Today’s book is another well-known song, this time without explanation; but rather exquisitely illustrated, depicting a beautiful interpretation of the song’s message of faith, trust, family, and nature. Here is He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands by Kadir Nelson, 2005.
The lyrics of the familiar spiritual are the only text of the book. Set in the city of San Francisco, Kadir Nelson masterfully paints the world of a young black boy and his family, living and loving in the beautiful world around them.
I have long been awed by the paintings of Kadir Nelson. He created this book’s artwork using pencil, oil, and watercolor. I especially love his brilliance of creating the kid-drawings using his left hand and colored pencils!
His work is enormous, breathtaking, and always memorable. Focusing on the culture and history of African Americans, Nelson’s paintings reflect and mirror incredible beauty and relatable humanity.
I particularly love this book as the song has become so familiar, it threatens to have lost meaning and feel almost childish to sing. Nelson refutes that notion and reinvigorates the song with powerful landscapes evoked in the lyrics: the earth in space, rain, rivers, mountains, oceans, individuals, and everyone.
While the book begins with the enormity of the universe, Nelson swiftly pulls the focus to an approachable child’s perspective, celebrating the boy’s multi-ethnic family and his favorite places in the natural world.
A small note on the colophon page in the back of the book details how the song’s history is unknown. Following the tradition of spirituals being passed down orally and improvised through the years, Nelson included this particular version of the lyrics (4 verses) believing they maintain the important mood and message of faith and community.
I do find it interesting that while the note discusses the obscure origins of the song and its crucial “inspirational content” to the slaves who created them, there is zero mention of the inferred or actual meaning of the song. Perhaps the book and song assume the “He” is known to all. Perhaps it truly is just a quaint folk song to those who don’t believe or care in “His” existence. Nevertheless, I love this book and am challenged and grateful for its unabashed worship of the amazing artistry and sovereignty of the God who’s “got it all in His hands.”
The song note also mentions many of the numerous artists who have recorded this now timeless song: Loretta Lynn, Raffi, Marian Anderson, Laurie London, Nina Simone, …and so many more. I will close this post with one of my favorite renditions by the incomparable Mahalia Jackson. Hopefully this soulful version gets stuck in your head, since the song most surely will.