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Home | LS5603 Children's and YA Literature | LS6643 Nonfiction for Children and YA
The Hired Hand

The hired hand San Souci, Robert D.  1997.  The hired hand.  ill. by Jerry Pinkney.  New York:  Dial Books for Young Readers.  ISBN:  0803712960.

Even though Old Sam is a good man, he has the misfortune of having a son, Young Sam, who has not inherited all of his father's good traits.  Young Sam delights in being the boss of the New Hand and treats him disrespectfully.  When Young Sam spies on the New Hand while he is using some mysterious magic to heal the ailments of an old farmer, he sees his chance to use what he has learned to his advantage.  But when he tries the New Hand's magic, there are disastrous results.  Once the New Hand sees that this tragedy has led Young Sam to see the evil of his ways, he steps in to make things right.

Although set in the 1700's, this book reads as if a storyteller were weaving a folktale right before the reader's eyes.  San Souci begins with "Down Virginia way," and the old-timey tone of the narrative continues from there.  In true folktale style, the character development is "lean and spare."  (Jacobs and Tunnell, 2004, p.72)  Readers are told of the natures of both Young and Old Sam because it is necessary to the plot but are told little about the mysterious New Hand.  The simple plot is enhanced by the dialect of the characters.  When the New Hand says, "If you go way into the woods where you can' see what goin' on, an' wait 'til I holler, I'll fix this man up right good.  But you gotta promise not to look, 'cause somethin bad'll happen if you do," it is as if he were speaking audibly.

Pinkney's detailed pencil and watercolor illustration set the tone for this cautionary tale.  The rural setting and working class characters are seen in mostly muted colors such as browns and dark blues.  One exception to this rule is the magical but mysterious New Hand who wears a bright red shirt and yellow scarf under his brown overalls.  Another example of Pinkney's effective use of color is seen in the clothes of the farmer's wife who is the recipient of the New Hand's magic.  When she has been killed because of the greediness of Young Sam, her red dress and plaid scarf are very drab, but after the New Hand heals her, the clothes take on a vibrant hue.

At the conclusion of this folktale, both author and artist add short footnotes.  San Souci gives background information about possible origins of the tale, and also explains changes he made in modernizing it somewhat.  Pinkney outlines his goals for the project and the different steps he went through in the creative process before making final decisions about his artwork.

Jacobs, James S., and Michael O. Tunnell.  2004.  Children's literature, briefly.  Upper Saddle River, NJ:  Merrill. ISBN:  0130499242.

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Holly S.
Graduate Student at Texas Woman's University