Ten Rules of the Birthday Wish, by Beth Ferry

Looking for an amazing picture book to read in anticipation of a big birthday? We’ve got just the book for you!

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Birthdays. Oh, the joy they bring for children! And, let's be honest, adults too! I hate being the center of attention, but I absolutely, wholeheartedly, love celebrating my birthday. I love the hope each new year inspires, I love wondering what I’ll achieve in the next 365 days, and I love, more than anything, making a birthday wish. Even better than my own birthday? Celebrating my boys’ birthdays. And guess what? We have one in our house this very week! And so it seemed like the perfect time to share this fun and fabulous new picture book, Ten Rules of the Birthday Wish, by Beth Ferry and illustrated by Tom Licthenheld.

In Ten Rules of the Birthday Wish, we learn that there are ten, most definitely ten, “very specific, tried and true, and absolutely essential Rules For The Making of a Birthday Wish.” The most important? It must be your birthday, or close to it, obviously. Once rule number one is established, readers are escorted by a bunch of cheerful animals on a romp through the rules, ending with the last and most special one: a reminder that the word “wish” ends in “shhhhh” — so keep that wish quiet and dream about it coming true. So adorable!

This irresistible picture book radiates fun. It brings birthdays and wish making to new heights, making both seem even more special, more exciting, and more impactful to the birthday boy or girl. Ten Rules of the Birthday Wish reminds us of the joy deeply rooted in a day dedicated just for us, as well as the hope and magic inherent in thinking of, and then making, a wish. Whether big or little, a “now” wish or a “future” wish, there is nothing better than knowing that wish is all yours, and only yours, to dream into fruition. This book is SO much fun, especially when you share it with your kids in the week leading up to their birthday! Pickle was grinning and giggling the whole way through, and he can’t stop thinking about that special wish he gets to make this week. One thing is for sure - Ten Rules of the Birthday Wish has become a new birthday week tradition in our house!

Want the book? Get it here! Ten Rules of the Birthday Wish, by Beth Ferry and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher, but all opinions expressed herein are completely our own.

Does your family have any special traditions incorporating books? Let us know on our Facebook page!

If you liked this post, make sure to check these out too! Favorite Picture Books of 2018, Favorite Picture Books of 2017, Favorite Books to Spark your Child’s Imagination.

The picture book you want to read leading up to your child's birthday!



A Jewish Child, a Hateful Note, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Looking for great picture books about Martin Luther King, Jr. to read with children of all ages? Look no further.

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I was in Mr. Terry’s seventh grade civics class when I found it. Just weeks away from my Bat Mitzvah, I walked into the crowded classroom, headed to my desk, and sat down to find a note waiting for me. It was a folded up piece of paper, and it had my name, Lauren, scribbled on the front. I remember smiling as I opened it up, because what kid doesn’t love getting notes, waiting with anticipation to discover the sender? But when the paper was spread out in front of me, I inhaled sharply. I vividly remember trying to fight back the tears that flooded my eyes, the fear that paralyzed my body. I recall my hands shaking as I tried desperately to catch my best friend’s attention, all while wondering which of my other classmates were laughing at me as I suffered.

What was inside this awful note? A crude, black swastika.

As a Jewish child, I grew up learning about the evils of religious persecution and racial discrimination, but this was the first time it hunted me down and stared me in the face, the first time I was personally affected by such despicable hatred. This experience left an indelible scar on my heart, right before the momentous day I was meant to rejoice at becoming a Jewish young woman. It was on this day I truly understood that people would engage in abhorrent behavior simply because they don’t like how you look or agree with what you believe.

As you know, sharing #booksforbetter has become a true passion of mine. I love sharing books that help us bridge divides and teach kids that we are all one and the same — all of us human beings with beating hearts and big dreams and a thirst to learn and grow. It has also become important to me to share books showcasing the dangers of hatred — and how love, communication and understanding can help assuage this dark stain on our world.

Here we are celebrating my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah last year. A Bar (or Bat) Mitzvah is a life cycle event in which a Jewish child comes of age and is recognized as having the same obligations as adults to observe the commandments.

Here we are celebrating my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah last year. A Bar (or Bat) Mitzvah is a life cycle event in which a Jewish child comes of age and is recognized as having the same obligations as adults to observe the commandments.

And so it is that I have always had a deep appreciation for stories about Martin Luther King, Jr. Every time I read about or watched his powerful “I have a dream” speech following that hateful act in civics class, I believed he was also speaking to me, a young Jewish girl seeking to understand why someone would want to hurt me because of my religion, just as people wanted to hurt him because of his skin color. I hoped his vision included a world where black and white children played together alongside children of all other races and religions, too. After all, one of the core tenets of Judaism is to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” a commandment which comes with no qualifications or asterisks. MLK’s words and brave actions in the face of extreme danger gave me hope at a time when I was terrified, hope that we would all — White, Black, Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Gay, Straight, you name it — find a way to love one another wholly and unconditionally. His words continue to bring me hope today, especially in light of recent events in our country like the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and the horrific murder of eleven Jews worshiping at Shabbat services in a Pittsburgh synagogue.

While many believe we have made significant progress both as a society and as a country, racial and religious discrimination still lurk behind dark corners. It is sickening — and thus vitally important that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy is taught to and celebrated by children around the globe. Why? Because MLK is a hero to us all, and his legacy will continue to motivate future generations to carry out his great vision. His mighty words can find a home within every person’s heart and soul. They have the ability to inspire each and every one of us to reject prejudice and strive for a society where equality, compassion and respect reign supreme.

I sincerely hope that if you do one thing on Monday, January 21st or during Black History Month this February, you read a story about Martin Luther King, Jr. with your children and students. There are phenomenal picture books about MLK’s life that can be discussed with kids of all ages, and I cannot stress how important it is to share this one lesson with the next generation: Hate is a learned behavior. Only when we listen to one another and embrace our glorious differences can we eradicate hate and replace it with love.

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We hope you enjoy these remarkable books as much as we do.

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Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and You, by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by James E. Ransome: I love reading this beautiful book with my youngest students, for it imparts all of the values MLK stood for, without going into the more painful details of his journey. This book encourages a new generation of young people to be kings by emulating MLK’s remarkable character traits and actions. The lovely illustrations show kids how they can reenact his teachings in their own lives by always standing up for peace, breaking the chains of ignorance, and stamping out hatred by putting a foot down and standing tall.

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Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Bryan Collier: Through his own famous quotes, this beautiful picture book brings MLK to life. Beginning with his life as a young boy and his vow to one day get “big words” like his father, to his death at a garbage worker’s strike, this biography is a fabulous introduction to one of the most prominent voices of the Civil Rights Movement. This is one of my favorite books to read with early elementary students, for its simple narrative that doesn’t stray from the gritty facts but hits all the right notes for younger readers. Age appropriate, powerful, and elegant.

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I Have a Dream, by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and illustrated by Kadir Nelson: On August 28, 1963, MLK stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. during the March on Washington. It was there he delivered one of the most powerful speeches our nation has ever witnessed. His words from this monumental speech are paired with Nelson’s exquisite paintings, making this a magnificent book to be treasured, memorized and honored for generations to come.

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I am Martin Luther King, Jr., by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulous: We absolutely love the Ordinary People Change the World series for the way it tackles big stories and remarkable heroes in a kid-friendly, accessible manner. Through comic illustrations and word bubbles, this story gives voice to MLK as a child, then subsequently showcases his journey to changing the American landscape through peaceful protests and powerful words. This series is a favorite of my students.

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As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King and Abraham Joshua Herschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom, by Richard Michelson and illustrated by Raul Colon: We all know the story of Martin Luther King, Jr., a black boy who grew up to witness horrifying racial discrimination in America. He became a minister like his father before him, and subsequently rose to become one of the most visible and vital voices of the Civil Rights Movement. Abraham grew up years earlier in Europe, and as a Jewish man, he too, faced atrocious persecution. Abraham fled to America where he became a rabbi, and like MLK, he became a voice for equality. This is the story of how these two remarkable men came together as victims of discrimination, formed an unbreakable friendship, and used their voices to fight for peace and social justice. An extraordinary story, and a favorite to read to tweens.

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Did you like this post? Hooray! Make sure to check these out, too — we think you will love ‘em! Amazing Books for Black History Month, Ten Favorite Books to Evoke Change, and Twenty Picture Books About Amazing Women.














Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World, by Ashley Herring Blake

If you are looking for a fabulous book for any child questioning his or her identity, an LGBQT story, or a thought-provoking read about one tween’s journey to understanding and finding herself, you must check out Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, by Ashley Herring Blake, stat.

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My goodness, can these middle grade books get any better? Where were these phenomenal stories when I was a young girl? I remember when I was 12 years old, and my home in Miami was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew. It was a pivotal year in my life- I had just become a Bat Mitzvah, I was struggling to figure out if I would ever become a graceful teenager and not just a gawky teen, I longed to know if boys would ever look my way, and I wondered if my community would ever get put back together after suffering from total destruction. So many questions, so much angst— and so few stories to help me feel less alone and less confused.

Though my longings were not quite the same, I wish I’d had a book like Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World! Ivy Aberdeen’s angst hit all the right notes and resonated so very deeply. In this story, Ivy’s home is flattened by a tornado that rages through her town. All she manages to save is her pillow which contains her most precious possessions inside a thin case - fancy markers and a journal filled up with drawings, many of which contain illustrations of her and an unidentifiable girl. While staying in a school gym with other displaced persons after the storm, Ivy’s notebook goes missing. When her pictures start turning up in her locker, together with notes encouraging her to be true to herself and come clean with who she is at her core, Ivy begins to hope that the mysterious letters are coming from a girl on whom she has secretly developed a crush. Will Ivy let go of her fears and embrace who she is meant to be?

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World will be a valuable window book for some and a mirror book for so many others. Ivy fears being unlike those around her- being shunned for wanting something so different than her friends and her big sister. After all, when Ivy’s sister and her best friend stop speaking and Ivy believes it’s because her sister’s friend has come out of the closet, Ivy fears her sister will totally disown her, too. Though the yearnings expressed in Ivy’s story may certainly be different for some tweens, the burning desire to understand who you are at your core, to not just accept those things that make us unique but love them too, is simply universal. We have all experienced, in unique ways and to varying degrees, the unsettling and anxiety-provoking fear that comes hand in hand with feeling so wholly different from those around us.

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World gave me chills, and it is a book of incredible importance that has an especially significant place in every library, every classroom, and every child’s bookshelf. I am so grateful to the fabulous kidlit authors that continually place these notable books into children’s hands around the globe. There is nothing like a book to make you feel less alone and more understood.

What did you think about Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World? Let us know on our Facebook page, and make sure to follow us there! If you liked this post, make sure to check out our Favorite Middle Grade Books of 2018. We think you will also love these books about tweens discovering themselves: Front Desk, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, and Brown Girl Dreaming.

Want the book? Get it here! Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, by Ashley Herring Blake. *This is an affiliate link.

If you have a tween reader at home, Ivy Aberdeens Letter to the World is a fabulous middle grade book about self identity is an absolute must!.jpg



Amazing Picture Books for Black History Month

Looking for fabulous children’s books to celebrate Black History Month? Look no further, because Happily Ever Elephants has got you covered!

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Black History Month. It’s a celebration engrained in the fabric of our society, a month of learning and healing and remembering in our homes and schools. The national celebration was established around 1976, when President Gerald Ford decreed it an annual American observance. His goal? To honor the frequently overlooked or neglected accomplishments of Black women and men across America.

Throughout our lives, and most notably during our grade school years, many of us studied the groundbreaking — even radical —accomplishments of important social justice advocates such as Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. But African-Americans were not only leading the fight for civil rights. They were doing so much more to leave lasting and vital impacts on our world! Contributions by Black Americans on our society were - and continue to be - nothing short of phenomenal. Yet, they are so frequently ignored. From artists to engineers, dancers to doctors, the stories of Black Americans who tenaciously broke boundaries and challenged societal norms are not just inspiring, but necessary to our country’s beautiful, multi-layered tapestry. I am absolutely delighted that we are finally beginning to see these thrilling stories come to life through picture books.

While the children’s publishing industry has made progress over the last couple of years, it continues its tremendous push to bring diverse books of superior quality to the market. There is a concentrated effort to publish more representative stories, including more biographies of Black men and women highlighting their remarkable achievements. Though we still have significant work to do, the results are tangible. As our homes, schools, libraries and bookstores continually showcase these beautiful new books, the smiles that light up children’s faces when they find themselves in stories for the first time is nothing short of magical.

As we lead into Black History Month, Happily Ever Elephants is thrilled to share some of our favorite picture books. Below you’ll find several outstanding picture books on Martin Luther King, Jr, as well as numerous biographies about Black men and women whose determination and accomplishments have left indelible contributions on our country. And that’s not all. You’ll also find a moments and movements section, which contains numerous breathtaking stories about slavery, the fight for civil rights , and even music and space. Happy reading!

Commemorate Black History Month with this fabulous list of more than thirty picutre books about famous people, movements and moments.jpg

DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.

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I Have a Dream, by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and illustrated by Kadir Nelson: On August 28, 1963, MLK stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. during the March on Washington. It was there he delivered one of the most powerful speeches our nation has ever witnessed. His words from this monumental speech are paired with Nelson’s exquisite paintings, making this a magnificent book to be treasured, memorized and honored for generations to come.

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Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and You, by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by James E. Ransome: I love reading this beautiful book with my youngest students, for it imparts all of the values MLK stood for, without going into the more painful details of his journey. This book encourages a new generation of young people to be kings by emulating MLK’s remarkable character traits and actions. The lovely illustrations show kids how they can reenact his teachings in their own lives by always standing up for peace, breaking the chains of ignorance, and stamping out hatred by putting a foot down and standing tall.

As Good as Anyone Best Picture books for black history month.jpg

As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King and Abraham Joshua Herschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom, by Richard Michelson and illustrated by Raul Colon: We all know the story of Martin Luther King, Jr., a Black boy who grew up to witness horrifying racial discrimination in America. He became a minister like his father before him, and subsequently rose to become one of the most visible and vital voices of the Civil Rights Movement. Abraham grew up years earlier in Europe, and as a Jewish man, he too, faced atrocious persecution. Abraham fled to America where he became a rabbi, and like MLK, he became a voice for equality. This is the story of how these two remarkable men came together as victims of discrimination, formed an unbreakable friendship, and used their voices to fight for peace and social justice. An extraordinary story, and a favorite to read to tweens.

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Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Bryan Collier: Through his own famous quotes, this beautiful picture book brings MLK to life. Beginning with his life as a young boy and his vow to one day get “big words” like his father, to his death at a garbage worker’s strike, this biography is a fabulous introduction to one of the most prominent voices of the Civil Rights Movement. This is one of my favorite books to read with early elementary students, for its simple narrative that doesn’t stray from the gritty facts but hits all the right notes for younger readers. Age appropriate, powerful, and elegant.

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I am Martin Luther King, Jr., by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulous: We absolutely love the Ordinary People Change the World series for the way it tackles big stories and remarkable heroes in a kid-friendly, accessible manner. Through comic illustrations and word bubbles, this story gives voice to MLK as a child, then subsequently showcases his journey to changing the American landscape through peaceful protests and powerful words. This series is a favorite of my students.

PICTURE BOOK BIOGRAPHIES

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Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad, by Ellen Levine and illustrated by Kadir Nelson: Henry Brown was born into slavery, never even knowing his own birthday. Torn from his family at a young age, he is put to work at a warehouse. And though he grows up, marries, and has a family of his own, he is once again devastated when his own family is sold at a slave market. Henry longs to be a free man, and upon lifting a crate at his warehouse one day, he knows just what he must do: he will mail himself to freedom. Teach children about the Underground Railroad with this gripping true story.

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Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis, by Jabari Asim and illustrated by E.B. White: Provide kids with background on the Civil Rights movement and the childhood story of one of its most important heroes. John wants to be a preacher when he grows up - but he doesn’t want to wait! Upon being put in charge of the family’s farm, John discovers his chickens make an amazing congregation, and he begins preaching to them. John’s journey — from addressing his farm animals to becoming one of the most vital voices of the Civil Rights Movement, to his stint as a Georgia Congressman to his continued contributions as a significant activist in America — is simply remarkable.

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Rosa by Nikki Giovanni and illustrated by Bryan Collier: Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a white man on the city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, remains one of the most pivotal moments - and remarkable actions - in American history. The stunning prose and cut paper illustrations are a winning combo here, bringing new life to Parks’s perseverance, courageous story and steadfast commitment to the civil rights movement.

