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Room to Read’s “Dancing Hands”: a story of friendship through Filipino Sign Language

September 21, 2023

Content and curriculum Philippines

This September, we are marking International Day of Sign Languages by diving into Room to Read original publication “Dancing Hands,” which features a story of friendship through Filipino Sign Language. Originally published in the Philippines, “Dancing Hands” was recently made available to young readers around the globe through a partnership between Room to Read and San Francisco-based Chronicle Books.  

The book tells the story of two girls, one who speaks Filipino Sign Language and one who doesn't. Sam sees her neighbor, Mai, speaking with her hands and facial expressions, and wants to know what she is saying. As they become friends, Mai teaches Sam to communicate in her language and the two girls are able to relate on a meaningful and inclusive level. With playful illustrations that celebrate the beautiful movements of sign language, this picture book takes children
through the experience of learning to make friends, learning to overcome language barriers and embracing the differences that make each friendship unique.  

Author Joanna Que lives in Manila, Philippines, was inspired to write “Dancing Hands” after being invited to join a Room to Read writing workshop, organized in collaboration with Adarna House, a prominent Filipinx publisher. She finds sign language beautiful and hopes “Dancing Hands” will spark critical conversations about the importance of inclusion. Illustrator Charina Marquez is a baker, researcher, sign language instructor and deaf rights advocate. Born deaf, she loves languages, communicating using sign language and written English and Tagalog languages.

The only book published in Filipino Sign Language in the U.S., the global release of “Dancing Hands” gives voice to deaf and hard-of-hearing children across cultures and languages. Many deaf children lack access to books that depict or are written in sign and thus don’t see their experiences reflected on the page. “Dancing Hands” offers these children a relatable story, essential to nurturing a lifelong love of reading, and provides quality early learning and reading material to a historically underserved community.  

Since its global release, “Dancing Hands” has made waves in the diverse and inclusive children’s book space, helping to ensure all children can see themselves in the stories they consume. It has been featured in multiple diverse and inclusive children’s book lists, with features in The School Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly and Book Riot, and has been praised as a quiet, beautiful story of friendship, language exchange and visibility of all children. 

Room to Read's “Read the World, Change the World” partnership with Chronicle Books helps bring inclusion and representation to the global publishing ecosystem, and supports Room to Read’s ever-growing network of diverse book creators, like Que and Marquez, share their stories with broader audiences.

Explore children's book publishing at Room to Read!