Folklore is said to provide insights into the collective experiences, aspirations, and values of a cultural group. Hamilton provides readers with a looking glass through which to view some of the common experiences from the early heritage of the people who are now known as African Americans. One such experience is demonstrated in the manner in which black folklore uses animal heros to portray both the oppressed slaves and their masters. The ubiquitous “Bruh Rabbit,” small and weak but clever, plots, schemes, plays tricks, and uses humor to outdo his larger and stronger rivals, often “Bruh Bear” and “Bruh Fox.” The rabbit almost always eventually overcomes adversity and escapes his predicament. It is said that the black slaves told stories of this type because they dared not to portray themselves and their masters in stories directly but rather had to rely on subtlety and personification. “Doc Rabbit, Bruh Fox, and Tar Baby” is one tale in which the trickster resorts to cunningness and subtlety in order to achieve happiness and freedom from persecution. Doc Rabbit uses his cleverness to get himself out of a predicament: He tricks Bruh Fox into throwing him into the briar patch, which looks dangerous but is his natural home, and thereby avoids a more grisly fate.
The aspirations of the slaves, as portrayed in this collection, were centered on freedom and a better life. Using one’s wits to outsmart the powerful and thereby win riches and a...
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Virginia Hamilton has gained renown for a number of her works, notably for M. C. Higgins, the Great (1974), which won the Newbery Medal, the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award, and the National Book Award. Her books The Planet of Junior Brown (1971) and Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush (1982) were also awarded Newbery Medals. In addition, she was given the Edgar Allan Poe Award for the best juvenile mystery for The House of Dies Drear (1968).
In The People Could Fly, Hamilton drew on her considerable talent and her African American heritage in order to pull together these tales of black American folklore and to create a coherent glimpse into the culture that generated them. The People Could Fly could be used to give young readers a portrait of the early years of the evolving black culture in the United States. It can provide insight into the minds of an oppressed population and how the members of that population cope with adversity. Hamilton has chosen tales that highlight humor and cleverness. The tales should enchant and entertain readers and listeners of many ages. Some of the stories will be familiar to most readers, while others will not. All can be taken at two levels: as entertainment and as a way to look into the hearts and souls of slaves.