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From glacier babies to a Barbie debate: 7 great global stories you might have missed

Left to right: Barbies in India; Maya softball players in Mexico; walking on a frozen fountain in the mountains of Pakistan, where efforts are underway to revive the ancient art of glacier mating.
Anushree Bhatter for NPR, Bénédicte Desrus; Diaa Hadid/NPR
Left to right: Barbies in India; Maya softball players in Mexico; walking on a frozen fountain in the mountains of Pakistan, where efforts are underway to revive the ancient art of glacier mating.

Are you looking for a good read for the end of the year?

We editors have a few recommendations. These were among our favorite stories of the year, even if they didn't rack up mega page views.

It's always a little mysterious why a great story doesn't get the love it deserves — maybe the topics weren't top of mind. Maybe the headline could have been stronger.

Or maybe the story posted at a time when web audiences were distracted by breaking news or bruising weather or Taylor Swift.

Here are seven of our favorite underappreciated gems from 2023 — and in case the headlines aren't enough to win you over, we've given you a sample of each story's (hopefully) enticing prose and a photo or two for good measure.

Elephants are a menace for these 6th graders in Botswana. Then they went on a safari

Fortune (standing) is often quiet and reserved. But on the safari drive in Botswana his shyness gives way to excitement as soon as he starts spotting the animals.
/ Nurith Aizenman/NPR
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Nurith Aizenman/NPR
Fortune (standing) is often quiet and reserved. But on the safari drive in Botswana his shyness gives way to excitement as soon as he starts spotting the animals.

"What is the safe thing to do when you see an elephant?" the guide asks.

"Don't run!" says Mogalakwe.

"Stand like a statue?" says Lorato.

"Yeah, stand still. Don't run," he answers.

Soon after, the kids get to put that advice into practice when they pull up to a waterhole for a lollipop break.

Suddenly a huge elephant ambles over ... and starts to drink.

A glacier baby is born: Mating glaciers to replace water lost to climate change

A view of the Pakistani territory of Baltistan from the heights of the mountain above the village of Chunda, where the ancient ritual of glacier mating is being revived. The patches of white in the foreground are snow and water. The patches of silver in the distance are clouds that shroud the peaks of most mountains in Baltistan.
/ Diaa Hadid/NPR
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Diaa Hadid/NPR
A view of the Pakistani territory of Baltistan from the heights of the mountain above the village of Chunda, where the ancient ritual of glacier mating is being revived. The patches of white in the foreground are snow and water. The patches of silver in the distance are clouds that shroud the peaks of most mountains in Baltistan.

A farmer and a village leader in Pakistan's highlands decided it was time to try to make a glacier baby.

This ancient ritual that calls for mixing chunks of white glaciers, which residents believe are female, and black or brown glaciers (whose color comes from rock debris), which residents believe are male.

Folks believe that combining the chunks will spark the creation of a newborn glacier that will ultimately grow big enough to serve as a water source for farmers.

A man dressed as a tsetse fly came to a soccer game. And he definitely had a goal

Don't worry, this six-foot-tall tsetse fly didn't bite anyone. He was part of a performance to teach Malawians about preventing sleeping sickness.
/ Hannah Bialic
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Hannah Bialic
Don't worry, this six-foot-tall tsetse fly didn't bite anyone. He was part of a performance to teach Malawians about preventing sleeping sickness.

The first time Nicola Veitch went to a soccer game, she danced on the field in a white lab coat alongside a colleague inside a giant tsetse fly costume. Most of the fans at the game in Malawi applauded. Some were baffled.

My grandma in Wuhan is philosophical about COVID, life and her favorite topic: death

My grandpa Yeye and grandma Nainai. After they both caught COVID last December when China abruptly lifted its restrictions, my grandparents have felt significantly weaker. Their morning walks now consist of more resting than walking. To my grandparents, the virus should've been a death sentence. However, they were still kicking and cooking on my screen on a video call earlier this year.
/ Laura Gao for NPR
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Laura Gao for NPR
My grandpa Yeye and grandma Nainai. After they both caught COVID last December when China abruptly lifted its restrictions, my grandparents have felt significantly weaker. Their morning walks now consist of more resting than walking. To my grandparents, the virus should've been a death sentence. However, they were still kicking and cooking on my screen on a video call earlier this year.