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Through My Eyes, by Ruby Bridges: At just six years old, Bridges became a focal point of the Civil Rights Movement when she walked, surrounded by federal marshals, through a mob of angry segregationists and became the first Black student at an all white school in New Orleans, Louisiana. This stunning memoir describes Bridge’s courageous- and at times harrowing - journey, in her own words. It is a testament to hope, courage, and the lengths one innocent child went to be afforded an equal education to her white peers.

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Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Ekua Holmes: This gorgeous biography highlights the life and achievements of Fannie Lou Hamer, particularly her stunning accomplishments in connection with the Civil Rights Movement. Fannie, the youngest of twenty children, grew up in a family of sharecroppers. She endured hardship after hardship at her home in Mississippi but never gave up, eventually making it to the stage at the Democratic National Convention in 1964, giving a speech that roused support for the Freedom Democrats and was integral to civil rights for black Americans.

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The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist, by Cynthia Levinson and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton: Inspire child activists with the true story of a little girl who fought for freedom despite her young age. At nine years old, Audrey wanted to go places. So when she heard grownups speaking about doing away with Birmingham's horrible segregation laws, she knew she wanted to be a part of it. Audrey stepped up with confidence, used her voice, and marched for freedom alongside thousands of children and teens. The youngest person to be arrested for protesting in Birmingham, Audrey’s story shows that you are never too young to make a difference.

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Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library, by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Eric Velasquez: This book absolutely blew me away. Schomburg tells the story of Arturo Schomburg, an Afro-Puerto Rican man who was astonished that people of African descent had no historians to bring their stories to life. Schomburg became determined to correct history, and his quest led him to curate a remarkable collection at the New York Public Library that became the cornerstone of the new Negro Division. I can’t rave enough about this fascinating story – this was my favorite picture book biography of 2017.

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Take a Picture of Me James VanDerZee, by Andrea Loney and illustrated by Keith Mallett: James VanDerZee fell in love with the camera when he was just a young boy. He moved to the bustling world of New York City after school and got a job, only to be told by his boss that no white person would want their photographs to be taken by a black man. VanDerZee was undeterred and opened his own studio in Harlem where he took portraits of not just the ordinary neighborhood folk but prominent Harlem Renaissance figures as well, including Marcus Garvey, Florence Mills, and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. His portraits were eventually displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

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Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe, by Deborah Blumenthal and illustrated by Laura Freeman: Ann Cole Lowe, great grand-daughter of slaves, learned to use a needle and thread as soon as she could walk! She worked with her mother in their dress shop, sewing dresses for fancy ladies who had fancy parties to attend. Ann’s mother died when Ann was only 16, and Ann eventually left home for New York City to pursue her dreams. She went to design school, but due to segregation Ann was forced to study on her own. Through it all, Ann never gave up. She studied, designed and sewed, working her way towards becoming society’s “best kept secret” and designing dresses for Oscar winners and even Jackie Kennedy.

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Mae Among the Stars, by Roda Ahmed and illustrated by Stasia Barrington: This beauty of a book tells the story of Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to travel to space! With her mother’s words of encouragement continually whispered in her ears, Mae’s intelligence and drive led her to conquer insurmountable odds until she found herself at NASA. “If you believe it, and work hard for it, anything is possible.” You can even touch the stars.

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The Doctor With an Eye for Eyes: The Story of Dr. Patricia Bath, by Julia Finley Mosca and illustrated by Daniel Rieley: From toy chemistry sets to laser probes, this engaging, rhyming book tells the story of Dr. Patricia Bath, a woman born in Harlem with big dreams of becoming a doctor. Undeterred by the evils of sexism and racism, Dr. Bath persevered, eventually becoming an ophthalmologist and subsequently co-founding the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting, preserving and restoring the gift of sight. Another win for STEM!

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Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery, by Sandra Neil Wallace and illustrated by Bryan Collier: My students fell hard for this fascinating story of Ernie Barnes, a young black man who loved art but took to playing football in order to make a living. After all, the south was segregated when Barnes grew up, and he knew there was no future in painting - there were no black artists in the museums! Nonetheless, despite his career as a professional football player, Barnes never stopped yearning to be an artist. He eventually conquered his dreams, painting for the NFL and influencing a generation of artists and illustrators.

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Champion: The Story of Muhammad Ali, by Jim Haskins and illustrated by Eric Velasquez: Sure there have been books about the great Muhammad Ali, but this one is a gem. With beautiful illustrations that at times are so real they look like photographs, this stunning biography of the great boxer and his commitment to social justice touches upon the struggles, successes and set backs of Muhammad Ali. It truly shines a light on his great legacy and will be a treasure for fans new and old

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Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, by Leda Schubert and illustrated by Theodore Taylor III: Today’s generation of ballerinas admire and hope to emulate the great Misty Copeland. But do these young ladies know about the famous ballerina who inspired Misty herself? Raven Wilkinson was the first African-American woman to dance for a major classical ballet company, never letting racism and mockery hold her back from her dreams. Raven’s persistence led her to dance for royalty in Holland and at the New York City Opera after that— until she was fifty years old. A must have for your little dancers.

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Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams, by Lesa Cline-Ransom and illustrated by James E. Ransome: If you know kids who can’t stop, won’t stop when it comes to tennis or any sport,  they will absolutely love this beautifully illustrated story of tennis stars and sisters Venus and Serena Williams. The dynamic sisters are two of the greatest athletes of all time, but they didn’t become champions without dedication, talent, and a whole lot of heart. A wonderful story of perseverance and a testament to their tenacity and love for their sport. 

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Dream Big Dreams: Photographs from Barack Obama’s Inspiring and Historic Pregnancy, by Pete Souza: Souza was President Obama’s Official White House Photographer for two years and was with him during more critical moments of his presidency than anyone else. In this stunning book of approximately seventy-five photographs, Souza captures photos of Obama that showcase him as both an extraordinary leader and man, one who frequently engaged with America’s youngest citizens and continually encouraged them to “dream big dreams.”

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Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, by Vashti Harrison: This stunning anthology features snippets of 49 black women who, in their own various ways, helped change the world. From poets to pilots to politicians, the fascinating stories combined with stunning illustrations make this book a winner, conveying to our children how people can break barriers when they dream, persevere and never stop believing in themselves.

MOMENTS AND MOVEMENTS

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Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Dreams and Their Lives Brought to Life, by Ashley Bryan: This stunning book of poetry incorporates actual documents from an estate appraisal on July 5, 1828, valuing the will and worth of eleven slaves who live and work on the plantation. The only thing that can not be valued? The dreams of these men and women. On stunning collaged spreads, each slave is given a voice, with one page describing the “worth” and skills he or she brings to the plantation, while the other page explores the dreams that each slave wishes he could achieve with those skills. Powerful, astonishing, and incredibly emotional, this is a stunning achievement and an important, unique look at this stain on American history. 

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Freedom in Congo Square, by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie: In this poetic work of nonfiction, readers learn about a little-known piece of Black history. Though slaves toiled during the week in nineteenth century Louisiana, they counted down to Sunday afternoons - a time when they congregated at Congo Square in New Orleans. Here they could temporarily forget about their oppression and, for several hours, sing, dance, play, and even open up a market. Congo Square was a place of celebration, freedom, hope and resilience, and it helped black men and women maintain some of their significant cultural traditions.

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Let the Children March, by Monica Clark-Robinson and illustrated by Frank Morrison: After hearing the powerful words of Martin Luther King, Jr., many Black children volunteered to march for their civil rights in protest of the laws that forbid them from attending the same schools, playing on the same playgrounds, and drinking from the same water fountains, as white children. Despite their fears, these children faced hatred and danger to march in The Children’s Crusade, using their voices to change the world.

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Freedom Summer, by Deborah Wiles and illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue: This remarkable story describes what happened after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, forbidding segregation. When two best friends, one white and one black, discovered the town pool would now be open to everyone, the two boys raced each other there, only to be in for a very rude awakening. Use this story as a springboard to discuss segregation and the unfortunate reality that it takes more than new laws to eclipse hate. One of my very, very favorite stories - incredibly powerful and thought-provoking.

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Sit In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down, by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney: This wonderful book celebrates the Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-in, when four college students, following Martin Luther King’s example of peaceful protest, sat down at the “white’s only” counter at Woolworths and placed a simple order for a doughnut and coffee with cream. This sit-in became a defining moment in the struggle for civil rights and racial equality in America.

