Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America Book Poster Image
Captivating storytelling makes these heroes relatable.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn a tremendous amount about American history, the experience and legacy of slavery, discrimination, civil rights and political struggles fought by African Americans, and breaking the color barrier in major league baseball. They'll also learn many biographical details of the 10 men who are profiled. 

Positive Messages

Stand up for what you believe in. Never give up, even when the odds are against you. Peaceful nonviolence can be effective. Working together we can accomplish great things. Fighting for freedom and equality is a just cause. All men are created equal and so deserve equal rights under the law. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Every man profiled is a powerful positive role model. 


References to violence against black people, such as beatings and house burnings. Mentions of the shooting assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.


References to couples falling in love and marrying, such as Barack Obama's parents, as well as his courtship of Michelle Robinson Obama.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Reference to a tobacco plantation, references to Malcom X's youthful drug use, addiction and sales, drinking in nightclubs.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America, winner of the 2013 Coretta Scott King Author Award, is an inspiring nonfiction book that profiles famous and less well-known figures in American history, from colonial times to the present, including Frederick Douglass, Jackie Robinson, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and President Barack Obama. Tough issues -- slavery, prejudice, discrimination, the Ku Klux Klan -- are dealt with in terms kids can understand. Author Andrea Davis Pinkney has a lyrical, conversational writing style and fills her essays with kid-friendly anecdotes, and also contributes several moving poems. Full-color portraits and spot art are by her husband, Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator Brian Pinkney. A time line at the back charts significant dates from 1731 to President Barack Obama's first inauguration in 2009.

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What's the story?

HAND IN HAND profiles 10 significant men in African-American history, giving detailed accounts of their childhoods, the forces that shaped them, and the eras in which they lived -- from the time of slavery to the presidency of Barack Obama. Full-color portraits and spot illustrations by Caldecott Honor and Coretta Scott King award-wining artist Brian Pinkney give vivid and inspiring impressions of historical figures such as Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. Du Bois, as well as more recent heroes Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and President Barack Obama.

Is it any good?

Hand in Hand is a compelling work of history and biography and a monument to the struggle for civil rights and African American achievement. Yet Andrea David Pinkney keeps young readers engaged and entertained by telling revealing anecdotes and choosing down-to-earth metaphors that make these figures seem like ordinary people who did extraordinary things. For example, she writes that when opposing team members called Jackie Robinson " a degrading name ... he smacked the pitcher's ball with his baseball bat harder than hard -- knocked the jelly out of that doughnut ..."

It's good that her storytelling is so captivating, because the book is text-heavy, with many consecutive two-page spreads with nothing but type on them (though the type is fairly large) before the eye is relieved to find a piece of Brian Pinkney's amazing watercolor-and-ink art. Hand to Hand is a wonderful resource for home or classroom, great for read-aloud, family discussion, or school research projects. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • How many of the 10 men profiled did you already know about? In what ways are these stories more lively than history in school textbooks? 

  • Can you think of 10 black women who changed America? What do you think qualifies someone as a person who changed history?

  • Which of the men in the book thought of doing great things when they were a kid?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love African-American history

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