Inside: Get ready guys, because there is a new, fantastic book of feelings coming your way for your kiddos. Meet TIGER DAYS, A BOOK OF FEELINGS, by M.H. Clark. We are in LOVE!Read More
MAYBE TOMORROW, by Charlotte Agell and illustrated by Ana Ramirez Gonzalez, is one of the best children’s books about sadness I’ve ever read, a must have to keep on your children’s bookshelves. Check it out!Read More
Looking for a beautiful, resonant book to talk about jealousy with your children? THE BEAR, THE PIANO, THE DOG, AND THE FIDDLE, by David Litchfield, is the story for you!
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Why we Adore THE BEAR, THE PIANO, THE DOG, AND THE FIDDLE
Jealousy is a tough burden to bear.
Whether it’s jealousy of a sibling, a classmate, or even a best friend, it’s one of those emotions that can eat us alive (even us adults!) and cause major unease and anxiety. In children, jealousy can be all consuming and utterly difficult to understand. Imagine being a kid again, one who feels green with envy over something her very best friend has or gets to take part in. It is a confusing feeling with complexities even the most emotionally intelligent kids grapple with.
Thus, when a book comes along that helps a child understand jealousy, and that book is filled with gorgeous, atmospheric artwork and beloved characters to boot, I’m all about it.
Who remembers David Litchfield’s THE BEAR AND THE PIANO from a couple of years ago?
THE BEAR AND THE PIANO was published when Happily Ever Elephants was first getting started, and it was one of those books I fell hard for because of the way it spoke of following dreams but always remembering that home is where the heart is. It was tender, resonant and perfect, and it continues to remain a favorite of ours.
And now, Litchfield has brought us a wonderful companion book, THE BEAR, THE PIANO, THE DOG, AND THE FIDDLE, and we love it too!!
In THE BEAR, THE PIANO, THE DOG, AND THE FIDDLE, a dog and his human have a mutual adoration — playing the fiddle! Hugo the dog loves listening to Hector play the fiddle, so when Hector decides to retire, Hugo secretly teaches himself to play this fine instrument. And guess what? Hugo has skills. So much so, that the famous piano playing Bear invites Hugo to play in his traveling animal band on stages all over the world.
Hugo is thrilled. Hector? Not so much.
After all, Hugo is going to live the dream that Hector always had for himself — but Hector’s dream never came to fruition. Will Hector be able to sideline his envy and cheer on Hugo’s success? Or is the friendship between Hector and his beloved Hugo doomed for good?
Friendship. Fighting. Forgiveness: Why THE BEAR, THE PIANO, THE DOG, AND THE FIDDLE is so important to read with children!
I love seeing these themes conveyed in a picture book and, even more so, I love when books don’t necessarily show an outright apology but instead convey how friends forgive one another for things both said and unsaid through their meaningful actions. Words, after all, can sometimes be empty, or even said disingenuously. And that is not the message we want to give to our children.
THE BEAR, THE PIANO, THE DOG AND THE FIDDLE expresses that true friends will naturally have conflict. Our words can sting one another. We can be thrilled for our friends’ achievements, but also totally and completely envious of those achievements at the same time. These feelings are real and authentic, but perhaps most importantly, they are universal.
Yet, despite their commonality, feelings of envy are not easy to sit with. And we need to talk with our children about them.
THE BEAR, THE PIANO, THE DOG, AND THE FIDDLE gives us a fabulous “in” — an excellent starting point to communicate about these unsettling emotions. Questions such as “have you ever wished you had something your friend has?”, “how did you feel when your friend got the part in the show you wanted?”, or “do you feel happy for your friend, but also kind of angry?” are perfect conversation starters, and they are totally organic and natural after reading this beautiful story. This is one of those meaningful books you won’t necessarily realize you needed until you are sitting and having these important discussions with your kids — and then you will be so grateful that THE BEAR, THE PIANO, THE DOG, AND THE FIDDLE was in front of you to help spark these significant discussions.
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Want the book? Get it here! THE BEAR, THE PIANO, THE DOG, AND THE FIDDLE, by David Litchfield. *HEE received an copy of this book from the publisher, but all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own.