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Lillian’s Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Shane W. Evans: This is a powerful historical picture book about a 100 year old African-American woman who makes a long trek up a steep hill to vote for the very first time. As she walks, she remembers her family history — from the passage of the fifteenth amendment to her parents registering to vote, from the impossible tests given to prevent Black men and women from voting to marching in the civil rights protest from Selma to Montgomery.  Moving, lyrical and tremendously important, this is a fabulous glimpse at American history.  

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage, by Selina Alko and illustrated by Sean Qualls: I love this beautiful, non-fiction book about the Lovings and their fight to make interracial marriage legal in every state across America.  Richard (a white man) and Mildred (a Black woman) fell in love and got married - yet,  marriage between people of different races was illegal in Virginia and they were thus forced to marry legally in Washington D.C.. After their marriage, the police barged into their Virginia home and jailed the couple, prompting a fight against the unfair law that ended up before the Supreme Court -- where the Lovings won. A fabulous intro to the Lovings and the fight for marriage equality. 

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Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly and illustrated by Laura Freeman: Did you love this movie? Well now you can share the inspiring story of these four brilliant women with your kids and students. Hidden Figures is the captivating true story of four Black women who lived at a time when being Black— and being women — limited their abilities to do what they wanted to do: math. And they were really good at math. Did they let societal and gender norms stand in their way? Absolutely not… and so they broke boundaries. This book is outstanding.

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Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph, by Roxanne Orgill and illustrated by Francis Vallejo: We are in love with this beautiful tribute to jazz musicians in the fifties! In 1958, Esquire Magazine planned to salute the American jazz scene in one of its issues. One graphic designer had a crazy idea to gather and photograph a group of beloved Black musicians on a Harlem stoop. The photograph became iconic, and this fascinating collection of poetry celebrates the lives — and even quirks — of some of America’s most beloved musicians.

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Roots of Rap: 16 Bars and the 4 Pillars of Hip Hop, by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Frank Morrison: Did you know that hip hop has its roots in folktales and poetry? That rap music long preceded DJ Cool Herc and Grandmaster Flash? With a forward by Swiss Beatz, this vibrant book uses the four pillars (graffiti, break dancing, rapping/MCing and DJing) to illustrate how hip hop is a language spoken around the globe, including nods to some of the music’s most prominent artists today.

We hope you commemorate Black History Month in your homes and schools with these outstanding works of children’s literature. Enjoy!

Which of these books are your favorite? Make sure to let us know on our Facebook page (and don’t forget to “like” us there, too!)

Did you like this post? We think you will love these too! Kind Hands, Kind Words, Kind Hearts: 21 Books to Promote Kindness, Inclusiveness and Equality, Ten Favorite Books to Evoke Change, Twenty Picture Books About Amazing Women, and Favorite Nonfiction Picture Books of 2018.

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The (Very) Long and (Not at All) Short of It: Why I Began Reviewing Children's Books

There’s one question I get asked repeatedly — and it’s the same question I often find myself shying away from answering: why did you start reviewing children’s books? There’s a simple answer, I suppose. But there’s also a very long one. So long, in fact, that sometimes giving you the simple answer feels like a cop-out. I’ve been at this blog thing for nearly three years now, and I’ve built up quite an incredible and loyal community, so I guess it’s time to share the long and short of it.

My sweet boys and me on New Years Eve. “Bo” (age 4) and “Pickle” (age 5).

My sweet boys and me on New Years Eve. “Bo” (age 4) and “Pickle” (age 5).

The short answer is easy: I love the written word. Ever since I was a little girl, reading was a visceral experience for me. I found power in books — a transcendent force that plucked me from my pink flowered bedroom and placed me squarely in the midst of every story I read. I found pieces of myself in every book I picked up, and I loved reading so much that I began writing my own stories too. Words, sentences, paragraphs, pages, chapters. They were, and still are, an integral part of my life.

But I’m not giving you the whole truth if I stick to this response. So here’s the long answer.

Though I loved reading, I couldn’t actually make it my career, right? I couldn’t read for a living. Or could I? Be a lawyer, some said. All you’ll do is read and write, they said. So I listened. It seemed like a perfect fit, and I thought being an attorney would be incredible. Reality check? It was not. For me, being a lawyer was wholly unsatisfying, and I felt stifled by my inability to be creative. My career felt like a chore, and while I know many people feel this way, I really struggled with it.

But then I got married, and I shoved that dissatisfaction away. Shortly thereafter I had my first beautiful boy (who we call “Pickle” on the blog) and then a second one (“Bo.”) And then the walls came crashing down around me when, at ten days old, Bo suffered from a perinatal stroke. A stroke? I didn’t even know kids - much less infants - could have strokes. But there I was, with a baby that needed significant intervention, and that was my new reality.

Instead of Mommy and Me classes, I spent every day rushing my sweet infant across town from therapy appointments to doctor appointments and then back for more therapy. I learned more about the inner workings of the brain, gross and fine motor skills than I’d ever cared to know, and I came home every day feeling lost and scared. Only one thing felt right during these hellish months: story. Reading to my sweet boy seemed like the one thing in our suddenly off-kilter world that I could make sense of. It was the one thing I could still control. We read about the significance of perseverance and the importance of embracing our unique characteristics. I put much emphasis on the notion that however we may look, whatever challenges we may face, we are all human, plain and simple. And of course, I read him stories to make sure he knew how much he was loved: truly, wholly and deeply.

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I went back to work when Bo was about six months old, only to rediscover an old friend: dissatisfaction. It manifested in a different way though. Here I was on a daily basis asking Bo to put his best self forward. I was challenging him with exercises, pushing him to learn to crawl, walk and simply move appropriately, making him work when I knew it was downright hard.  Yet all this time, I was pursuing a career where I knew I wasn’t the best version of me. I wasn’t challenging myself, I wasn’t pursuing my passions, and I wasn’t chasing my dreams because of one simple fact: I was terrified.

And then it hit me. I was a total hypocrite.

How could I possibly ask my son to persevere when things got tough, to be the best kid he could possibly be, when I wasn’t doing those same things myself? It was an awakening. As I grappled with these tough questions, I began reading and writing profusely. I bought way too many picture books, picked up old manuscripts, began new ones and, kind of as a fluke, put together a private facebook page where I began sharing our favorite picture books with friends who were constantly asking me for recommendations. It felt gratifying to share the stories that helped my own family grow and laugh. And every day that I wrote, I felt stronger, happier, less afraid, and more grounded.

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When that small facebook group went from 20 friends to 200 group members in the span of two days, someone told me to start an Instagram page. So I did, and when that took off, I began my blog. And guess what happened next? The school where both of my kids were in the early childhood program was looking for a librarian -- someone who knew children’s literature, loved kids, and had a passion for reading and literacy. I got the job. It would be a huge change, but Bo was doing great, and I felt ready. A month later, I traded in the courthouse for the schoolhouse, and from the very first second, I knew I was home.

Months later, my husband and I decided our marriage was no longer working, and we got a divorce. The feeling that I’d failed my boys was excruciating. But, once again, I found solace in story — and in sharing the stories that helped us with others. Seeking out picture books to help us find our inner courage, cope with challenging emotions, and accept a new family structure became even more important than ever, and I credit extraordinary books with getting us through these challenging times. Truth be told, books still get us through the tough days, because that’s what story does. Whether we have physical or mental differences, non-traditional family structures, fears about going to bed or school or the doctor — every time we opened the cover of a book, we were on level playing field. We were all on the same first page. There was nothing more magical - or more meaningful - than sharing stories with my boys and letting the words and illustrations gently spark important conversations we needed to share with one another. Stories became the foundation of our home and the heart of our little threesome. They helped us heal. And there has become nothing more fulfilling for me than sharing the stories that have crept their way into our hearts with you, in the hopes that your children and your students will find as much meaning - and as much hope - in them as we have.

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So there you have it, the (extremely) long and (not at all) short of it, the perfectly imperfect path that got me here, with you, doing what I love. And even though it’s had ebbs and flows, even though some days I’m scared out of my mind, I’ve never looked back. I’m all in. And I’ve never, ever felt happier.

Thanks for letting me share the whole truth.

Want to see the books my boys and I love? Make sure to check out these posts! Favorite Picture Books of 2018, Favorite Picture Books of 2017 and Favorite Books About Courage.

