Looking for stories about family diversity and alternative families? Children’s books about blended families, books with same-sex parents, or great reads about adoption? Check out this list!Read More
The best books for beginning readers have large text, short sentences, lots of repetition and simple structure. Most importantly? They must be fun and engaging! Find out if your kids are ready for easy readers, and check out more than twenty pre reader books we love!Read More
It was a typical afternoon in the library with my first grade students. They came bursting through the double doors, settled down on the carpet, and turned their attention to where I sat with a picture book face down in my lap.
“Raise your hand if you like pizza!”
Every one of my first grade students thrust a hand up into the air.
“Raise your hand if you like chocolate chip cookies!”
All hands stayed up— some even threw up both hands up.
“Raise your hand if you like frog legs!”
Down. Every single hand dropped into a lap- and a chorus of “ewwwwwwwww” filled the room.
“Really?” I asked. “Do you know frog legs are considered delicacies in Japanese and French cuisines?”
No answer, just a series of horrified looks on my students’ faces.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Raise your hand if you’ve actually eaten a frog leg?”
Nothing. Silence. No hands raised.
I feigned a look of horror. “What?!? How on earth do you know you hate frog legs if you’ve never even tried them?”
One of my boys said “they sound gross.” Another girl said “I think I’d throw up if I ever had to eat them.”
And thus began a conversation about preconceived notions. How we make judgments before we have experience or evidence to back them up. How these judgments can extend not just to food or toys or places, but to people, too. And how, when it comes to people, these biases can be ever so harmful— and even more dangerous.
The conversation sparked curiosity in my students. It sparked adamant statements that they would never judge a person based on anything but their hearts and how kind or thoughtful or compassionate they were. I was proud of them, of course. But then I also spoke about how even when we think we are open minded and inclusive, we can easily succumb to the pressure of those around us who think differently, those who might be scared of “otherness” and are thus quick to speak out against it because of ignorance or fear. And how when that happens, others may quickly follow suit.
It’s easy to slide into apathy, and we can’t let this happen to the next generation. Raising children who are not just open minded, but free thinkers who won’t fall prey to rash judgments must be a priority as a parent and an educator. It is so important that we challenge our kids to recognize when they succumb to preconceived notions, as this is the only way we will ever combat bias and harmful stereotypes.
There is no better way to do this then by reading, and there are a handful of books that have come out recently — together with some classics — that are absolutely fabulous for addressing this critical topic. I hope you enjoy them and find them as tremendously helpful as we do. Here’s to teaching each other, learning from one another, and helping to lift up “others” through books and conversation, today and always.
The Wall in the Middle of the Book, by Jon Agee: Perhaps my favorite story of 2018! In this powerful story, there is literally just what the title says - a wall running along the gutter of the book. On one side of the wall stands a knight who proudly proclaims he is safe right where he is. The dangers, after all, live on the other side of the wall. So what exactly is on that other side? Angry animals and evil ogres, of course. What the knight doesn’t realize, however, is that rising water and a looming crocodile threaten his safety on the safe side of the wall. And when the knight finds himself in need of serious help, the one who comes to his rescue is not at all who the knight anticipated… and the other side of the wall may possess a lot more fun than fright. For our full review of The Wall in the Middle of the book, click here!
The Very Last Castle, by Travis Jonker and illustrated by Mark Pett: An old castle, with no visitors going in and no people coming out? That leaves the castle ripe for rumorville, and the people in town have no problem spinning tales about the horrors that must lie inside. We simply love the way this book challenges the preconceived notions of an entire community – all, that is, but one small, curious girl who constantly tries to catch the eye of the man guarding the mysterious castle. This is a fabulous story in which a child overcomes fear of the unknown by being brave enough to discover for herself what really lies behind the castle’s doors. In the process, she discovers her inner courage, makes a new friend, and creates a big change right within her neighborhood.
The Boy and the Giant, by David Litchfield: Did you hear about the secret giant in Gableview? He’s got legs the size of drain pipes and feet the size of rowboats, and everyone in town is terrified of him. But is the giant really real? And if he is real, is he truly as horrible as everyone makes him out to be? When Billy happens upon the giant, he runs away in fear -- and ends up hurting the poor giants feelings! But maybe the the giant isn’t really as scary as the townspeople think. He might even just be the most loving guy in town. We love the way this book challenges — and then turns on their head — the judgments people make about someone who looks so wholly different from themselves. This beautiful book reminds us all that if we learn to embrace our differences, we may create fulfilling relationships with the people we least expected.