Talking to children about matters of the heart can be complicated. If your kids are anything like mine, they get totally confused because the heart can do wayyyyy too many things. After all, it can fill with joy or break with sadness, swell with pride or even be given away. It can grow, it can melt, it can open and close. It can shatter, it can puddle, it races fast and then slows. No wonder they don’t understand! These metaphors are challenging to comprehend— and to a literal child, they can seem totally nonsensical. Leave it to Corinna Luyken, an author/illustrator whose work has blown me away over the last couple of years, to give us My Heart, the perfect picture book to gently address the heart’s complexity with kids.
In My Heart, each page is a metaphor for the heart’s various manifestations. As the diverse group of kids journey through the heart’s numerous emotions, they learn it can be a puddle or a slide or a window opened wide. The children are happy at times and scared at others, remorseful on some pages and joyful on others. When faced with a tough emotion, they find companionship in family and friends to help them through. And overall, they learn one very important notion: whether their hearts are open or closed, tiny or large, each and every child has the freedom to decide how he or she feels at a particular time. My Heart conveys a powerful message, one that helps children discover their strength and unlock their inner resilience.
My Heart is exquisite, though and through. Luyken’s illustrations are shadowy and vibrant at the same time. Shades of grey shot through with bright yellow perfectly represent the heart’s many phases, bringing hope to the wounded heart and light to the dark one. They set the tone so beautifully for a book that speaks to emotional awareness, and, when paired with the simple (but brilliant) prose, convey a message that we get to decide how our heart feels at any given moment. The book is contemplative yet dynamic, subtle yet empowering, ultimately conveying the most reassuring message: “tiny can grow and broken can mend / and a heart that is closed can still open again.” Sensitive, stunning and simply spectacular. Two trunks up for this beauty!
Did you like this post? Hooray! We think you will love these, too! First, our review of Corinna Luyken’s The Book of Mistakes (which was on our list of Favorite Picture Books of 2017). Second, our review of Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse, illustrated by Luyken, which was on our list of Picture Books to Help You Raise Kind Kids AND Favorite Picture Books of 2018!! ENJOY!
Want the book? Get it here! My Heart, by Corinna Luyken. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher, but all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own.
If you are looking for a fabulous book for any child questioning his or her identity, an LGBQT story, or a thought-provoking read about one tween’s journey to understanding and finding herself, you must check out Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, by Ashley Herring Blake, stat.
My goodness, can these middle grade books get any better? Where were these phenomenal stories when I was a young girl? I remember when I was 12 years old, and my home in Miami was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew. It was a pivotal year in my life- I had just become a Bat Mitzvah, I was struggling to figure out if I would ever become a graceful teenager and not just a gawky teen, I longed to know if boys would ever look my way, and I wondered if my community would ever get put back together after suffering from total destruction. So many questions, so much angst— and so few stories to help me feel less alone and less confused.
Though my longings were not quite the same, I wish I’d had a book like Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World! Ivy Aberdeen’s angst hit all the right notes and resonated so very deeply. In this story, Ivy’s home is flattened by a tornado that rages through her town. All she manages to save is her pillow which contains her most precious possessions inside a thin case - fancy markers and a journal filled up with drawings, many of which contain illustrations of her and an unidentifiable girl. While staying in a school gym with other displaced persons after the storm, Ivy’s notebook goes missing. When her pictures start turning up in her locker, together with notes encouraging her to be true to herself and come clean with who she is at her core, Ivy begins to hope that the mysterious letters are coming from a girl on whom she has secretly developed a crush. Will Ivy let go of her fears and embrace who she is meant to be?
Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World will be a valuable window book for some and a mirror book for so many others. Ivy fears being unlike those around her- being shunned for wanting something so different than her friends and her big sister. After all, when Ivy’s sister and her best friend stop speaking and Ivy believes it’s because her sister’s friend has come out of the closet, Ivy fears her sister will totally disown her, too. Though the yearnings expressed in Ivy’s story may certainly be different for some tweens, the burning desire to understand who you are at your core, to not just accept those things that make us unique but love them too, is simply universal. We have all experienced, in unique ways and to varying degrees, the unsettling and anxiety-provoking fear that comes hand in hand with feeling so wholly different from those around us.
Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World gave me chills, and it is a book of incredible importance that has an especially significant place in every library, every classroom, and every child’s bookshelf. I am so grateful to the fabulous kidlit authors that continually place these notable books into children’s hands around the globe. There is nothing like a book to make you feel less alone and more understood.
