Bring the world inside your home with these stunning multicultural children’s picture books, the big kid version of our popular diverse baby books post!Read More
It was a typical afternoon in the library with my first grade students. They came bursting through the double doors, settled down on the carpet, and turned their attention to where I sat with a picture book face down in my lap.
“Raise your hand if you like pizza!”
Every one of my first grade students thrust a hand up into the air.
“Raise your hand if you like chocolate chip cookies!”
All hands stayed up— some even threw up both hands up.
“Raise your hand if you like frog legs!”
Down. Every single hand dropped into a lap- and a chorus of “ewwwwwwwww” filled the room.
“Really?” I asked. “Do you know frog legs are considered delicacies in Japanese and French cuisines?”
No answer, just a series of horrified looks on my students’ faces.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Raise your hand if you’ve actually eaten a frog leg?”
Nothing. Silence. No hands raised.
I feigned a look of horror. “What?!? How on earth do you know you hate frog legs if you’ve never even tried them?”
One of my boys said “they sound gross.” Another girl said “I think I’d throw up if I ever had to eat them.”
And thus began a conversation about preconceived notions. How we make judgments before we have experience or evidence to back them up. How these judgments can extend not just to food or toys or places, but to people, too. And how, when it comes to people, these biases can be ever so harmful— and even more dangerous.
The conversation sparked curiosity in my students. It sparked adamant statements that they would never judge a person based on anything but their hearts and how kind or thoughtful or compassionate they were. I was proud of them, of course. But then I also spoke about how even when we think we are open minded and inclusive, we can easily succumb to the pressure of those around us who think differently, those who might be scared of “otherness” and are thus quick to speak out against it because of ignorance or fear. And how when that happens, others may quickly follow suit.
It’s easy to slide into apathy, and we can’t let this happen to the next generation. Raising children who are not just open minded, but free thinkers who won’t fall prey to rash judgments must be a priority as a parent and an educator. It is so important that we challenge our kids to recognize when they succumb to preconceived notions, as this is the only way we will ever combat bias and harmful stereotypes.
There is no better way to do this then by reading, and there are a handful of books that have come out recently — together with some classics — that are absolutely fabulous for addressing this critical topic. I hope you enjoy them and find them as tremendously helpful as we do. Here’s to teaching each other, learning from one another, and helping to lift up “others” through books and conversation, today and always.
The Wall in the Middle of the Book, by Jon Agee: Perhaps my favorite story of 2018! In this powerful story, there is literally just what the title says - a wall running along the gutter of the book. On one side of the wall stands a knight who proudly proclaims he is safe right where he is. The dangers, after all, live on the other side of the wall. So what exactly is on that other side? Angry animals and evil ogres, of course. What the knight doesn’t realize, however, is that rising water and a looming crocodile threaten his safety on the safe side of the wall. And when the knight finds himself in need of serious help, the one who comes to his rescue is not at all who the knight anticipated… and the other side of the wall may possess a lot more fun than fright. For our full review of The Wall in the Middle of the book, click here!
The Very Last Castle, by Travis Jonker and illustrated by Mark Pett: An old castle, with no visitors going in and no people coming out? That leaves the castle ripe for rumorville, and the people in town have no problem spinning tales about the horrors that must lie inside. We simply love the way this book challenges the preconceived notions of an entire community – all, that is, but one small, curious girl who constantly tries to catch the eye of the man guarding the mysterious castle. This is a fabulous story in which a child overcomes fear of the unknown by being brave enough to discover for herself what really lies behind the castle’s doors. In the process, she discovers her inner courage, makes a new friend, and creates a big change right within her neighborhood.
