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diverse kidlit

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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?

Akron Falls Park

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Another new trail to share!  A few weeks ago (and it seems like longer, when I look at the almost-bare tree branches in these pictures) we checked out Akron Falls, a local park near our current place that boasts a pretty waterfall.  The falls trail was a lot of fun – smooth and restful in parts, rocky and rugged in other parts, and almost entirely along a babbling stream.

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We headed down from the parking lot into the ravine.  There were some harrowing switchbacks on the way down – I inched my way along the trail and held tight to the railings (I’d forgotten my hiking poles).  The slightly scary trip down was worth it, though, because soon we came upon…

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Such a pretty rushing stream!  I loved listening as the spring runoff made its way downstream.  The mossy rocks were vibrant and the air was perfectly cool – it was such a gorgeous spring day.

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See what I mean about parts of the trail being rugged?  We actually turned around here and headed a different way – this was actually a little too rugged for us while wearing babies.

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So instead we walked downstream, enjoying the views of the brook and watching out for recent bird arrivals.

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Before too long we came to a stream crossing and picked our way over the rocks…

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And then it was out of the ravine and over the road to a grassy area, where we let Peanut out of the chariot to stretch her legs.

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She seemed to enjoy herself – heh.  Lots of running, dancing, and picking dandelions – for a good 30 minutes – while I bounced around keeping Nugget entertained in the Ergo.  And then we headed back in the direction of the waterfall…

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First glimpse – breathtaking!

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Loved all the little runoff falls, too.  It was such a beautiful sight – I could have stood and watched the water cascading down for hours.

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Reluctantly, after a few minutes of enjoying the view, it was time to head back to feed the kiddos lunch and try to negotiate some naps.  We wandered up the trail, stopping briefly to admire the new spring blooms.

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Akron Falls, you’re just lovely!  We’ll be back soon.

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Anyone else getting some good spring hiking in?

 

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Happy Monday before Memorial Day, friends!  The leaves have definitely arrived here in Buffalo – I’ve been waiting and waiting, but it’s officially summer.  Yes, I know it’s not officially officially summer until next Monday, but I’m calling it now.  It’s t-shirt and Toms weather, the birds and frogs are back in town, and the nights are light enough to read late into the evening.  We had a really lovely weekend.  Not a very productive one – I got next to none of my usual chores or errands done – but really lovely.  Saturday morning we had an event at the kids’ school – an annual thing that we look forward to all year.  Nugget attended last year but missed out on the fun (although I think he had an okay time snuggled up like a little bug in the Ergo) but this year he got into the action alongside his sister, and the cuteness was almost too much to handle.  On Sunday morning we went for a family hike to Reinstein Woods and since the weather was so nice and everyone was in such great moods, we decided to expand on the hike a little bit and check out some scenery we’d never experienced before.  It was a beautiful morning and we spotted a couple of woodpeckers in addition to the usual crew of ducks, geese and red-winged blackbirds.  This is the time of year that we’re on the trails almost every weekend, and I love it.

everyone brave forgiven heat and light

It might have been a productive week in some respects (plenty of fun was had, and I also got a major project off my desk at work, which felt great) but it wasn’t the heaviest reading week.  I finished Everyone Brave is Forgiven, which I liked but didn’t love.  There was a lot of language in it that made me uncomfortable, and some plot holes that just bugged me a little.  (But can you beat that cover?)  Then I turned to Heat & Light, Jennifer Haigh’s latest Bakerton book.  As established here on multiple occasions, I love Jennifer Haigh and I especially love her Bakerton books.  This one is just as well-written as the others, but it’s reading a little slowly for me.  I think that’s more a function of everything else that I have going on, and less a problem with the book, which is – as expected – wonderful.  Anyway, I’m enjoying it very much, and if it takes a little bit longer for me to get through, well, that’s okay; it’s just more time I get to spend in Bakerton.

On the blog this week: another hike to share with you on Wednesday, and May’s Diverse KidLit title on Friday.  Check back, and I do hope you enjoy both posts!