What did you think about Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World? Let us know on our Facebook page, and make sure to follow us there! If you liked this post, make sure to check out our Favorite Middle Grade Books of 2018. We think you will also love these books about tweens discovering themselves: Front Desk, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, and Brown Girl Dreaming.
Want the book? Get it here! Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, by Ashley Herring Blake. *This is an affiliate link.
There’s something about Those Shoes, written by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Noah Z. Jones, that calls to me every November. And so each year, the week before Thanksgiving hits, this is the book I pull out to read to every single one of my elementary school classes. And each time, without fail, when my students see me pull the book out from behind me, they clap and cheer. Those Shoes is beloved by our school, and it fills me with such joy to see student reactions to this story.
Jeremy wants nothing more than the same pair of shoes that the rest of the kids at school wear. But, according to his grandma, Jeremy’s “wants” are not nearly as important as his “needs.” When his shoes fall apart at school, Jeremy is both ashamed and embarrassed that he has to wear babyish sneakers given to him by the school guidance counselor. So when his grandma takes him to the thrift stores, Jeremy is in heaven when he finds a pair of THOSE SHOES- and he buys them with his own money even though they are too small and destroy his feet. Leave it to grandma, though, to sneak a new pair of warm snow boots into Jeremy’s closet. What happens when Jeremy’s friend, Antonio, the only boy who didn’t laugh at Jeremy’s babyish shoes, comes to school with taped up sneakers, and his feet are noticeably smaller than Jeremy’s?
Those Shoes is an honest and poignant story. Before I begin reading this with students, I always start with a discussion of the differences between wants and needs- it provides such an amazing entryway into the book. After we read, the maturity and depth of conversation usually skyrockets. Why? Because the book so beautifully conveys that the things Jeremy has - family, new snow boots to protect his feet, and the opportunity to help someone in distress - truly are more valuable than holding on to something he wants because it’s “cool.” Often times, the things we so desperately “want” don’t bring us nearly as much fulfillment as the things we need. You can practically see the wheels spinning in the kids’ heads after they read this book! Those Shoes offers a perfect segue into a discussion of gratitude and the countless things we have to be thankful for. It also reminds us that there are so many ways we can help others less fortunate during the holiday season and all year round.
Want to #gettrunky* with it? Here’s an easy and quick idea. If you are an educator, use the Padlet app (it’s free!) and create a Gratitude Wall. I used a simple prompt- “what is one thing you are thankful for and why?” I made sure to limit student responses so they would have to think more deeply - thus, they were not allowed to answer with “family,” “friends” or “food.” Using their school devices, the students could write, draw, photograph or video their responses. The result? A beautiful, interactive bulletin board, showcasing the things our students value most, from backpacks (because they hold tools used to create!) to names of teachers (because they teach us and help us learn every single day), to the ability to dance (because dancing is a way to express myself). The results will both astonish and surprise you.
*What on earth does it mean to #gettrunky? Click here to find out!
Want the book? Get it here! Those Shoes, by by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Noah Z. Jones. *This is an affiliate link.
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.
So many of you have asked about books to help you discuss the news with your kids. Why? Because no matter whether we like it or not, we all experience the same thing, time and time again. Some day, somewhere, something happens and we feel immobilized by grief, anger, and even helplessness. Our kids understand that something in the news has affected us profoundly, but it’s not always easy (or age appropriate) to tell them about the latest current event. So what do we do? What do our KIDS do?
In Sarah Lynne Reul’s The Breaking News, a child’s community is rattled when devastating news strikes it at its core. The news leaves the adults in the neighborhood exhausted and distracted. At school, the child's teacher tells her class to look for the helpers in times of distress. The girl wants to be a helper. She wants to help her family and her community in as big a way as she can- until she realizes that maybe one small act of kindness is all she needs to do to make a difference.
I absolutely adore The Breaking News. I love how it offers a child-centric perspective on family and community upon the receipt of bad news as well as the manner in which the child seeks to positively impact her community afterwards. Though our children may not always understand the “adult” events that happen around the world and even in our own backyards, they are undoubtedly impacted by our distress. Many of these kids don’t know how to help, but they so desperately do their best to try. The Breaking News beautifully illustrates that kids may not be able to fix major challenges, but they can absolutely contribute to brightening the world around them in small, simple ways. This is a timely story that parents and teachers will want in their collections for those tough situations when our own words fail us but a perfect book opens the door for education and understanding.