Are you following us on Facebook? Instagram? Twitter? Make sure to join our party now, so you can always see what books get two trunks up!




Favorite Picture Books to Spark Your Child's Imagination

It’s a new year! Imagine all of the possibilities the next 365 days will bring with phenomenal picture books that will help your child’s imagination set soar!

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My almost six year-old thinks he’s Lebron James. In his mind, he plays for the Lakers, keeps his pals from the Heat and the Cavs on speed dial, and has a jump shot that takes down the moon. When he broke his arm last year, half of the boys in his pre-K class sent cards telling “Labron Jams” to get well soon. Some may call it an identity crisis, but I like to think of it as a vivid and vibrant imagination.

Too often, we underestimate the power of play. Yet it is play - pretend play, imaginative play, playing “make-believe” - that helps our children make sense of their worlds. Kids learn not just by doing, but by imagining. When they use their imaginations, our kids are gaining valuable developmental skills. They learn empathy by taking on new personas and stepping into another’s shoes. They explore scary situations while nestled in safe spaces. They experiment with language when they act as parents or teachers, or, even better, when they make up their own languages while pretending to be animals or fairies. They even learn to problem solve when they determine how build a castle or how to perfect a jump shot high enough to knock down a star. 

So what do you do when your little one keeps insisting he’s Lebron James or Daniel Tiger or, even cooler, a cyclops unicorn with long blond locks just like Rapunzel? Encourage it! Encourage your kids to think, to dream, and to unleash their creativity in any and all ways possible. They are learning tremendously without even realizing it, and I have no doubt that you’ll be wildly entertained by their antics.   

Looking for ways to encourage that imaginative play? Here are some of Happily Ever Elephants' favorite books to help their imaginations run wild. 

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Du Iz Tak?, by Carson Ellis: Read this once with your kids, and I promise they will be rolling on the floor laughing as they listen to the made up “bug language.” Read it a second time, and magic happens when your little ones realize the words actually make sense.  This book is genius, both for the hilarity it inspires and the critical thinking it involves. Even better? I almost guarantee your kids and students will be wholly engaged in creating their own unique languages long after the book is put down.

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The Whisper, by Pamela Zagarenski: When a little girl goes home from school after borrowing a book from her teacher, she discovers that all of the words have disappeared from the pages, leaving only the illustrations for her to look at. She is frustrated at first, until she hears a whisper telling her that she can imagine the words and the stories all on her own. What follows is a child who initially grapples with the idea of putting her own words to the illustrations, but then slowly finds her voice and unlocks the doors of her imagination. For our full review of The Whisper, click here!

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A House that Once Was, by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Lane Smith: This book is exquisite. When two children come across a house that once was but is no longer a home, imaginations take flight as the two wonder who lived in the house, walked through the halls, and slept in its bedrooms. And why did they leave? A stunning blend of art and prose that together make music, this is one I return to frequently for the mystery within its pages and the way it so perfectly allows children to let their creativity take flight.

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This is Sadie, by Sara O’Leary and illustrated by Julie Morstad: This is one of my absolute favorite picture books, celebrating story and creativity with a beautiful narrative and gorgeous illustrations. Through casual yet precise text, this story takes the reader through a mundane day that becomes both adventurous and awe-inspiring through nothing more than Sadie’s power of imagination. With each turn of the page, we see how books transform Sadie’s ordinary experiences into extraordinary adventures. For our full review of This is Sadie, click here!

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Please Bring Balloons, by Lindsey Ward: After a mysterious note instructs her to bring balloons to the animals on the carousel, Emma obliges. It is then that a wondrous adventure ensues, when the polar bear she rides steps right off the carousel and into the night sky. This is one of those books we come back to again and again, for the sheer awe it provokes, not just in my boys, but in me as well. It is a perfectly magical escape, and it gets those little minds working. If polar bears can ride right off a carousel and into the black of night, what else could happen? For our full review of Please Bring Balloons, click here!

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Poppy Pickle, by Emma Yarlett: Poppy Pickle has quite the imagination, and upon being sent upstairs to clean her room, her imagination comes alive. Her room fills up with the fantastic images she conjures up, and life seems pretty incredible… until, that is, it starts getting crazy. What happens when a mammoth steps right through the door and a crocodile thinks Poppy would make an excellent snack? However will Poppy get these creatures to go away? This one is amazing for letting your kids imaginations run totally, totally wild!

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The Night Box, by Louise Greig and illustrated by Ashling Lindsay: When a child opens the Night Box, day slips into evening as darkness unfurls and stars light up the sky. He is the holder of the key that opens this wondrous box, the one that breathes out night and breathes in the day. What a wonderfully imaginative and unexpected story about one child who holds the key (literally) to our world’s most natural cycle.

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Beyond the Pond, by Joseph Keufler: A little boy in an ordinary town, living in an ordinary house, decides to explore the depth of the pond outside and ends up on an extraordinary adventure. What lies below? Ernest and his dog dive in, and deep down in the water they find a fantastical world complete with dinosaurs and unicorns where bravery reigns supreme. When the boy and his dog finally surface and comes up for air, their seemingly ordinary surroundings may contain a bit of the extraordinary after all.

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What If…, by Samantha Berger and illustrated by Mike Curato: Here is a child who will do whatever it takes to express herself, no matter what challenges she must conquer to do so. She can draw, of course. But she will also sculpt, build, collage, sing or dance her dreams into being. This enchanting story is an ode to the imagination, and a testament that creative minds will always find a way to innovate and bring their visions to fruition.

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Everything You Need for a Treehouse, by Carter Higgins and illustrated by Emily Hughes: In this achingly beautiful and wondrous story, readers are given "instructions" on what they need to build a treehouse, beginning with time, a look up, and a hefty imagination. The book breathes life into each and every requirement for the house. Together, the story and illustrations spark magic and awe. For our full review of Everything You Need for a Treehouse, click here!

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Chalk, by Bill Thompson: In this gorgeous wordless book, three kids find an unusual bag of chalk on a rainy afternoon. They start drawing on the pavement, and within moments, their drawings come to life, entrancing the children with their remarkable power and mystery. This book is an absolute dream, with vivid illustrations that bring this imaginative story to life. The kids can stop the rain and create a sky full of butterflies, but how on earth will they tame a devilish dinosaur?

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Beautiful Oops, by Barney Saltzberg: This book is an absolute gem that shows children (and adults!) that with a bit of creativity, our mistakes can be turned into discoveries. Maybe tears in paper, ink spills and drawing mishaps exist simply to make magic happen. This book, with its pop-ups and flaps and holes and tears, certainly makes it seem so.

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Door, by Jihyeon Lee: What happens when, during your daily, mundane activities you come across a key - and then a solitary closed door? You go through it, of course. And you enter a world where people and animals and other unique creatures live together in harmony and beauty despite their significant differences. Because this book is wordless, children’s imaginations set soar as they eagerly select their own words to tell this wondrous story.

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The Book of Mistakes, by Corinna Luyken: This is a quiet masterpiece illuminating the inherent beauty underlying every misstep we make. So many kids are perfectionists, beginning a project again and again because they can't get it just right. So how can we, the adults help to nurture their creativity and limit their insecurity? Use this book to show little ones that magnificence can be found in mistakes, even our biggest ones.  For our full review of The Book of Mistakes, click here!

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Wallpaper, by Thao Lam: This is the story of a young girl who moves with her family to a new home. Outside her window, the child sees kids in a treehouse, but she is too scared to say hello.  With nothing else to do, she picks at a torn piece of wallpaper in her room, and a fantastical journey suddenly ensues.  What happens when she discovers a monster on her journey? She's scared, of course, until she realizes the monster simply needs a friend. And he may be just the creature to give her a hefty dose of courage to survive her new circumstances. For our full review of Wallpaper, click here!

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I am Famous, by Tara Leubbe and Becky Cattie and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff: If you have a child who lives for the stage, this book is for you. This one cracks me up, because Kiely doesn’t just think she is famous, she knows she’s famous. The paparazzi (her adoring parents) take pics of her wherever she goes, and she even has a personal chef and chauffeur (gotta love mom!). I Am Famous is perfect for kids who dream they are stars of their own shows.

