One of the books we reference in Bridges: Our Smarts (our middle school program) is These Hands by Margaret H. Mason. A moving story about a young boy and his grandfather during the Civil Rights Era, These Hands – with the help of Floyd Cooper’s beautiful illustrations – packs a profound history lesson as well as a model of intergenerational engagement into its approximately 30 pages.
We are so happy that Mason, also the author of Inside All and Her Audience of Bees, agreed to answer a few of our questions about her work and how intergenerational relationships have affected her.
Have you had any special intergenerational relationships in your own life?
Yes, many. In fact, I would call the intergenerational relationships in my life not just special but essential. My grandmothers and great-aunts enriched my childhood, and were a constant and reliable source of deep, enveloping support, guidance and security. And they were fun! One great-aunt in particular was so inspiring and validating to me as a young child that I named my first daughter after her. She lived in Vermont and I grew up in Ohio, but we exchanged letters weekly. She was a bookstore owner and a world traveler, and sent me postcards and letters from everywhere she went. I sent her every story and poem I wrote, which she always commented on. When I was 16 she made it possible for me to participate in a 6 week community service program in Greece.
Throughout my adult life, the friendships I’ve had with people across generations have been vital and sustaining. After graduating from college, I worked for the National Organization for Women in Washington, D.C., and had the great honor of collaborating with the founders of OWL – the Older Women’s League. Tish Sommers and Laurie Shields were visionary, wise, kind and unbelievably courageous women who taught me so much about life. And when I moved to Detroit, two older neighbors befriended me and, likewise, inspired me and taught me a great deal.
We believe that intergenerational programs aren’t just “nice”; rather we believe they’re “necessary” too! Given that we just celebrated Black History Month and now are in the middle of Women’s History Month, how do you feel we can learn from our elders?
I think an integral component of Black History and Women’s History months (and really, every history lesson) should be having kids gather oral history from elders, whether related to them or not, in order to deepen their understanding of the unique perspectives of older people and the ways in which they can help younger people figure out how to create a better future. The work Bridges Together is doing is brilliant, and I’m so delighted to have learned about your efforts to help other communities implement similar programs.
Our preschool and early elementary program (Bridges: Our Stories) uses bibliotherapy as a way to bring youth and older adults together. Do you want to say anything about the power books can have in uniting people?
What a marvelous idea to use books as bridges, as well as catalysts for thinking and talking and sharing! The experience of sharing story, whether through reading aloud together or simply discussing the same book, creates profound connections and is also so much fun.
Do any of your other books have intergenerational themes?
Yes, I have a historical fiction middle-grade novel in the works about a cynical young girl whose life is transformed when she time travels to Chicago 1914 and encounters a suffrage leader and progressive reformer (the real-life Harriet Vittum, who was known as “a second Jane Addams” in her lifetime, but is relatively unknown today). I love books that show intergenerational friendships (Kate DiCamillo is a master at that) and I think the wonderful intergenerational relationships I’ve had in my life naturally lead me to incorporate them into my writing.
Thank you to Margaret H. Mason for sharing with us. You can check out her website here and follow her on Twitter @mohom. For more books with intergenerational themes, take a look at Bridges Together’s list of recommended reads.