With Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America, Andrea Davis Pinkney has outdone herself. And that’s saying a lot, friends. I’ve followed her sparkling career for years, sharing her picture books on such interesting, talented achievers as Alvin Ailey, the brilliant dancer/choreographer; jazz great Duke Ellington; and abolitionist/women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth. Such true stories, told with Pinkney’s increasingly sure and confident voice, help us build a foundation where children can appreciate the diversity that has made our nation strong.
Pinkney’s clear, strong voice is a defining and delightful highlight of her latest collective biography, which won the 2013 Coretta Scott King Author award. Her goal, she writes in the preface, was “to create a testament to African American males.” She chose to profile 10 men: the Colonial surveyor/almanac creator Benjamin Banneker (featured in her earlier picture-book bio Dear Benjamin Banneker), the eloquent abolitionist Frederick Douglass, educator Booker T. Washington, author W.E.B. DuBois, organizer A. Philip Randolph, Justice Thurgood Marshall, baseball great Jackie Robinson, activist Malcolm X, Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.; and Pres. Barack H. Obama. Do NOT mistake this for some dry textbook!
Spiked with husband Brian Pinkney’s exuberant full-page portraits and lively spot illustrations, Hand in Hand is vibrant in its visual and verbal ways. Brightly colored pages hold her rhythmic free-verse poems that play with fonts, voices, and lively language. The author goes on employ an intimate, down-home tone as she describes each leader’s life. Here, for instance, is how she lures us into the story of Frederick Douglass: “Late one night, when the moon was full of milk, and the sky was as black as molasses, a boy-child was born on the Holme Hill Farm near Chesapeake Bay, Maryland. His mama named him Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. Frederick came from two worlds. His father was the color of that moon. His mother, Harriet, was as dark and as beautiful as that sky.”
Pinkney infuses her energetic prose with a nuanced and carefully balanced perspective. She points out that Frederick Douglass became a powerful speaker and writer — and was also invited to the White House by Lincoln. “There is no man in the country whose opinion I value more than yours,” Lincoln told him. (Perhaps Spielberg should have picked up a copy of this book!)
In other entries, she contrasts the somewhat limited goals of Booker T. Washington with the intellectual fervor of DuBois. Her account of Jackie Robinson includes not only his struggles and triumphs on the field but also the fact that he pooled his resources with others to found the Freedom National Bank, a black-run bank based in Harlem. Humorous details punch up the biographical details, as when young Barry (Barack Obama) acquired the nickname “Barry O’Bomber” for his long shot that helped the team win the state basketball championship.
Hand in Hand provides inspiration for all Americans, especially males, and is a powerful portion of the answer to the question, Who built this country? Let Pinkney remind you of a few of those contributors. I highly recommended this for ages 10 and older.
And, until she compiles a similarly inspiring collective biography on outstanding women, consider turning to Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters.
Younger children, ages 5 to 8, might instead pick up the poetic Brick by Brick, written by Charles R. Smith, Jr., and illustrated with characteristic verve by the acclaimed Floyd Cooper. Who built the White House? Slaves were among those builders, and this is a great way to let children know it.
My previous post on Love Twelve Miles Long, a lovely picture book on Frederick Douglass and his mother.
Howard Fineman: Alvin Ailey, the Obamas and America (huffingtonpost.com)