Although I grew up with the traditional Grimm fairy tales, when my son was young, it was folktales that we read most often. Passed down from the oral tradition, they’re perfect for children either as a read aloud or a story you retell together. In honor of Black History Month here are a few of my favorite from the African-American tradition.
Although a picture book, “The People Could Fly” by Virginia Hamilton, is recommended for older children and teens. The narrator tells us that in Africa, some of the people “would walk up on the air like climbin on a gate,” but when they were captured, they forgot that magic. Sarah, a young woman in the fields, was “standin tall, yet afraid” and had “a babe tied to her back.” That didn’t stop the cruelty of the Overseer or the one who called himself their Master and she turned to fellow slave, Toby, for help. He told her, “go, as you know how to go” and Sarah “lifted one foot on the air; then the other. She flew clumsily at first...then she felt the magic, the African mystery” and was gone. The next day, a young man fell from the heat. Toby came and spoke words to him and he flew away. One after the other, slaves fell and there was Toby helping them soar like birds, towards freedom. Of course, the Overseer came after him, but Toby just laughed and said “we are the ones who fly” and a group of slaves rose and “flew in a flock that was black against the heavenly blue” with old Toby flying behind them towards freedom.