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The People Could Fly

American Black Folktales

Written by Virginia HamiltonAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Virginia Hamilton
Illustrated by Leo DillonAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Leo Dillon and Diane Dillon, Ph.D.Author Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Diane Dillon, Ph.D.

The People Could Fly Cover

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"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.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
Virginia Hamilton|Leo Dillon

About Virginia Hamilton

Virginia Hamilton - The People Could Fly
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.

Leo and Diane Dillon have twice won the Caldecott Medal

About Leo Dillon

Leo Dillon - The People Could Fly

Photo © Lee Dillon

What does an illustrator really do? Once we have the story most of the work is done, right?
Not exactly.

Our work begins when we choose a manuscript. We chose Patricia McKissick’s beautiful story Never Forgotten because of the message: the love of a father for his son, of family, and remembering “lost ones.”

After that, our first step is to mark up the manuscript to fit the number of pages the book will be, and identify the parts we feel are most important to illustrate. Then we decide what style and technique would best fit the story, as well as the time in which it takes place. For Never Forgotten, the African woodblock printing of fabric was our inspiration.

Next is research. Africans are known for their amazing ironwork. What did their kilns and tools look like?  Examples were difficult to find. While the author needs written information for research,  the artist needs images. Never Forgotten combines realism with fantasy. The art had to be believable, but the elements—air, water, fire, and earth—were left to our imaginations. It is our job to fill in between the lines, to show details the author didn’t have the space to tell. We must build that visual world. What are the characters wearing? What are their emotions? We pace the action and avoid repetition. If the main character is in the foreground, on the next page he might be farther back. What time of day is it? We can show that with color. Did the story take place in one day or over many days? These are some of the things we must think about.

The challenges and decisions we must make keep our job interesting and different with every book.

We hope we help the reader imagine the world between the first and last page and inspire them to love reading.


WINNER 1986 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book
WINNER New York Times Notable Book
WINNER New York Times Best Illustrated Book
WINNER Library of Congress Children's Books of the Year
WINNER Horn Book Fanfare
WINNER ALA Notable Children's Book
WINNER Booklist Books for Youth Editors' Choice
WINNER 1987 Kansas William White Master List
WINNER 1988 Kentucky Bluegrass Master List
WINNER 1986 Coretta Scott King Author Award

  • The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton; illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon
  • January 04, 1993
  • Juvenile Fiction - Historical - United States
  • Knopf Books for Young Readers
  • $13.00
  • 9780679843368

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