© 2002 by Thomas F. Yezerski


A Full Hand

  • written and illustrated by
    Thomas F. Yezerski
  • Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2002
  • 32 pp., full-color illustrations
  • ages 6-8
  • ISBN-10: 0-374-42502-7
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-374-42502-9


Asa and his father set off across late-19th Century New Jersey on a mission to deliver coal from Phillipsburg to Jersey City. Along the way, Asa learns about the workings of a canal, including locks, inclined planes, and aqueducts. Most of all, Asa learns about a good day’s work, and when a dangerous storm arises, Asa learns what it really means to make a full hand. Even though Asa is only nine years old, and he spends his summer days playing tag and skipping stones, it’s time for him to grow up. His father is the Captain of a canal boat and he needs Asa’s help. The Captain needs Asa to drive the mules that pull his eighty-ton canal boat.


Readers young and old are sure to learn something new in this informative story. . . In remarkably simple language, and yet with great detail, Yezerski . . . describes the fascinating journey of the coal. . . The watercolor illustrations complement the text perfectly; on the one hand educating readers about the many creative inventions that allow boats to travel across the country while on the other, showing a father and son working together to support their family. Authentic 1800’s details and fantastic fall foliage only add to the appeal. A sure hit with young budding engineers.
— Kirkus Reviews
Information on what canal boats looked like and how locks functioned is smoothly worked into the story, which is skillfully illustrated with careful, ambitious pen-and-wash drawings that use interesting perspectives to tell this story.
— Booklist

© 2002 by Thomas F. Yezerski


  • NAIBA Book Award – New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association 
  • Notable Social Studies Books For Young People – National Council for the Social Studies and the Children’s Book Council 
  • Gold Award – Oppenheim Toy Portfolio


I based the canal in A Full Hand on the Morris Canal, which crossed New Jersey from Phillipsburg to Jersey City and existed from the 1830’s to the 1920’s. Its main purpose was to carry coal from Pennsylvania to markets in New Jersey and New York, but it also carried everything from produce to lumber. The canal used 23 locks and 23 inclined planes to climb 914 feet over its 102-mile distance.

I chose this canal because it has some personal meaning. The Morris Canal followed much the same route that I followed when I moved away from my hometown and settled in Northern New Jersey. In fact, I still see markers for the canal every time I go to visit my parents. It must have been during one of those trips to “the old homestead” that I thought of writing a story about one of the hundreds of boys who probably became a man along that path.

I have some people to thank for A Full Hand. Thanks to everyone who, to this day, are still working hard to restore and preserve an important part of New Jersey’s and our country’s heritage. Thanks to Jim Lee for his work preserving the history of the Morris Canal and passing it along to the rest of us. Thanks to Bob and Linda Barth, of the Canal Society of New Jersey, for reading and re-reading each and every version of A Full Hand to make sure the story of the Morris Canal stays intact. Mostly, thanks to my Dad for explaining every last little thing and for showing me that life is about working hard and doing right. The first question everyone asks when I tell them about this book is “What is a full hand?” Well, I’m not exactly sure. It’s a phrase I found in the book Tales the Boatmen Told. The book is a collection of stories told by people who lived and worked around the Morris Canal. The paragraph reads, “When I was told that I would have to make a full hand with my father on the boat, I thought it would be fine and I felt like a full grown man, and was very willing to do my part. I began to get ready for the big adventure.” The book doesn’t explain exactly what a full hand is, but it sounds like it’s simply a good day’s work, a man’s share of work. It seems to fit my character Asa perfectly.

© 2002 by Thomas F. Yezerski


Artist-Life in the Highlands and Among the Nail-Makers, reprinted from Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. Canal Society of New Jersey, 1994.

Goller, Robert R. Morris Canal: Across New Jersey By Water And Rail. Arcadia Tempus Publishing Group, Inc., 1999.

Kalata, Barbara N. A Hundred Years, a Hundred Miles: New Jersey's Morris Canal. Morris County Historical Society, 1983.

Lee, James. The Morris Canal: A Photographic History. Delaware Press, 1979.

Lee, Jim. Tales the Boatmen Told. Delaware Press, 1977.

Macasek, Joseph J. Guide to the Morris Canal in Morris County. Morris County Heritage Commission, 1996