A few weeks ago I stopped by the garden section of a favorite grocery store to visit with the plants. They flaunted spring finery and iambic names—columbine, stonecrop, a fluffy young thing called asparagus fern. Overhead played that ubiquitous shopping music, something by JLo maybe. I wouldn’t have noticed the music at all if two things hadn’t happened at once:
1. A song came on with a tolerable dance beat.
2. An old woman paused as she shuffled past me with her grocery cart. She got a good grip on the cart’s handle. And then she began to dance.
She swayed happily back and forth the way my baby does when she hears a catchy tune, bobbing her head and closing her eyes in a moment of complete contentment. When the song ended and the old woman caught me beaming at her, she grinned and shrugged. “If they don’t want us to dance, then they shouldn’t play music with such a nice beat,” she said.
That story has nothing to do with today’s review, nothing at all. But it was too lovely not to share.
Today’s review has to do with a book whose text is simple—the lyrics from the old spiritual, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” The illustrations seem simple—light-soaked paintings that follow one boy as he explores what each line means for his life, his family. But that pairing of a traditional hymn born within the horrific fist of slavery with the wonder one child turns upon the world around him makes He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands a rich and beautiful book.
I would not, of course, expect every kid to make the connection between the old and new here. But even without an underlying knowledge of the song’s roots, this is a book worth sharing, as it takes a familiar song and makes it a visible story, one rooted in hope and joy. Nelson’s paintings invite us warmly into the life of the main character. He introduces us to his family, shows us his interests, allows us to tag along as he visits the beach and studies the stars. He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands manages to be both weighty and feather-light; both broad and sweetly specific.
And it’s hard to read without singing.
He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands
Kadir Nelson (2005)