HANDS OF THE MAYA by Rachel Crandell


Villagers at Work and Play
Age Range: 5 - 8
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A thematic photo essay lovingly portrays a group of Mayan villagers in Belize. In her debut, Crandell, an elementary-school teacher who lived in Maya Centre Village for several months, uses the images of hands as a unifying frame for explaining the way in which this group of Mayan people live today. Although there are cultural allusions to the distant past, the text concentrates on aspects of contemporary life that are based on the traditions of the last few centuries. There are clear photos of such activities as weaving with the backstrap loom, planting using the xu’ul (a digging stick), cooking tortillas on a comal (a flat clay or metal surface), and house building with cohune palm leaves. In each double-page, cream-colored spread, smaller photos of the activity being described appear with a short explanation in large type. On the right-hand side, larger photos outlined with a handsome geometric design focus on the hands of the villagers doing their tasks. Children and adults are shown as workers and caregivers, whether they are caring for baby humans or animals. Although school is mentioned, it is not shown in the photos, and for that matter, people engaged in recreation are barely evident, except for the two musicians shown playing the harp and the marimba. An introductory page provides some background about the Maya and the painted map allows young readers to see the location of this village in relation to the other countries inhabited by Mayas. (There is no mention of the fact that there are Mayan immigrants in the US.) It’s refreshing to see this personal approach to life in another culture, outside of the ubiquitous series format. The text ends on a note of tenderness. As two photos show solemn children with their grandparents, the last sentence reads: “Strong gentle hands feel just right.” This presentation feels just right for its young audience. (glossary) (Nonfiction. 5-8)

Pub Date: June 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-8050-6687-X
Page count: 32pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2002


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