The Boy and the Giant, by David Litchfield: Did you hear about the secret giant in Gableview? He’s got legs the size of drain pipes and feet the size of rowboats, and everyone in town is terrified of him. But is the giant really real? And if he is real, is he truly as horrible as everyone makes him out to be? When Billy happens upon the giant, he runs away in fear -- and ends up hurting the poor giants feelings! But maybe the the giant isn’t really as scary as the townspeople think. He might even just be the most loving guy in town. We love the way this book challenges — and then turns on their head — the judgments people make about someone who looks so wholly different from themselves. This beautiful book reminds us all that if we learn to embrace our differences, we may create fulfilling relationships with the people we least expected.
Bear’s Scare, by Jacob Grant: Bear loves a clean house (don’t we all!?) and he will stop at nothing to keep his house tidy and clean. The only thing he loves more than a clean house is his stuffie, Ursa. When Bear happens upon a sticky, icky spiderweb, he will stop at nothing to find the spider. After all, messy guests must be banished from the house, and a spider is surely a messy guest! But when he does discover that messy house guest, Bear and Ursa learn that Spider may be much less messy — and much more friendly, helpful and lovely — than they initially thought. This is a perfect book for young readers to convey the message that we should never be quick to judge others!
The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson: Ferdinand is a peaceful, calm little bull, content to graze in the grass and sniff his favorite flowers. But this isn’t what a bull should really do — it’s not at all how a bull should act. Bulls should be tough! Aggressive! They should snort and leap and butt heads. Why? Because that’s how everyone else has been trained to think they should act. But not Ferdinand. We will forever love this book that teaches children they can go against the grain and buck common stereotypes about how they should — or should not behave. Any book that teaches kids to be true to themselves will forever be a winner in our house!
Leonardo the Terrible Monster, by Mo Willems: Leonardo has a problem: he is one terrible monster. As hard as he tries, he cannot scare anyone! After his first attempt at frightening a little boy named Sam, Leo realizes Sam needs a friend instead of a monster… and in doing so, he goes against the grain and doesn’t act how monsters are “supposed” to act. I love the way this book challenges how we see ourselves — how we think we ought to be instead of who we want to be. Willems brilliantly illustrates that even the scariest creatures have emotions too, and some can even be quite sensitive to the needs of others. Not what any kid first thinks of when they conjure up images of a monster, is it? This one is a hoot — but even as it’s giving kids belly laughs, it’s making them question everything they thought they knew about that things that go bump in the night. For our full review of Leonardo the Terrible Monster, by Mo Willems, click here!
Did you like this post? Yay! We think you will love these as well - make sure to check them out! Picture Books to Help You Raise Kind Kids, 21 Books to Promote Kindness, Inclusiveness and Equality, Favorite Books About Courage, and Favorite Picture Books of 2018
*HEE received review copies of some of these books from publishers. However, all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own. All links are affiliate links.
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.
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.
There is nothing more exciting to a self-proclaimed book nerd than a “meta” picture book that plays with form and storytelling in a truly unique way. What is "meta" fiction, you ask? A book described as “meta” is one that bends the traditional rules of storytelling, thus presenting the reader with something unique, surprising and even challenging. And so it is with the latest story by the brilliant Jon Agee, The Wall in the Middle of the Book. Folks, Agee hits a total SLAM DUNK with this one. I’ve read it a good twenty times since I’ve gotten it, and each time I read it, I find myself writing down another terrific discussion point.
In The Wall in the Middle of The Book, there is literally just that- a wall running along the gutter of the book. On one side of the wall stands a knight who proudly proclaims he is safe. The dangers, after all, live on the other side of the wall. So what exactly is on that other side? Angry animals and evil ogres, of course. What the knight doesn’t realize, however, is the rising water and the crocodile looming on his side of the wall. When the knight finds himself in need of help, the one who comes to his rescue may be a whole lot different than the knight anticipated… and the other side of the wall may possess a lot more fun than fright.
