Estas manos: Manitas de mi familia / These Hands: My Family’s Hands

author: Samuel Caraballo
illustrator: Shawn Costello
Piñata Books / Arte Público Press, 2014
grades 2-up
Puerto Rican

In soft, gentle verse—each of which centers on the hands of a particular relative in her extended Puerto Rican family—a young narrator describes the love and loving care her family gives her. In Spanish and English, with each poem accompanied by a full-page portrait, she honors her mamá, papá, hermano, hermana, abuela and abuelo.

Samuel Caraballo is an outstanding poet who composes in Spanish and then in English, so each version maintains its own integrity. As a child narrator (in the first part) speaks of how the hands of her relatives care for her, young readers see a loving, nurturing family. And as the young woman narrator (in the second part) speaks of how her hands care for them, the circle completes itself. 

Tus manitas, ¡las más tiernas!

Cuando tengo miedo, ellas me consuelan.

Cuando tengo hambre, siempre me alimentan.

Cuando tengo sed, me sirven el agua más fresca.

Abrigo me dan cuando tiemblo de frío.

¡Mamá, tus manitas son como pétalos de rosas!

Your hands, the most tender!

When I’m scared, they soothe me.

When I’m hungry, they always feed me.

When I’m thirsty, they give me the most refreshing water.

They give me warmth when I shiver with cold.

Mom, your hands are like rose petals!

As the girl grows into a young woman, she promises to give back all the love that she has received from the hands of her family:

Prometo que un día, cuando sea ya una mujer, mis manos les han de devolver ese cariño tan grande que de ustedes siempre he tenido.

I promise that one day, when I become a woman, my hands will return all the love you’ve always given me.

And as a mature woman, she fulfills her promise to reciprocate the gift of love and caring her relatives have given her. Astute young readers will notice the parallels between, for instance, how the young child’s mother has nurtured her and how she, now a mature woman, nurtures her elderly mamá:

Mamá, cuando sientas temor, mis manos te darán consuelo.

Cuando tengas hambre, estarán ahí para darte tu alimento y servirte el agua fresca que sacie tu sed.

Mis manos serán tu abrigo en el invierno más frío.

Mom, when you feel scared, my hands will soothe you. 

When you feel hungry, they will be there to feed you and to serve you fresh water to quench your thirst.

My hands will be your warmth in the coldest winter.

Utilizing acrylics and pastels on brown chipboard paper, Costello’s impressionistic artwork is soft and appealing, and complements the gentleness of Caraballo’s poetry. The people of Puerto Rico often refer to themselves as “la gente del arco iris” (people of the rainbow) and here, Costello beautifully presents the family as ethnically mixed with varying skin tones and hair colors and textures. 

With a spacious design that will draw in young people, the text page on the left shows the Spanish at the top and the English at the bottom, and centers a miniature illustration that references the evocative, full-bleed rendering on the right. In the back matter, a section defines the cultural representation of the symbols in each poem: roses represent tenderness, the mahogany tree represents strength, the blooming oak tree represents friendship, white lilies represent happiness, and there’s a note about the sacred ceiba tree. 

In Estas manos: Manitas de mi familia / These Hands: My Family’s Hands, the talents of bilingual poet Samuel Caraballo and artist Shawn Costello beautifully come together to create an honoring of extended families everywhere. It’s highly recommended.

—Beverly Slapin

(published 10/30/20)

[Note: Unfortunately, the choice of past tense in the back matter description of the ceiba tree and the people for whom it is sacred leaves the impression that these peoples no longer exist. It reads (in English):

The ceiba tree was one of the sacred trees of the Taíno and Mayan cultures. For those cultures, the ceiba tree was the tree of life and wisdom. The Taínos and Mayas believed that the ceiba tree was the center of the universe that held up the sky. (emphases mine)

When Piñata Books reprints Caraballo’s beautiful story-poem, I strongly suggest that an accurate and respectful description be substituted. Something like this: 

To the Taíno and Maya peoples, La Ceiba is the sacred tree of life and wisdom. La Ceiba is so strong that she has outlasted countless storms, floods and hurricanes. It is said that she is the center of the universe and holds up the sky.—BHS]

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