Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Review: Samuel Caraballo's Estas manos / These Hands

Title: Estas manos: Manitas de mi familia / These Hands: My Family's Hands
Author: Samuel Caraballo (Puerto Rico, US)
Illustrator: Shawn Costello (US)
Publisher: Arte Público / Piñata Books
Ages: 4+

In my children's literature courses, my professors, classmates, and I have talked a lot about how picture books can be just as beneficial for adults as they are for kids.  While I've always smiled and nodded during these discussions, the truth of that statement never really hit me until I read Estas manos: Manitas de mi familia / These Hands: My Family's Hands, Samuel Caraballo's gentle poem about the importance of loving and supporting your family.

During the first half of the book, the narrator, a little girl, describes how her family members' hands give her strength.  Her mother's hands, which she compares to rose petals, soothe her.  Her father's hands, mahogany trees, catch her when she falls.  Her siblings' hands, blooming oak trees, pat her on the back and give her encouragement.  Her grandmother's hands, magical lilies, tickle her and teach her to dance.  Her grandfather's hands, ceiba trees, show her how to care for the earth.  Then, after expressing her thanks to her family for their love and guidance, the little girl acknowledges that she will provide the same kind of support for them as she and they grow older.

Full disclosure: I teared up as I read this book.  It's sweet and loving without being heavy-handed or cheesy, and it reminded me that, during a stressful semester's end amidst papers and conferences and deadlines, my family and friends are supporting me.  And I'm in love with Shawn Costello's soft, swirling pastel illustrations that precisely capture the warm, colorful relationships presented in the text.

But enough about me.  This book is also great for children!  The dual language format makes the text accessible to both young Spanish and English speakers, and teachers can draw on Caraballo's simple yet rich language to help their students learn about poetry and effective literary devices -- repetition, strong imagery, onomatopoeia.

However, the most striking feature of Caraballo's poem is his consistent use of symbolism.  As I mentioned above, he compares family members' hands to different plants and flowers, and in an afterword, he explains the special meaning each plant holds in Latin America.  Roses represent tenderness; mahogany trees, strength; oak trees, friendship; lilies, happiness; and ceiba trees, life and wisdom.  Because of the clear parallels Caraballo draws between these natural objects and the warm feelings family members elicit, Estas manos / These Hands is ideal for introducing children to the use of symbols in writing.

A ceiba tree on Vieques Island,
where Caraballo grew up.

If you're interested in using this book to teach poetry, check out the following helpful links:

And if you've read this book, tell me what you think!  Wishing you a happy December!

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