I’m delighted to share my interview with both Breanna J. McDaniel and Shane W. Evans with you today. They’ve created this picture book, Hands Up!, which is a brilliant, jubilant book that turns a weighty, disturbing phrase around and celebrates the way the Black main character puts her hands up in everyday, beautiful ways.
It follows one little girl exploring all kinds of occasions on which she puts her hands up—waking, playing, learning, doing new tasks, celebrating, and being part of a family, a school, a team, and the wider community. It’s truly beautiful and the bright, textured illustrations feel seventies-inspired and radiate beams of color and joy. So many spreads, like the one below, truly remind me of music.
First, up, Breanna.
Breanna J. McDaniel: I was thinking about disruption when I first started writing. I thought about the many instances where violence is the only response to Black people living and mattering in the US and I wanted to disrupt ideas about who Black children are and who they’re allowed to be. The image of Black people surrendering to others with their hands upraised and their humanity in question disturbs my spirit—especially when there are so many other times I’ve experienced this action outside of protest. I pulled on those experiences to focus on the humanity of those fighting for justice and for the right to live.
TPBL: What is your hope for this book? What impact would you like it to have on its readers?
Breanna J. McDaniel: My hope is that people understand that the children who will read it, children from so many experiences, will see themselves as leaders and helpers and beloved ones. My hope is that adults who read it will see the opportunities in their everyday lives to provide support and love to these children who are our past, future and present all brought together in one. These small moments are gifts and if we treasure them, if we take them in and shower grace and love, then we show that we appreciate and care. Children are our hope.
TPBL: Please tell us about the experience of seeing the illustrations for the first time.
Breanna J. McDaniel: I cried of course. There was no way that I could’ve imagined the joy and grace that Shane was able to capture in the illustrations. It does not matter that I’ve seen and admired his other work, even though I have. What he brought together through texture and fluid movement, is a perfectly timed story and a little girl who jumps off the pages!
TPBL: Did you originally have a vision for what the last spread (“As one we say, “Hands Up!”) would depict or was it left to the illustrator in your manuscript? What was important to you to be conveyed in that last instance of the phrase as it connects to the book as a whole?
Breanna J. McDaniel: I wanted there to be a march with signs that are straightforward and I wanted there to be a clear sense of community and purpose. Originally, they were going to be crossing a bridge and I had all sorts of symbolism in my mind for a spread with that image but this ending is perfect. Unity, collectiveness, connectedness, building together, these were all of the things at the forefront of my mind with that last line but I could only use a few words! “As one” I think brings it together.
Next up, Shane.
This Picture Book Life: You include in the artist’s note that in creating this book, “I stopped being afraid of raising my hands up, and stretching them high felt right.” Can you tell us more about your process creating the artwork for HANDS UP! and how that process has had an impact on you and your work?
Shane W. Evans: Process is more about trusting what it is that one sees within. The response to a word is a reaction and a response is one where one thinks, prays and feels something out. To act on impulse means that all that is around us as people brings us favor and that is and was the process for this book. To bring JOY back to the words that were once a warning yet always a joy is the essence of being and doing what one loves. The impact was getting back to the basic joy of creating, that’s a real joy.
TPBL: What was your response when you received this manuscript?
Shane W. Evans: My response was “I get it!” Meaning I see where we needed to go again with a topic that has been long under-spoken about, how do we prepare for joy.
TPBL: For the instances where the visual might have been up for interpretation, how did you make decisions about what to depict? (I’m thinking about “Stretch high! Almost there, hands up” or “Ready for takeoff, hands up!”) Did you and Breanna collaborate around the art?
Shane W. Evans: I meditate on it for a while then I let the pen or pencil show me ways to see it, try and try again… it usually comes, then be clear about the decision.
If I recall there was some suggestion as to what to draw although if I say “draw a red apple with hands” you will still see 10 variations if you have 10 different illustrators, so we tend to trust the process and let it be what it needs to be, that’s what collaboration is all about.
TPBL: The artwork throughout is so vibrant and joyful (even a cat jumps with its hands up in one illustration!). What inspired you as you worked on these pieces?
Shane W. Evans: The inspiration is trusting my process and all of the years of doing this work has shown me how to get to the best work with over 50 books and likely 1000’s of drawings from since I was a 5 year old I just know what tools to pick up for what jobs.
Thanks so much to both of you for sharing your responses about your experience making this wonderful book and to Dial Books for a review copy and images!
Good news! I’m giving away one copy of Hands Up! Head over to my Instagram post for a chance to win. (U.S. only.)