Inside: Children’s Books About Dads are the most special way to celebrate the men we adore, not just on Father’s Day but all year round. Check out these fabulous picture books to read with daddy!Read More
Looking for a beautiful tribute to fathers and sons? We adore the tender relationship between a dad and his little boy in The Night Job. This is a fabulous new picture book, and we absolutely love the way this story gives us a glimpse of life with a parent who works through the night, rather than a traditional 9-5 job.Read More
If you’re trying to find great children’s books about family diversity and alternative families, this is YOUR list. Here you’ll find books about blended families, books with same-sex parents, great reads about adoption and more. Come check it out!Read More
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.
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.
Some children have moral compasses so strong, you wonder if it is an innate part of their nature or whether their parents instilled in them this fundamental respect for fairness and justice. It never ceases to amaze me how even young people can experience overwhelming desires to solve some of society’s significant challenges. Perhaps that’s the reason why I loved Every Shiny Thing, the new beautiful middle grade novel by Cordelia Jensen and Laurie Morrison. Or perhaps it was the more complicated notion of what happens when these desires to “correct” come at the expense of your own better judgment. Either way, one thing is certain: Every Shiny Thing is a beautiful and intriguing new middle grade novel that I can’t wait to get on the shelf in our library.
Every Shiny Thing is the story of two unlikely friends, Lauren and Sierra, whose worlds collide when Sierra is sent to live with foster parents who happen to be Lauren’s neighbors. Lauren is grappling with her parents decision to send her autistic brother to a fancy boarding school out of town, and Sierra is struggling with being apart from her alcoholic mother. Both girls are lost- until they find each other. But when Lauren enlists Sierra in her plan to raise money to help less fortunate autistic children get the therapeutic services they require, her plan takes a turn towards the illegal— and their friendship takes a downturn too. Will Lauren’s desire for justice cost the girls their new bond?
Told both in powerful verse and authentic prose, Every Shiny Thing is a compelling look at privilege, a flawed health care system and the lengths we go to to please new friends. I love the unique lens through which Lauren views this injustice - children who require interventional services like occupational and physical therapy but do not have the funds to cover the recommended treatment. It’s a thought provoking and very real problem, and her struggle is understandable. Morrison handles Lauren's exploration authentically and with a light touch, especially when her excellent intentions quickly go bad. Similarly, Jensen tells Sierra's story through first person verse which simply sings, and her battle is also a familiar one for so many kids: straddling the fine line between pleasing a new friend or enlisting help when that same friend's behavior is out of control. A beautiful story tackling important issues, Every Shiny Thing gets two trunks up! You know it's a good one when you can't stop thinking about it weeks after you've finished the book.
Want the book? Get it here! Every Shiny Thing, by Laurie Morrison and Cordelia Jensen. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received a review copy of this book, but all opinions contained herein are expressly our own.
Ever since reading Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, I've been on a Rita Williams-Garcia kick. I reread Jumped, a YA novel told from multiple accounts, which I loved, and then I reread One Crazy Summer, since this was the book my fourth and fifth graders tackled for our school book club last month. Oh my goodness, how I love this book! There's just something about Williams-Garcia's storytelling - the way she shows rather than tells, the way she grounds you so firmly in her settings and makes her characters truly leap off the pages. She is such a brilliant writer, and her work never fails to amaze me. One Crazy Summer is a multiple award winner for a reason.
In One Crazy Summer, eleven year old Delphine and her two younger sisters travel from Brooklyn all the way to Oakland, California, to meet the mother who abandoned them. The year is 1968, and the fight for racial equality is alive and well. Unfortunately for the sisters, their mother, Cecile, is not at all what they had hoped she would be, showing little interest in her children. Instead of engaging with her daughters, the radical Cecile sends them to a daily summer camp run by the Black Panthers while she spends time shut up in her kitchen, working on a mysterious project. Over the course of their month in California, the girls learn about the revolution and do their best to stay far away from their mother. And throughout this time, the sisters learn some startling truths about their mother, their culture, and their country.
