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Saturday, July 9, 2011

These Hands, written by Margaret H. Mason and illustrated by Floyd Cooper. Houghton Mifflin, Thomas Allen & Son. 2010. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"Look at these hands, Joseph.
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
- yes, I can."

This is an incredibly gentle and telling tale of a doting grandfather and his grandson. As they spend time together, Grandpa shares stories with Joseph about earlier times in his life. Times when he could quickly tie needed knots, play fast songs on the piano, shuffle cards with the best of them and throw a mean curveball. Joseph’s grandfather’s hands can still do many amazing things. All that experience comes to good when he helps Joseph learn to tie his shoes, play the piano, hit a baseball.

Sadly, he lived at a time when there were things his hands could not do. Working at the Wonder Bread Factory his hands could not touch the dough. They could sweep the floor, load the trucks; but they could not touch the bread dough. White people didn't want to buy bread that had been handled by black hands.

In response to those conditions his hands helped with other things. They helped organize protests, sign petitions, carry signs and hold hands in solidarity with others who were not allowed the same privileges as white people.

"Now any hands can mix the bread dough,
no matter their color.
Now any hands can touch the bread dough,
no matter their color.
Yes, they can."

Joseph, in turn, is pleased to show his grandpa the many things that his hands can do, thanks to patient guidance and love.

I must admit I bought this book because of my love for Floyd Cooper's artwork. I am equally enamored of the simply told and heartfelt story. The illustrations are what I have come to expect from Floyd Cooper; softly beautiful images that glow with warmth and light. There is no edginess change in the tone of the story despite its memories of times past. In telling Joseph of that past, Grandpa reflects on the actions that brought change to his people and better days for his grandchildren.

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