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Stories of Kansas and the Great Plains
Review of Johnny Kaw - The Pioneer Spirit of Kansas
Retold by Jerri Garretson, Illustrated by Diane A. Dollar
Kansas Libraries, October 1997
Review by Roy Bird, Library Consultant

It's about time a Kansas folk hero got his due.  And there's not bigger folk hero in the state than Johnny Kaw -- literally.  He's the big statue standing boldly on the southeast corner of the city park in Manhattan.  And there's probably no one better suited to revive the legendary giant than Jerri Garretson, Children's Librarian at Manhattan Public Library and a native Manhattanite.

Johnny Kaw was born from the mind of Dr. George Filinger in a book of tall tales published in 1955.  A decade after the publication of the KSU horticulture professor's book, boosters raised money to erect the concrete sculpture.  Filinger credited Johnny Kaw with creating the Kansas ("Kaw") River, inventing the game of golf, clearing the Flint Hills into a valley where Manhattan now lays, taming tornadoes, planting sunflowers and wheat, and inventing Wildcats and Jayhawks.

Jerri's new treatment is in a folksy style which includes the tall tale elements with which kids can connect.  A color cover encloses line drawings by KSU art professor Diane Dollar suitable for coloring by children, and Jerri is quick to add, adults.  As Jerri said, it's about time a folk hero of Johnny Kaw's proportions got his due.  Her retelling in this children's book for all elementary school and public libraries does just that.

Return to Johnny Kaw main page

The original picture book version of Johnny Kaw is now out of print, but the entire story and all illustrations are included in the Kansas Tall Tales anthology published in March 2008.

In September 2011, a new color edition of Johnny Kaw was published. The story text is the same as the reviewed edition, but there is added resource material and photos included and the B&W line drawings created by Diane A. Dollar have been colored with colored pencil.

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Last Updated October 7,  2011.