Steady on, my friends – next weekend is a holiday!  What are you reading this week?

greenbanksGreenbanks, by Dorothy Whipple, opens on Christmas.  The Ashton family has gathered at Greenbanks, the family seat, for the holiday.  There are the grown Ashton children – abrasive Jim; lovable black sheep Charles; trembling Letty and her imperious husband Ambrose; and spoiled baby of the family Laura.  There are the Ashton grandchildren – including four-year-old Rachel, most beloved of the group.  And they’re all gathered around Robert and Louisa, the matriarch and patriarch of the family.  On the surface, they appear to be a close-knit family, but the fractures and cracks in the veneer are almost visible.

Robert is a philanderer.  Everyone knows – Louisa included – and everyone turns a blind eye – Louisa especially.  Jim is constantly at war with Charles, whom he considers to be a no-good layabout.  (Louisa adores her boy and doesn’t see it at all – and personally, I found Charles lovable and Jim irritating, so I’m on Louisa’s side here.)  Letty, who wanted nothing more than to marry a man who was “solid” – everything her father, with his roving eye , is not – is now trapped in a loveless marriage and growing more spineless by the day, as Ambrose seeks to control everything his wife and daughter do in the name of propriety.  And Laura is on the verge of great happiness but is destined to throw it away in a fit of spite.

As picturesque as their Christmas appears, change is coming to the Ashton family.  It starts when Robert is thrown from his carriage while out with a young lady.  Louisa is widowed (and probably secretly a little relieved) but she remains the heart of the family.  But more change is coming – the Great War shakes the family to its foundations.  Louisa convinces an old friend of Letty and Laura’s – Kate Barlow – to join her as a companion, because she blames herself for Kate’s spectacular fall from society after being seduced by an older, married man.  Jim and Ambrose contrive to ship Charles off for distant lands twice, until he finally puts an end to their machinations by volunteering to serve his King in the armed forces.  Rachel grows into an intelligent, joyful young woman, but her father’s antiquated notions of what is proper for a woman threaten to stamp out her future before it even begins.

There are births, deaths, money lost and gained, loves parted and reunited, and at the heart of it all is an old woman struggling to remain relevant to her fracturing family, and the granddaughter who is her most beloved and the face of the family’s future.  Some characters get happy endings; others don’t – it’s like life that way, you see?

I can’t tell you how much I adored Greenbanks.  It’s one of those quiet novels in which nothing happens except people living their lives, being born and dying, and yet it is completely, utterly, all-encompassingly gripping.  I could not put the book down until I knew what was going to happen to each and every one of the Ashtons.  I raged when Ambrose tried to deny Rachel an education.  I sobbed when Louisa had to say goodbye to Charles (picturing my own Nugget, all grown up and leaving for another country, and no idea when I would see him again) and I sobbed again when he unexpectedly returned home, only to be driven away again.  I wanted to slap Jim and Ambrose and to shake the spite out of Laura.  I hoped extra hard for a happy ending for Kate.  But the true genius of the story is in Whipple’s characterization of Louisa and Rachel.  How often do you find a novel focused on the relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter in which both characters are so completely vivid and real and alive?  Watching Rachel grow up on the page, and watching Louisa love her, was one of the best reading experiences I’ve ever had.

Why don’t more people read Dorothy Whipple?  Why isn’t she better known?  (Greenbanks is the only Whipple stocked by my library system – which I suppose means I’ll have to place a Persephone order for some more.)  There were funny moments, certainly, but Greenbanks was not a funny book – or at least, it was no funnier than life itself.  (And life really isn’t all that funny.)  Whipple drew me so completely into the world of Greenbanks and its surrounding village that I felt like I was an Ashton – the characterization, and the set writing, were so spot on that I knew from the first chapter I was reading the work of a master.  Highly recommended to everyone and their mom.  Read it again and again and again.

Have you read any Dorothy Whipple?  Which of her other novels should I read next?