Bear’s Scare, by Jacob Grant: Bear loves a clean house (don’t we all!?) and he will stop at nothing to keep his house tidy and clean. The only thing he loves more than a clean house is his stuffie, Ursa. When Bear happens upon a sticky, icky spiderweb, he will stop at nothing to find the spider. After all, messy guests must be banished from the house, and a spider is surely a messy guest! But when he does discover that messy house guest, Bear and Ursa learn that Spider may be much less messy — and much more friendly, helpful and lovely — than they initially thought. This is a perfect book for young readers to convey the message that we should never be quick to judge others!
The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson: Ferdinand is a peaceful, calm little bull, content to graze in the grass and sniff his favorite flowers. But this isn’t what a bull should really do — it’s not at all how a bull should act. Bulls should be tough! Aggressive! They should snort and leap and butt heads. Why? Because that’s how everyone else has been trained to think they should act. But not Ferdinand. We will forever love this book that teaches children they can go against the grain and buck common stereotypes about how they should — or should not behave. Any book that teaches kids to be true to themselves will forever be a winner in our house!
Leonardo the Terrible Monster, by Mo Willems: Leonardo has a problem: he is one terrible monster. As hard as he tries, he cannot scare anyone! After his first attempt at frightening a little boy named Sam, Leo realizes Sam needs a friend instead of a monster… and in doing so, he goes against the grain and doesn’t act how monsters are “supposed” to act. I love the way this book challenges how we see ourselves — how we think we ought to be instead of who we want to be. Willems brilliantly illustrates that even the scariest creatures have emotions too, and some can even be quite sensitive to the needs of others. Not what any kid first thinks of when they conjure up images of a monster, is it? This one is a hoot — but even as it’s giving kids belly laughs, it’s making them question everything they thought they knew about that things that go bump in the night. For our full review of Leonardo the Terrible Monster, by Mo Willems, click here!
Did you like this post? Yay! We think you will love these as well - make sure to check them out! Picture Books to Help You Raise Kind Kids, 21 Books to Promote Kindness, Inclusiveness and Equality, Favorite Books About Courage, and Favorite Picture Books of 2018
*HEE received review copies of some of these books from publishers. However, all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own. All links are affiliate links.
Looking for children’s books about winter, especially picture books about snow? Look no further!
It doesn’t snow in Miami.
This was a cruel reality when I was a child. When winter break began, I watched holiday movies on television with such longing, wishing I could jump right into the picture on the screen so I could join in an epic snowball fight or sit at the kitchen table with a steaming mug of hot chocolate while snow blanketed the world outside. Instead, I was “stuck” in tropical paradise. While most people couldn’t wait to come to South Florida for a vacation, I just wanted the temperature to drop below seventy degrees. Cousins would send pictures of snowmen while we were more likely sweating than shivering, and retail stores were filled with sweaters, mittens and hats which, if purchased, would rarely be worn.
What to do when it seemed the rest of the world was winter-white and rosy cheeked? I couldn’t just hop on a plane and head to the mountains, so I had to create a winter wonderland right in my own home. The best way to do that? I used books, of course. I was a kid with a big imagination and a voracious appetite for story, so reading became my entryway into a magical, mystical world where silent treks through the snowy plains I saw in books led me to create my own imaginary snow days, right smack in the middle of steamy Miami.
There have forever been beautiful stories about snow, which, of course, makes so much sense. Snow is a natural wonder that, with nothing more than a gentle whisper, creates magic across the miles. It allows the imagination to take flight, inspires play in its purest form, and fosters a great sense of awe in children. So the next day you’re snowed in -- or looking longingly at palm trees and wishing they were white capped mountains - grab a stack of these books from the library, make a cup of cocoa, and cuddle on the couch with these perfect winter reads.
Little Penguins, by Cynthia Rylant and Christian Robinson: The snow is coming! Perfect for your youngest children, five little penguins watch the snow fall and bundle themselves up before heading outside to play. But, oh no! The littlest penguin decides to stay behind to wait for mama. When their snowy fun is finished, the penguins come back inside, warm up in their coziest jammies, and relax with cookies and sippies. Winter is here!
Samson in the Snow, by Philip Stead: Samson, a giant woolly mammoth, shares his dandelions with a red bird who is looking to cheer up a sad friend. When the bird flies away, Samson is left wondering what it would be like to have a real friend of his own. Samson subsequently awakens from a deep sleep, only to find the world covered in snow. He immediately worries about the red bird, so he sets off to find her to ensure she’s warm. As Samson journeys through the snow, he finds that warmth can be found in more ways than one. A testament to compassion, kindness and friendship, we simply love this quiet, beautiful story!