Want the book? Get it here! The Breaking News by Sarah Reull. *This is an affiliate link.
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.
Friendship is a journey, complete with laughter and tears and make believe and making up. We've all been there, and our children will experience this sometimes challenging but always rewarding journey too. Molly and Mae: A Friendship Journey, is a beautiful new book by Danny Parker with gorgeous illustrations by Freya Blackwood. The story is a lovely testament to friendship and all of its ups and downs, and it has quickly become a go-to read in our stack.
In Molly and Mae, two little girls meet on the platform of a train station. They connect instantly, playing hide and seek and other games as they await the train with their families. Upon boarding, however, their games turn into conflict, and the two girls turn away from each other. Will they be able to restart their relationship and enjoy the rest of the ride together?
I remember those trying days of childhood, when one minute a trusted companion had me squealing with glee and the next found me sobbing into my mother's lap because so-and-so said she would never be my friend again. I wish I had Molly & Mae then. I love the manner in which Parker and Blackwood use the train's journey as an extended metaphor of the ups and downs and starts and stops inherent in the journey of friendship. It was a perfect - if not masterful - comparison, and I love how the train signage truly grounds the reader into every scene of the story. Blackwood has fast become a favorite illustrator of mine, and her soft illustrations add tremendous significance to Parker’s spare text. Such a beauty!
Want the book? Get it here! Molly & Mae: A Friendship Journey, by Danny Parker. HEE received an advanced review copy of the book, but all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own.
Teaching digital rights and responsibilities to children should include one crucial element: taking time to unplug and disconnect. On a Magical Do-Nothing Day is a wonderful example of this notion!
Remember the days when we didn't worry about screens cracking or batteries dying and the only volume anyone was concerned about was whether kids were properly using their inside voices? I do. And sometimes, I wish we were back there. Yes, I love my phone and my gadgets, and yes, it's pretty fantastic that I can access all of my work and writing and scheduling from one simple device. But, gosh, how I hate when my kids only want to watch Daniel Tiger and Paw Patrol on my iPad! Enter On a Magical Do-Nothing Day, a whimsical new book written and illustrated by the great Beatrice Alemagna- a book that reminds us of simpler days and ranked high on my list of favorites from 2017.
In On a Magical Do-Nothing Day, a young boy wants nothing more than to destroy Martians on his device. But mom - smart mom! - eventually takes the device away and hides it. The boy finds the gadget though, and he goes to play with it outside in the rain. But then, lo and behold, the device of all devices falls smack dab into the middle of a pond. Whatever will the child do to pass the time? Maybe, just maybe, with the help of some friendly snails and the use of his long forgotten imagination, the day will turn out ok after all.
Need I say more? If your kids are getting too much screen time, hide the phones, take away the iPads, snuggle up on the couch, and read this book. And then go outside, play hide and seek, and enjoy your beautiful, natural environment together. Sometimes we all need that reminder to unplug- and yes, I'm not just talking about the kids. I'm guilty- horribly so- of spending too much time on my phone. But I am so thankful for books like On a Magical Do-Nothing Day that remind us to slow down, look up, and enjoy life's simplest pleasures. There's nothing more beautiful than that.
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Want the book? Get it here! On a Magical Do-Nothing Day, by Beatrice Alemagna.
What happens after you fall- should you get back up again? Or will you let yourself fall apart? These are the questions pondered in After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again), the newest masterpiece sensitively written and stunningly illustrated by Dan Santat. Hands down, this book is absolutely remarkable. After the Fall’s emotional resonance blew me away, and it is so wildly perfect for both kids and adults alike, making it an easy winner for "Best Picture Book for Upper Elementary Grades" in the inaugural #bookstagramchoiceawards. I have yet to read After the Fall without losing my breath and fighting back tears. It’s just that special, and that perfect.
After the Fall tells the story of what happens after Humpty Dumpty is put back together. Though he is an avid bird watcher, the poor egg has become terrified of heights -- cripplingly so -- and can no longer engage in his favorite activities. Yes, his exterior shell has seemingly healed, but no matter— Humpty is left terribly broken at his core. Will Humpty be scared of high places forever? Or will he find the courage to break free from his fears?
