Thursday, September 1, 2016

September Spotlight on #OwnVoices: A Hand To Hold

A Hand To Hold by Zetta Elliott, Ill. Purple Wong
by Zetta Elliott.  Illustrated by Purple Wong. Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016. ISBN: 978-1530033669. Click here to purchase.

The start of the school year comes packed with emotions, especially for the youngest students and their families.  Drop-off tends to be the most fraught moment of the day--and no drop-off is more emotional than the one that happens on the very first day of school.

Which brings me to Zetta Elliott's sublimely written A Hand To Hold.  A little girl thinks about her daddy's hands, how they helped her take her first steps, pushed her sky-high on the swing, and gently cared for her scraped knee.  How will she be able to let go of daddy's hand when he drops her off at school for the very first time?

Children--especially those in preschool and kindergarten--are simultaneously dominated by their emotions and by their physical experiences.  They experience the pain and fear of separation, but often can't process language like "you'll see mommy again when she comes to pick you up at the end of the day" ("the end of the day" is too abstract).  I'm always struck by how physical comforts aid separations more effectively than soothing language.  Children clutch favorite books, blankets, toys, stuffed animals, teacher's hands, or--most effective of all--get a hug or hand-hold from a classmate.

Zetta Elliott masterfully creates a perfect connection between a child's emotional and physical worlds.  Daddy shows his little girl that though she will have to let go of his hand, she can keep him in her heart all day long, just as he will keep her in his.  And when she does let go of daddy's hand (after some very realistic tears), she finds a new friend's hand ready and waiting.

Though the art may strike some grown-ups as amateurish, children will be too focused on the visual hand-holding cues to care.  At once developmentally appropriate and exquisitely written, with a story that anyone experiencing separation will appreciate (especially those on the lookout for books about loving and caring fathers), A Hand To Hold is a much-needed book.

Reviewed by Allie Jane Bruce

6 comments:

Unknown said...

The #ownvoices month of reviews will be interesting, particularly kicking it off with a CreateSpace paperback.

Admittedly, the Click to Purchase part is a little jarring to me, as this is the first time I have seen this blog turn into an enterprise for book creators. I'm not saying that's good or bad, I was simply not expecting to see it.

Carol Baldwin said...

It does appear to be a beautiful story that children will relate to.

Megan Schliesman said...


Thanks for that perspective on the “Click to purchase link.” RWW is providing it for both ease and encouragement. The fact is that purchasing books matters when it comes to supporting diversity and #ownvoices in children’s and young adult literature. A lot. Whether through the link we provide (which we are doing for convenience only; RWW is not getting any revenue from the link), or through another vendor of choice, we hope readers will consider buying titles of interest to them, or asking for them at their local library.

Sam Bloom said...

Also, in regards to Zetta Elliott and her self-published titles, this may be useful:

https://zettaelliott.wordpress.com/2014/05/19/making-our-own-market-the-brown-bookshelf/

Nanette said...

I'm loving this month here--so many wonderful books and new authors. What a great idea. I came to comment and wound up reading up on all the ones I'd missed over the past few days.

Still, the one that keeps drawing me is this one. I'm sure everyone has their favorite "dandelion book"... one they'd blow on, sending the seeds far and wide to rest in libraries and bookshelves everywhere. This is mine. I'll tell you why, but first I have a story. Sadly, I have a few similar stories I had to choose from, but I thought this would be the best one to illustrate my point.

Years ago I was a fairly frequent commenter on a multi-blogger, (white) feminist blog. Most all the bloggers were anti-racist and were of the few who would hold other white feminists to account. One was even an official anti-racist activist, working with parents and children. So, they had cred.

One day a woman came and commented on one of the posts. The gist of her statement was she was in an area with a lot of displacement (year or so after Katrina, I think) and now her small children (kindergarten or pre-school) were going to have to start at a different school than what they had planned on. A primarily Black school. And her question was, was she a racist, that she was afraid for her children with them being one of the few white ones surrounded by Black children?

I saw that and shook my head, then sat back and waited for the white anti-racists to take her on. But after comment after comment of commiseration and understanding, not one said "Yes, this is racist." Not one. Nothing even close to that.

And that's when I realized (yet again; as I said, I have a few stories about it) that some white/nonBlack people, even some lefty, anti-racist white people really do think of Black 3, 4, 5 year olds as baby criminals, or little monsters, or born filled with violence to the point that random white children might be in danger from them. And one of the more horrifying things is, it's not at all unheard of for small Black children to be treated like that by teachers and others in authority. Not unheard of at all.

And that's why I love this book. Mind, I am not a librarian or children's book person, so there may be 1000s of books like this already on the shelves, but I don't know them. I just know this book at the moment.

But back to why it's my dandelion book, why I think it's so important. I went and looked up more about it and throughout the book the little girl is treated by her father as something precious. Loved. Cherished. And her father, of course, is the one doing all the loving and cherishing. And I love that it shows that, but also both the child's and father's vulnerability when it's time to let go, for the little girl to go to school. That's this precious, loved little just as frightened as all the other children. Just as confused by the big wide world outside of dad and mom's influence. And just as ready for a friend of any color as most other children are. It frames Black children, this child, in a way they rarely are in children's or adults literature.

It's late and I fear I am not explaining well (despite having this being so long) but.. well, that's my reason. Also should mention that I don't know Zetta Elliott at all, having only heard of her on this site, but I do plan to look up more of her books.

Anyway, on to read more posts. Thanks so much for doing this, it's very helpful and heartening.

Zetta said...

Thank you, RWW, for putting the focus on books written by cultural insiders, and thanks to everyone who took the time to read about my book. Nanette, I love your idea of a "dandelion book" and it's so gratifying when a reader "gets" my message. We need more images of Black fathers who cherish and are there for their kids--it's something I see every day and yet that particular representation of Black masculinity is missing from kid lit and much of popular culture. And innocence is not a quality reserved for White children only...