The best books for beginning readers must be short with large text and simple sentence structure. A good pre reader book must also contain words that are easy to decode and, most importantly, keep kids wanting more! This is why we totally love Fox the TigerRead More
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!
Talking to children about matters of the heart can be complicated. If your kids are anything like mine, they get totally confused because the heart can do wayyyyy too many things. After all, it can fill with joy or break with sadness, swell with pride or even be given away. It can grow, it can melt, it can open and close. It can shatter, it can puddle, it races fast and then slows. No wonder they don’t understand! These metaphors are challenging to comprehend— and to a literal child, they can seem totally nonsensical. Leave it to Corinna Luyken, an author/illustrator whose work has blown me away over the last couple of years, to give us My Heart, the perfect picture book to gently address the heart’s complexity with kids.
In My Heart, each page is a metaphor for the heart’s various manifestations. As the diverse group of kids journey through the heart’s numerous emotions, they learn it can be a puddle or a slide or a window opened wide. The children are happy at times and scared at others, remorseful on some pages and joyful on others. When faced with a tough emotion, they find companionship in family and friends to help them through. And overall, they learn one very important notion: whether their hearts are open or closed, tiny or large, each and every child has the freedom to decide how he or she feels at a particular time. My Heart conveys a powerful message, one that helps children discover their strength and unlock their inner resilience.
My Heart is exquisite, though and through. Luyken’s illustrations are shadowy and vibrant at the same time. Shades of grey shot through with bright yellow perfectly represent the heart’s many phases, bringing hope to the wounded heart and light to the dark one. They set the tone so beautifully for a book that speaks to emotional awareness, and, when paired with the simple (but brilliant) prose, convey a message that we get to decide how our heart feels at any given moment. The book is contemplative yet dynamic, subtle yet empowering, ultimately conveying the most reassuring message: “tiny can grow and broken can mend / and a heart that is closed can still open again.” Sensitive, stunning and simply spectacular. Two trunks up for this beauty!
Did you like this post? Hooray! We think you will love these, too! First, our review of Corinna Luyken’s The Book of Mistakes (which was on our list of Favorite Picture Books of 2017). Second, our review of Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse, illustrated by Luyken, which was on our list of Picture Books to Help You Raise Kind Kids AND Favorite Picture Books of 2018!! ENJOY!
Want the book? Get it here! My Heart, by Corinna Luyken. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher, but all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you've been following me for awhile, then you likely know this already. If not, listen up! What you will find often here on HEE - what I absolutely love and champion- are the stories I call #booksforbetter. These are the books that I value tremendously, the ones I turn to with my own boys and students again and again. These are the books that showcase the human capacity for respect, kindness and empathy, the ones that convey the beauty of embracing our differences and illustrate how we can harness these differences to create greatness. Do you like these books too? Thought so. This is why you must add Mixed: A Colorful Story by Arree Chung, to your home and school collections.
In Mixed, Chung tells the story of the three colors that started it all- red, yellow and blue. All were special and all lived harmoniously, until that fateful day a fight ensued among the colors and the they all retreated to separate parts of the city. There was no more interaction between the colors - ever. But one day, a yellow noticed a blue, and the two realized how happy and calm they made each other. Can you guess what happens next? You have to read it to find out, but let’s just say a new color, green, arises. Are you in love yet???
Books that speak to discrimination, tolerance, and inclusiveness run the risk of being didactic and preachy. But when you are in the hands of a good writer, you feel none of this. Instead, you marvel at the brilliance and creativity inherent in the story and at the ways the author made a tough concept fresh, accessible, and fun. That’s how I feel about Mixed. What a unique, yet totally tangible idea this is - so perfect for speaking to children about prejudice and intolerance, the dangers of closed-mindedness, and the beauty of diversity! Mixed is relatable to all kids. It is age appropriate for nursery school but fantastic for older children as well- even for those of you doing #classroombookaday with your middle schoolers. Vibrant and oh so special, Mixed will spark lively discussion and personal growth. This is one you don’t want to miss.
Want the book? Get it here! Mixed: A Colorful Story, by Arree Chung. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received an advanced review copy of this book from the publisher, but all opinions contained herein are expressly 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.
