Telling Tall Tales: John Henry

The most important thing I need in order to do my job is have a voice.  Well, I’ve caught a cold and I’m worried about my voice making it through a busy day tomorrow (7 classes before noon with 15 minutes of reading each.)  I’m honestly worried about letting my students down.  I really want to read John Henry to my second grade students, but for me to survive the rest of the week, I’m going to need to go to Plan B.


I own these great versions of John’s story, I like that the Julius Lester retelling has Jerry Pinkney’s artwork, and I didn’t realize that Ezra Jack Keats did illustrations too.  I did decide to order a DVD with Disney’s animated short of John Henry.


It’s not here yet, and the full version of John’s story isn’t on YouTube — the videos on there cut it off about a minute before the ending!

Well, thanks to my inability to just give up, I stumbled on a great article about John Henry and the article mentioned that there is a Disney Short Film collection available on Netflix with John Henry in it.  I logged in to Netflix, checked the collection, and now I’m the happiest librarian in town!!


If you haven’t seen the film, you really should, this is one story Disney got right.  It’s introduced by James Earl Jones, and narrated by Alfre Woodard.  The quilt theme makes me think of the of the the freedom quilts made by slaves. The singing style is like listening to a gospel choir, which makes me think of southern churches. I don’t want to sound like I’m making stereotypes, but both make me think of the African American culture and everything that culture has added to the American culture. It’s a story I can read, but I don’t know if I could give the overall feeling like the animation does.

Honestly, I don’t think I have enough books about John Henry.  The kids are intrigued by the idea that he could have been a real man.  There are multiple theories about who he was, but no matter what the truth is, the folklore that has grown around John Henry’s name has surpassed the need for a real person to fill his shoes. I’d like to get a few more titles for my collection, and these look like the type the kids would want:



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