Monday, March 3, 2008

Ain't Nothing But a Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry

Ain't Nothing but a Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry
by Scott Reynolds Nelson with Marc Aronson
National Geographic
64 pages

15 comments:

diannaburt said...

This has a mixture of paintings and old photos with some drawings. There is an index, and what I like most, a section on how to be a historian. It takes you through the six stages (sounds quite a lot like the Big6) and Scott Reynolds Nelson's own twist is that being a historian is like being on a scavenger hunt. Wow that sounds way more impressive and fun than when I had to take history. And this is way more fun than any history class I've been in. What do others think?

Mandy said...

I agree. I love that this is not only a book about John Henry and railroaders , but also about the process of research. The author's "quest to find the real John Henry" is fascinating and inspiring. It made me want to do some hard-core research of my own.

I also appreciate all the information at the back of the book, including further reading on the history of railroads, the folktale of John Henry, and even where to hear several versions of the song.

marra said...

I did not expect what I found in this book. That is not necessarily a bad thing. It was actually FUN! to see history unfold through Nelson's "scavenger hunt" research. Reading this made me read more about the legend of John Henry (online and in Nelson's adult book on the same subject).

Anonymous said...

Great example of innovative non-fiction. He does a great job of building suspense about the historical process, and the climax, where we learn the original purpose of the song, is very powerful. It's "about" John Henry, but we learn about the times, racism, research, etc.

Teresa said...

This was book was excellent. I wish this had been around when I was teaching high school and we were working on I-Search papers (papers where the student's write first-person account of his/her actual research of a particular, self-selected topic).

I have always found the John Henry ballad sad. Now, even more so.

Kris said...

I feel like a broken record...this book was excellent! I found it to be captivating, following the author's steps through the process of pursuing this mystery. I liked that the author didn't really start out looking for John Henry, but something else, that led him to the question of John Henry...what a great example of how those unexpected little nuggets that pop up can be the real gems! And, it emphasizes the fact that history is NOT deathly boring, but an ongoing and fascinating investigation about REAL people who lived through REAL events.

jacquie said...

Excellent book. It never ever occurred to me that John Henry was real. Cool!

Jeanette Larson said...

This is one of the most amazing books published this year. I heard Nelson talk about the research at an ALA breakfast a year ago. What is perhaps most amazing is the truly serendipitous way in which the story came together.

Lyndi Markus said...

This book is the amazing and rather incredible story of a historian's search to find out about the historic person of John Henry, using the song about him as a source for clues. The author also goes into a lot of detail about railroad trackliners and how the railroad was actually constructed, as well as describing what it's actually like to be a historical researcher.

I learned so much when I read this book about John Henry that I never knew. I guess I hadn't exactly realized how much truth was in the John Henry song, and so I found both the person of John Henry and the history that surrounded him very fascinating. This book is an excellent, interesting source for history for kids, and it very much deserves to be on this list.

Rebekah said...

I really enjoyed this book. I liked hoe the author gave you a lot of historical information about John Henry, the railroaders, and about the time, yet he did it in a way that was fun to read.

This book gives the reader historical information and it also gives the reader information about the research process.

I really liked the content of the book and I also liked the illustrations and pictures. This is a great book!

Megan Nicolet said...

This is an amazing history book. I always loved history as a child and I would have loved to have read this book then, in fact, I love it now. The history of old folk songs and tall tales is fascinating and what Scott Reynolds Nelson finds out is both fascinating and apalling. It is a sad look on American history, but a necessary one for our children. If we don't look back at what happened, we are doomed to repeat it.

Anonymous said...

This book just won the American Folklore Society's Aesop Award for the best work of folklore for Children in English in the current (or previous) year. As committee chair, I was thrilled when I read it, as an exemplary illustration that the study of both history and folklore is a process, and showing how exciting the process can be. I loved the way Nelson revealed the connections between folklore and history, and the way one can reflect on the other. I am definitely rooting for this book to get a Sibert Award as well. Vicky Dworkin, Hawaii State Library

Anonymous said...

Jamie at TUFW: TThis book provides an extensive look at the way Scott Reynolds researched John Henry. He used the lyrics of the song to guide his exploration and when he thought he was on the right track and it turned out he was not, he did not give up his search. There is also a lot of information about how rail road tracks were actually built back during that time and many realistic pictures that support the literature. This book is an excellent candidate.

Megan S. TUFW said...

Love it! What an interesting book. It was fun and informative, something I feel is all too rare these days. It definitely made me want to do research of my own and really get into it. I think kids will definitely get into it.

Michael said...

I like how the author tells us the whole story of his research. I enjoyed finding out the hardships that he had. I also liked all of the amazing information about the railroads.