Ezra’s Books

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John Henry

Pantheon Books (now Knopf), 1965

The legendary steel-driving man who was born, and died, with a hammer in his hand comes to life in this dramatic tale of heroism and destiny. Each page seems to radiate the vital force that led John Henry to challenge a steam drill to a rock-drilling contest—and win..

Take a Closer Look

John-Henry-Essay-pixPublished three years after The Snowy Day, John Henry, an American Legend, is Ezra’s retelling of the saga of the steel-driving man. Both books are illustrated with a graphic boldness that mixes color and texture, collage and painting, abstraction and realism. But where Peter’s tale is gentle, John Henry’s is rugged and larger-than-life. The text is action-packed and should be read out loud; the art is powerful and emotionally rich. Ezra wants to make the legend come to life—giving his hero not only strong arms but also a face, and giving his work the immediacy of detail and of danger. Do you think he succeeds in making John Henry more mythic by showing him to be more human?

Look Beyond the Book