While I think that it’s incredibly important to expose my kids to stories that describe, and images that illustrate, the particular experiences of people who are different from them, there’s also a place – an important place – for incidental diversity. A story that simply presents diverse characters in a matter-of-fact way, without making their differences a focal point, can go a long way toward introducing young readers to the concept that, while differences are to be celebrated, there’s also plenty that unites us. So while I make a point of buying books for my kids that are more open in their portrayals of diversity, I also look out for books with incidental diversity – where diversity is present in the illustrations, perhaps, but is not the focal point. Through these books I hope that my children learn that while a person’s racial or gender identity is an important part of their personhood and life experience, those things are not all there is to an individual. We are all so beautifully complex.
Whose Tools? and Whose Truck?, by Toni Buzzeo and Jim Dotz, are perfect examples of books that do incidental diversity well. In fact, that’s why I bought them – I read a review of Whose Tools? in the “Shelf Awareness for Readers” newsletter, which mentioned, delightfully, that the book featured male and female characters of different races, wearing appropriate safety gear. That was all I needed to know; I was adding Whose Tools? to my Amazon cart less than thirty seconds later. And when Whose Truck? followed in time for the holidays, I put in a special call to Santa to make sure it was among Nugget’s presents.
Both Whose Tools? and Whose Truck? pose riddles that ask children to guess who a particular set of tools – or vehicle, as the case may be – belong to. After each question, a flap opens and the answer is revealed, along with a simple explanation of the job in question.
In Whose Tools?, the neighborhood craftsmen and women combine their skills to build a house for a family. The mason lays bricks, the carpenter readies the window frames, the roofer nails shingles, and more.
The “Shelf Awareness for Readers” newsletter was spot on – the characters in the illustrations are wonderfully diverse. There are female roofers and carpenters – because girls can do anything!, which is an important lesson for both my daughter and my son to internalize – and there are faces of all different colors and ages. The races of the characters are never mentioned outright, because what’s important – for this story, that is – is the pride they all take in their jobs.
Whose Truck? is similar, and just as delightful. Again, the illustrations show characters of all ages and races, and there are both male and female characters (most of which are performing traditional male jobs – fist pumps for girls who drive a crane truck just as well as the boys!) and, once again, all wearing proper safety gear! The book follows the same riddle and answer format, and the lilting rhymes are a joy to read aloud.
Whose Tools? and Whose Truck? are relatively recent additions to our family library – only within the last year or so – but they’re already favorites. Peanut loves the books just as much as Nugget does, which makes my heart sing. Girl power! Mom loves the simple, fresh way that things like race, age and sex/gender are presented as only one part of a complete human being. As for Nugget…
Nugget loves trucks. And if you have a truck-loving kid in your life, both Whose Tools? and Whose Truck? are sure to please.
What diverse stories are you reading aloud this month?