Hands Up! by Breanna J. McDaniel (A Book Review)

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Hands Up! by Breanna J. McDaniel, illustrated by Shane W. Evans

If you look up the phrase “hands up” in many dictionaries, you’ll likely see a negative definition written.

For example:

▪️an order given by a person pointing a gun.  Source: Collins dictionary
▪️to admit that something bad is true or that you have made a mistake. Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary
▪️to deliver (an indictment) to a judge or higher judicial authority.  Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary (By the way, do you know the history behind raising your right hand to testify in court? Look it up, I found it quite interesting.)

This book shows a little Black girl named Viv putting her hands up in various everyday situations like: greeting the sun, playing peek-a-boo, raising hands in defense during a basketball game, raising hands in class, picking fruit off trees, and raising hands during praise and worship at church. In the end, readers see Viv a little older raising her hands in resistance and strength with a group of friends at a community protest march.

With sparse text and lively illustrations, Hands Up! cleverly shows readers lifting your hands doesn’t always imply negativity. It gently encourages children to feel happy and confident to raise their hands. It also supports reticent kids in speaking up or standing up for what’s right.

It was interesting and refreshing to be reminded of all the times we raise our hands throughout the day from stretching in the morning when we wake to reaching for something high on a shelf like a library book.  My personal favorite page is little Viv raising her hands in church demonstrating joy and praise to God through worship. Viv sets her power aside and praises God by physically and publicly demonstrating to Him that she needs Him which empowers her.

The back matter has notes from the author and illustrator which explain why this book was written.

I worry that this world casts Black kids as victims, villains, or simply adults before they’re grown up. – Breanna J. McDaniel

This brilliant reminder from Breanna helped guide me back to lifting my hands in joy. – Shane W. Evans

Hands Up! is available now online and where books are sold. Ages 4-8 and up.

Your turn: Have you read this book yet?  Feel free to share in the comments.

Comments (1)

  • Ivonne

    February 12, 2019 at 5:16 pm

    You mention the positive imagery of the book, but I wonder if it is depoliticizing the phrase ‘Hands Up’ too much for children. The phrase speaks to race relations between white and black people, and I don’t see this being challenged or confronted in the book. All of the people supporting Viv when she has her ‘hands up’ are black adults. Putting ones hands up is a very vulnerable position, your heart and organs are exposed. I like how the book shows that it’s okay to be in this vulnerable position, this is something Viv can do when she’s around people she trusts. i love that this book displays black love, family, and mutual support. I know the phrase hands up exists outside of politics, but as an adult it’s difficult to read this book without thinking of the tragedies that come after this phrase. Reading it, this book could have been written before the BLM movements, but now reading it seems like it’s ignoring the more recent history behind this phrase.

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