Many cultures have notions of who can do certain jobs. There is a long-standing history of women being expected to be housewives and caretakers. We have seen, however, that many men excel in that role and there have been times when women excel in historically male dominated professions.
In Alma Fullerton’s new book, Hand over Hand, we are told a simple story of a young girl who wants to fish with her grandfather, but who is repeatedly told that a fishing boat is no place for a girl.
But Nina is determined to go. She asks Lolo repeatedly. “Fishing makes for a long, hard day.” “A boat is not the place for a girl. Your job is on shore.” But Nina has finished her work on shore, and by promising to bait her own hook and remove her own fish, he finally gives in. Other fisherman laugh at them, but he is giving Nina her shot.
Lolo shows Nina how to bait the hook, jig the lines, to set the hook, and to pull in a fish, hand over hand. As they wait in the boat, he continues to catch fish after fish while she waits with nothing. After hearing so many people tell her where a girl’s place is, she figures they must be right and that girls can’t fish. Fortunately, Lolo is a wise man who has seen his granddaughter come this far and he believes in her.
Finally, as she is about to check to make sure her bait is still there, she gets a bite and a big one at that. Lolo insists that Nina must bring it in herself, “hand over hand.” She fears she will lose it, but Lolo tells her that “This is your fight. You can do it, Nina.”
It is wonderful to see Nina’s determination in convincing her grandfather to take her out, even when the whole world seems to be against it. And in the same way, it is great to see her grandfather truly believe in her and give her the ability to believe in herself, to know that she can win the fight if she just takes it step by step.
The story is simple, yet profound. Nina is the embodiment of empowerment and determination when faced with traditions and naysayers who stand in her way. Nina forces people to look at gender roles with the simplicity that only a child can – she isn’t asking to consider gender, she just wants to fish. In addition, illustrator Renné Benoit did a wonderful job bringing this story alive with beautiful artwork that helps set the tone.
An additional bonus to this book is the story of how it came about. Alma Fullerton has written many picture books. When she was visiting a school one day, a young girl asked her why there were so few picture books set in the Philippines. Her response was to write this book. As we’ve seen with so many attempts to produce more diverse books for children, they really do want to be able to see themselves in the pages of the picture books that they pick up. This is a lovely addition to a wider world view.
I was able to read this book thanks to NetGalley who provided a digital copy in exchange for my honest review.