Before Morning, by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Beth Krommes: Written as an invocation, this quiet beauty tells the story of of a young girl who wishes for just a little more time for family togetherness. The child yearns for a snow day so her mother, a pilot, will be grounded and forced to stay home. Through Krommes enchanting scratch board illustrations, readers witness what happens while the child sleeps soundly and her deepest desires are fulfilled: she will wake up to a blanket of snow outside her window.
Bear and Wolf, by Daniel Salmieri: One winter’s night, bear and wolf stumble upon each other while both wander in the snow. What fun it is to have a companion! The two delight in having a friend by their side, until it comes time to say goodbye. After all, bear must hibernate for the winter and wolf must run with his pack. This is a beautiful, timeless story, a calming read that is at once an ode to friendship and a testament to the power of being mindful and staying in the present.
Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen and illustrated by John Schoenherr: Late one night in the dead of winter, a young girl and her father set out to go owling. They barely speak on their journey through the snow, for you don’t need words to go owling. Instead, they maintain hopeful hearts and exercise patience as they wait to witness the resolute stare of a wise old owl. A poetic masterpiece and an exquisite mentor text to explore personal narratives, this is a story that has captivated both children and adults for years.
Max and Marla, by Alexandra Boiger: Max and his pet owl, Marla, are the truest of Olympians. They are champions who know preparation is everything. When they take their sled up the mountain only to experience "technical difficulties," the two don't give up-- they simply fix the sled and try again the next day. Max and Marla continue to face challenges but each day they continue to tackle them. Will they succeed? Maybe, but not in the way you may anticipate. That is the beauty of this sweet story!
The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats: In this classic, a young boy wakes up to discover snow has fallen during the night. He goes outside to fully experience the first snowfall of winter, and as he plays, his eyes open to the wonder and possibility of the new world at his fingertips, for everything changes when draped in a blanket of soft white.
Brave Irene, by William Steig: Steig's sweet story from the 1980s is a wonderful testament to the power of perseverance and the things we do for love. When Irene's mother, a dressmaker, falls ill, she is unable to deliver a dress she made for the duchess before an important ball. So Irene takes it upon herself to deliver this dress, but she must battle the bitter cold, tons of snow and howling winds to get there. Irene almost gives up. But she braves the elements and her perseverance is rewarded greatly. A classic!
Wolf in the Snow, by Matt Cordell: In this wordless Caldecott award winner, a girl in a red coat braves a harsh snowy day on her way home from school. As she walks, she comes across a lost and scared wolf pup. The girl befriends the pup and what follows is her journey through the sting of winter to return the pup to its family. She travels long and far though. So long and so far, in fact, that she loses her way. How will she ever get home? The emotion conveyed in every one of these stunning illustrations is simply exquisite.
Waiting for Snow, by Marsha Diane Arnold and illustrated by Renata Liwska: Badger is a bit impatient - he can’t wait one more second for snow! Hedgehog tries to explain that snow will happen in due time, but Badger just can’t wait! The animals use their most creative tricks to bring on the snow, like tossing pebbles at the sky and sifting powdered sugar off the roof, but alas, the tricks don’t work. Yet one morning after a slumber party, the animals wake up to discover a perfect winter wonderland. Absolutely love these adorable illustrations!
Blizzard, by John Rocco: Blizzard is a fabulous picture book based on the author’s real life experience during the infamous blizzard of 1978 which brought fifty-three inches of snow to Rocco’s Rhode Island town. Beginning with just a few flakes and ending with mounds as high as stop signs that kept him from opening his front door, Blizzard tells the story of a transformative snowfall, including the magic, the anxiety, and the tremendous relief at seeing the first snow plows break through the drifts.
First Snow, by Bomi Park: A modern day version of The Snowy Day, this is the quiet story of a young girl who wakes up to the first snowfall of the year. The child goes outside to play, making snow angels and snowmen, and as she plays, she discovers the wonder and awesome simplicity that snow brings to her world.
The Wish Tree, by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Chris Turnham: Though Charles is desperate to find a wish tree, his brother and sister try to tell him there is no such thing. Yet Charles is determined and sets out through the snow on a journey to find one. With his trusty sled Boggan and a song in his heart, Charles discovers the enchantment of winter and the wonder of wishing.
Toys Meet Snow, by Emily Jenkins and Paul Zelinsky: When their Little Girl goes away for winter vacation, StingRay, Lumphy the buffalo and their friend Plastic, a red ball, head outside to experience their first snow day. The three take part in traditional snow activities, making hilarious hypotheses about the world around them and relishing in the warmth their friendship provides. There’s nothing better for children than reading about toys that come to life!