I've always particularly loved window books. There's just so much to be learned by reading about a person so different from you, or a time period so removed from the one in which you live. From challenges faced to experiences had, the world seems to open at your fingertips, giving you glimpses into lives so opposite from your own. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I loved Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, by Dusti Bowling, a middle grade novel written about a girl with no arms.
Aven Green, the story's protagonist, is a spunky girl who loves to make up stories about how she lost her arms. But the truth is, she was simply born without them. And her adoptive parents wouldn't let her sit by and mourn a life of things she couldn't do. Instead, they made her work for everything she wanted -- she opens her own backpack and plays the guitar and eats her own food -- all with her feet. But life with no arms is not easy. Especially when you suddenly find yourself moving to a new state, starting a new school, and friendless. But when Aven meets Connor, a boy at her school struggling with Tourette's Syndrome, a new world opens up for both kids, and they not only learn how to help each other, but they learn a ton about themselves, too.
If your kids or students loved Wonder, this is a fabulous "read-a-like" that upper elementary children will devour. Equal parts humorous and emotional, with even some mystery thrown in for good measure, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus was a quick read that truly gave me much to ponder about my advantages as a fully able bodied woman. It is a book that will build bridges and empathy, taking the stigma away from "others" who may be different in certain respects, but who have the same yearnings for friendship and connection as everyone else. A beauty, and one I cannot wait to get into my students hands. Two trunks up!
Want the book? Get it here! Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, by Dusti Bowling.
What happens after you fall- should you get back up again? Or will you let yourself fall apart? These are the questions pondered in After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again), the newest masterpiece sensitively written and stunningly illustrated by Dan Santat. Hands down, this book is absolutely remarkable. After the Fall’s emotional resonance blew me away, and it is so wildly perfect for both kids and adults alike, making it an easy winner for "Best Picture Book for Upper Elementary Grades" in the inaugural #bookstagramchoiceawards. I have yet to read After the Fall without losing my breath and fighting back tears. It’s just that special, and that perfect.
After the Fall tells the story of what happens after Humpty Dumpty is put back together. Though he is an avid bird watcher, the poor egg has become terrified of heights -- cripplingly so -- and can no longer engage in his favorite activities. Yes, his exterior shell has seemingly healed, but no matter— Humpty is left terribly broken at his core. Will Humpty be scared of high places forever? Or will he find the courage to break free from his fears?
After the Fall is simply breathtaking. The storyline runs deep, and the illustrations are outstanding, telling brilliant, thoughtful stories in and of themselves. The themes embraced here, those of anxiety, resiliency and putting oneself back together after a fall, are themes that easily lend themselves to extreme didacticism. Santat, though, delivers his beautiful message with such a brilliant, light touch, enabling the story to speak to both children and adults at varied social and emotional maturity levels. I have no hesitation when calling this book a masterpiece. It is without a doubt my favorite story of 2017, one that came at the perfect time to remind me that we all have wings to help us soar, even when we fear they are buried or broken for good.
Want the book? Get it here! After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again), by Dan Santat. HEE received an advanced review copy of this book, however all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own.
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.
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. 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!
Want the book? Get it here! Hello, My Name is Octicorn, by Kevin Diller and Justin Lowe. *This is an affiliate link.
It's such a common childhood theme: wanting what someone else has. And let's be honest- I'm sure all of you parents out there can relate, too. I know I certainly can. Because who doesn't see someone else's object of affection-- be it a shiny new toy, a pair of shoes to make you run faster and jump higher, or (gasp) even a perfect friend -- and want it for themselves? Oh, Ooko! We love you for this reason- for gently but oh so humorously exploring this theme.
In Esme Shapiro's Ooko, the titular character has everything he could want-- except, perhaps, a friend. When he sees the foxes in town playing with their two legged friends, affectionately known as the Debbies, Ooko wants a Debbie too! But when he finally does find a Debbie all of his own, this exciting new friendship may be a bit different than he had anticipated.
My parents used to always tell me that the grass isn't always greener on the other side, and the beautifully illustrated Ooko tackles this subject with such longing and humor, making it a fitting example of that notion. Sometimes the things we think we want are quite different than the things we actually need, and it takes trying-- even when the trying takes on some not so kosher endeavors -- before we learn something may not be the right fit. Because let's face it- Debbies rock-- but what's even better than a Debbie is rocking out with a friend who lets you be totally and completely yourself... No ifs, ands or itchy sweaters about it. A must read!!
