Hands Can: Gently Instructing Diversity

Virtually any discussion of diversity in children’s literature includes mention of a quote by scholar Rudine Sims Bishop: “A single book can be a mirror for some readers and a window for others.” While is beneficial for children to experience literature as means of peering into other cultures, other worlds, it is crucial that they also sense familiarity in the stories that they read.

There are many children’s Stories that celebrate diversity; however, one book that is often overlooked but that beautifully captures this diversity is Hands Can by Cheryl Willis Hudson, with photographs by John-Francis Bourke.

Hands can is a simple and empowering story about the various tasks that hands can accomplish: “Hands can wave to say ‘hello.’ Hands can touch things high and low.” It invites children to explore, discover, and connect with their surroundings. Babies will be drawn in by the rhymes while toddlers and slightly older children might choose to sing the words and imitate the actions playing out in the story.

While the story itself does not address the idea of diversity, the photographs—upbeat and full of motion—depict a diverse world. The children in these photographs have different skin colors, hair colors and textures, and eye colors, making it possible for readers to identify themselves in the pictures while also seeing children who may look more like their friends, their classmates. The fact that the children in the photographs—different though they may look on the outside—are similarly gleeful and focused in their play helps contribute to the celebration of diversity.

As it exposes young readers to both “mirrors” and “windows,” Hands Can deserves a place on the bookshelves of babies, toddlers, and young children.