Margaret H. Mason, Author
Floyd Cooper, Illustrator
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, Fiction, 2010 & 2015
Suitable for Ages: 4-7
Themes: African-Americans, Civil Rights Movement, Hands, Grandfathers, Family Relationships, Prejudice, Tolerance
Opening: “Look at these hands, Joseph. / Did you know these hands / used to tie a triple bowline knot I / in three seconds flat? / Well, I can still help a young fellow / learn to ties his shoes / — yes, I can.”
Synopsis: Joseph’s grandfather could do most anything with his hands. He could play the piano, shuffle cards, throw a curve ball and hit a line drive ball. Despite all the many wonderful things he could do with his hands, he could not touch the bread dough and or bake the bread at the Wonder Bread factory. He was only allowed to sweep the floors, work the line and load the trucks.
Why I like this book:
Margaret Mason’s has written an inspiring intergenerational story about a boy and his grandfather. This compelling story is about the discrimination the grandfather experienced as an African-American working in a Wonder Bread factory.
The text is written in free verse with a refrain from the grandfather that heralds the beginning of each double-page spread: “Look at these hands, Joseph. / Did you know these hands used to…” The tension builds when the grandfather painfully tells Joseph what he was not allowed to do with his hands at the factory. Hands alone were the victims of the prejudice. Hands joined together signed petitions, protested, prayed and overcame the prejudice. What a powerful metaphor!
This little-known story is based on the true stories of bakery union workers at the Wonder Bread factory in the 1950s and early 1960s. Victory was achieved for African-Americans during the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. It was told to the author by her friend, Joe, and after his death she decided to write his story.
Floyd Cooper’s larger than life illustrations are rendered in oil and beautifully compliment the author’s lyrical storytelling. The muted browns tones are warm, expressive, lively and celebratory. You want to spend time studying each painting.
Resources: Make sure you read the Author’s Note at the end. This is an excellent classroom book for Black History Month. Do you know your family history? Talk with your parents and grandparents and ask them questions about what they may know about your family history. You may be surprised with your discovery. Record their stories or write information about your history in a journal. Browse through family photo albums. Visit Margaret Mason’s website.
Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.