After the Fall is simply breathtaking. The storyline runs deep, and the illustrations are outstanding, telling brilliant, thoughtful stories in and of themselves. The themes embraced here, those of anxiety, resiliency and putting oneself back together after a fall, are themes that easily lend themselves to extreme didacticism. Santat, though, delivers his beautiful message with such a brilliant, light touch, enabling the story to speak to both children and adults at varied social and emotional maturity levels. I have no hesitation when calling this book a masterpiece. It is without a doubt my favorite story of 2017, one that came at the perfect time to remind me that we all have wings to help us soar, even when we fear they are buried or broken for good.
Want the book? Get it here! After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again), by Dan Santat. HEE received an advanced review copy of this book, however all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own.
Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming is one of those novels that's been on my shelf for a couple of years now, but for one reason or another, I just never got around to reading. What on earth was I waiting for?!? A ton of my students checked this out last year, all returning it breathlessly and recounting how much they loved it with stars in their eyes. Well, I have to say that this book's beauty captivated me too, and it will undoubtedly be a forever favorite of mine.
Brown Girl Dreaming is a fictionalized memoir about brilliant author Jacqueline Woodson. Woodson writes about growing up as an African American child in the sixties and seventies during the height and aftermath of the civil rights movement - first in Ohio, then in South Carolina and, eventually, New York. The remnants of Jim Crow are everywhere, and as Woodson navigates her own identity and worth, she is also faced with a country battling racism, animosity and segregation. A powerful and mesmerizing read, Woodson's poetry reflects a young woman's journey to find not just her voice, but her place at home, in school and in society at large.
Some children get nervous about reading poetry and novels in verse, but what is so remarkable about Brown Girl Dreaming is Woodson's ability to keep each of her poems both accessible and relatable. Despite their richness and her beautiful use of language, her poems never feel too cerebral or heady for a child reader. Instead, a young one can so easily grasp Woodson's poignant verses and, most importantly, her yearning- for family, for friends, and most importantly, for writing. A sensitive, beautiful memoir about finding oneself amidst the backdrop of a country also searching for a new identity- this is a true work of art.
Want the book? Get it here! Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson. *This is an affiliate link.
Accepting imperfection is not an easy task for many adults, much less many children. Flexibility, too, is something that so many of us struggle with. Learning to let go, to embrace the flaws and blemishes that inevitability mar our daily lives, can be a fearful journey, one that must come from deep within ourselves before we can learn to appreciate the sweet in the seemingly sour. Perhaps this is the reason why we so love Grandmother Thorn, the beautiful debut picture book by Katey Howes, with gorgeous, multimedia illustrations by Rebecca Hahn.
The titular character, Grandmother Thorn, treasures her beautiful garden- it is pristine and perfect, with not a twig out of place. But when an unwanted plant begins to sprout without her permission, Grandmother Thorn begins to break down. With the help of a dear friend and the passage of time, Grandmother Thorn may just learn that some things in life are beyond anyone's control- and that life's greatest disappointments can also give rise to the greatest gifts.
What a gem this book is. Grandmother Thorn powerfully conveys the message that beauty can be found where we least expect it-- or want it-- when we learn to let go of our stubborn ways. The story reads as if it's a time-tested classic or an age-old folk tale, with rich characters, lush prose and not a word out of place. This is an especially fabulous story for upper elementary and middle school students- sparking important discussions on the meaning of perfection, friendship and embracing fear. A gorgeous debut -- two trunks up!
Want the book? Get it here! Grandmother Thorn, by Katey Howes. *This is an affiliate link.
When you hear the name Kate DiCamillo attached to a book, you know you are in the hands of a masterful storyteller. And so it is with The Tale of Despereaux, the 2004 Newbery Medal winner, a story steeped in darkness but simultaneously bursting with light. It reads like a fairy tale, and it is no wonder it won children's literature's highest honor. It's a masterpiece.
The Tale of Despereaux is the story of a young mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread. It is also the story of a vengeful rat, a servant girl with dreams of becoming a princess, and a jailer who lives in the dungeon, tied to a rope so he doesn't lose his way in the darkness. How these stories weave together is a feat in and of itself, but they do-- and it's gorgeous -- and they culminate in a hero's quest that ends with one very small, but extraordinarily large champion who may just win the heart of the most beautiful girl in the castle.
