These Hands

Gr 1—5—This picture book based on oral history from the Civil Rights Movement abounds in the rich, concrete symbolism that young readers will understand and retain. The narration is poetically told in the African-American oratory style made famous by Rev. King, and Grandfather's voice sets the tone, made strong through repetition: "Look at these hands.../Did you know these hands/used to make the ivories sing/like a sparrow in springtime?/Well, I can still show a young fellow/how to play 'Heart and Soul'/—yes, I can." Piano playing is only one of things the man shares with grandson Joseph. His booming narration then shifts in a dramatic, yet unsentimental manner: "…Did you know that these hands/were not allowed to mix/the bread dough/in the Wonder Bread Factory?/…Because the bosses said/white people would not want to eat bread/touched by these hands." Expansive spreads in Cooper's signature muted, earth-toned oil-wash style follow, chronicling what those hands did to confront that injustice: writing petitions, carrying signs. Joseph takes over the final part of the narrative and tells his grandfather how his hands now can hit a ball, play piano, and even bake bread. Children need to know that they "can do anything./Anything at all in this whole wide world." An author's note gives the provenance of this provocative story and other examples of "unwritten rules" for African-American workers prior to 1964.—Sara Lissa Paulson, American Sign Language and English Lower School PS 347, New York City
Grandfather demonstrates the things his hands can do (e.g., play piano, perform card tricks) then relates for his grandson what they were forbidden from doing while working at the segregated Wonder Bread factory: namely, touch the bread dough. Cooper's oil-wash illustrations in sepia tones reflect gentleness, strength, warmth, and history. An appended author's note tells more about the story's true events.

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