“Greet the sun, bold and bright! Tiny hands up!” is how Hands Up! begins, putting a positive spin on a charged phrase that many African Americans have experienced in a completely different way. McDaniel’s simple, rhythmic text takes a young black girl from babyhood to young adulthood, repeating that refrain in different contexts.
For the little girl, it’s “Gotta get clean. Reach for the sink, hands up.” She also lifts her hands to play “airplane” with her parents and to be called on in school. As the character ages, we find her raising her arms to dance fifth position in ballet and race along on her bike. And when she tumbles off her bicycle and hurts herself, her mother says, “It’s all right, baby girl, I’ll help, hands up.”
Making the transition to teen, the girl worships in church, plays basketball, and celebrates her win, all with “hands up.” The book’s final image reveals a demonstration, where the young girl joins her community members in peaceful protest, raising their arms and their signs with messages like SPREAD LOVE, BLACK LIVES MATTER, and LIFT EVERY VOICE.
Rendered in a deceptively simple style, Evans’ bold, colorful artwork matches the text well. His digital mixed media images borrow nubbly-looking fabric textures and wood patterns to create images that look three-dimensional in places, and he handles the girl’s aging with subtlety and deftness.
As McDaniel says in the Author’s Note, “With this story, I wanted to emphasize the ways I’ve experienced that phrase as part of my everyday life. . . . I want the world to remember that black kids are just that—kids . . . with lives full of happiness and struggle and triumph and even sadness.” With this joyful, positive book, she has succeeded in that goal and much more.