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What I really wanted for Mother’s Day this year was a fun weekend, spent mostly outdoors, with my three favorite people – and I got exactly that, starting with the Ellicottville Happy 5K on Saturday morning!  Ellicottville is a beautiful town about an hour south of us, sitting right at the base of Holiday Valley, the biggest ski area in WNY.  I’d been wanting to visit for some time now – ideally during ski season, but really anytime – but I’d never done more than just drive through it on my way to or from D.C.  So when I heard about the EVL Happy Half Marathon and 5K, I thought a race seemed like the perfect way to see the sights.  I am nowhere near half marathon ready, but I can usually count on my legs to bang out an impromptu 5K, so I signed up.

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The race started with packet pickup at the ski lodge.  It was a weird and surreal experience to see the slopes without (much) snow, and to walk through the lodge without dodging piles of slush.

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I really need to come back here with my snowboard!

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Packet pickup started at 8:30 and the 5K didn’t begin until 10:30, so we had a lot of time to kill.  Nugget was less than enthused about the whole project.

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Peanut had fun, though.  She enjoyed throwing rocks at this little stream (which I’ll bet is absolutely beautiful in the winter!).

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Finally, we were off!  The half marathoners started about 30 minutes before the 5K, but we finally made it over the start line.  I was a little nervous, since EVL is quite hilly – it is a mountain town, after all – but the race organizers nicely sent us down the one flat stretch of road in the area.  Well played, race organizers!

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Their motivational signs were also on point.  (Another one I liked, although I didn’t snap a picture, said “This is a lot of work for a free banana.”  Ha!)

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Finally, after a very hot three miles (not a lick of shade on the entire course!) I saw this welcome sight.  Don’t worry – there was a path around the bubbles.

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Collected my medal, then it was out to lunch at the Ellicottville Brewing Company (I had a salmon Caesar salad and we split a sweet potato appetizer that was THE BOMB), and home for a relaxing afternoon.

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The next day was Mother’s Day itself, so of course we started with brunch – although we were in line at 9:00 sharp, so it was really more like breakfast than brunch.

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I love the brunch at Betty’s.  We shared a blueberry pecan scone, and then Steve ordered a mess of scrambled eggs and veggies, and I had my favorite dish – the smoked salmon eggs benedict.  (It was a very salmony weekend, now I’m thinking about it.)

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After breakfast, we had been planning a trip to the children’s museum because the weather forecast looked a little gloomy.  But with no naps the previous day, and more sun than expected, we adjusted our plans to stay closer to home and hit the hiking trails instead.  To Tifft!

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No matter how many times I go, I will never get tired of these beautiful wetlands.

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There were other moms and babies on the trail, too.

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And dads and babies!

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It was such a fun morning.  I was so happy to be out in the fresh air with my favorites.  So grateful for my little family…

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After a short hike, we headed home and everyone got comfy.  Some of us got comfier than others.  Nugget, as expected, only took a catnap, so he and I ran a few errands together in the afternoon, and then picked up Chipotle on our way home.  Not exactly a traditional Mother’s Day dinner, but it sure tasted good.  The best part of the day, of course, was spending it with my sweeties.  But a close second was the gift that the kids gave me (organized by Dad)…

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He had a custom paper cutout portrait made by PurplePaperPeople – can you believe it?  I think this might be one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received.  I welled up when I saw it, and I can’t stop looking at it even two weeks later.  I think the likeness is incredible, and I can’t get over the detail.  Happy Mother’s Day, indeed!

I hope all of my mom friends enjoyed their days as much as I did!

