|Picture Book Studio, 1989|
When a Friends of the Library fundraiser presents a craft sale or culled book sale, I'll pause for a quick glance. I want to support the library with more than my attendance, but I've reached a stage in life when I'll hand over a ten-spot as a direct donation instead.
For some reason, though, perhaps it was a magical impulse, I paused today at the culled-books-for-sale shelf and browsed for a few moments. Waiting there for me, in pristine condition, was MAGICAL HANDS.
I fall in love with many books, many times, and rarely fall out of love with those books. But I have a big enough heart to love more books without feeling compelled to rank them or name favorites. I have a deep-seated belief that the best book for one reader may not be the best for another. And what might be best for me at any given time can be quite different from one I'd choose under other circumstances.
I dread the thought that something negative I might have to say about a particular book could discourage someone from reading it, perhaps someone who needs that exact book at that exact time. I'm not so full of myself as to imagine that a discouraging word from me could exert such power. Yet, as a lifelong teacher, I know that it actually can be. There are young readers who devour print obsessively, including backs of packages. But there are others who resist reading, even with promises of prizes or pizzas (not my go-to approach, but sometimes it's a start-up system). A single, overheard, discouraging word could be the feather-light nudge that bumps a reader away from the very book that might hold a key to his or her reading heart.
I write all of that as my disclaimer: I RARELY have a negative word to say about a book, opting instead for the adage: If you can't say something nice, say nothing at all.
And so, the reverse is equally true: I RARELY claim a book as a favorite, even if sorting into tightly defined categories.
But still, some books are just so magically special.
MAGICAL HANDS, written by Marjorie Barker and illustrated by Yoshi, is just such a book. This book was one of the first introduced and shared in each of my classrooms since I first read it in 1990. It falls short of many "rules" for current picture books- text is far too lengthy, characters are all adults, and color tones are subdued, ominously dark. Even so, when I open the cover I flash back to the faces of kids on a carpet, leaning forward, tilting an ear toward the dialogue, sensing the drama unfolding. This was the reaction whether the listeners were seven or eleven. Year after year.
On the surface, it's an appealing story of four village businessmen in a historical setting who lunch together daily. The heart, the friendships, the magic of the story go deep below that surface, and the listeners faces light up as they recognize the magic of kindness and friendship.
In days that followed we'd reference the story as an example of the value of excellence and dependability in workmanship, of friendship, and of generosity. All are revealed with a subtle touch of secrecy and gentle humor. The illustrations expand understanding of the story, characters, setting, and emotions, as well as providing context for some unfamiliar vocabulary. There are more than enough reasons to love this book, but other books have similar advantages. So why would I eagerly name this as a favorite?
Magical Hands has a magic to it. It is far more than the sum of its parts.
After sharing a thousand or more titles in any given school year, when I asked kids to list the books they thought they'd remember years later, Magical Hands made its way to the majority of those lists.
And now I have an extra copy, which will be re-homed soon to another classroom or young reader.
It's out of print but is readily available through secondary markets, so I feel free to recommend it in this post.