In 2020, the graphic artist and memoirist Laura Gao, who was born in Wuhan but came to the U.S. with her family when she was a girl, wrote about a trip she had planned to her birthplace to see her beloved grandparents. COVID caused her to cancel the trip. We wondered — how are her grandparents now faring? She checked in her with her grandma via WeChat, and illustrated the rich converasation that followed.

Women Maya softballers brush off machismo insults to become Mexican superstars

Damari Yasuri Balam Canul, 24, a player of The Amazonas of Yaxunah, catching the ball during practice at the local field in Yaxunah, Yucatán, Mexico on June 26, 2023.
/ Bénédicte Desrus
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Bénédicte Desrus
Damari Yasuri Balam Canul, 24, a player of The Amazonas of Yaxunah, catching the ball during practice at the local field in Yaxunah, Yucatán, Mexico on June 26, 2023.
At bat, Mariela Beatriz Pacheco Pech, 31, a player on The Amazonas of Yaxunah, has her eye on the ball.
/ Bénédicte Desrus
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Bénédicte Desrus
At bat, Mariela Beatriz Pacheco Pech, 31, a player on The Amazonas of Yaxunah, has her eye on the ball.

Barefoot and draped in the colorful embroidery of traditional Maya huipil garb, 20-year-old Sitlali Yovana Poot Dzib steps up to the plate, wiggling her bat overhead as she faces the pitch. The field is uneven and littered with stones while searing 100-degree heat scorches the soles of her feet. Nevertheless, she swivels on her toes, digging into the dirt for grip and ignoring jeers from the away crowd, and sends the ball soaring.

Poot is the captain of Las Amazonas de Yaxunah, an indigenous, all-female softball team famous throughout Mexico.

Barbie in India: A skin color debate, a poignant poem, baked in a cake

Vichitra Rajasingh had 80 Barbies as a kid. Living in a small town at a time when there wasn't much entertainment, she says Barbie was a source of limitless imagination. At the bakery she now runs, she bakes about half-a-dozen Barbie cakes a week. She says the dolls remind her of her grandmother, who passed away at age 87 in January and who used to surprise her by sewing outfits for her dolls.
/ Anushree Bhatter for NPR
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Anushree Bhatter for NPR
Vichitra Rajasingh had 80 Barbies as a kid. Living in a small town at a time when there wasn't much entertainment, she says Barbie was a source of limitless imagination. At the bakery she now runs, she bakes about half-a-dozen Barbie cakes a week. She says the dolls remind her of her grandmother, who passed away at age 87 in January and who used to surprise her by sewing outfits for her dolls.

She's one of India's biggest Barbie fans. When Vichitra Rajasingh was growing up, family and friends helped her build her collection of Barbie dolls until she had almost 80 of them. The mermaid Barbie and scuba-diving Barbie were her favorites. All her Barbies were blond. She says she didn't like the Indian ethnic ones that came on the local market. And skin tone is one of the reasons that in India, Barbie has a far more complicated legacy.

Memories of my mom are wrapped up in her saris

Rhitu Chatterjee of NPR (left), cherishes the memories wrapped up in this sari, which belonged to her mother, Manju Chatterjee. Rhitu began wearing the sari after her mother's death. She says it takes her at least 15 minutes to drape the garment but her mom could drape it in 5 minutes.
/ Rhitu Chatterjee
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Rhitu Chatterjee
Rhitu Chatterjee of NPR (left), cherishes the memories wrapped up in this sari, which belonged to her mother, Manju Chatterjee. Rhitu began wearing the sari after her mother's death. She says it takes her at least 15 minutes to drape the garment but her mom could drape it in 5 minutes.

My first association with the sari was with my mother, my aunts and my grandmas, who wore saris every single day of their adult lives. To me, the sari is synonymous with their love, warmth and the safety of their embrace. Perhaps that's why saris are passed on to loved ones.

When my mother died, I inherited many of her saris. The rest I gave to my aunts, cousins and my mother's closest friends. So it's a garment that ties you to the most cherished women in your life.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Marc Silver
Marc Silver, who edits NPR's global health blog, has been a reporter and editor for the Baltimore Jewish Times, U.S. News & World Report and National Geographic. He is the author of Breast Cancer Husband: How to Help Your Wife (and Yourself) During Diagnosis, Treatment and Beyond and co-author, with his daughter, Maya Silver, of My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks: Real-Life Advice From Real-Life Teens. The NPR story he co-wrote with Rebecca Davis and Viola Kosome -- 'No Sex For Fish' — won a Sigma Delta Chi award for online reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists.