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Add Sister Anne's Hands to Your Back-to-School Read Aloud List

Share If you're looking to add a new title to your list of back-to-school favorites, grab Sister Anne's Hands. This isn't a rollicking read-aloud like many of the others on your list, but who said all back-to-school read-alouds had to elicit belly laughs? Take a break and turn your students' attention to something more thoughtful with this simple, but powerful, picture book. Use Sister Anne's Hands to start a discussion about working together and about the need for tolerance. A bonus: The book is a nice introduction for young readers to the use of symbolism!

Sister Anne Book Cover
In the days before the start of second grade, seven-year-old Anna Zabrocky overhears her parents talking about the new teacher who has come to teach in the parochial school Anna attends. "She'll be Anna's teacher," her mother whispers. "I don't know how a woman of her color is going to survive," her father replies

That night, Anna dreams of "teachers as colorful as birds."

The opening day of school arrives, and Anna meets her new teacher.

She had on a black dress and veil like all the other nuns, but her skin was darker than any person's I'd ever known.

It was the early 1960s, and Sister Anne was the first African American to enter young Anna's small-town world.

What starts out as a happy first day of school, a day filled with fun and learning, is abruptly interrupted when a paper airplane whizzes by Sister Anne's head. On it, in the printing of a second grader, a hurtful message is scrawled:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
Don't let Sister Anne
Get any black on you.

The rest of the school day is very quiet, as Sister Anne ponders her next move and as the kids reflect on the airborne message.

Sister Anne's Hands (Dial Books for Young Readers) is based on real-life events in the life of its author, Marybeth Lorbiecki. The story's messages of tolerance and getting along, and of how a teacher can truly change a child's life, are presented in a decidedly understated way.

Anna and her classmates learn a lot about the racism that exists in the world, in their community, in their classroom -- and in themselves. The story's messages about the pain inflicted by ignorance are as appropriate and powerful today as they were in that small-town school in the early 1960s.

Sister Anne's Hands would make a fine read aloud to share during the opening days of school. The book would also be a nice accompaniment any classroom study of Black history or the Civil Rights Movement.

A wise teacher will challenge her students to pay special attention and to talk about the words and images in the story that relate to hands When Anna and Sister Anne meet, Sister reaches out to touch Anna's cheek, and Anna backs off as if Sister's hands were hot. Sister's helpful hands teach Anna to write neat cursive letters. And, when Sister Anne shares some of the hatred that she's felt in her life, she gently opens her students' eyes and their minds:

"One thing you're going to learn is that some folks have their hearts wide open, and others are tight as a fist"

A special gift, a drawing Anna creates showing two hands, brings the story -- and the symbolism -- to a touching conclusion.

Wendy Popp's paintings are a nice companion to Lorbiecki's gentle prose. Splashes of color adorn the black and white world of the 1960s (before color TV!) and of a parochial school. Those monochrome surroundings allow the artist to focus on expressive faces and busy hands.

Sister Anne's Hands, written by Marybeth Lorbiecki and illustrated by K. Wendy Popp, is published by Dial Books for Young Readers (1998). The book is available in bookstores. If you unable to locate a copy in a bookstore near you, ask the bookseller to order a copy or contact the publisher at 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 1999 Education World

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