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Home > Reading Comprehension > book reviews > The People Could Fly told by Virginia Hamilton

Book Review:The People Could Fly told by Virginia Hamilton

This is the second collection of stories from the oral tradition. Middle and high schoolers are not "too old" for good story-telling. If nothing else, it is a far more engaging version of "sit and listen to this" that they experience throughout the school day. When a story-teller visited our junior high school, all of my students hung on every word. And when we returned to the classroom and they found that some of those stories were in some of the books (including The People Could Fly), several of my most reluctant readers took the opportunity to find the stories they had heard and read them with the flavors and intonations they had heard.

Short stories always have the advantage of being brief, and thus completable all at once. These stories and those from Many Thousand Gone, the companion volume, can be used as springboards to finding out about historical situations and characters.

Title & Author:The People Could Fly told by Virginia Hamilton, Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon; Alfred A. Knopf, 1985.

Length:173 pages of stories;most stories are 5-10 pages long with many illustrations.

Print size: Larger than 'adult' books but not childish; the book itself is a "coffee table" book -- about 8" x 10" with a vividly illustrated cover.

Other readability issues: This book works well with very reluctant readers, and is available on tape as well. Many stories are written with much of the dialect and flavor intact, which may make it harder for some students to understand. Many of my students had no trouble with the dialect as their own colloquialisms and inflections were similar. Since storytellers can convey a great deal with body movements and inflection, ideally students should experience being told some of these stories before embarking on reading them. Many poor readers have never had the printed word convey a vivid, lively story before, so establishing the connection between the printed word and expressively spoken language can make a difference in all of their reading.

The structure of the writing is that of oral story-telling, so sentences and paragraphs don't have standard structure. This can be turned to advantage because the stories more readily translate to spoken language. In fact, since many words are written more closely to how they are often spoken ('mornin'), sounding out words may actually be easier.

If the students are able to deal with the language and setting differences in folklore stories from another place and time, then both basic and sophisticated comprehension skills could be explored with these stories. The vocabulary is not advanced, but this as well as the exaggerated characters makes other comprehension skills such as predictions and inferences more accessible.

Summary: African-American folktales of animals, fantasy, the supernatural, the desire for fredom; born of the sorrow of the slaves but passed on in hope.

Typical words: Here are some typical words from the stories; it would be wise to see how many of these your students can read before expecting them to read independently.


























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