September 29 – It’s Intergeneration Month

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About the Holiday

Cuddle ‘round for two loving holidays—Intergeneration Month and National Attend Your Grandchild’s Birth Day—which each encourage grandparents to be present figures in their grandchildren’s lives starting from birth! Already, many grandparents across the globe play active roles in caring for children. In the US alone, 4.8 million preschoolers were under the care of grandparents in 2011. Whether you are a grandchild, parent, or grandparent, it is important to support family and spread some love. Hug someone special today to celebrate this holiday. In honor of this day, we present a story about artist Maria Povika Martinez, co-written by her great-granddaughter. Her historical account teaches the importance of love, family, and the passing down of knowledge through generations.

Thanks to Albert Whitman & Company for sharing a copy of Shaped By Her Hands with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Review by Dorothy Levine

Shaped By Her Hands: Potter Maria Martinez (Part of the She Made History Series)

Written by Anna Harber Freeman and Barbara Gonzales | Illustrated by Aphelandra

As a child growing up in the pueblo of San Ildefonso, New Mexico in the 1890s, Maria always loved clay. While her siblings played with straw dolls and her parents planted crops, Maria spent her time making clay pots. But, to her frustration, her pots would always crack when she set them out to dry in the sun. Maria’s aunt, or ko-ōo, Nicolasa offered to help and showed Maria “the centuries-old tradition of san-away.” Nicolasa still made clay pots using these traditional methods, even though more and more people were buying tin pots from stores. 

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Image copyright Aphelandra, 2021, text copyright Anna Harber Freeman and Barbara Gonzales, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Nicolasa taught Maria how to coil the clay in circles and then lay the pots together on a fire to make them dry, solid, and strong. “As Maria watched Nicolasa work the clay, she thought of the many generations of potters who had come before. She wanted to make bowls as strong and beautiful as her ko-ōo’s.” Nicolasa and Maria thanked Mother Earth for the clay she shared with them. 

When Maria grew older, she continued to make pots and gained a reputation for her skilled work. One day in 1908, an archeologist named Edgar Lee Hewett came to visit Maria. He had discovered an old shard of black pottery in a dig nearby. Mr. Hewett wanted to know if Maria could recreate a pot in the similar style. She decided to take on the challenge.

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Image copyright Aphelandra, 2021, text copyright Anna Harber Freeman and Barbara Gonzales, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

After much experimentation, Maria and her husband, Julian Martinez, discovered a technique: “One afternoon, they tried smothering the fire to keep the smoke in. When they pulled out the pot, it was shiny, and black as a raven.” With this new method, Maria combined her own style with old traditions to create a new style of pottery that was marvelous. Mr. Hewitt took some of these pots Maria made. “He put one of the pots in the Museum of New Mexico, where he worked.” The others he took to shops in Santa Fe. To Maria’s surprise, they sold like crazy! Julian began to paint designs on the black shiny pots—decorations of serpents, feathers, and water—using a yucca-blade brush. 

As more and more pots sold, Maria and Julian taught the rest of her family and some friends to make the pots with them. They became so famous that many people across the country invited them to demonstrate their skills to others. When Maria’s husband died, she continued to make pots with her family. “First, her children came to paint the designs. Later, her grandchildren came to help with the painting and polishing. They made pots as a family, remembering to thank Mother Earth, and teaching new hands to form, polish, and design.” 

The story is followed by back matter that provides more information about Maria, the Tewa people, and the San Ildefonso Pueblo for readers. Both authors include a note about how they were influenced by Maria and why they believe it is important to share her story with young people today. 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-shaped-by-her-hands-generations

Image copyright Aphelandra, 2021, text copyright Anna Harber Freeman and Barbara Gonzales, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

The story is co-written by Barbara Gonzales, the great-grandchild of Maria, and Anna Harber Freeman, whose grandmother was a member of the Osage Nation and who is a lifelong fan of Maria’s work with degrees in multicultural education and art. Their biography of Maria Martinez shines with its lyrical, straightforward telling that reveals the deep history of the Tewa people as well as the meaning and uses of the pottery that Maria and her ko-ōo Nicolasa created by hand. The importance of passing down knowledge and traditions from one generation to another is organically woven throughout the story. Many readers will recognize Maria and Julian’s distinctive pottery and be inspired by the history behind it.

Aphelandra is a descendant of the Oneida Nation, and the daughter of a crafts artist and landscaper. She writes that she grew up surrounded by natural beauty and creativity, which can be seen in her illustrations. The illustrations in Shaped by Her Hands consist largely of soft yellow, green, and red hues. In the part of the story in which Maria is sent off to boarding school, the colorful tones found throughout the book are confined to a single window, depicting the feeling of entrapment and homesickness Maria felt. Aphelandra vividly weaves in the storytelling of past generations through her use of color, shadow and circular imagery. Her painted landscapes gorgeously depict the natural San Ildefonso scenery. 

This beautifully crafted tale shares the history of Maria Povika Martinez while introducing readers to Tewa people’s values of kindness, passing on of knowledge, and respect for elders and Mother Earth. An inspiring read for all children, especially those interested in artistic and creative endeavors, Shaped By Her Hands: Potter Maria Martinez is highly recommended for home bookshelves and a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 9 

Albert Whitman & Company, 2021 | ISBN 978-0807575994

Discover more about Anna Harber Freeman and her books on her website.

To learn more about Barbara Gonzales and her pottery and to view a video with Barbara and other artists discussing an exhibition of San Ildefonso Pueblo potters at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, visit the adobe gallery website.

You can learn more about Aphelandra, her books, and her artwork on her website.

Intergeneration Month Activity

Highlights Kids Homemade Clay figures

Photo and craft sample by Madison McClain, courtesy of Highlights Kids (highlightskids.com)

This craft comes from Highlights Homemade Clay, by Marie E. Cecchini posted on April 12, 2016. You can find the post on the Highlights kids website.

Make your own homemade clay in honor of Maria’s art form then make your own pot or creation!

What you’ll need

  • 2 cups baking soda
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 1 ¼ cups water
  • Cooking pot
  • Food coloring (optional)
  • Wiggly eyes, chenille sticks, pompoms, feathers, etc. (optional)

What to do

Note: Food coloring can be added to the water before mixing in the other ingredients or can be added to the clay after it has cooled. Adding coloring later may be a little messier, but you can divide the clay and create different batches of various colors.

  1. Combine ingredients in the pot and cook mixture over medium heat, stirring until it thickens to a consistency like mashed potatoes.
  2. Let the clay cool
  3. Knead the clay until smooth.
  4. Make creations!
  5. Leave clay pieces in the sun to dry.

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You can find Shaped By Her Hands: Potter Maria Martinez at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

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