Finding Agency with Two Sisters in Hide and Shh! – Cardinal Rule Press
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Finding Agency with Two Sisters in Hide and Shh!

Dinah and Chloe, the two sisters in Hide and Shh! A Not-So-Sneaky Sibling Story About Inclusion, have been out in the world for two months now. I’ve been lucky enough to share their story with many kids (and grownup kids) in person and online so far. 

One question I hear a lot when I visit is “Where did you get your ideas?”

The short answer is from everything, everybody and everywhere. A moment ago, a fly landed atop my laptop screen and performed an intricate little dance for me. I found myself mesmerized, wondering how I could work him into something - be it a poem, a scene in a novel or even a picture book. You’ve probably heard it before, but I’ll say it again: Ideas are all around us (and in us). 

Dinah and Chloe were inspired by my friends and I when we were younger. By my big sister time with my own little sister, by my children’s antics and personalities, by young people I know and adults with whom I have worked. Each of these inspirations gave something to the story.

What I like to think about, or what makes me love Dinah and Chloe (because we as authors do love our characters) is the WHY. Why Dinah and Chloe? Why tell their story? Why tell it the way I did? 

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Dinah and Chloe touch on themes that matter to me. The first theme, inclusion, appears right in the subtitle. I like writing stories that promote inclusion and representation of diverse people and communities (I also enjoy buying, checking out, reading and supporting other books that do so). Although it might not be said upfront or even readily apparent, Dinah, the younger sister in Hide, has Down syndrome (Ds), a genetic condition that affects how she grows, learns, communicates and does other things. What Ds doesn’t do is change Dinah’s desire to play with her sister and friends, have fun, learn, feel and do all the things everyone else does. Hide is not about Dinah having Down syndrome. It’s about Dinah, who has Ds trying to figure out how to get in the game with her big sister and her friends. 

Dinah faces a challenge that we all face in different ways throughout our lives. After all, when was the last time you had to work on something with someone else and there was some frustration because you had different ideas about how to do things? That feeds into another set of themes I like to include in my stories—empathy, compromise, flexibility and adaptability and problem-solving. Those are skills we all need and it helps to start learning them when we’re young.

Parents, educators and other well-meaning adults often tell kids to play nicely, share or to get along, without really modeling or explaining how to do that. How do you play nicely when you’re sure that your way is the best way and irked that no one else gets that? Dinah and Chloe want to know!

Kids tend to learn best (to really integrate learning) by imitating or modeling what they see and through play. Dinah plays which hopefully makes the story fun. Through a little angst, Dinah also figures out how to model the way the other kids play and shows them that they can do the same thing. Most importantly, Dinah has agency in doing so. Agency means having power over oneself. I love Dinah because she’s a mighty girl who exercises her power on her own behalf and uses it to learn, empathize and adapt her behavior. She steps up and self-advocates to be included, but she also steps back and figures out why things aren’t going so well. She finds a way to play her way and the other kids’ way and shows Chloe and the others that they can, too. Together, Dinah and Chloe give us something to model. 

Modeling that agency, or ownership of one’s behaviors and decisions, for young people is important to me as an author, an educator and a parent. It’s also important in a personal way. Learning to self-advocate while also learning to empathize, seek out and consider others’ perspectives and try things in different ways are abilities I need to work on in myself all the time. 

I’m so thrilled Dinah and Chloe came along to help me do so.

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Christina Dendy is an American author with a wide range of experience writing and editing for the K-12 educational market, particularly in history and other social sciences. Her published works include the picture books The Wall and the Wild (Lantana Publishing, 2021) with illustrator Katie Rewse and Hide and Shh! (Cardinal Rule Press, 2023) with illustrator Nathalia Takeyama. In her writing, she seeks to highlight themes of representation, inclusion, diversity, environmental health, curiosity, kindness, problem-solving, and compromise. She believes heartily in learning from one’s mistakes and persevering. Christina loves just about anything that involves exploration, on or off the printed page, and regularly tumbles down rabbit holes of one sort or another. When not writing or reading, she meanders about Dayton, Ohio, with her tallish hobbit husband, three impish children, and a few finicky furry friends.

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