John Henry

by Julius Lester and Jerry Pinkney

The mythic railroad worker from the African-American oral tradition comes to life... read more

The mythic railroad worker from the African-American oral tradition comes to life in this outstanding retelling that recounts his extraordinary accomplishments. Julius Lester's uses of anthropomorphism and anachronism mark the story with his own distinctive flair as a skillful storyteller for contemporary children. Jerry Pinkney's vibrant colored pencil and watercolor paintings depict John Henry as an ordinary mortal, just a little taller than everybody else. This is in keeping with Lester's historical note concerning the academic research into whether or not the legendary John Henry was based on a real man. The story retold for this picture-book account was based on three specific versions of the African-American folk ballad about the famous contest between John Henry and a steam drill in the building of Big Bend Tunnel in the Allegheny Mountains. Visual images of rainbows and meteors add cosmic scope throughout. The final page combines John Henry with another icon of power: the White House. Winner, 1994 CCBC Caldecott Award Discussion; Winner, 1994 CCBC Coretta Scott King Award Discussion: Illustration; and Honor Book, 1994 CCBC Newbery Award Discussion. (Ages 4-12)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 1994

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