MARY WEARS WHAT SHE WANTS, by Keith Negley, is another fabulous book about strong girls. If you haven’t seen it yet, I can’t recommend it highly enough!Read More
Are you looking for phenomenal self esteem books for kids to add to your collection at home and at school? Then this list of self confidence books, stories about self love, and all the reasons to rock what we’ve got is the list for you!Read More
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.
If you are forever looking for self esteem books for kids to add to your collection, this one is a must! Rock What Ya Got will have kids cheering the beauty of self love throughout the whole story!Read More
If you love kids books about kindness and you are working hard to teach your child about always using kind words and having a kind heart, then you’ve got to check out this amazing book, BE KIND!Read More
If you have never read a story by Kate DiCamillo, prepare to get swept away by magic. If you are already a fan of Kate’s work, then prepare yourself for another mesmerizing character and another extraordinary story. From the second you open the first page of Louisiana’s Way Home, you are so clearly in the hands of a brilliant storyteller. DiCamillo simply plucks you off of the couch/bed/chair where you are curled up reading and drops you squarely in the middle of her world. That’s how vivid Louisiana’s Way Home is- that’s how magical each and every page.
Louisiana’s Way Home is a companion book to Raymie Nightingale. In it, we revisit one of the three girlfriends, Louisiana Elefante, of circus family fame. But our story begins not in Florida, and instead with Louisiana and her granny on the run - they have left Florida in the middle of the night and are driving straight up to Georgia, where they must stop when Granny suffers from a horrific tooth ache. And so it is that the pair winds up at a motel, and when Granny up and leaves again - this time without her granddaughter - Louisiana fears she is destined for only goodbyes. There is a curse on her head, after all. When Louisiana learns a painful secret, her past unravels before her eyes and she must decide what she wants — and who she wants to be.
“I want you to know something, Louisiana. We all, at some point, have to decide who we want to be in this world. It is a decision we make for ourselves. You are being forced to make this decision at an early age, but that does not mean that you cannot do it well and wisely.” Tears. Streaming down my cheeks. These characters, this voice. These decisions. Standing at a crossroads is tough- no matter the age. But when we reach this point, we have big choices to make. We have to decide if we want to forgive, and if so, how? We have to decide if we want to move forward, and if so, how? Most importantly, we have to strive to believe in love, compassion and generosity. Because without that steadfast belief, we may truly lose our way home. Louisiana’s Way Home is a beauty; perfectly paced, impeccably plotted, and the most compelling hero’s journey i’ve read in some time. I savored every word and every character, and I am already eagerly anticipating the third installment in this trio of books. TWO TRUNKS UP!
Want the book? Get it here! Louisiana’s Way Home, by Kate DiCamillo. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher, but all opinions contained herein are entirely our own.
“Own Voices.” It’s a prominent term in the children’s literature world right now. What is it, you ask? Own voices is a term coined to describe books written by authors that share a minority or marginalized trait with their main character. So in other words, these books aim to provide a more authentic perspective, then say, a white author writing about a Muslim main character, or an able-bodied author writing about a protagonist with a signifiant physical disability. When I learned about Ellie Terry’ Forget Me Not, an "own voices” novel in verse about a young girl struggling with Tourette’s Syndrome, I was immediately intrigued and couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.
Forget Me Not tells the story of Calliope “Callie” June, a seventh-grader with Tourette’s Syndrome who is constantly on the move with her mother, which means she is constantly having to start over at new schools. And what does that mean? It means Callie is constantly having to find ways to hide her embarrassing disorder that makes her so different than the rest of her classmates. When Callie arrives in a new town and makes friends with her neighbor, Callie finds something that resembles the smallest sliver of happiness. So what happens when Callie discovers that her mother might make her move, yet again, right as Callie is on the cusp of something special?
Forget Me Not is written in verse from Callie’s perspective and in prose from the perspective of Callie’s neighbor, Jinsong. Callie’s desire to be accepted among her peers is both honest and gut-wrenching as she struggles to understand her Tourette’s and hide it from those around her. But hiding it is impossible, and when her behaviors are on full display at school, the cruelty she experiences is heart breaking. Callie’s poetry is lyrical, deep and, at times, breathtaking. Add to this Jin’s story - one in which we feel his immediate affection for Callie, but watch as he struggles with own internal conflict: can he maintain his “cool” among his peers and still befriend the “weird girl”? Or will he risk social suicide by letting anyone realize how much he adores Callie? Their intertwined stories explore acceptance, connection and confidence, and the two share a heart-felt story you don’t want to miss.
Want the book? Get it here! Forget Me Not, by Ellie Terry. *This is an affiliate link.
