cover image The Hired Hand: 2an African-American Folktale

The Hired Hand: 2an African-American Folktale

Robert D. San Souci. Dial Books, $15.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-8037-1296-6

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)