There is a heck of a lot of power packed into these pages. The interplay between the text and the illustrations is something Agee handles masterfully (he employs this same technique brilliantly in Life on Mars, one of his previous books that is still a hit in our home - check out our review HERE!). There is so much discussion to be sparked from Agee’s genius story. Most importantly, though, is the simple, underlying message The Wall in the Middle of the Book coneys: there is tremendous danger in preconceived notions. Why? Because most of the time, they are not just wrong but extraordinarily harmful! Preconceived notions become dangerous both in our classrooms and in our society, and it becomes exceedingly difficult to scale the walls we build when we are simply too frightened to address the differences we see on the other side. Whether talking to young children about exactly what they see on these pages or older kids about the symbolic nature of this book as it pertains to xenophobia and so many other issues currently plaguing our country, The Wall in the Middle of the Book speaks volumes and can be utilized with readers young and old. This is a stand out work by Agee, and a definite favorite of 2018!
Want the book? Get it here! The Wall in the Middle of the Book, by Jon Agee. HEE received an advanced review copy of this book, but all opinions expressed 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.
The Day You Begin is a Remarkable First Week of School Book!
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 reminds us to seek out similarities rather than focusing on our differences!
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.
The Day You Begin: My Favorite Classroom Activity
Are you looking for a simple yet effective classroom activity for the first week of school? Try this!
First, group students in pairs of two - if possible, pair up kids who aren’t already good friends. Give the class two minutes, and have them silently write down five things they notice about their classmate that appear different from themselves — whatever comes to mind.
Next, read The Day You Begin aloud to the class. After you read, have the students pair back up again and this time, give them some time to talk about their summers - what they did, who they spent time with, anything they want to share.
After this chat session, give them a couple more minutes to write silently. This time, each student should write down five ways in which they are similar to their classmate.
Finally — discuss your findings as a group! How did the similarities make the differences seem unimportant? What kinds of connections were made? How did sharing with a classmate help bridge divides?
The Day You Begin is the perfect book to begin a new school year!
Use this beautiful story to showcase the beauty of looking beyond external differences, and watch as your students enter a new school with open eyes, compassionate hearts, and a willingness to challenge rash judgments they may make upon first meeting new people.
DID YOU LIKE THIS POST ABOUT THE DAY YOU BEGIN? WE THINK YOU WILL LOVE THESE, TOO!
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.
The imagination is a powerful tool. So powerful, in fact, that it can transport a child from tough circumstances to a world where he can settle amidst more comfortable or even luxurious surroundings. But what about those kids who recognize that another child may be imagining things that aren’t exactly real? What about those kids who want to shout from the rooftops that one of his peers is a dirty rotten liar? It’s a difficult situation, no doubt. We learn as children to be honest, but the truth is that the imagination can be a powerful and wonderful defense mechanism for some, so much so that their imaginary worlds provide them with significant comfort.
Enter Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse, written by Mary Campbell and exquisitely illustrated by Corinna Luyken. In this poignant story, Adrian Simcox tells his classmates that he has a horse- and not just any horse. Adrian’s horse is the best and most beautiful horse in all the world. But Chloe knows Adrian is lying. After all, Adrian Simcox lives in a tiny house and has holes in his shoes, so there’s no way he has a horse in his backyard. And the more Adrian talks about this beautiful horse, the angrier Chloe gets... and the more she wants to prove him wrong. Will vindication give Chloe the satisfaction she so desires?
If you are looking to nurture empathy in your children or students, Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse is a touching new picture book for your collection-- a must have, in our opinion. Campbell’s light touch is evident throughout this book, especially through her subtle text and the way Chloe comes to realize why Adrian may be lost in his imagination. Should Adrian's circumstances matter if he isn’t being truthful, and how on earth do we explain perspective to children? I love the way this story so beautifully encourages kids to walk in other’s shoes, as well as the manner in which it helps children recognize that indulging a classmates' fanciful stories is sometimes ok - especially if it helps that child make his personal living conditions easier to bear. Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse is a classic in the making, and I absolutely cannot wait to read it to my students when school begins.
Want the book? Get it here! Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse, by Marcy Campbell. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received an advanced review copy of this book, but all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own.
Oh my goodness. This book. These characters. Refugee by Alan Gratz is middle grade literature at its finest, and once again, my mind is blown by the quality and richness of the stories that are available to our children. Kid lit has come such a long way since I was little, and I love it so much! I’d heard huge accolades about Refugee, and I’m always a bit nervous to read something when my expectations are set so high. But this book didn't let me down. To the contrary, Refugee exceeded my expectations. Simply put: it was absolutely phenomenal.
Refugee tells three seemingly separate stories that all merge in beautiful ways at the end. Josef is a young Jewish boy living in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. With the horrific threat of concentration camps on the near horizon, he boards the St. Louis with his family, seeking refuge on the other side of the world. Isabel is a Cuban girl, and her story is set in 1994 as riots and unrest plague her community and her country. She and her family set out on a scrappy raft for Miami, hoping for freedom and safety. Mahmoud is a Syrian boy in 2015. When a bomb strikes his home and his entire world is torn apart by violence, he and his family begin a harrowing journey to Europe. All three kids are driven from their homes due to extreme danger, and all embark on unimaginable voyages towards refuge and freedom.
I cannot get over this book. The characterization was stellar. The settings were vivid and authentic, and though the stories shared many similarities, the uniqueness of each journey was made evident through the authors meticulously researched details. The pacing was terrific, the pages begged to be read, and the suspense left me with my heart in my throat. This is a must read -- for learning about world history, for providing windows into the harrowing experiences so many children face on a regular basis, and for recognizing that, despite our differences, we all long for the same things: safety, security, and a welcoming homeland in which to establish our roots. Two trunks up.
Want the book? Get it here! Refugee, by Alan Gratz. *This is an affiliate link.
The American Dream. People come from all corners of the globe seeking it: freedom, opportunity, justice. Because this is America, right? America -- land of the free, home of the brave. But unfortunately, life in America doesn’t ensure a hardworking family will obtain the proverbial golden ticket. To the contrary, life as in immigrant here can be downright tough, leaving families on edge as they struggle to make money, live in safe homes, and put food on the table for their families. Enter Kelly Yang’s Front Desk, a gut wrenching yet achingly poignant story about a young girl who immigrates with her parents to America from China.
Front Desk is the story of Mia Tang who, together with her parents, arrives in America in search of the American Dream. But their hard work and determination doesn’t mean life will be easy, and when Mia’s family finds themselves operating a motel for a cruel and exploitative owner, life is anything but what they had imagined. Mia runs the front desk at the motel, and the tougher her days are, the more she longs for a better and easier life. With the help of a new friend, the motel’s “weeklies,” her devoted parents, and a lucky pencil, Mia may be able to find that she can achieve her own American dreams with a hefty amount of perseverance and a whole lot of heart.
Front Desk was absolutely fantastic! I read it while the boys were at a play date for several hours, and I COULD NOT put it down. Yang’s story, a window for some but a mirror for so many more, is a welcome addition to our tween shelves. The story interweaves some of Yang’s own childhood experiences, and it seamlessly tackles themes of bullying, poverty, assault and racism with compassion and authenticity, all the while being age appropriate for young readers. Front Desk beautifully conveys to readers the power of hope and steadfast determination, and it illuminates one child's struggle to live with grace and integrity in the harsh face of adversity. Front Desk is a thought provoking, beautifully written novel that I cannot wait to get into my students’ hands this Fall. Two trunks up!!
IF YOU LOVE NOVELS FOR TWEENS, YOU MUST CHECK OUT THESE POSTS TOO!
Want the book? Get it here! Front Desk, by Kelly Yang. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received an advanced copy of Front Desk, but all opinions contained herein are expressly our own.
Do you have an advanced second grade reader at home or in your classroom? This is the book for you!
Wishtree, the latest novel by Katherine Applegate, got a lot of hype. A LOT. And I’m always hesitant to pick up books like this because I pick them up with extremely high expectations. But this one- with its quiet, piercing beauty- absolutely blew me away. Wishtree lived up to the hype and then some, and I continuously find myself trying to get it into as many hands as I possibly can.
