In Her Hands

Written by Alan Schroeder
Review by Ann Turnbull

This attractive picture book tells the true story of an African-American sculptor who was a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1930s. The main focus is on Augusta Savage’s early life in Florida, where there was an open clay pit behind the family home. This clay was perfect for modelling, and Augusta spent hours sculpting birds and animals. Her father disapproved, but Augusta’s determination and skill won her friends who encouraged her to think of herself as an artist. Even so, she was 27 before she left home and moved to New York to seek training. The story ends when she gains a place at the free Cooper Union School.

It can be difficult to make fiction out of a true story, but this book succeeds. It covers a long span of time, and the author has chosen to leave out altogether the details of Augusta’s complicated personal life as an adult. Having found out more about her on the internet, I can understand why this was done, but it does create the impression of an adult who led a rather restricted life until she was nearly thirty – which was not the case. However, children won’t worry about this. They will be inspired by an accessible and well-written story in which the focus is on the childhood ambition and inner life of a brilliant sculptor and her joy in her life’s work.

An afterword gives more information for teachers and parents. And bold, earthy-coloured illustrations by JaeMe Bereal add child appeal to the story. Recommended for readers of 7+.