Booklist Reviews

Ages 5^-9. Old Sam, the owner of a prospering sawmill, hires additional help because his own son is so lazy. The "New Hand" is conscientious and willing to work for free in order to learn the trade--a fact that Young Sam is quick to exploit. When an elderly customer arrives complaining of back pain, the New Hand sends the Sams away and performs a miracle, making the man young and healthy again. Later, Young Sam (who secretly observed the transformation) tries to repeat the trick on the customer's wife, with disastrous results. Just as Young Sam is being carted off to jail for murder, the New Hand reappears, and, satisfied that Sam has learned his lesson, resurrects the woman, enabling Sam to go free. San Souci and Pinkney's latest collaboration is based on an African American folktale first recorded in 1871 by a black Virginian. Pinkney's characteristic watercolor illustrations portray one of several small Virginia towns where free blacks lived, owned property, and worked in the late 1700s. He successfully blends historically realistic details with timeless folkloric magic, and he enhances San Souci's smooth retelling in the process. An obvious choice for primary story hours, this will also make a welcome addition to African American folklore and history units. ((Reviewed February 15, 1997)) Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews

Horn Book Guide Reviews

In a tale set ""down Virginia way"" a century before the Emancipation Proclamation, a successful, free black sawmill owner, at the instigation of his lazy son, takes on a hired hand, who turns out to have remarkable powers. Executed in pencil and watercolor, the illustrations set the plot in a particular time and place without sacrificing the sense of magic and wonder. An author's note is appended. Copyright 1998 Horn Book Guide Reviews

Horn Book Magazine Reviews

In an African-American folktale set "down Virginia way" a century before the Emancipation Proclamation, a successful, free black sawmill owner takes on a hired hand at the instigation of his lazy son. The New Hand turns out to have remarkable powers-able with some sawdust, water, a bit of blood, and magical incantations to turn an old man into wood and back again, cured of the "misery" in his back and made young, to boot. Seeing a way to a quick fortune, the lazy son tries to duplicate the feat, with disastrous results. An appended author's note not only provides a source for the tale but also notes its relationship to Greek and Roman variants. The illustrations, as explained in the artist's note, extend the African-American folkloric tradition, setting the plot in a particular time and place (a colonial-era village where free blacks were a significant part of the community) without sacrificing the sense of magic and wonder. Executed in pencil and watercolor, the pictures are visually exciting testaments to the role of the artist as historian. They range from the magnificent panorama of the title page, a homage to American landscape painting, to superb character studies in which one is as aware of the personalities as the musculature beneath their costumes. m.m.b. Copyright 1998 Horn Book Magazine Reviews

Publishers Weekly Reviews

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) Copyright 1998 Publishers Weekly Reviews

School Library Journal Reviews

K-Gr 4?The Hired Hand explores the danger associated with stealing someone's magic. It echoes this talented team's collaboration for The Talking Eggs (Dial, 1989) in its distinguished appearance, understated mood, straightforward retelling, and even pace. The story spins around a New Hand at a sawmill who returns youthfulness to an old man, and a miller's son who tries unsuccessfully to duplicate that feat for profit. San Souci makes a choice in favor of "softening the heavy use of dialect," found in the original tale. Pinkney adopts a corresponding tone in his illustrations, polishing any harshness away. Pencil sketches showing through his watercolors add character and interest, but never mar the finish. The result is a first-class treat for readers' eyes and ears. However, the prettiness has a price. The beauty (each illustration perfectly composed and delivered in a charming palette of subdued colors; each bit of dialogue tastefully framed; each character devastatingly handsome) keeps drawing readers' attention back to the surface, to the elegance of the presentation. Beneath that surface, down where the folktale's dynamic themes of filial disobedience, sin and redemption, and the search for immortality all converge, is where the real power lies. Libraries looking for African-American folktales should consider this title and bask in the splendor of its delivery. For fun, pair it with dePaola's Strega Nona (S&S, 1975), in which another magician wannabe misses the master's nuance.?Liza Bliss, Worcester Public Library, MA