Diverse KidLit: Whose Tools? and Whose Truck? (May 2016)

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?

5 thoughts on “Diverse KidLit: Whose Tools? and Whose Truck? (May 2016)

  1. “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.”

    I agree with you. There are pros and cons of subtlety about race (and other aspects of identity) in books–a major negative being that some readers might just assume everyone in the book looks just like they do–but there are also pros and cons of making a person’s racial, ethnic, or other identity the focal point of the book. I worry when it overemphasizes differences.

    Great post and great pictures!

    By the way, I just participated in the Diverse Books Tag. Would you be willing to participate? No pressure! I can imagine how busy you are.

    • I’ve gone back and forth about incidental or casual diversity. I am right there with you; there are pros and cons to both approaches, which is why I think that both are necessary. I recently listened to an episode of the Dear Book Nerd podcast in which Dhonielle Clayton, one of the founders of We Need Diverse Books, was the guest co-host, and she discussed a middle grade book she is co-writing about ballerinas, in which the characters are young girls of color, but their races are not the focal point of the story. She cited books such as hers as something that she never had growing up, and talked about the value of reading books where the characters look like you, but where their races are not over-emphasized or made the central part of the story – where the story is about some other aspect of their persons. I thought that was so poignant. I do, however, think it’s much easier to do incidental diversity well in a picture book, where characters can be literally drawn as a particular race; in a middle grade or above book, that does not rely on illustrations, there must be some mention of race or else – you are right – people will assign their own race to the characters.

      I’d love to participate in the Diverse Books Tag – I saw the conversation on Twitter and thought it was a wonderful endeavor. I didn’t want to push in (as a straight white woman, I’m very aware that most diversity efforts are not aimed at me, and I’m hesitant to push in where not expressly invited). But it does seem like a great tag and if there’s room for me I would be delighted to be part of the conversation!

      (By the way, I’m sorry it took me so long to reply to your comment. I am currently working on a major family… project, for lack of a better word… and it’s taking up a lot of time and mental and emotional energy. It’s not a baby! I’m hoping to share details very soon, as the change that we are working towards is something that we all desperately need, but it’s not set in stone yet. We’re about 98% of the way there, but I need to have a bit more certainty about where things are going before I go public on the internet. Anyway, hopefully, soon I will be able to explain why posting and comment replies have been sporadic lately.)

      • How exciting! I can’t wait to hear the details of your project. Good luck with it. I’ve been too busy for blogging lately too, but unfortunately, that’s mostly because of work. The one exciting development is that we finished the first draft of Anusha of Prospect Corner last night (the middle grade book I’m writing with my kids). It’s been such a fun experience. We’re in the editing stage now!

        As for the book tag, I assumed that it’s open to everyone who blogs about diverse books in a thoughtful way. Naz wrote that “everyone can do this tag.” It would limit the spread of the tag if only bloggers who identified with a marginalized group did it. However, I have asked Naz to clarify (Sorry for not doing this before encouraging you to do it!).

    • Nice! Then I will definitely chime in. Just wanted to be respectful and not push in if the tag was specifically for other voices. Thanks for finding out!

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