Wow. WOW. It is not very often that I finish a book and want nothing more then to pick it right back up again, flip back to page 1, and read it cover to cover just one more time. But that’s exactly how I felt when I put down Harbor Me, a stunning new novel by Jacqueline Woodson. If I have said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Woodson is a gift to literature. Her words resonate deeply, and she possesses an extraordinary ability to tap into timely, almost desperate situations in a manner appropriate and gentle enough for young kids to grasp.
In Harbor Me, six children are taken to their school’s old art room and told it’s a place for them to have a weekly chat— without teachers, thus making it totally unmonitored. The six kids, from varying walks of life, are hesitant at first. They each have their stories, but is it safe? Can they open up to one another? The room becomes dubbed the ARTT room, an acronym for “a room to talk,” and soon enough, their stories begin. As their connections develop and their words bridge divides, the students realize that sharing their stories could be the very thing they needed to give them the strength to handle circumstances that once made them feel so desperately alone.
Harbor Me is stunning. At once both a coming of age story and an exploration of how America’s political and social challenges affect children daily, Woodson’s words ground us firmly in the ARTT room as the kids struggle to comprehend both their identities as individuals as well as their places in society. These children are America’s children. They are OUR children- children affected by the headlines pervasive in our country today including immigration, deportation, incarcerated parents, and the black lives matter movement. These children are in our homes and schools, and their confidence and self worth is being shaken regularly due to government regulations, racial profiling and harmful ignorance. Through Woodson’s evocative prose and magical storytelling, we watch the children become safe harbors for one another, their initial apprehension slowly turning into compassion, connection and perhaps most importantly, courage.
Want the book? Get it here! Harbor Me, by Jacqueline Woodson. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received an advanced review copy of this book, but all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own.
If you’re following us over on Instagram, you know we’ve been on a strong and mighty girls kick, and here’s one more awesome read for your shelves that gives us glimpses into our world’s many vibrant cultures. I adore this gorgeous, re-issued collection of folktales featuring heroic women around the globe. Not One Damsel in Distress: Heroic Girls from World Folklore, is collected and told by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Susan Guevara, and its one you don’t want to miss. This is a diverse collection of stories featuring smart, strong and savvy women that I cannot wait to share with my smart, strong and savvy little boys.
Did I say I want to share stories about female heroes with my BOYS? Heck yes, I did! Books featuring strong girls and female protagonists are not just “girl books.” It is crucial to share these books - both fiction and non-fiction - with our sons and male students. If we truly seek to change our country’s narrative for future generations, we must show our boys, starting at tender young ages, that reading about female heroes is just as necessary — and perhaps more importantly, just as FUN — as reading about male heroes.
Frankly, it is time to level the playing field. Given the current state of affairs in America, this is not just significant, but vital to the functioning of our democracy. Women’s voices are just as critical as their male counterparts, and we need our boys to recognize this from the time they are born. Raising a generation of compassionate, respectful men begins with those of us who nurture and teach them in our homes and in our schools. Reading to them — true stories about real women as well as fictional books with strong female protagonists - is such an effective way to make a difference in our communities, which in turn helps affect greater societal change. And such change is critical, because the current social structures and the gender inequality so frequently displayed in our communities, workplaces and government is simply unacceptable. As parents and educators, it is up to us to change it. So grab Not One Damsel in Distress, add it to your strong girl book collection, and talk it to up your girls AND boys. Let’s give our children opportunities to see that heroes come in all shapes, all sizes and all genders.
Want the book? Get it here! Not One Damsel in Distress: Heroic Girls from World Folklore, by Jane Yolen. *This is a affiliate link. HEE recived a review copy of this book, but all opinions expressed herein are expressly our own.
I have read so few middle grade books touching upon a parent with mental illness, yet it affects an astounding number of adults in the United States. The National Alliance on Mental Illness notes that 1 out of every 5 American adults experience mental illness in a given year. Of these, 1 in 100 American adults live with schizophrenia. What do these staggering statistics tell us then? Mental illness is not taboo. And the fact that there are so many adults afflicted means there are children struggling to make sense of a parent’s disease. How can we help these children feel less alone and more understood? One answer is to give them books in which they can see themselves and their stories.
Enter Where the Watermelons Grow, a powerful new middle grade novel by Cindy Baldwin. This beautiful book tells the story of Della Kelly, a tween girl whose mother suffers from schizophrenia. The book opens with Della’s mother digging seeds out of a watermelon in the middle of the night, talking to people only she can see, and Della at once knows her mother is being tugged back down a dangerous road that once landed her in the hospital for months. With her Dad distracted by trying to save the family farm and her mom spinning out of control, Della decides she is the only one that can heal her mama and save her family - and she refuses to let others in for help. Will Della be able to hold her family together as her mother’s symptoms worsen by the day?