I hadn't read The Tale of Despereaux in years, and while I remembered loving it, I didn't remember much about it and was nervous it wouldn't meet my high expectations. But it did, in every way possible. I forgot how much I loved the omniscient narrator whose all knowing presence and irreverent comments to the reader make you feel as if the narrator himself is sitting next to you on the couch as you read. I was intrigued by the themes of light and darkness, by these opposing traits that show up in virtually all of the characters, with each having the potential to become heroic or villainous. I love how the theme of betrayal (or "perfidy" as used throughout the story) is one that haunts all of the characters. And I love how DiCamillo's language sweeps you into another world and leaves you totally and completely captivated. Perfect for third and fourth graders- and even for the advanced second grader- The Tale of Despereaux is a modern day fairy tale- a classic that will have a place in every elementary library for generations to come.
Want the book? Get it here! The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo. This is an affiliate link.
What a stunner this is! The Book of Mistakes, written and illustrated by newcomer Corrina Luyken, is a quiet masterpiece illuminating the inherent beauty that underlies every misstep we make. Even months after first reading this book, I still cannot quite believe this is Lyuken's debut. She is, without a doubt, one to watch. And this book is, without a doubt, a favorite of 2017.
In The Book Of Mistakes, the reader follows Luyken on a creative journey- one that exquisitely depicts how "mistakes" actually become an integral component of her illustrative process. Luyken's artistry is meant to be pored over and studied, with new, quirky details to be discovered each time the book is picked up for a reread. Though there are numerous books that touch upon opportunities arising from perceived errors, this one is as powerful as it is unassuming.
So many kids are perfectionists, beginning a project again and again because they can't get it just right. So how can we, the "grown ups" help to nurture their creativity and limit their insecurity? Use The Book of Mistakes -- and perhaps even pair it with A Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg -- to show little ones that magnificence can be found in mistakes, even our biggest ones. An "oh no" can become an "oh wow!" with just a bit of endurance and a whole lot of heart and imagination. Kids will be amazed at the manner in which Luyken's smudges and spills become extraordinarily special, and for this reason, it gets two hearty trunks up. This is one we will read again and again in our house... and I have no doubt The Book of Mistakes will be one my boys carry with them throughout their lives.
Want the book? Get it here! The Book of Mistakes, by Corinna Luyken. *This is an affiliate link.
Who am I? Where did I come from? When does childhood end and the next phase begin? These are just some of the perplexing questions our children grapple with from the time they are young-- but in all honesty, do these questions ever really go away? Do we ever stop wondering who we are, and when and how the next chapter of our lives will unfold?
These are the issues the protagonist in Laurel Snyder's startlingly beautiful new novel, Orphan Island, ponders throughout the story. Young Jinny is one of nine children -- orphans, to be exact-- living on a mysterious, idyllic island. Don't be fooled, though. While all seems perfect in paradise, there is one day of the year when a strange green boat glides to the shore to drop off a new child... and take the oldest one away. When Jinny's best friend Deen is taken at this "Changing," Jinny suddenly becomes the group's "elder" and must care for the new arrival. Jinny knows her responsibilities as the oldest kid on the island, but will she abide by the "rules" as she counts down to the inevitable arrival of the green boat to take her away, or will she buck tradition and mess up the island's peace in the process?
Orphan Island is a meditation on growing up -- on what happens when we ask tough questions and realize we may never get answers. It is thoughtful, wise and, perhaps more importantly, unwavering in its honesty. Jinny is a narrator we root for- but one who is also, at times, a bit unlikable. Yet even as we may disapprove of certain actions she takes or choices she makes, we never cease to understand her motivations. Smack dab in the middle of that awkward transition between childhood and adolescence, Jinny is undoubtedly flawed. Her flaws, though, make her story all the more compelling. She is the reason you will fall into Orphan Island and not be able to put it down. Her internal dissonance - fear of losing the island's stability while simultaneously yearning for something beyond its stagnancy - will strike a chord and resonate with your children who will relate to her innermost thoughts and longings. Orphan Island is contemplative, lyrical, and a brilliant study in character. A must read for your tweens.
Want the book? Get it here! Orphan Island, by Laurel Snyder. *This is an affiliate link. We received a copy of this book from the publisher, but all opinions are our own.