"Trees can't tell jokes, but they can certainly tell stories..." And so it is with Red, a majestic oak tree that is nearly two hundred and sixteen "rings" old, harboring secrets and stories that have been nearly forgotten by the people in the community in which it lives. Red is a wishtree who watches over the neighborhood, keeping mostly to himself. When a Muslim family moves onto the street, however, Red witnesses firsthand that all neighbors aren't so welcoming, and even children are forced to undergo hateful messages. It is then that Red realizes his status as a wishtree is more important than ever, and it might be just the time to break with tradition and intervene.
Descriptive language? Check. Incredible characterization? Check. Depth? Check. Real world issues? Check. Sensitive for even younger readers? Check. My goodness, how I love this book. Applegate writes with such a light, unadorned touch, yet her words move deeply and speak volumes. She tackles tough, mature topics in an accessible, easy to understand manner, allowing even young readers to grasp the enormity and import of these issues. I am so frequently asked for great books for advanced second graders, and I finally found a modern, perfect one. Wishtree is an absolute beauty. It is a timeless story that soars, with words that stir your soul. It is a treasure, and it will undoubtedly be devoured and loved by children and adults for generations to come.
Want the book? Get it here: Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate. *This is an affiliate link.
Playing and watching sports has forever had a unique ability to bring people together in ways that so few other things can. Rooting for a common cause, just for fun, through sun and rain and everything in between, can transcend differences and create commonalities where some never saw them before. Perhaps this is why I so loved The Field, the beautiful debut picture book written by Baptiste Paul and stunningly illustrated by Jacqueline Alcantara.
In The Field, a group of children assemble on a field and get ready for a game of soccer. They have their bol (ball), soulye (shoes) and goal (goal), and just like that, they are off! They kick the ball back and forth, passing and running and jumping until the skies burst open and the ground is deluged with rain. But do they stop? No! They just take their shoes off and keep on keeping on. It's only when their Mamas call for them that the game is paused, they quit for the night and go home to their beds where they dream about futbol, friends and the field.
Paul grew up in Saint Lucia, and I absolutely love the way he made his childhood come alive through The Field. He weaves Creole words into the narrative, bringing such a richness to the text. The story buzzes with energy, from the vibrant illustrations to the fast paced game, and it reminds us that we can weather all challenges, no matter how daunting or challenging they may seem. A beautiful debut -- and I cannot wait to see more from these two!
Want the book? Get it here! The Field, by Baptiste Paul, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcantara. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received an advanced copy of The FIeld, but all opinions contained herein are expressly our own.
Jeffers does it again! I was so fortunate to receive a copy of his latest release, Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth, a beautiful ode Jeffers penned for his child in which he tells his son all the important things he needs to know about the world around him. What a stunner this is. As much as the prose is simplistic perfection, Jeffers truly outdoes himself with his new book, in which his magical illustrations showcase his extraordinary talent, not just as a picture book illustrator, but as a fine artist.
In Here We Are, Jeffers seeks to answer all of those bewildering questions a new arrival to our planet may have- questions about space and sea, people and animals. From taking care of our bodies to taking care of each other, the book handles each of these concepts with such a light, delicate touch -- though with enough wit thrown in to keep it fresh and unique. Most importantly? The book sensitively illuminates that kindness makes the world go round, and it reminds us that on this great planet of ours, we are never truly alone.
This gorgeously illustrated story is a must for your collections, for it answers simple questions, not with formalistic responses, but with fun and age appropriate wisdom. This is such a treasure for your home and library collections, one you will return to again and again with your children. A tender, joyful and beautiful read -- one that gets two enthusiastic trunks up from our team.
Want the book? Get it here! Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth, by Oliver Jeffers. HEE 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!
One of the things I've been passionate about since becoming a mom-- and, more recently, a school library media specialist-- is raising global citizens. In light of the intolerance, hate and divisiveness in the world, I want my children - and my students - to be educated about the world around them and to respect differences. My goal is to nurture empathetic young men and women who embrace every opportunity to build bridges in our increasingly interconnected society.