I love Where the Watermelons Grow for so many reasons. First, its tackling of mental illness felt authentic at every step. It provided gut-wrenching, yet age appropriate details of schizophrenia, giving children a glimpse into this disease in a way that felt both informative for those who haven’t experienced it, and trustworthy for those who have. More importantly, though, I loved Della’s emotional journey and the way in which she matured during the story. Our protagonist went from keeping her mother’s secret buried deep down, not only for fear of what others would think of her family but because of her own fear that she somehow caused or contributed to the sickness. Yet as her mother worsened, Della matured enough to understand that not only was she in no way responsible for the illness, but allowing others to support her would give her the love and strength she needed to survive. Community can be healing, but sometimes, we shy away from that very notion because letting others in to our family secrets can be downright frightening. Della’s eventual acceptance of her mother’s schizophrenia - and the recognition that it is not a badge of shame upon her family- resonated deeply and reminds readers that all families struggle with challenges, but there are always people who will be there to help. We just have to let them in. A beautiful, tender and poignant novel.
For another, totally different yet wonderful read about a child struggling with a parent’s mental illness, check out our review of The Secret of Nightingale Wood, by Lucy Strange.
Want the book? Get it here: Where the Watermelons Grow, by Cindy Baldwin. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher, but all opinions contained herein are expressly our own.
So many of us have stood in that uncomfortable spot, right there in the doorway about to enter a room where the blanket of faces staring back at you look wholly different from your own. It's one of those feelings that is bound to make your stomach hurt or your eyes sting - especially when you're only a child. At that moment, all we see are the differences in those people: different skin colors and eye shapes, different clothing -- even different accents when they begin to speak. What we forget during these challenging situations, however, and what we need to remind our kids, is that underneath these different exteriors lie a multitude of similarities.
This is the beauty of Jacqueline Woodson's newest picture book, The Day You Begin, stunningly illustrated by Rafael Lopez (you may remember him from one of my favorite books, Maybe Something Beautiful). The Day You Begin tells the story of a young girl who walks into a new classroom and finds no one like her. But then she sits down, her classmates begin talking, and as their words fill the air, shared sentiments become bridges to building connection.
The Day You Begin reads like music, with rich melodies that rouse your senses and settle softly upon your heart. Woodson's words, as is typical for her, are a song to celebrate. She reassures us that, when we are brave enough, we can all find connections with one another. When we muster up courage and extend our hands and voices, we will find possibility where it first seemed like none existed. The Day You Begin conveys wisdom, hope and heart, on vibrant, collaged pages that are a perfect accompaniment to the exquisite text. This is a book to treasure, reminding both children and adults that there is so much beauty to be found when we embrace who we are and find the strength to view challenges as opportunities. We give this one two trunks up, and we have no hesitation in calling The Day You Begin an absolute MUST for every home, classroom and library collection.
Want the book? Get it here! The Day You Begin, by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Rafael Lopez. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received an advanced review copy of this book, but all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own.
What’s in a name? I’ve always loved that question. Sure, some parents pick names for one reason and one reason only: because they like the way they sound. But many of us pick our children's names for a reason: as a tribute to someone’s memory, to honor someone currently living, or because the name has a special definition we hope our sons and daughters will emulate. We picked our boys’ names for all of the above reasons, and their names- both their given names and their Hebrew names- are so special to our family. Because I love the derivation of names, I particularly loved Alma and How She Got Her Name, by Juana Martinez-Neal. This book is simply perfect - and absolutely stunning to boot!! It’s no wonder it was awarded a 2019 Caldecott Honor!
In Alma, a little girl complains to her father about her long name -- Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela. “It never fits,” she tells her Dad. Her frustration prompts a discussion between father and child as to why Alma was given such a long name, and Alma's eyes suddenly open to the legacies she carries with her and the beloved ancestors she was named for. After Alma learns all about her vibrant name, she realizes that it may be the perfect fit after all.
I am in LOVE with everything about this beautiful book: the story, the gorgeous illustrations, the reasons Alma comes to love and celebrate her name, and the way in which it lends itself to so many fabulous activities, either at home or in the classroom. Alma and How She Got Her Name is rich with activity ideas- from having children research the meaning behind their own names, to having kids learn about different cultural traditions for naming babies, to having kids write about the people for whom they were named and how they may emulate the characteristics of those people. The ideas are endless, and this beauty of a book is rife with possibility. Two trunks up for this stunning treasure, one that will stay with you and your children long after the final page is turned.
