BIG JABE by Jerdine Nolen


by & illustrated by
Age Range: 7 - 10
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Nolen (In My Momma's Kitchen, 1999) rears up a new tall-tale hero, with the strength of 50 and a hidden agenda. The lad, who floats down the river and into the arms of Simon Plenty’s house slave, Addy, shows early signs of unusual ability, calling fish out of the water until Addy’s wagon is piled high. By that June, young Jabe is a full-grown man, capable of mending ten miles of fence between midday and sundown. Like the pear tree he plants, which grows to full size in one season “with the North Star shining through its branches,” all of the crops on the plantation come in with unprecedented abundance that year. Only the overseer is displeased—even more so when each slave who feels his displeasure disappears with his family in the wake of a strange storm that wipes out any sign of a trail. Addy whispers that Jabe is “taking them to the pear tree,” which is to say pointing them North to freedom. Nelson (Brothers of the Knight, not reviewed) takes Jabe from a rawboned child with an engaging grin to brawny adulthood, placing him into historical scenes that rival Trina Schart Hyman's for fine detail and strongly drawn, expressive figures. In the end, Jabe leaves as suddenly as he came, and is last seen striding away, towering over the trees. Like Virginia Hamilton's Drylongso (1999) and unlike John Henry, Big Jabe seems not just larger than life, but a force of nature, subtle, secret, untouchable—and that undercurrent of mystery gives his story a mythic power. (Picture book. 7-10)

Pub Date: April 30th, 2000
ISBN: 0-688-13662-1
Page count: 32pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2000


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