March 16, 2017

Hand Over Hand

by Alma Fullerton
Illustrated by Renné Benoit
Second Story Press
978-1-77260-015-5
24 pp.
Ages 5-8
April 2017

Alma Fullerton is becoming well known for taking young readers to other parts of the world to appreciate different ways of life.  There was A Good Trade (Pajama Press, 2012) set in Uganda; Community Soup (Pajama Press, 2013) which is based  in a school garden in Kenya; and In a Cloud of Dust (Pajama Press, 2015) which emphasizes the long distances Tanzanian children travel to school.  Now Alma Fullerton, with Renné Benoit’s soft illustrations, transports young readers to the Philippines in Hand Over Hand and takes up the cause of a young girl determined to not let her gender limit the life she wants to have.

It’s evident that Nina is expected to stay on shore and tend to racks of drying fish because she is a girl.
From Hand Over Hand 
by Alma Fullerton 
illus. by Renné Benoit
When she proposes to her grandfather, Lolo, that he take her out fishing in the banca boat with him, he scoffs at first.  But Nina is determined and insists she will bait her own hook and remove the caught fish.  It is obviously a milestone for the young child but one her grandfather accepts and even defends to the other fishermen who discount Nina.  However, though Lolo instructs his granddaughter in the art of baiting and jigging, demonstrating the hand-over-hand technique for drawing his line in, Nina is catching no fish.  When she becomes dismayed, repeating the other fishermen’s refrain that a girl can’t fish, Lolo shares the wise words, “Posh! The fish can’t tell you’re a girl.” Just when she is checking that the bait is still intact, she gets a tremendous tug on her line.  Nina, fearful she might not be strong enough to bring in the fish, almost gives it up to Lolo but he instead encourages her to use the hand-over-hand technique and persevere.

From Hand Over Hand 
by Alma Fullerton 
illus. by Renné Benoit
Hand Over Hand is a story of empowerment and determination when faced with naysayers and traditions that keep opportunities at bay.  Alma Fullerton’s simple story is loaded with lessons in seeing beyond gender, of courage to take on new struggles, both emotional and physical, and of the amazing things that can be accomplished with a supportive hand.  Even the other fishermen are surprised when they see the big fish little Nina brings in. The messages are evident but the context of Hand Over Hand is just as powerful, revealing the fishing traditions of the Philippines, as well as the stereotyping of roles that are being broken all over the world.  With a charming but realistic relationship between grandfather and granddaughter, Alma Fullerton encourages cultural competence amongst all readers.

Illustrator Renné Benoit whose artwork has garnered numerous awards and nominations (e.g., Proud as a Peacock, Brave as a Lion by Jane Barclay, Tundra, 2009;  The Secret of the Village Fool by Rebecca Upjohn, Second Story Press, 2012; A Year of Borrowed Men by Michelle Barker, Pajama Press, 2015) was the perfect choice  for Hand Over Hand.  Her watercolour and coloured pencil with pastels lend an airiness to the outdoor setting of sky and water, and an innocence to Nina and her endeavours.

Hand Over Hand has a purity of text and image that promotes an appreciation for another culture but it extends beyond by furthering the idea of gender equality, helping a little girl and her grandfather both see a new way of doing things.
From Hand Over Hand 
by Alma Fullerton 
illus. by Renné Benoit

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