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Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast, by Josh Funk and illustrated by Brendan Kearney: A pancake and a piece of french toast are the best of friends, until that fateful day they discover there is only one drop of syrup left in the fridge. Behind the closed doors of the refrigerator, all food comes to life, and the competition to get to that last drop of syrup is not just fierce, but incredibly fun as well. Talk about a rollicking rhyming romp! This may just be the most imaginative food fight ever, and if your little ones are anything like mine, they will totally delight in the escapades that ensue once the refrigerator doors close and the food inside takes over. For our full review of Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast, click here!

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Not a Box, by Antoinette Portis: A box is just a box. Or is it? Of course not! Not a Box is the perfect book to help toddlers get their imaginations soaring, as it brilliantly teaches little ones that with just a bit of imagination, an ordinary box can become so much more. Your kids will turn boxes into cars, castles and candy shops before too long!

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Imagine by Raul Colon: In this stunning wordless book, one young boy discovers art for the first time. Though he frequently passes by Manhattan’s museums, on one particular day he decides to walk in to the Museum of Modern Art. The boy studies painting after wondrous painting, until he stops at one and the famous work suddenly comes to life, its characters jumping off the canvases and into the real world, to join the boy on an adventure. The boy’s afternoon is thus filled with exploration and wonder as he and his new friends discover all of the excitement New York City has to offer. For our full review of Imagine, click here!

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Time for Bed, Miyuki, by Roxane Marie Galliez and illustrated by Seng Soun Ratanavanh: Sweet Miyuki just doesn’t want to go to sleep, despite her grandfather’s pleas. Why? There are too many things to do, like water the vegetables, gather the snails and prepare for the arrival of the Dragonfly Queen. With gentleness and patience, her grandfather indulges Miyuki’s antics until finally, she is ready for bed and sleep overtakes her. Children will delight in the gorgeous illustrations and Miyuki’s marvelous imagination! For our full review of Time for Bed, Miyuki, click here!

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Also an Octopus, by Maggie Tokuda-hall and illustrated by Benji Davies: Do you know what the best stories start with? If you guessed a whole lot of nothing, you’re absolutely right. Storytelling has to involve a character who wants something, and this instructive, fantastically creative picture book will have your kids laughing and imagining goofy characters and wild situations in no time at all. Also an Octopus is, hands down, one of our very favorites for budding authors.

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Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Color, by Julia Denos:  This is a spellbinding story about Swatch, a wild little girl with even wilder black hair, who is a color tamer. She jars up colors and collects them on her shelves, and she longs to harness all of the colors in the world. But Swatch eventually discovers that some colors refuse to be tamed, causing a drastic change in her master plan. The result? Something special and luminous, resulting in an imaginative story and illustrations your kids will pore over again and again. For our full review of Swatch, click here!

Which of these books are your favorites to ignite your child’s imagination? Let us know on our facebook page, and make sure to follow us there!

Did you like this post? We have a feeling you will love some of our others too. Make sure to check these out! Happily Ever Elephants Favorite Picture Books of 2018, Favorite Books About Friendship, and Favorite Books About Courage.

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Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise, by David Ezra Stein

Do you love kids books that make you laugh out loud?! So do we… and we have got the best picture book to start off your year!

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How many of you totally giggle when your kids innocently mess up words and phrases? Did you know that our blog name came from my older son who insisted the phrase at the end of stories was “happily ever elephants” and not “happily ever after?” My little one thinks we do our grocery shopping at “Pluglix” rather than “Publix.” For a good six months, Pickle insisted that it wasn’t “Mickey” but “Bickey,” and it took at least a year for Bo to understand that “Miguana” is actually “Moana.” These twists of tongue make me laugh continuously, and perhaps thats why I fell in love with Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise. David Ezra Stein is back and better than ever!!

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise is the sequel to the Caldecott Honor Book Interrupting Chicken. In this new story, everyone’s favorite little red chicken and her papa are doing homework together. The little chicken is home from school and can’t wait to share the important lesson she learned that day with her dad: every great story contains an elephant of surprise! Or is it, as papa explains, an “element” of surprise? The little red chicken insists she is right, and so Papa sets out to convince her otherwise. After all, there are definitely no elephants in Rapunzel and the Ugly Duckling. Or are there?

David Ezra Stein is wickedly funny and a creative genius. The “story within a story” concept never gets old with us, especially when the stories featured within the main plot are classic tales my kids readily recall and understand.  The manner in which Stein distinguishes the classic stories from the scenes at home (pale colors for the books the pair are reading together, versus bright and warm scenes of Papa and the little red chicken sitting at home) makes it easy for young readers to follow along and understand what is happening. The dialogue is snappy and fun, the suspense builds with each page turn, and humor abounds on every page - your little ones will shriek with glee, and I have no doubt that you will too. Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise is a joy - and dare I say, the story lover and writer in me may like it even better than the first. TWO TRUNKS UP for this gem!

Did you know that Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise made our list of Favorite Picture Books for 2018? We think you will love that post, so make sure to check it out here! And if you adore kids books that will make you and your little ones laugh out loud, we have a whole section of our blog dedicated to helping you embrace your sillies, so make sure to check out our picks here!

Want the book? Get it here! Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise, by David Ezra Stein. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received a review copy of this book from the publisher, but all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own.

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise is a kids book guaranteed to make you and your kids laugh




Happily Ever Elephants' Favorite Nonfiction Picture Books of 2018

Another year, another incredible array of nonfiction picture books for your youngest readers! The nonfiction books for kids released in 2018 were simply unbelievable. The stories were engaging, the facts intriguing, and the illustrations truly remarkable. To say I’m in awe of the books I’ve added to my boys’ collection as well as our school library is an understatement. I’m truly astounded by the depth and breadth of these stories and the painstaking research that goes into each one. Each of these books is a remarkable achievement by the authors, illustrators, agents and editors that put them together, and I am continually grateful to these stellar teams for getting these stories into the hands of young readers.

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And now, without further ado, these are the nonfiction books from 2018 that my children, my students and I most adored, the ones we read over and over again, and the ones that contained facts and illustrations that surprised, delighted and even tricked us as we read!

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Our World

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A History of Pictures for Children: From Cave Paintings to Computer Drawings, by David Hockney and Martin Gayford and illustrated by Rose Blake: If you have kids that love creating and can’t get enough or art and painting, this awesome book takes young readers on a journey through art history. Discussing everything from cave paintings to iPhone photography, you don’t want to miss this one for your budding artists!

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The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid, by Dylan Thuras and illustrated by Joy Ang: Have a kid who dreams of exploring the world as soon as he can? Have a child who thrives on adventure? This fabulous book describes one hundred of the coolest, weirdest places on our wondrous planet. It is your passport to some of the most incredible, breathtaking and unbelievable attractions around the globe, and if you have a child with wanderlust, he won’t be able to put this one down.

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Lovely Beasts, by Kate Gardner and illustrated by Heidi Smith: This fabulous book encourages young readers to challenge what they think they know about some of the worlds “scariest” animals. Gorillas, porcupines and rhinoceroses may certainly be frightening, but they do exhibit some surprising - even gentle - characteristics. I absolutely love the way this book challenges preconceived notions children (and adults!) have about wild animals and the manner in which it inspires them to move beyond first impressions.

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Earthrise: Apollo 8 and the Photo that Changed the World, by James Gladstone and illustrated by Christy Lundy: Many of us learned about the Apollo 8 mission to explore space. But did you know about the photograph astronauts took from the spaceship that sparked hope worldwide and electrified the environmental movement? This book elegantly weaves facts into an accessible, mesmerizing narrative, and I fell in love with its simplicity, beauty and profound message.

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The Elephant, by Jenni Desmond: Did you know elephants walk on their tip toes? Or that they can detect the rumbling of other elephants from nearly six miles away? We absolutely adore Jenni Desmond’s non-fiction offerings, including The Blue Whale and The Polar Bear, and this beautiful picture book about the endangered elephant is another stunner filled with gorgeous, true-to-life illustrations and fascinating facts for little minds.

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Dinosaurium: Welcome to the Museum, by Lily Murray and illustrated by Chris Wormell: Calling all dinosaur lovers! Raise your hand if your kids are obsessed with learning about these gigantic, ancient beasts. If your hand’s up, you need this fabulous guide in your home! Welcome to the Museum is a beautiful, informative series, and this installment features a wide range of dinosaurs for kids (and adults!) to learn about, from the triceratops to the much less known tsintosaurus. Your children will be mesmerized! And make sure to check out the other books in this awesome series, Botanicum and Animalium.

