The Hired Hand: An African-American Folktale

The Hired Hand: An African-American Folktale

by Robert D. San Souci, Jerry Pinkney
     
 

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As water pours over the wheel of a busy sawmill in Virginia, a stranger tells Old Sam, the owner, that he wants to learn the trade. Old Sam is happy to take on a hired hand, and Young Sam, his son, is glad to have someone to boss around. One day, an old farmer complains about a misery in his back. The New Hand offers to fix him up, and when he does, the farmer is not…  See more details below

Overview

As water pours over the wheel of a busy sawmill in Virginia, a stranger tells Old Sam, the owner, that he wants to learn the trade. Old Sam is happy to take on a hired hand, and Young Sam, his son, is glad to have someone to boss around. One day, an old farmer complains about a misery in his back. The New Hand offers to fix him up, and when he does, the farmer is not only cured, he's young again! But when conniving Young Sam tries to do the same, he finds himself in big trouble. Can the New Hand set things right?

This tale�brought to life by an award-winning author/illustrator team�is based on an account by a black Virginian that was first written down in 1871, though it was told orally generations earlier.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Cahners\\Publishers_Weekly
Seasoned collaborators San Souci and Pinkney (The Talking Eggs) weave themes of magic, rebirth and retribution into another splendid retelling of an African American folk tale. The story, told in homespun dialect, involves a stranger who turns up at a sawmill looking for work. Although the man is "as shabby as a worn-out shoe," Old Sam, the owner, is delighted to hire him. But Old Sam's shiftless, "no 'count" son soon spies out the hardworking New Hand's magical powers, and when his high-handed, "biggity" ways drive the stranger away, he attempts to duplicate the man's trick of rejuvenating people by transforming them into wood, sawing them apart, soaking them in water and anointing them with a drop of his own blood. Young Sam gets the incantations right ("Sawdust!/ Do what you must!/ Turn this skin an' bone to wood/ So my saw cut but don' draw blood"), but cheats on the final step, with disastrous results. In the end, the hired hand reappears at the remorseful Young Sam's murder trial and saves the day. Informed by the careful research for which this dynamite duo is so well known and graced with Pinkney's charismatic watercolors, the tale has a particularly interesting setting: an antebellum Virginia community of free black craftsmen, upon which the artist elaborates in an afterword. Shivery and superbly crafted.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Seasoned collaborators San Souci and Pinkney (The Talking Eggs) weave themes of magic, rebirth and retribution into another splendid retelling of an African American folk tale. The story, told in homespun dialect, involves a stranger who turns up at a sawmill looking for work. Although the man is "as shabby as a worn-out shoe," Old Sam, the owner, is delighted to hire him. But Old Sam's shiftless, "no 'count" son soon spies out the hardworking New Hand's magical powers, and when his high-handed, "biggity" ways drive the stranger away, he attempts to duplicate the man's trick of rejuvenating people by transforming them into wood, sawing them apart, soaking them in water and anointing them with a drop of his own blood. Young Sam gets the incantations right ("Sawdust!/ Do what you must!/ Turn this skin an' bone to wood/ So my saw cut but don' draw blood"), but cheats on the final step, with disastrous results. In the end, the hired hand reappears at the remorseful Young Sam's murder trial and saves the day. Informed by the careful research for which this dynamite duo is so well known and graced with Pinkney's charismatic watercolors, the tale has a particularly interesting setting: an antebellum Virginia community of free black craftsmen, upon which the artist elaborates in an afterword. Shivery and superbly crafted. Ages 5-up. (May)
Children's Literature - Marilyn Courtot
Magic fills this tale of an African-American stranger who comes to a town of free blacks and seeks a position in the local sawmill. The owner is a good man, but his son is lazy and mean. He treats the New Hand badly and spies on him when he rejuvenates an old farmer. When the son tries to do the same for another couple and fails, it is up to the New Hand to rescue him. The mill owner's son learns his lessons about how to treat people and how to be a better son. The pencil and watercolor illustrations are beautiful. They accurately show the people, period clothing, and mysterious settings. While an original tale, it has the feel and look of a folk tale.
Children's Literature - Meredith Kiger
The watercolors are wonderful and the story in this folktale with a Southern flavor is intriguing. According to the author, it is an adaptation of a similar tale from Greek and Roman origins. Its central character is a transient black man who comes to a small town in Virginia following the Civil War and finds work at a blacksmith shop. The blacksmith's son, who also helps out his father, is jealous of the hired man and treats him rudely. Once, while the blacksmith is away, his son accidentally witnesses the hired man performing black magic. The hired man's turns an old man into a young man. The son orders the hired man to leave the shop and proceeds to brag to others that he can perform such feats. When his sorcery backfires, he is brought before a judge who passes harsh judgement on him. At the last minute, the son is saved by the hired man who "fixes" the son's faux pas. The hired man disappears, and the son becomes an upstanding citizen. Set is a predominantly black town in which all characters, even the judge, are black, the story does not explain the unlikelihood of this occurrence in the time period although the author does refer to it in an addendum, and alludes that it may have been like Waterford, Va. Waterford was settled by Quakers and may have permitted blacks of the time equal rights. The book does not refer to the hired man's feats as black magic, which they most assuredly are. This fact may not appeal to parent's of young readers.
School Library Journal
K-Gr 4The Hired Hand explores the danger associated with stealing someone's magic. It echoes this talented team's collaboration for The Talking Eggs (Dial, 1989) in its distinguished appearance, understated mood, straightforward retelling, and even pace. The story spins around a New Hand at a sawmill who returns youthfulness to an old man, and a miller's son who tries unsuccessfully to duplicate that feat for profit. San Souci makes a choice in favor of "softening the heavy use of dialect," found in the original tale. Pinkney adopts a corresponding tone in his illustrations, polishing any harshness away. Pencil sketches showing through his watercolors add character and interest, but never mar the finish. The result is a first-class treat for readers' eyes and ears. However, the prettiness has a price. The beauty (each illustration perfectly composed and delivered in a charming palette of subdued colors; each bit of dialogue tastefully framed; each character devastatingly handsome) keeps drawing readers' attention back to the surface, to the elegance of the presentation. Beneath that surface, down where the folktale's dynamic themes of filial disobedience, sin and redemption, and the search for immortality all converge, is where the real power lies. Libraries looking for African-American folktales should consider this title and bask in the splendor of its delivery. For fun, pair it with dePaola's Strega Nona (S&S, 1975), in which another magician wannabe misses the master's nuance.Liza Bliss, Worcester Public Library, MA
Kirkus Reviews
An African-American folktale from Southern oral tradition, first recorded in the late 19th century.

Down Virginia way, Young Sam, the lazy, no-account son of a sawmill owner, has his life turned upside-down when a hired hand shows up asking for work. Young Sam spies on New Hand, and discovers that the man has the power to rejuvenate an old farmer with sawdust, water, and a drop of blood accompanied by magical incantations. Young Sam exploits his knew knowledge and accidentally kills the woman he's trying to make young, landing himself in court. What begins as a gripping, well-told tale starts to sound like a morality play, as Young Sam repents his lazy ways. Born as it is of pure desperation, his conversion (for readers) strains credibility. But New Hand believes Young Sam and bails him out by presenting to the court the woman who was supposed to have been dead. Inspired by a small Virginia anti-slavery town for its setting and drawing from 18th-century costume with the influence of European fairy-tale art, Pinkney works his magic by blending both character and drama with the hushed tones of history.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780803712973
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
05/01/1997
Edition description:
1st ed
Pages:
40
Product dimensions:
8.75(w) x 11.75(h) x 0.25(d)
Age Range:
5 - 8 Years

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