This is why I fell hard for This is How We Do It, by Matt Lamothe. This is How We Do It tells the story of seven children living in various countries around the world: Italy, Peru, Uganda, Russia, Japan, India and Iran. It is a study in culture, daily routines, family, cuisine, and education, giving kids a peek into the lives of other children abroad: they way they live, the way they go to school, they way they sleep and play and eat.
They say books serve as windows and mirrors, right? Mirrors, because every child should be able to find themselves in a book, and windows because books give us glimpses into the lives of people living oceans away. This is How We Do It is a perfect "window" book, transporting kids around the world and back again, all the while allowing them to see that while the details of our days may differ, we share the same foundations and the same passion for family, friends, education and recreation. This is a multicultural beauty that would be an excellent addition to every school classroom and every family with an eye on introducing kids to multiculturalism and global citizenship.
Want the book? Get it here! This is How We Do It, by Matt Lamothe. *This is an affiliate link. Happily Ever Elephants received a review copy of this book from the publisher, but all opinions expressed herein are solely our own.
Some books capture you with their illustration, some with their beautiful prose, and still others captivate you with strong, sure voices. I love books that suck you in with that strong voice, especially when that voice is filled with cheeky humor and subtle irreverence. Dragon was Terrible, written by the great Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli, is one such book. I mean, how could you possibly go wrong with that dynamic duo?!?
In Dragon Was Terrible, a kingdom is getting pretty tired of one terrible dragon's naughty antics- he scribbles in books and burps in church and even toilet papers the castle. So the king and knights and others in the kingdom attempt to tame the dragon in a variety of ways -- but of course, they all fail. What happens when a young lad starts spinning a tale that just so happens to catch the dragon's attention?
This book makes Pickle laugh. And when I say laugh. I mean he thinks it's the funniest thing ever, and every time we crack it open he gets so excited and an impish little grin creeps up on his face. And every time I crack it open, I get excited too- because as you know, there is nothing I love more than a great book which imparts to readers that storytelling is oh-so-powerful and can cause great changes in the worlds of many-- even dragons. Dragon Was Terrible is a perfect story to engage reluctant readers who will find humor in the dragon's naughty antics but will also be wowed by the ability of story to tame the beast. Two trunks up, without a doubt!
Want the book? Get it here! Dragon was Terrible, by Kelly DiPucchio. *This is an affiliate link. I received a review copy of this book from the publisher but all opinions contained herein are expressly my own.
If you love picture books about friendship, especially books that showcase empathy and inclusiveness, you will adore Be a Friend by Salina Yoon!
It's been a rough week for me, and I needed to take a break from social media. I needed some time to think about the world in which we live, the reasons I'm devastated about the results of the election, and the way I can convey to others that this has nothing to do with being a sore loser or which candidate had the better economic policy but everything to do with the tenor of hate that the results of the election is inspiring. It scares me. It makes me fearful for the world we will leave to our children. And so I come back more determined than ever to do what I can to stand up to the hate and to convey messages of love and inclusiveness at every opportunity I have. I turn to books.
Be A Friend, by Salina Yoon, is one of my absolute favorite books from 2016. In this sweet story we are introduced to Dennis, a young mime, who never uses words to convey his emotions. He is lonely- going through his days in solitude- until he is befriended by a little girl who catches his make-believe ball. The beauty of this story lies in the fact that Dennis's new friend does not try to make Dennis speak. Instead, the readers see that their newfound friendship transcends words. Even without talking, the children finds ways to communicate and easily establish a special connection with one another.