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Drawn from Nature, by Helen Ahpornsiri: Oh my gosh is this book exquisite! You won’t want to miss this one if you teach your kids or students about our four seasons. The illustrations are intricately made from pressed plants and include leaves, seeds and petal. The result? A uniquely gorgeous feast for the eyes, capturing our world’s natural wonders in a majestic way.

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National Parks of the U.S.A., by Kate Siber and illustrated by Chris Turnham. If you love the great outdoors, this is a book your kids need on their shelves! This book has already been awarded a 2019 Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students: K-12, and it’s no secret why. Through captivating illustrations and text, this guide through our national parks, divided into six regions, introduces students to the various flora and fauna of 21 different parks, complete with a summary of each park’s makeup as well as illustrations of the animals and plants that live in each.

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Flying Machines, by Ian Graham and illustrated by Stephen Bietsy: Have a child that can’t get enough of airplanes? This fabulous interactive book describes eight of the most incredible flying machines of all times, while also introducing famous aviators and the first aircrafts. Flaps and fascinating details about planes and helicopters make this a fabulous introduction for children!

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Professor Astro Cat’s Human Body Odyssey, by Dominic Walliman and illustrated by Ben Newman: If your kids are totally intrigued by the human body — its inner workings, why we actually have certain body parts, and why we do the things we do — your little ones will love this book! Professor Astro Cat and his gang are back in this adventure through the human body, traveling from head to toe to teach kids everything they want to know!

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Two Truths and a Lie: Histories and Mysteries, by Ammi-Joan Paquette and illustrated by Laurie Ann Thompson: My students can’t get enough of these crazy stories - they just can’t believe they are true! This awesome book is a play on everyone’s favorite party game — it tells two true stories and one fake one, and you have to guess which ones are real and which is false. Kids are always astounded when the most unbelievable stories turn out to be factual. It is wild, informative, and a totally engaging read, especially for those kids who are more reluctant to pick up non-fiction.

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Highest Mountain, Smallest Star: A Visual Compendium of Wonders, by Kate Baker and illustrated by Page Tsou: Do you have a child wondering about the height of the tallest mountain on earth? Whether a bird can fly faster than an airplane? This gorgeously illustrated book is chock-full of comparisons and absolutely perfect for those of you with curious kids who can’t stop asking questions. From nature to dinosaurs, the solar system to trees, you don’t want to miss this if you have an inquisitive kid!


Biographies and Anthologies

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Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery, by Sandra Neil Wallace and illustrated by Bryan Collier: My students fell hard for this fascinating story of Ernie Barnes, a young black man who loved art but took to playing football in order to make a living. After all, the south was segregated when Barnes grew up, and he knew there was no future in painting - there were no black artists in the museums! Nonetheless, despite his career as a professional football player, Barnes never stopped yearning to be an artist. He eventually conquered his dreams, painting for the NFL and influencing a generation of artists and illustrators.

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The Eye that Never Sleeps: How Detective Pinkerton Saved President Lincoln, by Marissa Moss and illustrated by Jeremy Holmes: Allan Pinkerton will forever be known as one of the greatest American detectives. Though he has a resume full of accolades, his most important and well known achievement was protecting Abraham Lincoln on the way to his presidential inauguration in 1861. Though a group of assassins was attempting to murder Lincoln while on the way, Pinkerton foiled the plot and ensured the president made it to the capital safe and sound. A fascinating and little known slice of American history!

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First Generation: 36 Trailblazing Immigrants and Refugees Who Make America Great, by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace: This fabulous anthology chronicles the lives of immigrants and refugees who have made phenomenal contributions to American society. These courageous men and women hail from countries world wide, such as Mexico, Syria, China and Somalia, and include iconic figures like Secretary of State Madeline Albright, Albert Einstein and journalist Jorge Ramos. It is at once inspirational and motivational, and children will be astounded by the obstacles overcome and the determination each of these figures possessed.

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Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams, by Lesa Cline-Ransom and illustrated by James E. Ransome: If you know kids who can’t stop, won’t stop when it comes to tennis or any sport, they will absolutely love this beautifully illustrated story of tennis stars and sisters Venus and Serena Williams. The dynamic sisters are two of the greatest athletes of all time, but they didn’t become champions without dedication, talent, and a whole lot of heart. A wonderful story of perseverance and a testament to their tenacity and love for their sport.

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Herstory: 50 Women and Girls Who Shook Up the World, by Katherine Halligan and illustrated by Sarah Walsh. What a collection! This is a fabulous keepsake, a beautiful compilation celebrating the remarkable accomplishments of fifty women who changed the world and left an indelible mark on our society. Readers young and old will learn about the challenges these women faced as children and young adults and be forever inspired by their courage and stunning achievements.

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How to Build a Hug: Temple Grandin and her Amazing Squeeze Machine, by Amy Guglielmo and illustrated by Giselle Porter: There’s nothing quite as inspiring as reading a story about a person who has overcome so many odds to achieve wild success. And Temple Grandin is at the top of that list - conquering such an array of obstacles that her achievements are simply mind-blowing. As a child with autism, Grandin hated hugs — but she so desperately wanted one. It wasn’t until she invented her amazing Hug Machine that she was able to realize her dream - and this was just one of numerous accomplishments. Astounding!

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Just Being Jackie, by Margaret Cardillo and illustrated by Julia Denos: Jackie Kennedy was not just JFK’s beautiful wife and an icon of style and grace. She was so much more than that! Jackie was smart, tireless in her work as first lady, a gifted journalist, a critical part of the preservationist movement to secure the legacies of national landmarks, and an award-winning editor. Her name alone evokes respect, brilliance and sophistication, and this book so beautifully highlights her life and achievements.

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Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag, by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Steven Salerno: Harvey Milk had a dream to create a global symbol of unity and inclusion, one that would allow LGBQT people to be proud of not just who they are, but also who they love. This beautiful book tells the story of the Gay Pride Flag from its inception in 1978 thanks to Milk’s activism, all the way to the present day, describing how it became an important symbol worldwide. This is a story of love, hope, and equality that has an important place on every book shelf!

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Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World, by Vashti Harrison: In the highly anticipated follow up to her knock out book, Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, readers are introduced to the true stories of 35 influential women in their respective fields, some whose names will be recognized, and some you may not know. From trailblazing artists like Mary Blair to environmental activist Wangari Maathai, this book will leave you inspired to get out there and do something incredible.

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Mae Among the Stars, by Roda Ahmed and illustrated by Stasia Burrington: This beauty of a book tells the story of Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to travel to space! With her mother’s words of encouragement continually whispered in her ears, Mae’s intelligence and drive led her to conquer insurmountable odds until she found herself at NASA. “If you believe it, and work hard for it, anything is possible.” You can even touch the stars.

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Turning Pages: My Life Story, by Sonia Sotomayor and illustrated by Lulu Delacre: Sonia Sotomayor is the first Latina Supreme Court justice, inspiring children across the United States - and even world wide - to chase their dreams. But did you know that it was books and reading that inspired Justice Sotomayor? It was books that helped the Justice navigate her world, everything from her father’s death to her diabetes diagnosis to helping her connect with family in New York and Puerto Rico. If you simply turn the page, you are opening yourself up to a world where anything and everything is possible.

Which of these books are got two trunks up from your kids or students? What would you add to our list? Make sure to let us know on our Facebook page!

Did you like this post? We have a good feeling you will love these too! Favorite Picture Books of 2018, Favorite Middle Grade Books of 2018, and Top 20 Picture Books of 2017. Make sure to check them out!

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Happily Ever Elephants' Favorite Middle Grade Books of 2018!

What a year. When it comes to middle grade novels for tweens, the quality and breadth of the stories released month after month in 2018 totally blew me away. There were many chapter books I devoured breathlessly in one sitting, then wanted to pick right back up and start all over again upon reaching the very last page.

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There were books that made me feel so deeply, made me question social norms, and made me ache desperately for change, growth and enlightenment for our society as a whole. And there were also stories that made me cheer, because the protagonists with whom I fell in love found strength, friendship and, perhaps most importantly, themselves.

These are my favorite chapter books written for tweens this year,* books I would loosely recommend for fourth grade on up. I am seriously in love with these stories, and I hope your children and students will use these books as windows through which they can learn about others and mirrors in which they see themselves reflected in wondrous and inspiring pages.

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Amal Unbound, by Aisha Saeed: This is the story of Amal, a bookish girl living in Pakistan with dreams of becoming a teacher. But one day at the market, Amal mouths off to the wrong man: Jawad, son of her village’s wealthy landlord. In order to pay off the debt for her insulting behavior, Amal is forced into indentured servitude with Jawad’s family, leaving her own family behind. At the landlord’s pretentious home, Amal sees firsthand the dangers of illiteracy and gender inequality, and she begins sneaking books from the library and teaching the other servants to read. When Amal is sent by the family to be a patron at the village's new literacy center, she recognizes that her education has given her a powerful hand- the ability to take a critical stance against corruption. Simply stunning - and as proof of its excellence, it was this year’s Global Read Aloud, utilized to connect children all across the globe. For our full review of Amal Unbound, click here!

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The Creativity Project: An Awesometastic Story Collection, by Colby Sharp: This fantastic collection of stories is just so much fun! In this unique book, kidlit champion Colby Sharp gathered a group of more than forty beloved children’s book writers and illustrators and engaged them in one heck of a creative challenge. Each writer created a story prompt — a photo, a poem, a sentence, a quote, whatever they wanted — and that prompt was sent to another writer in the group. When everyone received their prompts, they could transform them into anything they wanted. The result? An incredibly dynamic, unique and poignant collection of short stories, words, poems and art from some of the most beloved writers in the children’s book industry, including Peter Brown, Kate DiCamillo, Minh Le, Jennifer Holm, Jewell Parker Rhodes, Andrea Davis Pinkney, Javaka Steptoe, and so many more. Priceless!

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Front Desk, by Kelly Yang: This is the story of Mia Tang who, together with her parents, leaves China and arrives in America in search of the American Dream. But their hard work and determination doesn’t mean life will be easy, and when Mia’s family finds themselves operating a motel for a cruel and exploitative owner, life is anything but what they had imagined. Mia runs the front desk at the motel, and the tougher her days are, the more she longs for a better and easier life. With the help of a new friend, the motel’s “weeklies,” her devoted parents, and a lucky pencil, Mia may be able to find that she can achieve her own American dreams with a hefty amount of perseverance and a whole lot of heart. A beauty, and my school book club’s favorite book this semester! For our full review of Front Desk, click here!

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Ghost Boys, by Jewell Parker Rhodes: This is an absolutely fantastic and gut wrenching novel about Jerome, a twelve year old black boy who is shot and killed by a white police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real one. As a ghost, Jerome sees the devastation and chaos his death has caused, with his family and community at the heart of it. While his family protests what they believe is an unjust killing, Jerome meets another ghost — that of Emmet Till, a boy who lived decades earlier and experienced the same destructive injustice — as well as Sarah, the police officer’s daughter, who is still alive. Together, Emmet and Sarah help Jerome process his death. Deftly weaving history with today’s pressing issues, this story is a haunting beauty, one that has a place of importance on every tween bookshelf and in every school collection. Though this is undoubtedly a tough topic, Ghost Boys is age appropriate and expertly written.

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Harbor Me, by Jacqueline Woodson: Six children are taken to their school’s old art room and told it’s a place for them to have a weekly chat— without teachers, thus making it totally unmonitored. The six kids, from varying walks of life, are hesitant at first. They each have their stories, but is it safe? Can they open up to one another? The room becomes dubbed the ARTT room, an acronym for “a room to talk,” and soon enough, their stories begin. As the kids’ connections develop and their words bridge divides, the students realize that sharing their stories could be the very thing they needed to give them the strength to handle circumstances that once made them feel so desperately alone. Timely, tough, but oh-so-touching, this is one not to be missed. For our full review of Harbor Me, click here!

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Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, by Ashley Herring Blake: Ivy Aberdeen’s s home is flattened by a tornado that rages through her town. All she manages to save as she flees her house is her pillow which contains her most precious possessions- fancy markers and a journal filled up with drawings, many of which include pictures of Ivy holding hands with an unidentifiable girl. After the storm, Ivy’s notebook goes missing. When her pictures mysteriously begin showing up in her own locker, together with notes encouraging Ivy to be true to who she is, Ivy hopes the letters are coming from a girl on whom she has developed a secret crush. But is owning her truth as easy as Ivy wants it to be? Ivy’s words and yearnings will be windows for some and mirrors for others, but her burning desire to understand who she is at her core will be loved and cherished universally.

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Louisiana’s Way Home, by Kate DiCamillo: In this beautiful, moving story of self discovery, we revisit one of the three girlfriends from Raymie Nightingale. Who? Louisiana Elefante, of circus family fame! But our story begins not in Florida, and instead with Louisiana and her granny on the run - they have left their home in the middle of the night and are driving straight up to Georgia, where they must stop when Granny suffers from a horrific toothache. The pair wind up at a motel in the middle of nowhere, so when Granny leaves again - this time without Louisiana by her side - Louisiana is alone and devastated, fearing she will forever be destined for goodbyes. When Louisiana learns a painful secret upon her grandmother’s disappearance, her past unravels before her eyes and she must decide what she wants — and who she wants to be. A breathtaking masterpiece that made me cry over and over again. For our full review of Louisiana’s Way Home, click here!

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The Night Diary, by Veera Hirandandani: The year is 1947. India, no longer ruled by the British, has been divided into two countries, Pakistan and India, which has created significant discord between Hindus and Muslims. This leaves twelve year old Nisha, half Indian and half Muslim, distraught. Who is she, and where does she belong? When Nisha’s Indian father decides Pakistan is no longer safe, Nisha and her family flee, becoming refugees overnight. Told entirely in letters to the Muslim mother she never knew, Nisha’s story is riveting, nuanced and oh-so-compelling, especially for children struggling to understand who they are, where they fit in the world, and how to move on when both home and heart are ripped in two. An accessible, historical masterpiece that I fell head over heels in love with from the very first page.

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The Parker Inheritance, by Varian Johnson: I love when puzzling stories of the past become present day mysteries just begging to be brought to life and explored. That is exactly what happens here, in this fabulous, intricately plotted story about Candice and her sidekick, Brandon. After Candice discovers a letter addressed to her grandmother describing an injustice that happened long before Candice’s time, she goes on the hunt to solve a puzzle - and find a fortune. Expertly moving between past and present, the challenge leads the friends deep into the history of their South Carolina town and is marked by great discovery — not just about their home, but about themselves, too. This book has received a long list of accolades for a reason - love, love, love it!

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Sweep: The Story of a Girl and her Monster. by Jonathan Auxier: This is the story of Nan Sparrow, an orphaned chimney sweeper who spends her days performing a thankless — and wholly dangerous — job. After her “Sweep” leaves her, and after she almost loses her life in a chimney fire, Nan fears her days are numbered. But when she awakens in an abandoned attic and discovers a golem made of soot and ash in the room with her, she begins a new life full of hope, friendship and the courage to conquer her greatest challenges. Antisemitism, child labor, and social justice are just some of the issues explored in this beautifully written, fantastical story about one child’s struggle with her position in society and her relationship with an unconventional new friend. Folks, this one utterly astounded and captivated me from beginning to end. For our full review of Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster, click here!

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Where the Watermelons Grow, by Cindy Baldwin: This beautiful book tells the story of Della Kelly, a tween girl whose mother suffers from schizophrenia. The book opens with Della’s mother digging seeds out of a watermelon in the middle of the night, talking to people only she can see, and Della at once knows her mother is being tugged back down a dangerous road that once landed her in the hospital for months. With her Dad distracted by trying to save the family farm and her mom spinning out of control, Della decides she is the only one that can heal her mama and save her family - and she refuses to let others in for help. Will Della be able to hold her family together as her mother’s symptoms worsen by the day? Baldwin’s treatment of mental illness feels authentic at every step, and this important book gently reminds us that sometimes, letting go and letting others in is just what we need to survive. For our full review of Where the Watermelons Grow, click here!

Which of these books were your favorite? What would you add? Make sure to tell us on our Facebook page! We can’t wait to hear from you!

Did you love this post? Then you absolutely MUST check out these as well! Happily Ever Elephants’ Favorite Picture Books of 2018, Happily Ever Elephants’ Top 20 Picture Books of 2017, and Favorite Chapter Books for Newly Independent Readers!

*Please note that I cannot possibly read the same amount of chapter books in a year as I do picture books - thus, the number of middle grade books read in total is significantly smaller than my picture book sample!

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