It is not easy to find sensory processing disorder books for kids. But these two books by Samantha Cotterill, part of a new series called Little Senses, are brilliant. Check it out!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
“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.
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.
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.
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.
This book blew me away on the first read through, with its striking illustrations, its fabulous pacing, and its breathtakingly phenomenal voice. Wow. Crown, An Ode to the Fresh Cut, written by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon James, was a window book like none other, a story about a young African-American boy who goes to the barbershop to get a haircut and walks out feeling like a million dollars. I remember being a young kid and sitting down in the hairstylist's chair vividly, but my experiences were wholly different then the one described in this vibrant story. As a child, I cried every time I looked into the mirror at the end of my cut when I was struck with a horrible realization: my hair was not long, not blonde and certainly not straight like Rapunzel's. Instead, it was mousy brown and more akin to Medusa than any Disney princess, with thin ringlets bouncing like a halo all around my little head. But this book, to think of how amazing this child felt every time he went to the barber - it was so poignant and immediately brought tears to my eyes.
In Crown, a boy walks into the barbershop. He saunters in "as a lump of clay, a blank canvas." But when the man has finished the cut, the boy looks so fly, "they'll want to post [him] up in a museum." The story moves seamlessly through the child's experience as the man drapes him like a king with a cape and then single handedly transforms him -- and his confidence -- with a new hairdo.
Crown is an absolute force. It firmly grounds the reader in the setting, right in the center of all that magic, where children become royalty alongside the other men visiting the shop that day. From the very first page, the very first sentence, Barnes transports the reader right into that barbershop culture through vivid details that come to life with brilliant authenticity. It is a celebration of self-confidence and self-worth, a beautiful window into a snippet of a boy's day that transforms him and makes him feel recognized and powerful. The voice, the word choice, the rhythm - it's all astonishingly perfect. Crown is a powerful read that should be in every classroom and every library around the country -- and in your homes too. An eye opener, a winner, a joy. Two trunks up!
Want a copy? Get it here: Crown, by Derrick Barnes. HEE received a review copy from the publisher, but all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own.
As you know, I'm an avid reader and I adore children's books. What you may not know is that when it comes to reading adult novels, I am a lover of historical fiction, especially books set during World War II. You can imagine how excited I get, then, when a middle grade book comes out that takes place during this time period. Especially when that book is pitch perfect, appropriately conveying the tumultuous and terrifying years that were the Holocaust in a manner suitable for young children. Enter Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz, written by the dynamic father/daughter duo, Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat.
Michael was one of the youngest survivors of Auschwitz, liberated from the camp when he was just four years old. A lifetime later - during the 1980s - Michael was living in the US and went with his wife to see a movie set in Brooklyn in the 1940s. During the film, the main characters watched a newsreel showing children liberated from Auschwitz. The director of the movie had utilized real photographs, and Michael was stunned to recognize his face in the footage. Michael had always stayed relatively quiet about his childhood; however, after seeing the film, and upon realizing that history was at risk of being forgotten, he decided to speak.
What follows is Survivors Club, the remarkable collaboration between Michael and his daughter Debbie, who painstakingly pieced together Michael's childhood wartime memories with photographs, essays and other documentary evidence to reconstruct his family's history. The result is a moving and harrowing piece of narrative non-fiction about Michael's life as a toddler in Zarki, Poland during the German invasion, his subsequent internment in Auschwitz, and the horrors and antisemitism he returned to after the war. Suitable for late elementary and middle grade readers, Survivors Club is an exceptional and important work that will undoubtedly have a place on shelves with The Diary of Anne Frank and Number the Stars. A must read for children and adults alike.
Want the book? Get it here! Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz, by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received an advanced review copy of this book from the publisher, but all opinions contained herein are our own.
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.
For one reason or another, we all wonder how and where we fit in. Sometimes, we find it a hard question to answer even within the constructs of our very own families. Here at Happily Ever Elephants we love books about family diversity and alternative family structures. And Kyo Maclear's Spork, with illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault, provides such a perfect entryway to a conversation about how we find our place in the world- or even more simply, how we discover our place within the walls of our very own home. Spork is a story of longing, of hope, and of acceptance, which is one of the reasons I'm choosing to highlight this story for my #booksforbetter post this week.
Spork is the product of two loving parents- one spoon, and one fork. But as a combination of the two, Spork is afraid he sticks out in the cutlery drawer-- he's either too round, or too pointy, and he can't figure out quite where he belongs. What happens when something -- or someone-- new suddenly takes a seat at the table? Will Spork finally find his place?
There is just so much to love about this book, from its beautiful message, to Arsenault's spot on and glorious illustrations, to the way in which a baby (of course!) paves the way for Spork's self-actualization and acceptance. Because who is it, if not our children, that will reach across a divide and link arms with someone who may be perceived as "other"? Children have no preconceived prejudices or grudges, and it is our job, as parents and educators, to keep it that way. So get Spork, and display it front and center in your libraries. Use it to help convey this most important message to your kids, until it's as natural to them as the breaths they take each and every moment of their lives. No matter where we come from, who our parents are, or what we look like, we must never lose sight of the single most important foundation of humanity: We all have a place at the table.
Did you like this post? We think you will love these, too! Best Books About Family Diversity and Alternative Family Structure, A Family is a Family is a Family by Sara O’Leary, and Mixed: A Colorful Story by Arree Chung.
Want the book? Get it here! Spork, by Isabelle Arsenault. *This is an affiliate link.