Be a Friend is poignant, wise and exquisitely crafted. It's message, despite its simplicity, packs a huge powerful punch. These kids are different from each other. And difference, to some, is scary. Or threatening. But it shouldn't be, and Be a Friend reminds us that we can easily find ways to accept each other- for our similarities and especially for our differences. We don't have to try to change others to conform with our personal expectations. Instead, unexpected beauty can be found in embracing the differences we see in our neighborhoods and on our playgrounds. Read this book. Read it a lot. And help your kids understand that they can bridge divides with nothing more than a smile- or engaging the lonely child at the park in a game of make-believe.
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Want the book? Get it here! Be a Friend, by Salina Yoon. *This is an affiliate link.
Books about strong girls are vital to raising confident young ladies and this fabulous book about the many ways we can be beautiful is a MUST for your bookshelf. You will absolutely adore BEAUTIFUL, by Stacy McAnulty!Read More
I love the idea that art can transform. There is a part of me that holds on to that-- that maybe we can paint the world beautiful, bring color to all of the darkest street corners and joy to the most desolate of communities, until one splash of color begets another, and then another, and soon the universe is bathed in love and light. That's why we fell hard for Maybe Something Beautiful, because there is so much power behind the idea that art can lift up a community.
Maybe Something Beautiful, by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, tells the story of young Mira, a girl who believes that just a little splash of color can make a big, big difference in her otherwise dreary community. Based on the true story of the Urban Art Trail in San Diego, Mira shows us how even kids can accomplish great things - including transformation. Rafael Lopez, the book's illustrator, was also the artist behind the Urban Art Trail. His illustrations are as gorgeous as his real life murals.
This book is as beautiful as it sounds. Muted tones are first used to depict the city, so when we experience Mira's art, both individually and then together with the muralist, the artwork feels alive in its vibrance - a living, breathing masterpiece. This is such an evocative story of community, conveying how together we have the power to bring hope to the hopeless and light to the languishing, to create beauty where it didn't before exist. Pickle loved the energetic rhythm infused within these pages, but perhaps most importantly, he loved exploring how Mira's artwork had the capacity to revitalize a community. He kept saying, as simple as it sounds, that the book was pretty, and I have to agree. It is pretty not just for its illustrations, but for both the simplicity and complexity of its theme. Maybe something beautiful? No. I'd say definitely. Because there is no hesitation here. This book is definitely something beautiful, and one to cherish.
Want the book? Get it here! Maybe Something Beautiful, by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell. *This is an affiliate link.
"The trouble with having a tiny elephant for a pet is that you never quite fit in."
So maybe we don't actually have tiny elephants prancing around our homes, but not fitting in is a sentiment we've all had at some point in our lives. And though it may pain us to say it out loud, so have our kids. Feeling different. Out of place. Being excluded. Whether it's the color of our hair, the color of our skin, the religion we practice, the cars we drive, the toys we play with- it's a universal feeling. And it's one that is uncomfortable and, often times, heartbreaking.
Lisa Mantchev's tender book, Strictly No Elephants, with illustrations by Taeeyn Yoo, so beautifully conveys this feeling. In the story, a little boy and his pet elephant are banned from the local Pet Club Day via a crude sign hanging on the door: Strictly No Elephants. When the boy meets another child who has also been turned away from the club with her pet skunk, the two decide to make a club of their own. So they go to the park, draw up a sign, and open their gathering to all, inviting everyone -- no matter if they bring dogs or porcupines or giraffes or penguins -- via the most beautiful sign. What does it say? Three simple words: "All are welcome."
All are welcome. Isn't that a perfect message? It's why I love Strictly No Elephants so much- how it celebrates the magic that happens when children recognize that differences are not something to shy away from. Mantchev's story is one I wish the whole world could embrace right now. It's certainly one that all children should be read, again and again, because it conveys such a pertinent and timely theme. This story, with its beautiful and expressive illustrations, conjures so much hope in me with every read. Because who wouldn't want to climb up to a tree house where all types of people-- and animals-- can come together to play harmoniously? This is a must for your child's library or your classroom- and it is wholeheartedly awarded two trunks up from our team.
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Want the book? Get it here! Strictly No Elephants, by Lisa Mantchev. *This is an affiliate link.