Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

In The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales, Virginia Hamilton, a descendent of early African Americans, recounts twenty-four stories from the rich oral history of the black culture in the United States. Written in a readable, mild dialect, the tales capture the spirit of the slave culture that spawned them and are effectively illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon, Caldecott Medal winners for two of their earlier works involving African tales. The reader is led through four genera of black folktales: animal tales; tales of the real, extravagant, and fanciful; tales of the supernatural; and slave tales of freedom.

The folktales retold by Hamilton originated not only in Africa and North America but in Europe and South America as well. Many of the tales involve the theme of the weak and oppressed triumphing over the strong and powerful. In such a way did the slaves often weave allegories of their own existence with their hope of victory over the powerful and rich landowners who were their masters. This approach is especially evidenced in the animal tales wherein the hero is often the rabbit, a trickster by trade.

In the “Animal Tales” section, the reader is reintroduced to a number of stories commonly associated with the Uncle Remus tales of Joel Chandler Harris. In her retelling, Hamilton avoids much of the thick dialect found in some other stories about “Bruh Bear and Bruh Rabbit,” the Tar Baby, and other well-known...

(The entire section is 527 words.)