Genre: Tall Tale / African-American / Railroads / Humor
Year Published: 1992
Year Read: 1992
Series: American Heroes and Legends
Publisher: Rabbit Ears Books
“John Henry” is a Grammy- nominated video by the folks from the famous Rabbit Ears Productions. In this tale, America’s greatest tall tale hero, John Henry, faces his biggest challenge against the steam drill, which will decide the fate of all the hard working people in the future. Denzel Washington’s energetic narration, along with B.B. King’s soulful and jazzy music and Barry Jackson’s exuberant illustrations, all combine to make “John Henry” an instant treat for children young and old.
Denzel Washington’s narration is energetic, especially when he sounds like he is in awe when he narrates John Henry’s spectacular spectacles, such as being born with a hammer in his hand. The scene that I thought was Denzel Washington’s greatest performance was the scene where John Henry is telling the stranger off about the steam drill as he goes into detail about how a man has a big heart while a steam drill only has a cold and steel heart. B.B. King’s music is simply soulful and jazzy, giving this story a soulful edge to the famous tall tale. I especially love the song that B.B. King sings about John Henry being a natural man and carrying a hammer in his hand and I love how that song is repeated throughout the story, so that it can remind the audience about what type of person John Henry is. Barry Jackson’s illustration are colorful and creative, especially of the image of John Henry himself as John Henry mainly wear a white t-shirt and blue jeans and is always looking happy and confident about himself, which sends a great message about the importance of being confident in the activities that you do. I also love the image of the stranger as he is wearing a yellow suit and even has a gold tooth in his mouth, which indicates that he is a city slicker.
“John Henry” is probably one of Rabbit Ears finest stories ever created as it talks about the importance of self-confidence and determination in doing the activities that pleases you. I would recommend this video to children ages five and up since I do not find anything inappropriate in this video.
Just a little heads up, this is the review for the video version of this tale, but because the video version is exactly the same as the book version of this tale, this review accounts for both the book and the video.
1993 CINE Golden Eagle Award
1993 Chicago International Children’s Film Festival Special Animation Jury Award
1993 Parents’ Choice Gold Award (video)
1993 Parents Magazine Parents Prize
1993 Parenting Magazine Best Videos of the Year
1994 Parents’ Choice Gold Award (audio)
1995 Grammy Award Nomination – Best Spoken Word Album for Children
Review is also on: Rabbit Ears Book Blog