Want the book? Get it here! Ooko, by Esme Shapiro. *This is an affiliate link.
If I could bottle up Pickle's infectious smile and the heart melting face Bo makes when I greet him in his room every morning, they would be the first two things in my treasure box. There are a million more things I would add, and my family and I absolutely adore the precious book, All My Treasures, for this very reason: it reminds us of all of the things we have in our life that bring us joy on a regular basis. Oh, my heart.
Jo Witek and Christine Rousseau- the dream team that brought us the fabulous book In My Heart (check out our review, HERE!) - are back at it again with All My Treasures. This is another stunning and special book that I believe belongs on every child's book shelf. In this sweet story, a young girl is given a treasure box by her grandmother. It is porcelain and lovely, and the child is not sure what she should put inside as she doesn't want to harm the box. But then her treasures begin rolling in- laughter, bubbles, memories- and readers' spirits begin to soar as they recognize the gems she holds close and dear.
All My Treasures is simple, powerful, and stunning, with flaps to open and precious details to discover on every page. The prose is elegant, the illustrations are whimsical and lovely, and the sentiment is spot on without being saccharine or heavy handed. This book reminds us to delight in the small things that we may often overlook as beautiful, as well as the bigger things that fill our hearts with happiness whenever they grace our days. During the holiday season, when children seem to think of nothing but presents under the tree or by the menorah, All My Treasures is a perfect reminder that the greatest gifts are those that don't need unwrapping - they can be found in life's everyday moments whose beauty can take your breath away if you only stop for a moment to watch and listen. Two trunks up for this beauty!
Want the book? Get it here! All My Treasures, by Jo Witek. *This is an affiliate link. I received a review copy of this book from the publisher, but all opinions are my own.
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.
Some people just don't understand. They simply do not get the power and force behind our women and our girls -- girls that are beautiful not for their looks and their bodies, but for their insatiable curiosity, their stunning intellect and their unbridled spirit. Why, in this day and age, must we continue to drive this message home to people who refuse to comprehend this? Parents of both boys and girls alike- this book is a MUST! For some reason I had saved it for a review, and I am so glad I did for there is no time more important than the present for this book to be read to our children. Gone are the days where girls are told to wear dresses and look dainty, where they succumb to the shadows, let others speak for them, and don't speak up for themselves. Instead, there is a new kind of pretty. And Stacy McAnulty's new book, BEAUTIFUL, captures this modern day version of what it means to be a beautiful girl so, well, beautifully.
BEAUTIFUL is an ode to the tree climbing, science loving, dirt slinging, sports playing, creativity seeking girls who regularly defy expectations and gender norms. Though the text describes perfect girls who move gracefully, understand makeup and have a smart style, the pictures tell a much more subversive, contradictory story: gracefulness is depicted through athletics, makeup is utilized for dramatic and creative play, and smart style is considered protective eye wear as girls ruminate over science experiments.
There is no better story to show your STEAM loving, gender-defying girls that they are at their most beautiful when they run from societal limitations, conquer challenges, and play with a mind towards personal empowerment. Coupled with the outstanding message, the illustrations by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff are wholly inclusive. Girls of various racial backgrounds, with glasses and braces, and even a few basketball playing girls in wheelchairs, are shown throughout the pages, making sure that so many children will see themselves reflected in BEAUTIFUL's pages. I love this book, both for boys and girls alike, and I have no doubt that this will be a staple in your libraries, both at home and at school. Such a fun read, such a critically important theme. Two trunks up to BEAUTIFUL for expanding our definition of beauty and celebrating our beautiful, strong willed, and brilliant girls!
Did you like this post? Awesome! We think you will love these, too… Check them out! Twenty Picture Books About Amazing Women, Favorite Books About Courage, and Picture Books to Help You Raise Kind Kids.
Want the book? Get it here! BEAUTIFUL, by Stacy McAnulty. *This is an affiliated link. The book was sent to us by the publisher, but all opinions are our own.