Revisit 'The People Could Fly' with New Eyes Through This All-Ages Resource List | Refreshing the Canon

SLJ and NCTE have revealed the 2023 round of “Refreshing the Canon” selections. Use these multimodal recommendations to contextualize and extend the messaging of Virginia Hamilton's acclaimed Black folklore collection The People Could Fly.

Last month, SLJ asked librarians and educators to weigh in on which classics should remain on summer reading lists. Inspired by the most popular titles that emerged, SLJ editors and members of NCTE’s Build Your Stack® Committee have curated this year’s round of “Refreshing the Canon” selections. 

Additionally, we’ve put together multimodal lists of recommendations—including nonfiction, graphic novels, documentaries, and more—that educators can feature in classrooms and libraries alongside the exemplar texts. Our aim is to inspire educators to breathe fresh life into lessons around these works by giving students new context to understand why these classics are still relevant today.

Be sure to check out the 2022 “Refreshing the Canon” lists for more read-alikes of longtime summer reading picks.


First published in 1985, Newbery Medalist Virginia Hamilton's The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales is a collection of 24 tales that kept her ancestors' culture alive during slavery, from spirited animal trickster stories and robust tall tales to spine-chilling supernatural yarns and moving narratives of enslaved people in search of freedom. Illustrated by husband-and-wife team Leo and Diane Dillon, later editions of the picture book include an audio CD recording with 12 of the aforementioned tales, narrated by James Earl Jones and the author herself.

Use this all-ages resource list to pull a range of multimedia resources that expand on the messages of pain, hope, creativity, and liberation conveyed in Hamilton's soaring folktale anthology.

Hall, Rebecca.
 Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts. S. & S. 2021 ISBN 9781982115180.
Hall's debut is a stunning hybrid of graphic novel and memoir. Containing historical accounts of women-led slave revolts from Hall's deep research, the text also offers powerful fictional elements of how the author envisioned the events unfolding in enslaved women's lives that led them to revolt. It combines history, culture, and a little bit of fiction to create a powerful story of liberation that roots Hamilton's folklore in real-world historical events. Library Journal's starred review deems this book, "Highly recommended for educators and for all adults and teens concerned about the United States’ promise, past, and future for its diverse peoples."


Esperon, María García.
The Sea-Ringed World: Sacred Stories of the Americas. Levine Querido. 2021. ISBN 9781646140152.
This illustrated collection shares sacred stories from Native Americans across the American continents. Stories pass on messages of hope and resilience, but also sensitively depict events filled with sadness and tragedy. A solid option for comparing and contrasting the vital stories that Black and Indigenous communities have cultivated to survive.

Steptoe, John. Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale. HarperCollins. 2018. ISBN 9780688040451.
A Caldecott Honor and Reading Rainbow book, this memorable retelling of Cinderella is perfect for introducing children to the fairy tale as well as the history, culture, and geography of the African nation of Zimbabwe. When the Great King decides to take a wife and invites the most worthy and beautiful daughters in the land to appear before him, Mufaro brings both of his daughters—but only one can be queen. This picture book uses vibrant art and words to tell a captivating African folktale that could be used as an introduction and/or comparison to Hamilton's text. 


Graphic Novel
Mbalia, Kwame. Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, The Graphic Novel.
 adapt. by Robert Venditti. illus. by Olivia Stephens. Rick Riordan Presents. 2022. ISBN 9781368072809.
Seventh grader Tristan Strong enters the volatile world of MidPass to help the African American folk heroes and West African gods who live there after accidentally punching a hole through their two worlds. Full of folktales and myth, this graphic adaptation of the beloved novel will demonstrate the power of stories in shaping identity and understanding the self.

Rick and Kwame Talk Tristan Strong
Authors Rick Riordan and Kwame Mbalia talk about the world of "Tristan Strong" and touch on a range of topics, from the history of the transatlantic slave trade to African American folklore and West African deities. This quick video is a great introduction to the "Tristan Strong" universe and offers an example of how myths and folktales can be brought together to create brand new stories that still honor their important historical foundation.


Before Yesterday We Could Fly: An Afrofuturist Period Room. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Nov 2021-present.
An exhibition currently on display at The Met, Before Yesterday We Could Fly is inspired by Virginia Hamilton's legendary retellings of the Flying African tale, and celebrates enslaved peoples’ imagination, creative uses of flight, and the significance of spirituality and mysticism to Black communities in the midst of great uncertainty. Activated through vision, sound, and storytelling, the room foregrounds Afrofuturism and generations of African diasporic creativity. The Met's website provides an extensive virtual overview of the collection, including comprehensive sections entitled Visitor Guide, Exhibition Objects, and Meet the Artists. Encourage students to peruse the site and synthesize connections between Hamilton's vision and the exhibiting artists' engagement with Black fantasy and imagination. 



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