Inside: Looking for an amazing book to celebrate a special grandmother? Look no further than MY GRANDMA AND ME, an exquisite new story by MIna Javaherbin and illustrated by Lindsey Yankey. Come on in and check it out!Read More
Inside: Kids often wonder where they fit in this big wide world of ours, and two new picture books touch on this topic beautifully.: CARL AND THE MEANING OF LIFE, by Deborah Freedman, and THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD AND ME, by Yoni Yuly. Check them out!Read More
If you are looking for a curated selection of diverse baby books to read to your little ones (or to gift to a new parent) we’ve got your covered with this terrific list! Check out our diverse board book selections and find some new titles that will get two trunks up from your children!Read More
It is challenging to find children’s books about refugees or the immigration experience that are authentic and not didactic. But Lubna and Pebble, a new picture book about friendship and refugees, stuns, shines and shatters everything you think you know about this genre of books.Read More
I love kids books about kindness that simultaneously show children how acts of generosity can impact a person so profoundly. Thank You, Omu! Is a new favorite children’s book that handles this topic exquisitely. Check it out!Read More
"In a gentle way, you can shake the world." - Gandhi
Use your words. It's a phrase parents and educators know well. It's one of the first things we teach our children when they begin to speak. "Use your words," we say, when they are pointing instead of asking. "Use your words," we remind them, when they are hitting instead of talking. It’s one of the mantras that plays like background music - a soundtrack to those infamous toddler years - because getting our children to use words instead of hands is pretty critical. And as important as it is to instill in our children, it is of utmost significance that adults, too, follow and live by this mantra. This is perhaps why I have always been intrigued by Mahatma Gandhi and his belief in nonviolence to create social change— his belief that words possess more power than punches.
I am thus thrilled to be a part of the I Am Justice blog tour to share Brad Meltzer's fabulous book, I am Gandhi, an empowering story in the Ordinary People Change the World Series. We adore this series, especially I am Gandhi, for the way it teaches children that violence is never a means to an end.
I am Gandhi tells the story of how Gandhi, as a young man, was appalled by the unequal treatment of Indians. Refusing to tolerate injustice, Gandhi came up with a brilliant and powerful plan to protest discrimination against Indians in South Africa and to end British rule in India. Like the series' biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi's story focuses on peaceful heroism in the struggle for civil rights and social evolution.
One of the reasons I so love this book is because Gandhi's peaceful, nonviolent teachings can be understood by children of all ages. His beautiful words can teach kids how to create impactful change without violence and aggression. I am Gandhi can be read in a variety of ways within your home or classroom and paired with so many complementary learning and literacy activities. Have your kids or students write peace pledges, identifying how they can use their words to embody peaceful action in their schools and homes. Have students identify problems in their communities, and brainstorm peaceful ways to tackle and address these challenges. Create kindness concept posters to showcase the many ways in which we can peacefully address conflict. The possibilities are endless… and if we emphasize Gandhi’s message of nonviolence, our kids will be at the forefront of a kinder, more respectful, and more empathetic generation. Can we ask for anything more?
Want the book? Get it here! I am Gandhi, by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos. HEE received a copy of this book from the publisher, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
William Shakespeare gave voice to one of my all time favorite quotes: “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” I’ve always loved this, not just for its understated power, but because it so perfectly epitomizes everything I think about children. Are they small? Yes. But never be fooled by a child’s stature alone. What kids may lack in size, they compensate for with big dreams, inquisitive minds, and open hearts. They are, in no uncertain terms, fierce in their being, fierce in their emotions, and fierce in their love.
A child will be the first to tell you when a mean word comes out of a classmate’s mouth or a sibling acts in a naughty manner. Instead of turning his head in the opposite direction, he will be the first to ask why a child wears braces on his legs, or why a person begs for money on the street corner. He will also, without a doubt, be the first to reach across the table to hold hands with someone who may be different from himself. Our kids do not have negative associations with “other” unless we, the adults, place them there.
Children ask questions, demand answers, and seek tangible analogies to help them understand the complexities of the world in which they live. They are, undoubtedly, pint sized barometers of right and wrong. Let’s use their insatiable curiosity and unwavering moral compasses to teach them that though they may be little, they are, without question, more fierce than many people three times their size. We — parents, caregivers and educators — can harness their innate ability to view the world through righteous eyes by showing them they have the power to make a change if they see behaviors or events they believe are wrong. We can teach them that though they are small, their voices are mighty and they have the ability to make a difference in their school or their community. Whether they hold a hand out to a classmate being bullied, organize a book drive for schools that have been destroyed by natural disasters, or run a bake sale to raise money for a homeless shelter, there are things our kids can do to explore solutions to some of our society’s greatest challenges.
There are so many meaningful stories that can help our little ones find not only their voices, but ways to right the wrongs they see around them. Together we can build a community of children who believe in social justice and who are ready and willing to make important changes in their worlds. By facilitating this conversation when our children are young, we can build the foundation for greater understanding and activism as they grow.
Our children are fierce; let us never underestimate them. For I know I’m not alone when I say I have no doubt that they can be, in the words of the great Mahatma Gandhi, the change they wish to see in the world. Let’s utilize great books to help them on their way.
Be the Change: A Grandfather Gandhi Story
by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus; illustrated by Evan Turk
Atheneum Books for Young Readers (2016)
The indomitable duo that brought us Grandfather Gandhi is back with another story about Arun’s grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi. In the second book, Arun – frustrated with the confines of life in his grandfather’s service village – throws the nub of a pencil into the grass. When his grandfather makes him take a flashlight to retrieve it that evening, a conversation ensues between the elder and his grandson about how waste can contribute to violence. With a fabulous look at how “passive violence” occurs frequently and is often a root cause of physical violence, this beautiful story explains how each of us can examine and modify our own actions to create even the smallest of changes for the betterment of society.
A Long Walk to Water
by Linda Sue Park
HMH Books for Young Readers (2011)
When eleven year old Salva’s school is attacked by rebel soldiers in 1985, Salva and his classmates have no choice but to flee. What he doesn’t know at the time is that this attack will result in many horrifying years on the run in Sudan, dodging bullets and struggling to survive. Salva eventually makes it to a refugee camp in Ethiopia, where he is selected as one of 3,000 young men to travel to America. A Long Walk to Water alternates between Salva’s story and the grueling daily struggles of a young Sudanese girl in 2008, who walks for nearly eight hours a day to bring water home to her family. This interwoven story will leave readers astonished, stunned, but mostly inspired, as Salva’s struggles are eventually channeled into a moving account of change.