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Adapted by Van Dyke Parks and Malcolm Jones
Illustrated by Barry Moser
Watercolor and ink on Fabriano Classico
Text type set in Cochin by Thompson Type
Display type set in John Peters' Castellar
Designed by Joy Chu and Barry Moser
"People will talk," begins the Storyteller's Note, "and as long as they do, they will tell each other stories."
This is the first volume of a trilogy of retellings of traditional Brer Rabbit stories, illustrated by the great Barry Moser and adapted by Van Dyke Parks and Malcolm Jones. It includes:
The Comeuppance of Brer Wolf
Brer Fox Goes Hunting but Brer Rabbit Bags the Game
Brer Rabbit Finds His Match
Brer Rabbit Grossly Deceives Brer Fox
The Moon in the Millpond
Also included is the score of an original song written by Van Dyke Parks, "Hominy Grove."
Off the wall, wallflower. Now the dance has begun. It's our shining hour til all our dancin' is done.
In all three books, Barry Moser’s medium of choice is watercolor. His illustrations are the definition of jaunty. He pays great attention to their clothing – their top hats and suits which look like they were purchased a decade ago and sit in a dusty closet awaiting Sunday morning. I could easily imagine Woody Guthrie hitching his way through this Hominy Grove, on his way to an open box car.
The Storyteller's Note ends with:
Tempered by hardship and nourished by hope, these tales are a testament to the belief that no one can be wholly owned who does not wish it.
Please read Tales and Their Tellers 4: The Signifyin' Rabbit for more on this series of books.
Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
Pencil, colored pencils and watercolor
Typography by Jane Byers Bierhorst
Another gorgeous book by Pinkney and written by the great Julius Lester, who took great pains to find a new way of telling this story. He writes in his introduction that he found a great resonance between the characters of John Henry and Martin Luther King, Jr. He's uncertain as to what the connection is, precisely, but doing this book helped him explore the issue.
Lester went through several old stories and songs and lifted ideas and stanzas to fill in the details of John Henry's life. We begin with a birth sequence reminiscent of another famous birth in a stable in Bethlehem. In fact, the very first image is that of a shooting star.
Pinkney is an obvious lover of animals, and he fills the opening sequence with moose, bears, birds, mountain critters and forest dwellers of all size and shape and variety - even a unicorn I just now noticed - who have come to the home of the Henry family as they welcome into the world their uncommonly strong baby boy, lifting his cradle above his head.
"You have probably never heard of John Henry. Or maybe you heard about him but don't know the ins and out of his comings and goings. Well, that's why I'm going to tell you about him."
|John Henry as a child.|
The day after that, John challenges Ferret-Faced Freddy to a race: Freddy on horseback, John on foot. I'm sure you can guess who the winner is.
Its as though John doesn't know what to do with his strength, and becomes a trickster of a kind. It's not until he meets the road crew that he finds his calling. With his two twenty-pound sledgehammers with four-foot handles made of whale bone, he breaks through a boulder which remained untouched after a dynamite explosion. As he swings his mighty hammers, he sings out:
|"Let's have a contest!"|
"It can hammer faster and harder than ten men and it never has to stop and rest!"
"Let's have a contest. Your steam drill against me and my hammers."
Pinkney shows John towering over the boss man, his hammer slung across his shoulders. All the other workers look on in intense curiosity and admiration. What wonderful detail Pinkney has paid to their clothing: The boss man's derby and checkered pants, John's red kerchief and black vest. He clearly spent a great deal of time considering their clothing options of the day, and everything about it comes across as absolutely authentic.
The next day, the contest begins. The narrative relies more on the illustrations here than the text. All day and all night, the steam drill and John Henry attempt to finish first. Finally, the contest is over. "The boss of the steam drill was flabbergasted. John Henry had come a mile and a quarter. The steam drill had only come a quarter."
The victory is short-lived, however, as anyone who has ever heard the song will know. John Henry had hammered so hard and so fast and so long that his big heart had burst.
"Some say he was buried on the White House lawn late one night while the President and the Mrs. President was asleep."
More picture books based on American Folktales!
|Julius Lester (1939 - )|