For a full list of the ALA awards, including the prestigious Caldecott, Newbery, Geisel and Coretta Scott King awards, check out this post of all the 2019 winners! And did you know Alma made our list of Favorite Picture Books of 2018? Don’t leave without checking out that post here!
Want the book? Get it here! Alma and How She Got Her Name, by Juana Martinez-Neal. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received an advanced review copy of this book, but all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own.
Wow. WOW. My gosh, was this book fantastic! Amal Unbound was an emotional, powerful story, one I read so quickly because I simply could not put it down. Set in a poor Pakistani village with themes of social hierarchy, education, and indentured servitude, this was a searing "window" book that opened my eyes to the tragic circumstances and sacrifices that children in some communities must experience to save their families from ruin.
Amal Unbound, elegantly written by Aisha Saeed, is the story of Amal, a bookish, smart girl with dreams of becoming a teacher. But one day at the market, Amal mouths off to the wrong man: Jawad, son of her village’s wealthy landlord. In order to pay off the debt for her insulting behavior, Amal is forced into indentured servitude with his family, leaving her own family behind. At the landlord’s pretentious home, Amal sees firsthand the dangers of illiteracy and gender inequality, and she begins sneaking books from the library and teaching others to read. When Amal is sent by the family to be a patron at the village's new literacy center, she recognizes that her education has given her a powerful hand- the ability to take a critical stance against corruption.
A poignant exploration of unjust power structures and the extreme consequences families must endure to repay debts for “poor” behavior, Amal Unbound will be an eye opener for so many students. It is an important testament to the power of education and the way words can change worlds and correct damaging social injustice and corruption. Knowledge is power, and literacy, in this story, truly becomes Amal’s key to freedom. This is an important read for all upper elementary and middle school students students -- a story of literacy, resistance and, ultimately, sweet sweet justice. Amal Unbound is hands down one of my favorite middle grade novels of 2018 so far. Two trunks up!
Want the book? Get it here! Amal Unbound, by Aisha Saeed. *This is an affiliate link. Happily Ever Elephants received an advanced review copy of this book, but all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own.
My grandparents met when they were only kids, living in Chicago the 1930s. Gigi taught Poppy how to dance; they met at his first lesson, and the rest (as they say) is history. Shortly thereafter Poppy broke barriers when he went to college—he was the first Jewish boy to receive a basketball scholarship to DePaul University. Poppy was a brave, moral man who always stood up for the underdog and championed those values he held dear. When he went off to fight in WWII, he was put in charge of a camp for prisoners of war. What did he do? He fashioned a basketball court for the men at the camp so they could entertain themselves. Humanity, he said. Even when the world disagreed on the very fundamentals of our rights as human beings, he thought it critical to treat each other with kindness and respect.
I've always cherished this story about my grandfather -- and I've always loved the way oral storytelling can shape and mold our lives as we try to embody the most beloved virtues of our ancestors. Perhaps this is why I so connected to Islandborn, the exquisite new picture book by one of my favorite authors, Pulitzer Prize winning Junot Diaz, and exquisitely illustrated by Leo Espinoza. In Islandborn, Lola's teacher asks the students to draw a picture of the country from which they immigrated. But Lola, perplexed and upset, can't remember The Island where she was born; she left when she was just a baby. She thus begins speaking with relatives and friends to learn more about her homeland. And as she hears story after story of The Island, Lola quickly understands that "[j]ust because you don't remember a place doesn't mean it isn't in you."
Islandborn is positively incredible! I love how Lola feels increasingly connected to her island the more she learns from her loved ones. I love how she suddenly sees, hears and tastes her birthplace, this place that is the essence of her core. More importantly, I love the various ways you can use this text in your homes and classrooms to help your children connect with their pasts, because their family stories will undoubtedly mold their futures. You can so easily guide children to learn about their ancestors, cultures, countries, and even the history and politics that shaped their families' daily lives. Read Islandborn and then have your students explore! You can use simple prompts for younger kids ("interview a family member about an experience that shaped his/her childhood") or go deeper for older children ("how did the political climate of your grandparent's home country shape his/her upbringing?") The information they learn can be used to write narrative essays, illustrate a picture book like Lola, or even create video presentations using apps like 30hands. The possibilities are endless. This is what happens when a phenomenal book finds its way into your hands. You can't stop thinking about it, and you want to use it to enhance learning in every way possible. Thank you Junot Diaz for this treasure!
Want the book? Get it here! Islandborn, by Junot Diaz. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received a review copy from the publisher, but all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own!