I absolutely love the way this book explores how pivotal moments in our country's history can shape and mold the every day lives of its citizens -- both with respect to their families and friends, their communities at large, and their education. One Crazy Summer is a fascinating exploration of cultural identity and an important political movement that has so many parallels to our current social and political landscape. Williams-Garcia incorporates just enough information to give young readers background on the Black Panthers without bogging them down in heady information. But it is not just the fight of African-Americans to be recognized as respected US citizens that shines here -- it is also the fight of these three young girls to be recognized by their mother. Their struggle looms large throughout the story, and it is handled with grace and glorious writing that simply jumps off the page and begs to be reread. Two trunks up for this fabulous and important read for upper elementary students.
Want the book? Get it here! One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia.
There's a quote I've been intrigued by, recently- seen on t-shirts and coffee mugs and notebooks: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." As I was reading Three Pennies, a poignant new chapter book written by Melanie Crowder, this quote kept popping into my head, for the protagonist, only eleven years old, faces battles that are nearly invisible to outsiders but cast an enormous burden on her daily life. Her struggles as a foster child, though - a little girl fighting to be reunited with the mother she never knew -- are real, and, unfortunately, all too common in the United States
Marin Greene, the protagonist in Three Pennies, is a foster kid. In just eleven years, she has been left by her mother and bounced from one foster home to another, nothing but a head to help her foster parents bring in extra money to pay their rents. Marin has few memories of her birth mother, and instead carries with her only a book she believes was her mom's favorite, a piggy bank containing exactly one nickel, and three pennies. When Marin's social worker eventually takes her to Dr. Lucy's home with hopes that this placement will become permanent, Marin does everything she can to sabotage it, believing her real mother is out there-- out there and waiting for her. Will Marin's wishes come true? Or is her actual desire one she never knew she yearned for?
With approximately 400,000 children living in foster care in the United States, Three Pennies is a fabulous new book I have no doubt will serve as both a mirror for some children and a window for others. Every child longs to be loved and valued - these are universal yearnings that, unfortunately, not all kids are fortunate enough to experience in their daily lives. Three Pennies conveys this longing beautifully. Set against the backdrop of a looming earthquake, Crowder deftly weaves together the perspectives of multiple characters to create a memorable novel about an important topic facing too many children in the world today. Two trunks up!
Want the book? Get it here! Three Pennies, by Melanie Crowder. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received a copy of this book from the publisher, but all opinions expressed herein are expressly our own.
Looking for amazing books to share with your children and students about family diversity and alternative family structures? This is one of our very favorites, one that has a special place in our hearts and home. Check it out!Read More
I love this book. Every time I read it, I truly want to give this zany character a big, big hug. Hello, My Name is Octicorn, by Kevin Diller and Justin Lowe, makes us squeal with laughter, makes us think, and gives us so much to discuss. My new mantra with Pickle is "kind hearts, kind words, kind hands," and we are able to talk about the importance of this saying in detail whenever we read this sweet story.
Octicorn is the child of- you guessed it- a unicorn and an octopus (don’t you just love books about family diversity and alternative family structures??). And as you also probably guessed, this sweet guy has a hard time fitting in, as he is not quite sure whether he belongs on land or in sea. Though Octi is lonely and a bit self-depricating, he does take comfort in his positive attributes that would make him one heck of a wonderful friend. And as he shares some of his rather unique but awesome traits with the reader, you can't help but see yourself in Octi's quirks and longing for connection.
Octicorn's earnestness -- together with his willingness to lay it all on the line to show potential new friends that despite his perceived differences, he is truly just like everyone else -- gets me every time. I love the way Hello, My Name is Octicorn enables Pickle to discuss the significance of kind hearts and kind words and how it is so important to treat everyone with respect no matter how different someone may seem from him. It also gives us fodder to discuss what it means to be unique, and how we all have qualities and characteristics different from our friends and classmates. These unique attributes, rather than something to shy away from, are ones to celebrate. Every relationship can provide an eye opening learning experience- or, as I tell Pickle, something really awesome that you may not have known about before. I still can't quite put my finger on why this book resonates with me so much, but it does, and I love it so! And I'm not the only one -- Amazon editors ranked this a top twenty pick of 2016 for 3-5 year olds. Enjoy!
Did you like this post? We think you will love these, too! Best Books About Family Diversity and Alternative Family Structure, A Family is a Family is a Family by Sara O’Leary, and Mixed: A Colorful Story by Arree Chung.
Want the book? Get it here! Hello, My Name is Octicorn, by Kevin Diller and Justin Lowe. *This is an affiliate link.