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Ooooooooops.  Sorry, guys.  I didn’t mean to disappear like that on you and certainly had no intentions of taking a week off from posting!  Last week was a crazy one, with a couple of late nights (including one day that went from 4:00 a.m. until midnight, and on three hours’ sleep the night before, too – ouch).  It wasn’t a bad week, just a particularly busy one, and we were really in need of a weekend when Saturday finally rolled around.  I spent most of Saturday cleaning, because we had a very unusual event that night – a night out!  My firm had a big function, involving dates, and we lined up one of Peanut’s teachers to babysit.  The night went incredibly well – Peanut was overjoyed to have her teacher in her house, and Nugget behaved really well for her too – but I couldn’t let her see the place in its usual messy state.  So there wasn’t much time to read on Saturday.  But I made up for it on Sunday – finished one book, made progress on another, and finally joined Audible.

summer before the war elizabeth german garden everyone brave forgiven

So, on the subject of reading – despite a crazy week, as I said, I finished two books – The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson (author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand) in print, from the library, and Elizabeth and Her German Garden after weeks of picking at it on my iPhone.  I really, really enjoyed The Summer Before the War.  It was one of those atmospheric novels that just pulled me in and tugged me right along with beautiful, descriptive prose, and it’s been lingering ever since I closed the cover and returned it to the library.  I was expecting to enjoy it, but I wasn’t expecting to be quite as moved as I was.  Then I turned to Everyone Brave is Forgiven, the new historical novel from Chris Cleave – World War I to World War II! I’m predictable, am I not? – and I’m enjoying it, although not quite as much as I enjoyed The Summer Before the War.  And then somewhere in there, over the course of the week, I finally polished off Elizabeth and Her German Garden, which I liked, but not as much as The Enchanted April (von Arnim’s more famous work, which I loved).  At some point I’ll get back to Elizabeth (there are two sequels) but right now I need a break from her joyless marriage.  Once I finish with Everyone Brave, I’ve got something very exciting to follow – Heat and Light, the new… wait for it… BAKERTON novel by Jennifer Haigh!  I love Haigh’s writing and particularly her Bakerton books, so I’m thrilled to have gotten a copy from the library so close to the release date.

On the blog this week, I promise content!  No more vanishing act!  On Wednesday, I’ve got a recap of Mother’s Day weekend (better late than never, right?) and a 5K I ran that Saturday.  And on Friday – try to stay on your chairs – a book review!  I’m really wanting to get back to doing more book reviews, so I’m working on putting a few together over the coming weeks, starting with a recent favorite.  Check back!

What are you reading this week?

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As the weather is warming up, we’ve been hitting the trails more and more.  Of course, we hike all year round, but it’s certainly easier to get boots on the ground when the weather is nice.  But I’ve been getting a little tired of hitting the same old spots over and over again, so we’ve been on the hunt for some new haunts – and that’s what led us to check out Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge a few weeks ago.

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It was a relatively short drive from our new place, but not short enough – the power of the car nap is strong with this one.

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Once we got the littles loaded up in their respective carriers, we found the trailhead easily.  Green grass and some buds on the bushes was a sight for sore eyes!image

The focal point of the wildlife refuge is a big expanse of wetlands – my favorite!  We enjoyed seeing the migratory birds who are already beginning to arrive for the season, including crowds of red-winged blackbirds.  I love them, not least because I can identify them easily.

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I pulled out the big camera and the zoom lens and tried to do a little birding.  Alas, I didn’t get any really good shots.  But we did see the aforementioned blackbirds, and some gulls, ducks and geese.  We were really hoping to see eagles, since Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge is an eagle habitat.  We saw one structure that we thought might be an eagle’s nest, but the tree in which it was perched was all the way across the wetlands, so we weren’t close enough to confirm.  And no eagles – bummer.  Guess we’ll just have to go back.

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We had a lovely morning exploring the wildlife refuge.  As we were winding down our hike, we started seeing more and more people on the trail, mountain biking, jogging and walking – which I love.  It’s always good to see others out enjoying our beautiful natural spaces.

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We loved Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge!  It was a great, flat, scenic hike – as family-friendly as it gets.  I think that as the weather continues to warm up, it will only get better, with more and more birds and animals coming out of hiding.  Expect to see more visits chronicled here in the coming months!

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Anyone else been hitting the trails recently?

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