Teacher Resources for this book:

Click link for Discussion Guide.

1. What inspired this book about work and working?

I wanted to write a book that honored the ordinary work that makes up a majority of our days. It is not just the way we earn our money but the way we spend our time- that makes it really important! I also wanted to pay homage to the hard work of the people I know and many of the jobs in this book are held by people in my own family. In fact, Megan Halsey and Sean Addy used lots of pictures and materials from my family to bring this book to life (my dad IS the welder, my twin sister the retail clerk, my mom the ballet instructor. There is lace from my wedding dress, my granny's buttons and antique keys from my grandparent's house all scattered in the gorgeous illustrations!)

2. What advice do you have for young poets?

Experiment! Play! Read! I think the best education for a poet is to read and study what makes poems you admire actually work. It is one thing to study a list of poetic elements like a vocabulary list and quite another to figure out how to use them in real context. The other thing is to write for yourself- please yourself, first. This is especially important with poetry which tends to be very personal and important in both topic and theme.

3. What is the best part of writing for you? What is the most difficult?

My favorite part of writing (believe it or not) is revising. I love to get down to the word-level revisions when my editor and I can really wrangle about the meaning, sound and purpose of each individual word! I LOVE words and honestly this is the reason I write. The hardest part for me (and lots of my student's problem too) is Getting Started and facing the terror of the Blank Page. Once that is over I'm happily trucking along.

4. What can your fans look forward to next?

I'm thrilled just by the prospect that I actually have fans?! Next should be COUSINS OF CLOUDS: Poems about Elephants but with illustrations and other market considerations perhaps a novel might just race it to publication first.

Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review

Inventive, complicated collages and well-crafted poems focus on the activities of working people in this eye-catching book. With an observant eye, Zimmer (Sketches from a Spy Tree) captures different individuals performing work with “steady hands.” She details the “flap/ roll/ flap” of the baker kneading dough or the way a clerk performs “a ballet/ of hands” as she sorts, scans and bags groceries. Sometimes she gives the worker a backstory or views him after hours­a former lawyer prefers “the predictable company of dogs” and becomes a dog walker, while the exterminator doesn’t mind the guys at the bowling alley “calling him Roach.” Halsey and Addy’s (Amelia to Zora) hip collages combine individual cut-outs of people along with drawings, photos, textured backgrounds and designs. The aspiring filmmaker pops out of a box of movie popcorn while the tow-truck driver “fishes in the city,” literally reeling in cars. The sophisticated look should generate plenty of interest from the target audience. Ages 9–12.  

From Kirkus Reviews

Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing” receives an invigorating revival in this poetry collection that illuminates the pressures and pleasures of work, including some 34 career choices. “Morning” conveys the vigorous energy work demands through crisp imagery and dynamic phrases: “Engines hum / heels click / and doors thud / behind ambitions.” Poems often describe the ordinary and technical components of the job; “Librarian” features a male librarian’s preparation for his boys-only book club. Others elucidate the surprising motivations behind workers’ chosen career paths; “Dog Walker” reveals that a former attorney sought this less stressful career because “the predictable company of dogs / ...didn’t give him nightmares / or cold sweats / the way standing before / a glowering judge and jury did.” Halsey and Addy’s illustrations match the emotions of the varied subjects, the mixed-media art exuding a muted grittiness as characters perform their daily tasks. Compiled photographs, papers and household objects create multifaceted collages and textured backdrops, and the result is an intriguing, albeit offbeat, examination of the world of work. (Picture book/poetry. 9-13)

From Booklist

From teacher, artist and programmer to tow-truck driver, cafeteria cook, and surgeon, people at work are the subjects of every short, free-verse poem in this picture-book collection. The lively mixed-media illustrations, with spacious collage, show what workers do on the job. As in the book's title, the focus is on the busy hands: the baker's hands "disappear/and reappear/ in the folds of dough": "flowers burst from the pals of the florist." A few pages glimpse the world of grownups, as with the gloomy dog-walker, once part of a law firm, now glad that "a dog's mess/ can be cleaned up." Several are about young people at work babysitting at computers, or at the grocery store. The hands on details blend dreams and realism in the upbeat, contemporary poems that will find a place across the curriculum. - Hazel Rochman, January 1, 2009


author: Tracie Vaughn Zimmer

illustrator: Megan Halsey and Sean Addy

Clarion Books

ISBN-10: 0618903518

ISBN-13: 978-0618903511

Reading level: Ages 9-12

Hardcover: 48 pages

Product Dimensions: 10 x 8 x 0.1 inches


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This collection of free-verse poems celebrates the doing of work in a wide variety of forms. It also celebrates workers, from the grocery store clerk to the welder to the librarian to the surgeon. Inspired by Walt Whitman's I HEAR AMERICA SINGING, these poems are a terrific way of jumping into the classic or comparing and inspiring contemporary poems with Whitman's classic. The poems are short and direct, with strong fresh images so readers can easily imagine themselves in the roles that are portrayed. And the jobs just aren't for grownups! Among them are some that kids can aspire to: babysitter, lifeguard, retail clerk, and camp counselor. The illustrations are as original as their text- amazing multilayered collages made of paper, found objects, ephemera, photographs, archival images, and dried leaves and flowers. All in all, Steady Hands is sure to inspire classroom discussion, creating writing, art projects and new answers to the old question: What do you want to do when you grow up?


All rights reserved ⓒ 2010 Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, image ⓒ Megan Halsey, Sean Addy

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