The World in Grandpa’s Hands

Margaret Mason’s gentle picture book¬†These Hands features a loving grandfather who has much to teach his grandson. He uses his old and capable hands to show young Joseph how to tie his shoes, how to play the piano, to shuffle cards, and how to hit a line drive.

He also reveals a slice of history neither the boy nor many of us readers realized. “Look at these hands, Joseph. Did you know these hands were not allowed to mix the bread dough in the Wonder Bread factory?”

The tender sepia-toned oil-wash artwork by the renowned Floyd Cooper sheds a warm glow on the earth-toned images of the boy and his grandfather. The illustrations contribute to the reassuring tone and message of this simple, yet powerful picture book.

Grandpa tells Joseph how “these hands joined with other hands. And we wrote our petitions, and we carried our signs, and we raised our voices together. Now any hands can touch the bread dough, no matter their color. Yes, they can.”

The author’s note explains how, in the ’50s and early ’60s, African-American workers at the Wonder Bread, Awrey, and Tastee bakery factories were allowed to sweep and load trucks, but were not permitted to work as bread dough mixers. The author relates how she learned the history from Joe Barnett, a leader of the bakery labor union.

Don’t miss this fine inter-generational story, as it provides so many wonderful opportunities to discuss the role of families and the need to work together to battle injustice in its many forms.

And see …


Leave Room for Pecan Pie

I’ve been marveling at Jacqueline Woodson’s finely wrought fiction for years, so it seems fitting that I feature her in this fourth of four posts on outstanding African-American authors or illustrators. Her latest picture book, Pecan Pie Baby (Putnam, 2010), is another treat. Mama’s little Gia isn’t wild about having a new baby in her family. In fact, all the fuss about that “ding-dang baby” is just plain annoying. When Mama says the baby’s wanting some pecan pie, Gia says, “Well, … I love pecan pie. And you love pecan pie. So that baby’s just being a copycat!” Sophie Blackall’s ink and watercolor illustrations clearly portray the child’s worried, sometimes exasperated expression.¬† At Thanksgiving, engulfed in the family’s incessant talk of “baby this and baby that,” Gia explodes: “I’m so sick of that DING-DANG BABY!” Sent to her room, a teary little Gia sits alone on her bed. The illustrator’s perspective of looking down on Gia from a distance captures her forlorn mood. Later, Mama comes upstairs and tells Gia how she’ll miss those special days shared by just the two of them — just the message she needed to hear. The night ends with cuddles and a plate of pecan pie for all three. Growing families will find this a sweet, reassuring book to share with children ages 4 to 7.

More Timeless and Touching Picture Books …

Coming on Home Soon. illus. by E.B. Lewis. Putnam, 2004. Ages 6-9. Set during World War II, Ada Ruth’s mom has left to seek work. She’d heard “they’re hiring colored women in Chicago since all the men are off fighting in the war.” Her grandmother tries to comfort Ada Ruth, but it’s just not the same. Lewis’s lovely watercolor paintings capture the changing emotions of the girl as she waits. One full-page illustration shows her sitting in an old-fashioned hardback chair, gazing out the window at the snow and trying to recall her mother’s smell: “like sugar some days.” A little black stray kitten arrives and gives Ada Ruth some comfort. The pet stays nearby as she and her grandmother listen to news on the radio. Ada Ruth prays for the soldiers who won’t return anytime soon. And she thinks proudly of her mama, washing the trains up in Chicago. At last, Mama’s long-awaited letter arrives with much-needed money and with the words Ada Ruth has craved: she’s coming on home soon.

The Other Side. illus. by E.B. Lewis.Putnam, 2001. Ages 6-9. In this sensitive story, there’s a split-rail fence that separates a rural black community from the white. Young Clover lives in a yellow house on one side of the fence; a new girl, Annie, lives on the other. Clover watches red-headed Annie sit on the fence and stare. She watches as Annie plays in puddles. Finally, she gets up the nerve to approach her. The girls introduce themselves and smile. When Annie tries to persuade Clover to climb the fence and sit with her, Clover says, “My mama says I shouldn’t go on the other side.” Annie’s heard the same warning. “But she never said nothing about sitting on it,” she counters. So begins the friendship between the two girls who shared the fence and watched the “whole wide world” around them that summer about 50 years ago. In time, Clover’s friends join the two. Lewis’s double-page watercolor shows a line of six girls, hot and tired from jumping rope. “Someday somebody’s going to come along and knock this old fence down,” Annie says. Clover agrees. This simple, powerful picture book, with its metaphor of the fence, resonates with children. The Other Side provides the perfect opportunity to discuss prejudice and how it walls us off from the wider world of friendship and respect.

Show Way. illus. by Hudson Talbott. Putnam, 2005. Ages 8-12. What should each generation bequeath to the next? Follow the trail of two needles with “thread dyed bright red with berries from the chokecherry tree” to discover one family’s history from a Virginia plantation to freedom. A quilt showed the slaves the way out, and eventually “the words became books that told the stories of many people’s Show Ways.” This unusually designed book, with its cut-out cover, bright collages, and images of quilt squares won a 2006 Newbery Honor for its writing, a rare occurrence for picture books.

Sweet, Sweet Memory. illus. by Floyd Cooper. Putnam, 2000. Ages 5-8. Sarah mourns the loss of her beloved grandfather. As she recalls Grandpa in his garden, she finds some comfort in his words: “The earth changes. Like us, … a part of it never dies. Everything and everyone goes on an on.” This sweet book reminds us of how we can hold loved ones in our heart of memories.

%d bloggers like this: