I’ll start with this: If you don’t have Red: A Crayon’s Story, by Michael Hall in your home collection or in your classroom, hurry and get a copy now.
I see it all the time. A mom who grew up dancing and pushes her daughter to take ballet, but the child has no interest and just wants to play soccer. A dad who was a high school baseball star and wants nothing more than for his son to follow in his footsteps, but that child has no interest and just wants to play piano. A mom who was — and maybe still is — the life of the party, so she encourages play dates and throws the coolest get togethers for her child’s friends. But that child? You guessed it. She has no interest in being a social butterfly and just wants to cuddle on the couch with a good book, more introvert than extrovert. So what do these parents do? They push.. and they push. We are all guilty of it in one way or another - I know I am. We push and we push because we want our children to be just what we imagined them to be, and we don’t always follow their lead.
Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall reminds us to take a step back. To listen. To really, really listen. Red: A Crayon’s Story is the story of Red, a red crayon. Or is it? It seems the crayon is having an identity crisis, for though he is wrapped in a red label, there is no debating that every time he colors, he is not red but blue. His parents, his teacher and even his friends try to help him be Red, but no matter how hard he tries, he simply cannot be what everyone else thinks he should be. Then one day, something magical happens. The frustrated crayon meets a new friend who tells Red what he really needs to hear: Red isn’t Red at all… he’s actually blue! And so it is that this was just what Red needed needed: a gentle nudge to look inward and listen to what he likely knew all along. He was blue! He was really blue! With the encouragement of that one friend, Red gained the courage to be true to who he really was inside.
Is there any more perfect message we want our kids to take away from a story? Is there any more significant ideal we want to instill in our children and students? This book can be read on so many levels, as it hits home for any child — any person — who has ever been “labeled” in a way that doesn’t quite fit. When I first read through the book, I immediately thought it was a message for kids struggling with their gender identities. But after reading it through many more times, I discovered the book conveyed a message so much broader than this. How so? Because when you boil Red: A Crayon’s Story down to its simplest level, it is about any child trying hard to be something that doesn’t fit, simply because they think they must conform to others’ ideas of who or what they should be.
It’s challenging for a kid to break away from societal norms or parental expectations. It’s hard to go against the grain, to follow your heart and do what feels right for you, even when you know you may disappoint others in the process. But Red: A Crayon’s Story beautifully reminds children that when they believe in themselves and stay true to who they are at their core, the possibilities are endless. It’s also a wonderful reminder to parents — and even teachers, too — that we are all unique, every single one of us. It’s hard for our kids to find the courage to let their true colors shine brightly. It’s even harder when we push them to be something they are not. What does this mean? Sometimes the adults need to be courageous, too. Sometimes we need the strength to let go of the expectations we have for our childrenand let them be who they were destined to be. Only then will they truly thrive.
So don’t delay. Grab Red: A Crayon’s Story, today, and let it speak to your kids. We have no doubt that it will get two trunks up from your little ones… and you too.
Did you like this post? We are so glad! We think you will love these as well, so make sure to check them out! Favorite Books About Courage, Picture Books to Help You Raise Kind Kids and Favorite Picture Books of 2018.
Want the book? Get it here! Red: A Crayon’s Story, by Michael Hall. *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!
Antisemitism. Child Labor. Social Justice. These are some of the issues that have always been critically important to me - to understand, to work towards, or to fight against. So when these problems are explored in a beautifully written, fantastical story about one child’s struggle with her position in society and her relationship with an unconventional new friend, I want nothing more than to shout about it from the rooftops and share it with every child, parent and educator I can. Enter Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster, by Jonathan Auxier. When I tell you this book sucked me in and I couldn’t put it down, I speak the honest truth. I was utterly captivated, from beginning to end, and I now want to read every single story ever written by Auxier. What a brilliant writer!
Sweep 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.
I love stories that teach without being didactic, ones that encourage you to make new discoveries every time you open their pages. Sweep is that and so much more - a book that tackles tough topics and follows Nan as she puts one foot in front of the other after facing so many unspeakable losses. Sweep is separated into two sections, appropriately called Innocence and Experience, and they so beautifully illuminate Nan’s journey from a guileless young child to a tween fraught with complicated questions and even more troubling realizations about society and her place within it. Why are children forced to work dangerous jobs? Why are kids losing their lives due to nothing but their unfortunate lot in life, and what on earth can she do to change it?
Simply put, Sweep is a feat. It is an adventure of the greatest kind, an ode to friendship, a discovery of self, and a testament to the power of one voice to create change. But my favorite part? Sweep excels in its exploration of “monsters,” finds tenderness in the terrifying, and combats all of our preconceived notions about the frightening things that keep us up at night. Exquisite - this marvel will stay with me for a long, long time.
Want the book? Get it here! Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster, by Jonathan Auxier. *This is an affiliate link.
When I was little, I had a head full of mousy-brown curly hair. I had no clue what to do with it and neither did my mom, whose own hair was pin straight and thin as thread. She told me to brush it 100 times a day (and oh my gosh, this still makes me giggle!) If only she had taught me at a young age to rock my mane, instead of trying to tame it! We laugh about it now - and when I first read the fun and fabulous Rock What Ya Got by Samantha Berger and vibrantly illustrated by Kerasocet, this was the first memory that came to mind. How I love this book - and how I wish I had it when I was a child and had dreams of Rapunzel flowing locks!
Rock What Ya Got, is the story of an artist who picks up a piece of paper and draws a little girl. The girl has a face, a body, two arms and legs, and a mane of wild black hair. The artist sighs deeply though, because her girl is not quite right. Yet something surprising happens every time the artist attempts to erase her creation: her character, Viva, grabs hold of the artist’s pencil and tries to stop her. Why? Because Viva likes who she is, and she wants the artist to let her rock what she’s got. Through lively illustrations, snappy rhyme and a jubilant tone, Viva ensures that she will not be erased. She wants to be celebrated instead!
What a merry and lively book this is, reminding each and every one of us to rock our special qualities and attributes. Rock What Ya Got is a unique take on the traditional books about self acceptance, and I especially love Viva’s fun rhyming mantra that empowers children to carve out their own spots in the world. The story and illustrations are upbeat and perfectly paired. Each turn of the page is surprising, inspiring and a joyous celebration of self, and I absolutely love the magic contained within the art. Rock What Ya Got is is one of those special books that all kids need to read frequently. It is the perfect reminder that even those parts of ourselves we wish we could change can become something extraordinary -- we simply must learn to rock them.
Want to #gettrunky with Rock What Ya Got? Here’s a great idea! Download the app BookCreator, it’s free! Or you can simply go to the Book Creator website. Once you have logged on, click the link for new book, and choose a shape. Next? Get creative! Pickle and I clicked on the plus sign in the top right corner, imported a picture of him drawing, then used the pen and text tools to circle his different features and describe why he loves them. This was a fun way to incorporate simple technology to create an even more immersive reading experience with Rock What Ya Got— you’ll teach your kids some new skills, all while enhancing his or her own sense of self. Here’s a photo of Pickle’s final result, which is now hanging in his room. I think he rocked it!
Want the book? Get it here! Rock What Ya Got, by Samantha Berger and illustrated by Kerasocet. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher, but all opinions contained herein are expressly our own.
Did you know that today is World Kindness Day? Can you think of any more perfect way to spend a day then by doing generous acts of kindness for your friends— and even strangers? To celebrate World Kindness Day, I’m highlighting one of my favorite picture books from 2018, Be Kind, by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Jen Hill. This wonderful, heart-warming story is part of our #booksforbetter giveaway and I would love nothing more than to gift this book to every child, parent and classroom around the world. Why? Because I truly believe its pages possess tremendous power.
Be Kind explores the concept of kindness after one little girl spills grape juice all over her brand new dress. Seeing her despair, one of the girl’s classmates wonders what it means to be kind- even when others aren’t. She thinks about what it means to give, to help and even to simply pay attention. Be Kind explores acts of kindness big and small, from the easiest tasks to the more challenging ones, and it so beautifully imparts that even the smallest, youngest child has the power to make an impactful difference simply by making kind choices.
We absolutely adore Be Kind. We love its beautiful, diverse illustrations. We love its clear, powerful message, and we love the way it empowers children and helps them recognize that even the smallest act of kindness can grow into something so much bigger. In our home, we have a mantra that we repeat every day when my boys get out of the car at school drop off: “kind hands, kind words, kind hearts.” This book gave life to our mantra in the most tangible, meaningful way, and I cant express how grateful I am to Zietlow Miller, Hill and all the others who made this beautiful bok and got it into our hands. We can all read Be Kind in our homes and classrooms and make it a global mission to model kind hands, kind words, and kind hearts for our children. Lets help all children see, with unwavering certainty, that being kind is being cool. TWO TRUNKS UP!
Want the book? Get it here! Be Kind, by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Jen Hill. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received a copy of this book from the publisher, but all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own.
If you have never read a story by Kate DiCamillo, prepare to get swept away by magic. If you are already a fan of Kate’s work, then prepare yourself for another mesmerizing character and another extraordinary story. From the second you open the first page of Louisiana’s Way Home, you are so clearly in the hands of a brilliant storyteller. DiCamillo simply plucks you off of the couch/bed/chair where you are curled up reading and drops you squarely in the middle of her world. That’s how vivid Louisiana’s Way Home is- that’s how magical each and every page.
Louisiana’s Way Home is a companion book to Raymie Nightingale. In it, we revisit one of the three girlfriends, 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 Florida in the middle of the night and are driving straight up to Georgia, where they must stop when Granny suffers from a horrific tooth ache. And so it is that the pair winds up at a motel, and when Granny up and leaves again - this time without her granddaughter - Louisiana fears she is destined for only goodbyes. There is a curse on her head, after all. When Louisiana learns a painful secret, her past unravels before her eyes and she must decide what she wants — and who she wants to be.
“I want you to know something, Louisiana. We all, at some point, have to decide who we want to be in this world. It is a decision we make for ourselves. You are being forced to make this decision at an early age, but that does not mean that you cannot do it well and wisely.” Tears. Streaming down my cheeks. These characters, this voice. These decisions. Standing at a crossroads is tough- no matter the age. But when we reach this point, we have big choices to make. We have to decide if we want to forgive, and if so, how? We have to decide if we want to move forward, and if so, how? Most importantly, we have to strive to believe in love, compassion and generosity. Because without that steadfast belief, we may truly lose our way home. Louisiana’s Way Home is a beauty; perfectly paced, impeccably plotted, and the most compelling hero’s journey i’ve read in some time. I savored every word and every character, and I am already eagerly anticipating the third installment in this trio of books. TWO TRUNKS UP!
Want the book? Get it here! Louisiana’s Way Home, by Kate DiCamillo. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher, but all opinions contained herein are entirely our own.
“Own Voices.” It’s a prominent term in the children’s literature world right now. What is it, you ask? Own voices is a term coined to describe books written by authors that share a minority or marginalized trait with their main character. So in other words, these books aim to provide a more authentic perspective, then say, a white author writing about a Muslim main character, or an able-bodied author writing about a protagonist with a signifiant physical disability. When I learned about Ellie Terry’ Forget Me Not, an "own voices” novel in verse about a young girl struggling with Tourette’s Syndrome, I was immediately intrigued and couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.
Forget Me Not tells the story of Calliope “Callie” June, a seventh-grader with Tourette’s Syndrome who is constantly on the move with her mother, which means she is constantly having to start over at new schools. And what does that mean? It means Callie is constantly having to find ways to hide her embarrassing disorder that makes her so different than the rest of her classmates. When Callie arrives in a new town and makes friends with her neighbor, Callie finds something that resembles the smallest sliver of happiness. So what happens when Callie discovers that her mother might make her move, yet again, right as Callie is on the cusp of something special?
Forget Me Not is written in verse from Callie’s perspective and in prose from the perspective of Callie’s neighbor, Jinsong. Callie’s desire to be accepted among her peers is both honest and gut-wrenching as she struggles to understand her Tourette’s and hide it from those around her. But hiding it is impossible, and when her behaviors are on full display at school, the cruelty she experiences is heart breaking. Callie’s poetry is lyrical, deep and, at times, breathtaking. Add to this Jin’s story - one in which we feel his immediate affection for Callie, but watch as he struggles with own internal conflict: can he maintain his “cool” among his peers and still befriend the “weird girl”? Or will he risk social suicide by letting anyone realize how much he adores Callie? Their intertwined stories explore acceptance, connection and confidence, and the two share a heart-felt story you don’t want to miss.
Want the book? Get it here! Forget Me Not, by Ellie Terry. *This is an affiliate link.
Wow. WOW. It is not very often that I finish a book and want nothing more then to pick it right back up again, flip back to page 1, and read it cover to cover just one more time. But that’s exactly how I felt when I put down Harbor Me, a stunning new novel by Jacqueline Woodson. If I have said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Woodson is a gift to literature. Her words resonate deeply, and she possesses an extraordinary ability to tap into timely, almost desperate situations in a manner appropriate and gentle enough for young kids to grasp.
In Harbor Me, 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 their 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.
Harbor Me is stunning. At once both a coming of age story and an exploration of how America’s political and social challenges affect children daily, Woodson’s words ground us firmly in the ARTT room as the kids struggle to comprehend both their identities as individuals as well as their places in society. These children are America’s children. They are OUR children- children affected by the headlines pervasive in our country today including immigration, deportation, incarcerated parents, and the black lives matter movement. These children are in our homes and schools, and their confidence and self worth is being shaken regularly due to government regulations, racial profiling and harmful ignorance. Through Woodson’s evocative prose and magical storytelling, we watch the children become safe harbors for one another, their initial apprehension slowly turning into compassion, connection and perhaps most importantly, courage.
Want the book? Get it here! Harbor Me, by Jacqueline Woodson. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received an advanced review copy of this book, but all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own.
If you’re following us over on Instagram, you know we’ve been on a strong and mighty girls kick, and here’s one more awesome read for your shelves that gives us glimpses into our world’s many vibrant cultures. I adore this gorgeous, re-issued collection of folktales featuring heroic women around the globe. Not One Damsel in Distress: Heroic Girls from World Folklore, is collected and told by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Susan Guevara, and its one you don’t want to miss. This is a diverse collection of stories featuring smart, strong and savvy women that I cannot wait to share with my smart, strong and savvy little boys.
Did I say I want to share stories about female heroes with my BOYS? Heck yes, I did! Books featuring strong girls and female protagonists are not just “girl books.” It is crucial to share these books - both fiction and non-fiction - with our sons and male students. If we truly seek to change our country’s narrative for future generations, we must show our boys, starting at tender young ages, that reading about female heroes is just as necessary — and perhaps more importantly, just as FUN — as reading about male heroes.
Frankly, it is time to level the playing field. Given the current state of affairs in America, this is not just significant, but vital to the functioning of our democracy. Women’s voices are just as critical as their male counterparts, and we need our boys to recognize this from the time they are born. Raising a generation of compassionate, respectful men begins with those of us who nurture and teach them in our homes and in our schools. Reading to them — true stories about real women as well as fictional books with strong female protagonists - is such an effective way to make a difference in our communities, which in turn helps affect greater societal change. And such change is critical, because the current social structures and the gender inequality so frequently displayed in our communities, workplaces and government is simply unacceptable. As parents and educators, it is up to us to change it. So grab Not One Damsel in Distress, add it to your strong girl book collection, and talk it to up your girls AND boys. Let’s give our children opportunities to see that heroes come in all shapes, all sizes and all genders.
Want the book? Get it here! Not One Damsel in Distress: Heroic Girls from World Folklore, by Jane Yolen. *This is a affiliate link. HEE recived a review copy of this book, but all opinions expressed herein are expressly our own.
I have read so few middle grade books touching upon a parent with mental illness, yet it affects an astounding number of adults in the United States. The National Alliance on Mental Illness notes that 1 out of every 5 American adults experience mental illness in a given year. Of these, 1 in 100 American adults live with schizophrenia. What do these staggering statistics tell us then? Mental illness is not taboo. And the fact that there are so many adults afflicted means there are children struggling to make sense of a parent’s disease. How can we help these children feel less alone and more understood? One answer is to give them books in which they can see themselves and their stories.
Enter Where the Watermelons Grow, a powerful new middle grade novel 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?
I love Where the Watermelons Grow for so many reasons. First, its tackling of mental illness felt authentic at every step. It provided gut-wrenching, yet age appropriate details of schizophrenia, giving children a glimpse into this disease in a way that felt both informative for those who haven’t experienced it, and trustworthy for those who have. More importantly, though, I loved Della’s emotional journey and the way in which she matured during the story. Our protagonist went from keeping her mother’s secret buried deep down, not only for fear of what others would think of her family but because of her own fear that she somehow caused or contributed to the sickness. Yet as her mother worsened, Della matured enough to understand that not only was she in no way responsible for the illness, but allowing others to support her would give her the love and strength she needed to survive. Community can be healing, but sometimes, we shy away from that very notion because letting others in to our family secrets can be downright frightening. Della’s eventual acceptance of her mother’s schizophrenia - and the recognition that it is not a badge of shame upon her family- resonated deeply and reminds readers that all families struggle with challenges, but there are always people who will be there to help. We just have to let them in. A beautiful, tender and poignant novel.
For another, totally different yet wonderful read about a child struggling with a parent’s mental illness, check out our review of The Secret of Nightingale Wood, by Lucy Strange.
Want the book? Get it here: Where the Watermelons Grow, by Cindy Baldwin. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher, but all opinions contained herein are expressly our own.
Fads. Like it or not, fads come and go like like the rising tide, presenting a challenge our kids will forever struggle with. Staying on top of the trends, having the right clothes, gadgets, accessories and bags, is a major concern when children are little. How do we celebrate uniqueness? How can we teach our kids that its not things that matter, but embracing our own individuality?
Enter Old Hat, by Emily Gravett, a favorite author illustrator here at Happily Ever Elephants (one of our absolute favorite books for toddlers is her fabulous Monkey and Me - check out our review for that book, here!) In Old Hat, Harbet loves his old knit hat, but its not nearly as cool as the latest fashions that the other animals are wearing. So he keeps trying to get the newest, trendiest hats... but every time he gets the hat all the other animals were wearing, a newer, cooler head piece arrives on the scene. Whatever will he do?
Old Hat is an excellent choice if you are looking for a story to remind your little ones how awesome it is to be unique. There is beauty to be found in individuality and so much joy to be had when we learn to value the characteristics that make us special, as well as our own sense of what it means to be "cool." Gravett's books are the best- great cadence, fabulous illustrations, and so much fun. Old Hat is yet another winner.
Want the book? Get it here! Old Hat, by Emily Gravett. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received an advanced review copy of this book, but all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own.
So many of us have stood in that uncomfortable spot, right there in the doorway about to enter a room where the blanket of faces staring back at you look wholly different from your own. It's one of those feelings that is bound to make your stomach hurt or your eyes sting - especially when you're only a child. At that moment, all we see are the differences in those people: different skin colors and eye shapes, different clothing -- even different accents when they begin to speak. What we forget during these challenging situations, however, and what we need to remind our kids, is that underneath these different exteriors lie a multitude of similarities.
This is the beauty of Jacqueline Woodson's newest picture book, The Day You Begin, stunningly illustrated by Rafael Lopez (you may remember him from one of my favorite books, Maybe Something Beautiful). The Day You Begin tells the story of a young girl who walks into a new classroom and finds no one like her. But then she sits down, her classmates begin talking, and as their words fill the air, shared sentiments become bridges to building connection.
The Day You Begin reads like music, with rich melodies that rouse your senses and settle softly upon your heart. Woodson's words, as is typical for her, are a song to celebrate. She reassures us that, when we are brave enough, we can all find connections with one another. When we muster up courage and extend our hands and voices, we will find possibility where it first seemed like none existed. The Day You Begin conveys wisdom, hope and heart, on vibrant, collaged pages that are a perfect accompaniment to the exquisite text. This is a book to treasure, reminding both children and adults that there is so much beauty to be found when we embrace who we are and find the strength to view challenges as opportunities. We give this one two trunks up, and we have no hesitation in calling The Day You Begin an absolute MUST for every home, classroom and library collection.
Want the book? Get it here! The Day You Begin, by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Rafael Lopez. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received an advanced review copy of this book, but all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own.
What’s in a name? I’ve always loved that question. Sure, some parents pick names for one reason and one reason only: because they like the way they sound. But many of us pick our children's names for a reason: as a tribute to someone’s memory, to honor someone currently living, or because the name has a special definition we hope our sons and daughters will emulate. We picked our boys’ names for all of the above reasons, and their names- both their given names and their Hebrew names- are so special to our family. Because I love the derivation of names, I particularly loved Alma and How She Got Her Name, by Juana Martinez-Neal. This book is simply perfect - and absolutely stunning to boot!! It’s no wonder it was awarded a 2019 Caldecott Honor!
In Alma, a little girl complains to her father about her long name -- Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela. “It never fits,” she tells her Dad. Her frustration prompts a discussion between father and child as to why Alma was given such a long name, and Alma's eyes suddenly open to the legacies she carries with her and the beloved ancestors she was named for. After Alma learns all about her vibrant name, she realizes that it may be the perfect fit after all.
I am in LOVE with everything about this beautiful book: the story, the gorgeous illustrations, the reasons Alma comes to love and celebrate her name, and the way in which it lends itself to so many fabulous activities, either at home or in the classroom. Alma and How She Got Her Name is rich with activity ideas- from having children research the meaning behind their own names, to having kids learn about different cultural traditions for naming babies, to having kids write about the people for whom they were named and how they may emulate the characteristics of those people. The ideas are endless, and this beauty of a book is rife with possibility. Two trunks up for this stunning treasure, one that will stay with you and your children long after the final page is turned.
For a full list of the ALA awards, including the prestigious Caldecott, Newbery, Geisel and Coretta Scott King awards, check out this post of all the 2019 winners! And did you know Alma made our list of Favorite Picture Books of 2018? Don’t leave without checking out that post here!
Want the book? Get it here! Alma and How She Got Her Name, by Juana Martinez-Neal. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received an advanced review copy of this book, but all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own.
Wow. WOW. My gosh, was this book fantastic! Amal Unbound was an emotional, powerful story, one I read so quickly because I simply could not put it down. Set in a poor Pakistani village with themes of social hierarchy, education, and indentured servitude, this was a searing "window" book that opened my eyes to the tragic circumstances and sacrifices that children in some communities must experience to save their families from ruin.
Amal Unbound, elegantly written by Aisha Saeed, is the story of Amal, a bookish, smart girl 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 his 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 others 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.
A poignant exploration of unjust power structures and the extreme consequences families must endure to repay debts for “poor” behavior, Amal Unbound will be an eye opener for so many students. It is an important testament to the power of education and the way words can change worlds and correct damaging social injustice and corruption. Knowledge is power, and literacy, in this story, truly becomes Amal’s key to freedom. This is an important read for all upper elementary and middle school students students -- a story of literacy, resistance and, ultimately, sweet sweet justice. Amal Unbound is hands down one of my favorite middle grade novels of 2018 so far. Two trunks up!
Want the book? Get it here! Amal Unbound, by Aisha Saeed. *This is an affiliate link. Happily Ever Elephants received an advanced review copy of this book, but all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own.
My grandparents met when they were only kids, living in Chicago the 1930s. Gigi taught Poppy how to dance; they met at his first lesson, and the rest (as they say) is history. Shortly thereafter Poppy broke barriers when he went to college—he was the first Jewish boy to receive a basketball scholarship to DePaul University. Poppy was a brave, moral man who always stood up for the underdog and championed those values he held dear. When he went off to fight in WWII, he was put in charge of a camp for prisoners of war. What did he do? He fashioned a basketball court for the men at the camp so they could entertain themselves. Humanity, he said. Even when the world disagreed on the very fundamentals of our rights as human beings, he thought it critical to treat each other with kindness and respect.
I've always cherished this story about my grandfather -- and I've always loved the way oral storytelling can shape and mold our lives as we try to embody the most beloved virtues of our ancestors. Perhaps this is why I so connected to Islandborn, the exquisite new picture book by one of my favorite authors, Pulitzer Prize winning Junot Diaz, and exquisitely illustrated by Leo Espinoza. In Islandborn, Lola's teacher asks the students to draw a picture of the country from which they immigrated. But Lola, perplexed and upset, can't remember The Island where she was born; she left when she was just a baby. She thus begins speaking with relatives and friends to learn more about her homeland. And as she hears story after story of The Island, Lola quickly understands that "[j]ust because you don't remember a place doesn't mean it isn't in you."
Islandborn is positively incredible! I love how Lola feels increasingly connected to her island the more she learns from her loved ones. I love how she suddenly sees, hears and tastes her birthplace, this place that is the essence of her core. More importantly, I love the various ways you can use this text in your homes and classrooms to help your children connect with their pasts, because their family stories will undoubtedly mold their futures. You can so easily guide children to learn about their ancestors, cultures, countries, and even the history and politics that shaped their families' daily lives. Read Islandborn and then have your students explore! You can use simple prompts for younger kids ("interview a family member about an experience that shaped his/her childhood") or go deeper for older children ("how did the political climate of your grandparent's home country shape his/her upbringing?") The information they learn can be used to write narrative essays, illustrate a picture book like Lola, or even create video presentations using apps like 30hands. The possibilities are endless. This is what happens when a phenomenal book finds its way into your hands. You can't stop thinking about it, and you want to use it to enhance learning in every way possible. Thank you Junot Diaz for this treasure!
Want the book? Get it here! Islandborn, by Junot Diaz. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received a review copy from the publisher, but all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own!
My heart has been tremendously heavy since the horrific tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week, a school so close to my own. There are so many things that need to be fixed in this country, so many problems we need to tackle from guns to the mental health crisis to funding for our public schools. As you know, I frequently turn to books for answers and support, but books, unfortunately, cannot solve our national gun crisis. You know what books CAN do, though? You know what their very purpose is? To serve as windows and mirrors for students and adults. To foster empathy in our children, provide safe spaces for children to explore daunting emotions, build a generation of globally aware and conscious kids, and help our young ones find themselves in stories so they don't feel so alone.
I want to highlight The Invisible Boy today, a phenomenal story written by Trudi Ludwig and illustrated by Patrice Barton. The Invisible Boy is about a child named Brian who is never seen or noticed by his classmates. He has no friends. He is never picked to be on a team at recess, never acknowledged by his teachers, never invited to birthday parties. And thus, he appears in the story devoid of color, making him invisible among his classmates. Eventually a new child comes to school and winds up in Brian's class. Brian is the first to reach out to him. When a bond forms between the two boys and they are teamed up to work on a class project, Brian finds a way to step out of the shadows and flourish. Not only does he make a new friend, but Barton's illustrations show how small acts of kindness fill Brian up with color until he is, quite literally, a vibrant force in his classroom.
The Invisible Boy is a phenomenal story, perfectly illustrating how one tiny act of kindness - one small act of acknowledgement or appreciation - can infuse our lives with color and have a significant impact on our self esteem. We need to be so darn certain that none of our children and none of our students are EVER made to feel nonexistent in our homes and schools. Feeling invisible can be just as damaging to a child's social and emotional well being as being teased and laughed at, and it is up to us, the adults, to model the virtues we want the next generation to inherit. This book beautifully conveys the importance of being kind and compassionate and of encouraging our children to befriend those in their classrooms who are too often overlooked. It also reminds us how important it is to get our kids and students involved in activities and clubs that will really allow their unique talents and abilities to flourish with like-minded children with whom they may be able to share a special bond. Feeling invisible can be destructive, and it is up to us to find these struggling children, help them, and show them how important they are in our homes, schools and communities.
In our elementary school, I read The Invisible Boy with each of my classes and gave the students a challenge: make sure no student in your class feels invisible. I remind them to be mindful of their fellow classmates, to look around, be kind, be compassionate. It takes work, and it is not always easy among students who can be -- lets face it -- be cliquey and catty. But it is important to give children constant reminders of how critical it is to be inclusive, to have kind hands, kind words and kind hearts.
We are the adults. We need to do something for these invisible kids, and we need to start by making sure that every child in our homes and classrooms feels heard, supported, and - most importantly - loved. The Invisible Boy is a must for your collections, and I can't rave about this book enough. Get it here, now: The Invisible Boy, by Trudi Ludwig.
I've always loved the newness that arrives on the first of January, the way the year opens up overflowing with wonder and promise, pure as a cloudless sky. It's a blank canvas, right? Maybe your surroundings look the same - you're waking up under the same comforter, brewing that first cup of coffee in your chipped but cherished mug, making your kids their favorite Mickey waffles - but the day ahead is filled with an almost tangible feeling of hope. And as each year slides -- whether whisper soft or with a deafening bang -- into the next, we are given a fresh start. A clean slate. A new chance.
Enter What Do You Do With a Chance?, by Kobi Yamada, featuring gorgeous illustrations by Mae Besom. Can this team do no wrong? Each book in this trilogy has moved me deeply, with words and illustrations that came into my life at exactly the perfect time. In Chance, a child gets just that - a chance - that appears out of nowhere. But the boy doesn't embrace it; he is uncertain, and thus pulls away. When the next chance comes around, he reaches for it and falls. He is overcome with fear, never wanting to feel so foolish again. The chances keep appearing, though, but because he keeps ignoring them, they eventually cease. Only then, of course, does the boy realize that as scared as he is, he does want to take a chance. Will he be brave enough to seize a new opportunity? You've got to read it to find out.
"If only I had a chance to [insert the myriad of things you or your kids or your students desire but never actually do HERE]." How many times have you heard this? How many times have you said it yourself? What Do You Do With A Chance? is the perfect book to challenge this way of thinking - to change our mindsets from "I wish I could" to "of course I can." We all have it in us to take chances, to embrace new opportunities. And we have to remember that though we may fall, or even fail, the beauty of seizing a chance lies in embracing the intertwined feelings of fear and excitement that come with trying again. Here's to this brilliant conversation starter, a stunning conclusion to a breathtaking and inspiring trilogy. And, of course, here's to seizing chances in 2018.
Want the book? Get it here! What Do You Do With a Chance?, by Kobi Yamada. *HEE received an advanced review copy of What Do You Do With A Chance, but all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own. Check out our review of What Do You Do With an Idea?, the first book in the trilogy, HERE!
Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming is one of those novels that's been on my shelf for a couple of years now, but for one reason or another, I just never got around to reading. What on earth was I waiting for?!? A ton of my students checked this out last year, all returning it breathlessly and recounting how much they loved it with stars in their eyes. Well, I have to say that this book's beauty captivated me too, and it will undoubtedly be a forever favorite of mine.
Brown Girl Dreaming is a fictionalized memoir about brilliant author Jacqueline Woodson. Woodson writes about growing up as an African American child in the sixties and seventies during the height and aftermath of the civil rights movement - first in Ohio, then in South Carolina and, eventually, New York. The remnants of Jim Crow are everywhere, and as Woodson navigates her own identity and worth, she is also faced with a country battling racism, animosity and segregation. A powerful and mesmerizing read, Woodson's poetry reflects a young woman's journey to find not just her voice, but her place at home, in school and in society at large.
Some children get nervous about reading poetry and novels in verse, but what is so remarkable about Brown Girl Dreaming is Woodson's ability to keep each of her poems both accessible and relatable. Despite their richness and her beautiful use of language, her poems never feel too cerebral or heady for a child reader. Instead, a young one can so easily grasp Woodson's poignant verses and, most importantly, her yearning- for family, for friends, and most importantly, for writing. A sensitive, beautiful memoir about finding oneself amidst the backdrop of a country also searching for a new identity- this is a true work of art.
Want the book? Get it here! Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson. *This is an affiliate link.
A brave princess who wants to climb trees, get dirty, and have a wild adventure? Yes please! If that sounds like a story line your kids will devour, look no further than Princess Cora and the Crocodile, a joyful beginning chapter book written by Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schultz and illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Brian Floca (talk about a dream team!) Humor and heart, coupled with great illustrations and a large, easy to read font, make this a winning beginning chapter for emerging readers. This is one that I can't wait to start circulating come September, as I have no doubt my students will adore it.
Princess Cora is bored, bored, bored. She is sick of her boring lessons, running in circles around a stuffy gym, and taking three (THREE!) baths a day. But what else can she do as the heir to the throne? Apparently, a lot -- with the help of a godmother, a crocodile, and a whole bunch of freedom.
At a time when many of our kids are overworked and overscheduled, Princesss Cora and the Crocodile celebrates the power and importance of play for kids-- no matter how grand their destiny. Alternating between Cora's outdoor adventure and the crocodile's shenanigans at the castle, emerging readers will delight in the humor of Schlitz's prose, which is made even more entertaining by Floca's witty illustrations. But don't be fooled by the giggles alone- the story packs a big punch as the bravery Cora musters to seek out some independence eventually allows her to speak out- and make her own choices. A must for those of you with emerging readers at home!
Want the book? Get it here! Princess Cora and the Crocodile, by Laura Amy Schlitz. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received an advanced review copy of this book from the publisher, but all opinions expressed herein are our own.
Who am I? Where did I come from? When does childhood end and the next phase begin? These are just some of the perplexing questions our children grapple with from the time they are young-- but in all honesty, do these questions ever really go away? Do we ever stop wondering who we are, and when and how the next chapter of our lives will unfold?
These are the issues the protagonist in Laurel Snyder's startlingly beautiful new novel, Orphan Island, ponders throughout the story. Young Jinny is one of nine children -- orphans, to be exact-- living on a mysterious, idyllic island. Don't be fooled, though. While all seems perfect in paradise, there is one day of the year when a strange green boat glides to the shore to drop off a new child... and take the oldest one away. When Jinny's best friend Deen is taken at this "Changing," Jinny suddenly becomes the group's "elder" and must care for the new arrival. Jinny knows her responsibilities as the oldest kid on the island, but will she abide by the "rules" as she counts down to the inevitable arrival of the green boat to take her away, or will she buck tradition and mess up the island's peace in the process?
Orphan Island is a meditation on growing up -- on what happens when we ask tough questions and realize we may never get answers. It is thoughtful, wise and, perhaps more importantly, unwavering in its honesty. Jinny is a narrator we root for- but one who is also, at times, a bit unlikable. Yet even as we may disapprove of certain actions she takes or choices she makes, we never cease to understand her motivations. Smack dab in the middle of that awkward transition between childhood and adolescence, Jinny is undoubtedly flawed. Her flaws, though, make her story all the more compelling. She is the reason you will fall into Orphan Island and not be able to put it down. Her internal dissonance - fear of losing the island's stability while simultaneously yearning for something beyond its stagnancy - will strike a chord and resonate with your children who will relate to her innermost thoughts and longings. Orphan Island is contemplative, lyrical, and a brilliant study in character. A must read for your tweens.
Want the book? Get it here! Orphan Island, by Laurel Snyder. *This is an affiliate link. We received a copy of this book from the publisher, but all opinions are our own.