on the Underground Railroad.  Her grandfather settled in the village after escaping slavery in Virginia. She was educated at Antioch College and Ohio State University and did further study in literature and the novel at the New School for Social Research. Virginia was the first African American woman to win the Newbery Award, for M.C. Higgins the Great.  Since then, she has won three Newbery Honors and three Coretta Scott King Awards.  In 1992, Virginia was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Medal, which is presented every two years by the International Board on Books for Young People, in recognition of her entire body of work. Virginia writes first for the pleasure of using words and language to evoke characters and their world, and in historical accounts such as Anthony Burns, the lives of real people.  Secondly, Hamilton writes to entertain, to inspire in people the desire to read on and on good books made especially for them.


A writer of prodigious gifts, Virginia Hamilton forged a new kind of juvenile fiction by twining African-American and Native American history and folklore with contemporary stories and plotlines.

With Hamilton's first novel, Zeely, the story of a young farm girl who fantasizes that a woman she knows is a Watusi queen, she set the bar high. The book won a American Library Association Notable Children's Book citation. Hamilton rose to her own challenge, and every new book she published enriched American literature to such a degree that in 1995 she was awarded the ALA's Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for lifetime achievement.

Born in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and raised in an extended family of farmers and storytellers (her own father was a musician), Hamilton's work was inspired by her childhood experiences, family mythology, and Ohio River Valley homeland. In an article about the importance of libraries in children's lives, she credits her mother and the "story lady" at her childhood public library with opening her mind to the world of books.

Although she spent time in New York City working as a bookkeeper after college, and traveled widely in Africa and Europe, Hamilton spent most of her life in Yellow Springs, anchored by the language, geography, and culture of southern Ohio. In The House of Dies Drear, she arranged her story around the secrets of the Underground Railroad. In M. C. Higgins, the Great, winner of both a John Newbery Medal and a National Book Award, she chronicled the struggles of a family whose land, and life spirit, is threatened by strip mining. Publishers Weekly called the novel "one of those rare books which draws the reader in with the first paragraph and keeps him or her turning the page until the end."

In her series of folk-tale collections, including The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales, In the Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World, and Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales, Hamilton salvaged and burnished folk tales from cultures across the world for her stories; stories that suffused her fiction with its extraordinary blend of worldly and otherworldly events, enchantment, and modern reality. Virginia Hamilton died on February 19, 2002.

Good To Know

Hamilton's first research trip to a library was to find out more about her family's exotic chickens, which her mother called "rainbow layers," because of the many tints of the eggs they laid.

In 1995, Hamilton became the first children's writer to win a John D. and Catherine C. MacArthur "genius" grant.

Read More Show Less
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 12, 1936
    2. Place of Birth:
      Yellow Springs, Ohio
    1. Date of Death:
      February 19, 2002
    2. Place of Death:
      Yellow Springs, Ohio
    1. Education:
      Attended Antioch College, Ohio State University, and the New School for Social Research
    2. Website:

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2007

    Lover of world folklore

    The tales in this book, along with the illustrations, bring the folklore of an entire people to life. Fairy tales, magic and charisma make up what is written here and the tales are for all children to read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2003

    A wonderful childrens book

    A wonderful book for children of all ages. There is also a video of the book in limited release. Buy it, its a wonderful gives a great view of black peoples history.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2003

    absolutely fabulous

    I read this book as a child and I fell in love with it! I was absolutely heart broken when I lost it. I have been searching for this book since then but I couldn't remember the name until recently. This is a good to give to child and the young at heart. The stories are so rich with culture that you will be drawn in almost immediately.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 11, 2012

    My Review of The People Could Fly By: Virginia Hamilton

    I loved the book. My favorite folktale in the book is Carrying the Running-Aways. I liked it because it was interesting,well put together,and all the facts were GREAT! I have read more folktales in the book. Another thing i liked about the book is that the drawing were realistic. Leo and Diane Dillon did a great job on the illustration. Virginia Hamilton gave a lot of facts in the introduction that the internet doesn't give. A interesting facts about the book is that at the end of Carrying the Running-Aways Virginia Hamilton put that her mother is Levi Perry's oldest daughter. I would highly recommend this book for people who are doing report on Black Folktales.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)