Aug 19, 2011
These Hands by Margaret H. Mason
Illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Joseph's grandpa is telling him all the things he used to be able to do with his hands: tie a triple bowline knot in three seconds, "make the ivories sing like a sparrow in springtime," "pluck the ace of spades right out of thin air," "throw a curveball faster than a dive-bombing honeybee." But there was something he wasn't able to do as a young man: he was not allowed to mix the bread dough at the Wonder Bread factory. He was only allowed to clean the floors and work the line at the factory, but he couldn't make the bread because of the color of his skin. So he joined hands and voices with others during the civil rights movement and now, "any hands can touch the bread dough, no matter their color."
These Hands is a beautiful book. It manages to be tender in the way it shows the grandfather and Joseph's relationship and at the same time it exposes a little known historical fact about the discriminatory practices at the Detroit Wonder Bread factory. I love the change in point of view that takes place half way through the book. We first hear the grandfather's voice sharing how he can help Joseph learn to do those thing he could do as young man. Then, we hear Joseph's voice sharing all the things he has learned to do thanks to his grandfather's guidance. "Now I can do all that," he tells his grandfather. It's a very uplifting picture book that should be shared at home and in the classroom. There is a lot of figurative language examples to share with the students as well as the historical background. The illustrations by Floyd Cooper are, as usual, works of art. This is one of the most beautiful and moving books of 2011.