Multicultural Picture Book

Cammye Anderson

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The People Could Fly written by Virginia Hamilton and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon; Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers (January 4, 1993 reprint)

This read aloud is planned for a fourth grade class. The People Could Fly is a picture book that retells a folktale commonly told by slaves before the abolition of slavery in America. The book has received the following awards:

A Coretta Scott King Award
A Booklist Children’s Editors’ Choice
A School Library Journal Best Books of the Year
A Horn Book Fanfare
An ALA Notable Book
An NCTE Teachers’ Choice
A New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of the Year

The book showcases the sad lifestyle of those who were slaves in America, but who still manage to find a positive note by sharing folktales about happy endings for themselves. The book is excellent for discussions and analysis with a teacher providing guidance. For fourth graders, it is likely better as a read aloud due to the use of African American Vernacular English, which can be confusing for those still somewhat new to reading, but this word choice also adds in more realism to how the slaves spoke when telling the story. The pictures are also well-drawn and evoke emotion when viewed.

Meet Virginia Hamilton


Virginia Hamilton was a renowned author and was the first African American author to win the John Newberry Medal, first children's literacy writer to obtain a McCarthy Fellowship, and considered one of the pioneers of children's literature. Leo and Diane Dillon won the Caldecott Medal twice for their artwork. Looking into it, both the authors and illustrators contributed plenty to multicultural children's books. While researching the book, I also came across the more politically correct term for the Ebonics used in the book, called African American Vernacular English.

Read Aloud Implementation




Questions to ask before:

1. What folktales do you know?

Have students discuss the question and folktales they know of. CT and I will listen in on what they have to say. If many kids are stumped, I will use The Boy Who Cried Wolf as an example. After one or two minutes of discussion, we will move on to introducing the story.

2. What is freedom? Another discussion, but I would share the definition as "..or liberty, is the power or right to do as one wants"

Introduce the story and the author and begin.

Questions to ask during: midway point

1. Who are the two protagonists? Toby (encouragement) and Sarah (baby on her back)

Comment after the baby is whipped: The treatment slaves endured was pure cruelty. Slavery is defined as a legal or economic system in which principles of property law are applied to humans allowing them to be classified as property. In other words, these slaves were not people to the overseer or driver, only the objects they owned such as a pair of shoes or a tissue.

Questions to ask after:

1. This book originally came as a collection of 24 stories. Why do you think slaves would exchange folktales? Ease tensions of their day, express themselves, etc.

2. Do you think they can literally fly and some simply cannot, or do you think Toby encouraged them to run away to freedom and those who stayed behind lacked the courage to leave? It is a folktale, there is no "right" answer. Let kids debate some if they disagree with each other.

3. Why do you think I chose this book to read? Thought provoking, an insight into what slaves do to ease the tension (folktales!), a look into how bad slaves really did have it in their daily lives, etc.


The book was selected because there are several African-American students in the classroom. The book is also a folktale that was told amongst slaves, which makes it an interesting and historic folktale. A couple of the African-American students loved answering my questions and participating in discussion. One told me she knew everything about slavery. This class had learned about slavery in 3rd grade, so I was simply activating prior knowledge and applying it to the folktale.

The strengths of the read aloud were how engaged it seemed to have my audience. They seemed shocked, but intrigued by what was happening in the story. The room was completely silent for the five minutes I read, aside from when I asked questions and called on the students who raised their hands. The book was also illustrated wonderfully and I could tell the children were reacting to some of the stronger images and descriptions, such as the babe being whipped. Freedom and slavery are also like opposites and selecting the two complimented each other well. It turned out they learned the definition of slavery recently, so this vocabulary word was also a review for them. Students also seemed to enjoy the word poster, putting in a great amount of effort and detail into their drawings and creating their own unique sentences.

Next time, I would either drop a vocabulary activity or have more planned time. The word poster took twenty out of the thirty minutes. Half the class never got to do the word map, although those who did breezed straight through it. I was also hesitant about starting the book and was putting it off for a couple minutes by distractions because I was nervous.

Implementing multicultural children’s literature that is culturally and linguistically diverse relative to my elementary students has shown me how maturely students can approach a serious and sensitive subject when you give them the opportunity and climate to do so.

Word Study Activities

Review slavery and freedom.

1. ) Word Map - Students create a word map for either slavery or freedom. May possibly divide the classroom in half. Give students 5 minutes.

2. ) Word Poster - Students create a poster for either slavery or freedom. Whichever they did NOT do for the word map, they will use for the word poster. Give students another 5 minutes.

To be done after the questions from the read aloud.