I’ve had a soft spot for this book, Hands by Boris Cyrulnik, photographs by Tiziana and Gianni Baldizzone for a really long time. I often try to find reasons to bring it into my various workshops. It’s a beautiful coffee table book with loads of photographs showing close-ups of activities that hands do every day. Listen to the how the chapters have been organized: Hands of Pleasure, Hands of Beauty, Hands at Work, Hands of the Heart, Hands of Ritual, and finally By Hand… There are many beautiful images here that I think have lots of classroom potential.
Beautiful Hands by Kathryn Otoshi and Bret Baumgarten is a recent picture book that does the same thing; it asks what things will your hands do today? Will they plant seeds? Or maybe plant ideas? Or touch hearts? Will they lift spirits? Or stretch imaginations? Will they reach for love? Or peace, truth, dreams?
The illustrations are unique using brightly coloured handprints to create images of birds, flowers and butterflies.
Using these two books together in a classroom would provide opportunities to explore the concepts the books embody as well as the actions that these hands engage in. At the youngest grades in social studies in Alberta where the focus is on identity, family, school and community, self, uniqueness and belonging, these books will start conversations. They could also be mentor texts that model work that students can engage in. Having students photograph the activities that they, their friends and family members do every day allows them to develop an understanding about what people do. Hands, also speak to an individual’s identity and uniqueness.
I love the idea of how we use the word "hand" and the images that come to mind: hands up, hands off, hands on, hand out, hand-me-downs, a hand up, hands on, handful, handy, helping hands, heavy handed, show of hands, ‘talk to the hand’, shaking hands with the devil. What others come to your mind? There is both play and power with these words and the images they create. Hands create but they also destroy. Hands can be loving but also hurtful. Exploring binary opposites is a great way to introduce a kind of tension in a unit that will engage students.
Other books that would tie-in beautifully with these book titles would be:
These Hands by Margaret H. Mason is a history lesson embedded in a warm story about an African American grandfather telling his grandson all the things he could (tie shoe laces, play the piano) and could not do (not touch the dough at the Wonder Bread factory). It’s a gentle story about the civil rights African Americans had to organize and fight for.
Nadia’s Hands by Karen English is about a little girl worried about what her classmates with think of her and maybe tease her about having mehndi designs on her hands in preparation for an aunt’s traditional Pakistani wedding. This story speaks to culture and identity, about being one's self and belonging.
Sister Anne’s Hands by Marybeth Lorbiecki is a favourite of mine. Again its set during the civil rights movement in the United States and shows how a beloved teacher (an African American nun) makes a teachable moment out of a cruel, thoughtless act by one of her students to show how small acts of hate can lead to the big acts of societal discrimination.
Hands & Hearts by Donna Jo Napoli is about a mother and daughter who have a fun-filled day at the beach. They enjoy playing in the waves and sand, building castles and swimming. They also happen to use their hands to speak with each other. There are 15 words introduced in American Sign Language.
Hands by Lois Ehlert is brilliantly designed with a hand glove shaped book. It speaks to all the activities that the busy hands in this household get up to: Dad is busy making a bird house and Mom is busy sewing. The narrator is given his or her own work space and is taught some the skills that Mom and Dad use in their activities. This book connects with the maker mind set that is now being promoted in schools here in Calgary.
These are only a few that would work well at the elementary level.