Perfection. It's a notion many of us strive for, but something so rarely met. Being the prettiest, the smartest, the fastest. The skinniest. The most popular. Or, to some, a more quiet, less showy pursuit of perfection: being the cleanest, the most organized, or the one most able to create order in their chaotic, everyday life. Is there ever an end point, one where a person can stand back and view his accomplishments with a satisfied smile, arms crossed over his chest, all while thinking to himself, yes! This is perfection! Or is perfection merely an illusion, something sought after with almost reckless abandon, until the seeker himself is so caught up in finding perfect that he or she loses himself along the way?
This is the idea behind Elly Swartz's thought-provoking and heart-wrenching debut novel, Finding Perfect, about twelve year old Molly Nathans, a sixth grader struggling with obsessive compulsive disorder. To Molly, perfection is the number four, the tip of a newly sharpened pencil, and her perfectly aligned glass animal figurines. Not perfect? Her mother's sudden absence to take on a new job. Molly concocts a plan to bring her mother back home, believing that if she wins her school's slam poetry contest, her mom will never miss the celebratory banquet. But writing her poems becomes increasingly harder as Molly's obsessive habits begin to spiral out of control, and the rest of her life suddenly does too. Will Molly's compulsions keep her in check, or will they actually be the very things preventing her from finding her own version of perfect?
Swartz's Finding Perfect is a stellar debut tackling obsessive compulsive disorder, a little discussed disorder that affects nearly 500,000 children in the United States. This is the first middle grade book I've come across discussing this mental health challenge, and it does so in an authentic, heartfelt and honest manner. Molly's voice is pitch perfect and emotionally resonant. Her obsession with perfection, made increasingly dire by her mother's absence, the trials and tribulations of being a middle schooler, and her sudden fear that a lack of order will adversely affect her brother's health, creates authentic desperation. Molly leaves readers heart broken -- yet achingly hopeful -- as her life spins out of control and she is unable to remove herself from the clutches of OCD's vicious web. Finding Perfect will ring true with all children struggling to find their own versions of "perfect" in a society increasingly focused on putting unrealistic demands on children, which often causes kids to place absurdly unrealistic expectations on themselves. An important read, a powerful read, and one that belongs in all middle and elementary school libraries.
Want the book? Get it here! Finding Perfect, by Elly Swartz. *This is an affiliate link.
For one reason or another, we all wonder how and where we fit in. Sometimes, we find it a hard question to answer even within the constructs of our very own families. Here at Happily Ever Elephants we love books about family diversity and alternative family structures. And Kyo Maclear's Spork, with illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault, provides such a perfect entryway to a conversation about how we find our place in the world- or even more simply, how we discover our place within the walls of our very own home. Spork is a story of longing, of hope, and of acceptance, which is one of the reasons I'm choosing to highlight this story for my #booksforbetter post this week.
Spork is the product of two loving parents- one spoon, and one fork. But as a combination of the two, Spork is afraid he sticks out in the cutlery drawer-- he's either too round, or too pointy, and he can't figure out quite where he belongs. What happens when something -- or someone-- new suddenly takes a seat at the table? Will Spork finally find his place?
There is just so much to love about this book, from its beautiful message, to Arsenault's spot on and glorious illustrations, to the way in which a baby (of course!) paves the way for Spork's self-actualization and acceptance. Because who is it, if not our children, that will reach across a divide and link arms with someone who may be perceived as "other"? Children have no preconceived prejudices or grudges, and it is our job, as parents and educators, to keep it that way. So get Spork, and display it front and center in your libraries. Use it to help convey this most important message to your kids, until it's as natural to them as the breaths they take each and every moment of their lives. No matter where we come from, who our parents are, or what we look like, we must never lose sight of the single most important foundation of humanity: We all have a place at the table.
Did you like this post? We think you will love these, too! Best Books About Family Diversity and Alternative Family Structure, A Family is a Family is a Family by Sara O’Leary, and Mixed: A Colorful Story by Arree Chung.
Want the book? Get it here! Spork, by Isabelle Arsenault. *This is an affiliate link.
Do you love reading books that explore family diversity and alternative family structures? Then this is the post for you! Read on to find out what happens with two dogs who got switched when they were just new pups!Read More