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Dusk Explorers and a Game of Sardines

The summer I was 10, tragedy struck. The large, vacant lot right next door to my house sold. And the buyers immediately broke ground to build a brand new, beautiful home. I was devastated. For 10 glorious years, the vacant lot had been the gathering place for the neighborhood children. Probably twenty kids would gather for bike rides over kid-made dirt jumps, kick the can, sardines, hide and seek, capture the flag, 007, kick ball, ultimate frisbee, and any other game we could imagine. We played with kids from 7 to 15, and no one cared about the age differences. We were all friends and we were all welcome. I had played with these kids for as long as I could remember.

Our soon to be neighbor knew that he had 20 little enemies before we even had a chance to get to know him. But he was smart. He promised to never leave any tools, nails, or other hazards behind at the end of the work day, and invited us to play inside the construction site each evening if we promised to be careful and not touch anything. The magic was back. We played some epic games in that framed house. And by the time it was completed, we realized that the fun could continue and we could accept our new friends. The magic of the vacant lot became the magic of the street. We continued to play and made wonderful memories. We were Dusk Explorers.

Given the joy of my childhood, I was beyond thrilled to received Lindsay Leslie's newest picture book, Dusk Explorers, illustrated by Ellen Rooney. Friends, it. is. beautiful. It is seriously my childhood in a picture book. As a group of diverse neighborhood children steal out into the evening, readers are captivated by the possibilities of summer magic. The language is inviting and beautiful in a way that is so rich and compelling, readers can't help but grin, longing to join the children as they run, climb, jump, discover, laugh, and play. Lindsay Leslie masterfully creates a text that is both lyrical and compelling. And the illustrations are so inviting and stunning that they draw you into the pages. You truly feel like you experience the entire evening along with the children ask dusk settles into night. Dusk Explorers is a triumph. My girls were thrilled by it and asked to read it again right after we finished the first time. How timely for a book to celebrate friendship, outdoor play, and exploration when we see so much greater dependence on technology.

I love to watch my girls play unscripted outside. It's amazing the games they come up with and the discoveries they make. They make "soup" out of leaves, dirt, twigs, and petals. They often set up an "ice cream shop" under their play place. Or they might create an obstacle course through the entire back yard. And of course, they love to bike, skate, swing, slide, jump on the trampoline, use sidewalk chalk, and swim (since were already over 105 in Arizona. Yipes!) But I realized with this amazing book that I haven't taught them some of the classic games of my childhood.

So this week, we played sardines. They thought it was so fun to play "backwards hide and seek" as they decided to call it. If you haven't played, it's simple.

Choose one person to go and hide.

Everyone else hunts for that person.

When you find them, you hide with them, trying to stay well hidden.

Soon, you will be scrunched into a small place like a bunch of sardines.

Last person to find the group hides first next round.

It was seriously so much fun, and such a simple family activity. And then we simply watched the kids play and relived the magic. Allowing kids to be outside without leading the activity is special. They truly do explore and discover differently than they ever do inside.

I hope you will all pick up this beautiful story and remember your own childhoods while encouraging your children to get outside. Thank you Lindsay and Ellen for such a gorgeous book and for reminding us all to be Dusk Explorers.



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