Jerdine Nolen
Big Jabe
Kadir Nelson, illustrator
HarperCollins, 2000
  Big Jabe


A long, long time ago, when young Addy was a house slave on Simon Plenty's plantation, she had to clean out the Big House, but what she loved to clean out was the river. And when she went fishing, she came home with enough catfish, bass, and brim for everyone.

So Addy was mighty vexed when one day in early spring, when the fish should have been biting like crazy, she didn't get a single nibble.

She was even more puzzled when a wicker basket came bobbing down the river, and in it was a little boy just smilin' up at her. She scooped him up and set him on the ground, where he cupped his hands around his mouth and called,"Fish, fish, where is you, fish? Jump to the wagon like Miss Addy wish!"

Suddenly the earth began to tremble, the river began to roil, and the air was filled with fish—jumping, hopping, flying right into Addy's wagon—and Addy knew for a fact that life on the Plenty Plantation was about to change!

In this original tall tale, Jerdine Nolen has created Big Jabe, a John Henry-sized hero with the strength of fifty men, a heart as big as all outdoors, arid a mysterious gift at spiriting slaves away to freedom.


“This eloquent tale neither demeans the characters nor forces readers to identify directly with the characters' suffering. Instead, author and artist empower the audience to confront an unbearable history and come away with hope.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Young Addy, a house slave on Mr. Plenty's plantation, is fishing (unsuccessfully) for Mr. Plenty's supper one day when she notices a wicker basket bobbing in the water. Inside this basket is a smiling young boy who offers Addy "a plump round pear, as golden as the noonday sun," and then proceeds to amaze her with wondrous feats. First he calls up a wagon-full of fish from the river. Then he plants the seeds from the pear, which grow into a tree almost overnight. The boy himself, named Jabe, grows up quickly as well, and within months is working on the plantation, a giant man with the strength of fifty. Mysterious events take place around Jabe. Each time the plantation overseer punishes one of the slaves, a huge storm comes up in the night, and the following day the punished slave has vanished. Only Addy suspects the truth: that Jabe, with his mythic powers, is spiriting the slaves away to freedom.(

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