review: The Adventures of High John the Conqueror

Screen Shot 2019-09-29 at 1.30.50 PMtitle: The Adventures of High John the Conquerer
author: Steve Sanfield
illustrator: John Ward
date: Dell Publishing; 1992
African American Folktales

High John the Conqueror is an American folk hero brought to life by enslaved African Americans. Also known as John, High John or Jack he exists in folk stories written by Zora Neale Hurston and Virginia Hamilton in addition to the tales collected by Steve Sanfield. While we’re used to animals existing in folklore from the African American tradition, here we have a Black man who outwits, outsmarts and outshines the White man who has legal possession of him. The 16 stories presented are perfect for reading aloud as well as for independent reading. The stories serve to remind us of the humanity of those who were enslaved, of the ways they used they cunning and wit to carve a sense a freedom. Every IMG_7396time you think High John is caught, he comes up with something that is as plausible as it is funny.

Mr. Sanfield (1937-2015) was a poet, storyteller, Freedom Rider and children’s book author. The book concludes with a list of sources that were used to cull stories contained in this collection and a bibliography of books about slavery.

High John is an important part that history. The Adventurers of High John the Conqueror is an American Library Association Notable Children’s Book and an International Reading Association Young Adults’ Choice.