Johnny Kaw

A Tall Tale

Five minutes after his birth, Johnny Kaw is over six feet tall and still growing. When he outgrows his crib and even their town, his parents decide to move west where "little" Johnny can have plenty of room to play. After the family crosses the wide Missouri River to Kansas, Johnny sits down to play with his dog. His bottom ends up making the valley where his family will settle. And when Johnny clears stones from a field so his father can plow, he ends up creating the Rocky Mountains in the process. The legendary folk hero shapes the state's landscape by carving out valleys and creating prairies with his bare hands. Why, he even takes on a tornado when it threatens the family farm. Kansas native Devin Scillian spins a rollicking, rhyming yarn based on the tall tale of Johnny Kaw. Comedic, exaggerated artwork from artist Brad Sneed brings this character to BIG life.

Format List Price Your Price Qty
$15.95 $15.95
$27.95 $27.95
Interest Level Grade 1 - Grade 4
Reading Level Grade 5
Dewey E
ATOS Reading Level 4.1
Guided Reading Level
Language English
Publisher Sleeping Bear Press
Available Formats Hardcover (9781585367917), PDF (9781627530064), Hosted ebook (9781627535588)
Copyright 2013, 2014
Number of Pages 32
Dimensions 9 x 11
Graphics Full-color illustrations
  • 2014 Bank Street Best Books of the Year for Children, Winner, 2014 Reviews "Johnny Kaw: A Tall Tale"

American folklore is rich with larger-than-life characters who tamed the wilderness and shaped the landscape. We have Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan and Johnny Kaw. Although Johnny Kaw is a relatively recent addition to American folklore, his story is well developed and truly American.

Five minutes after Johnny was born he was already bigger than his father. Soon, Johnny has grown the family’s house, so the family packs up and moves to where Johnny has room to move around. The family moves west, to unsettled territory. Johnny helps his parents to build a beautiful home. When it comes time to plant crops, Johnny again saves the day by clearing all the large boulders and throwing them westward…can you guess what became of all those large rocks? After all Johnny’s hard work helping to get the family settled, a tornado threatens to destroy it all, but Johnny won’t have it! In the end, Johnny clears all the trees from Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, making what we know as the Great Plains, all in memory of his dear mother.

This book has so much potential for discussion following the reading. Discuss what words rhymed. What made this story a tall tale other than Johnny’s size? Ask the child how they might end the story differently or have them tell their own tall tale.

Devin Scillian captures the legend of Johnny Kaw is a way that is sure to please all audiences. The rhythm and rhyme of the story keep the reader turning pages—anxiously anticipating the next step in the story. Scillian proclaims that his children’s books are “equal parts smiles, sighs, laughs, and goose bumps.”

Brad Sneed’s Illustrations thoroughly capture the fantastic deeds of Johnny Kaw. The dreamy pictures allow the reader to explore the scenes and take part in the story. You can see more of Sneeds’s illustration works here.

This is book that parents and children will enjoy together. It will spark imagination and can be a starting point for discussions on myriad topics from giants to how America came to be what it is today.

School Library Journal Reviews "Johnny Kaw"

This folk hero is larger-than-life in every sense of the word. In an effort to find a farm big enough for their boy, who seems to “gain a pound every hour,” the Kaw family heads westward. After crossing the Missouri River into what will become Kansas, the Kaws feel that they have found a home. In true tall-tale fashion, Johnny then clears the land by hand and thus creates the Rocky Mountains; stands up to and tames a cyclone with his scythe; and, with a single breath, plants “miles and miles” of wheat. Prairie life is sweet for the devoted family, but the passing of time brings the inevitable passing of Johnny’s beloved mother. The story ends on a positive note, however, with Johnny acknowledging that her strong spirit will always be with him. The book is written in rhythmic prose that lends itself to read-alouds as well as independent reading. Sneed’s full-color illustrations in his exaggerated style serve the tale well and showcase not only the humor but also its tenderness. The story should have broad appeal in the Sunflower State, but readers in the rest of the country will also enjoy getting acquainted with this gentle giant.

Midwest Book Review: "Johnny Kaw: A Tall Tale"

“Johnny Kaw: A Tall Tale” is a legendary folk hero creation tale from the plains and valleys of Kansas. In the tradition of Johnny Appleseed, Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan, Johnny Kaw is a young giant of a lad born to ordinary parents who finds his best landscape in the great Kansas landscape. Gentle rhyming narrative and drifting, dreamy paintings of an impossibly tall blonde boy tell the story of this folk hero who picks up rocks to form mountains, and carves valleys and prairies with his bare hands. Poetic license is granted without request for sheer enjoyment of this delightful tall tale of impossibilities. Children ages 6-10 will find whole hearted pleasure in its pages, along with a resounding definition of prairie pioneer identity.

Author: Devin Scillian

Devin Scillian is an award-winning author, broadcast journalist, and musician. He presently anchors the news for WDIV-TV in Detroit. He has traveled the world covering news stories from Sydney to Siberia. His school presentations have inspired countless children to think of themselves as not only readers, but writers as well.
In addition to Memoirs of a Goldfish, Memoirs of a Hamster, Memoirs of an Elf, and Memoirs of a Parrot, Devin is also the author of numerous books for Sleeping Bear Press including the national bestseller A is for America: An American Alphabet. Devin lives in Michigan with his family. Find out more about Devin at

Illustrator: Brad Sneed

Brad Sneed studied illustration at the University of Kansas. He has illustrated more than 20 picture books, including Mr. President Goes to School and Deputy Harvey and the Ant Cow Caper. He lives near Kansas City in Kansas.

Author/Illustrator biography
Full-color illustrations