Little John’s Big Win

The People Could Fly - The Two Johns Tales2go Audio Books

Standards and Objective

Include multimedia components (e.g., graphics, images, music, sound) and visual displays in presentations to clarify information.l.


  • Story Map Graphic Organizer (download below)

Tales2go Titles

  • The People Could Fly by Virgina Hamilton


In storytelling, especially in folk tales, we often hear about a character who is a trickster. They use their wits to outsmart someone in a position of power. This device is often used in African American folktales.  In this story, a smaller man outwits a stronger and more violent one, time and time again, leading his nemesis to bring harm and injury upon himself.  As you listen, think about how Little John plans to stay a step ahead of his enemy, and does so in a way that protects him from blame.

Play: The Two Johns (from The People Could Fly)

Have the students retell the main elements of the story aloud.  Be sure to include the slaughtering of the horse, the murder of Little John’s grandmother, and attempting to throw him into the sea.
Use the graphic organizer: Detailed Story Map (download below) to create a visual representation of the story.  Students may wish to illustrate along the margins of the paper incidents that they pictures in their minds.
For each element of the story, be sure to include Big John’s action or behavior and how Little John reacted to that act. This story map is more complex than ones used in younger grades because each action requires supporting details. It is tailored made for this story, which includes three main events, which escalate in severity.  Students should share their graphic organizers, if time permits.

Summary: In the epilogue, we hear more about the roots of this story in Portuguese, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and Louisiana.  How does this story compare to other folk tales where one character tricks another?  Is it funnier or more violent? Is there a moral to the story?

Extensions and Variations

Students who are emotionally intelligent may wonder why Big John asks for a pardon for his sins, before he performs them. Little John points out everything that happens to him turns to good, in some way.  Discuss the role your intentions have in your behavior or development of your character.  Is Little John responsible for the bad things that he inspires Big John to do? Is he a murderer?

Fun Fact:
The African American legacy of telling tales that include someone apparently meeker overcoming an obstacle to conquer someone with more power has roots in slaves outwitting their masters.  Renowned Civil Rights activist and poet Audre Lorde has been quoted as having said that “the master’s tools [would] never dismantle the master’s house,” meaning that the colloquial language used in the retelling of the story is as essential as the message in the story itself.


Story Map

About the Common Core

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) lay out very specific listening requirements, by grade, as part of a dedicated strand for speaking and listening skills. The standards specify the use of ‘other media’ within the standards, e.g., “CCSS.ELA-Literacy 3.2 Determine the main ideas and supporting details of a text read aloud or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.”
Listening is placed on equal footing with reading, writing and speaking. And for those tempted to just pair audio with visual text, that approach is common and valid with emerging readers, but not what the standards intend.
The CCSS also requires students to comprehend texts of steadily increasing complexity as they progress through school. Audio books can act as an important scaffold that allows students to read above their actual reading level.
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