Over and Under the Snow, by Kate Messner and illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal: Over the snow, the world is white and quiet. But under the snow is a world of magic, with a multitude of animals staying hidden from harm and making homes for the winter. In this beautiful work of nonfiction, children will learn about the subnivean zone -- the area between the snowpack and the ground -- and the way animals adapt during the harshest of winter days.
Did you like this post? Yay! We think you will love these as well - make sure to check them out! Favorite Books to Spark Your Child’s Imagination, Favorite Nonfiction Picture Books of 2018 and Favorite Picture Books of 2018.
Caldecott! Newbery!! Geisel!! OH MY! We are so excited about the 2019 ALA Youth Media Awards that were announced this week! It’s like the Oscars of children’s literature, with incredible books in all genres celebrated. Just like the Academy Awards (and Emmys, and Golden Globes, and Grammys), some years you are thrilled with the awards, and some years you simply are not. But this year? This year was an OUTSTANDING YEAR! I watched the awards from my desk, furiously messaging with my kid lit friends, and I literally screamed with delight at so many of the announcements. Though many, many books that touched our hearts were not award winners, SO MANY BOOKS WE LOVED this year have authors and illustrators who are jumping for joy tonight, their lives changed forever. We are so excited!
Here is an list of some of the major awards (with a link to the complete list on the ALA website at the bottom), together with affiliate links, links to our blog reviews and any Happily Ever Elephants’ Lists on which the award winners may appear!
Without further ado, here are the winners!!!!
John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature:
WINNER: Mercy Suarez Changes Gears, by Meg Medina. I realized this afternoon that this one has been sitting on my desk for months - cannot WAIT to read it!
HONOR: The Book of Boy, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. Ordered 2 copies today - one for me and one for our school library!
Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for Children
WINNER: Hello Lighthouse, by Sophie Blackall. A stunner!
HONOR: The Rough Patch, by Brian Lies. We LOVE this one but haven’t yet reviewed it - it will be on an upcoming list for awesome books about life transitions.
Theodor Seuss Geisel Award
This award is given to the most distinguished beginning reader book.
WINNER: Fox the Tiger, by Corey R. Tabor.
HONOR: The Adventures of Otto: See Pip Flap, by David Milgrim.
HONOR: Fox + Chick: The Party and Other Stories, by Sergio Ruzzier.
HONOR: King & Kayla and the Case of the Lost Tooth, by Dori Hillestad Butler and illustrated by Nancy Meyers.
HONOR: Tiger vs. Nightmare, by Emily Tetri.
Coretta Scott King Book Awards - Author
This award recognizes African-American authors and illustrators of outstanding books for children and young adults.
WINNER (AUTHOR): A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919, by Claire Hartfield.
HONOR (AUTHOR): Finding Langston, by Lesa Cline-Ransome.
HONOR (AUTHOR): The Season of Styx Malone, by Kekla Magoon.
Coretta Scott King Book Awards - Illustrator
WINNER (ILLUSTRATOR): The Stuff of Stars, illustrated by Ekua Holmes and written by Marion Dane Bauer.
HONOR (ILLUSTRATOR): Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race, illustrated by Laura Freeman and written by Margot Lee Shetterly. This book made our list of Favorite Books for Black History Month!
HONOR (ILLUSTRATOR): Memphis, Martin and the Mountaintop, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie and written by Alice Faye Duncan.
Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award
WINNER (AUTHOR): Monday’s Not Coming, by Tiffany D. Jackson
Pura Belpre Awards
This award honors Latinx writers and illustrators whose children’s books best portray, affirm and celebrate the Latino cultural experience.
HONOR (ILLUSTRATOR): When Angels Sing: The Story of Rock Legend Carlos Santana, illustrated by Jose Ramirez and written by Michael Mahin.
Stonewall Book Award
This award is given annual to English-language children’s and young adult books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience.
HONOR: Picture Us in the Light, by Kelly Loy Gilbert.
Sydney Taylor Awards
This award is presented annually to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience.
WINNER (YOUNGER READERS): All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah, by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinskey.
WINNER (TEEN READERS): What the Night Sings, by Vesper Stamper.
Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature
This award promotes Asian/Pacific American culture and heritage and is awarded based on literary and artistic merit.
WINNER (PICTURE BOOK): Drawn Together, written by Minh Le and illustrated by Dan Santat. This book is part of our Favorite Picture Books of 2018 list!
WINNER: The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science, by Joyce Sidman.
HONOR: Camp Panda: Helping Cubs Return to the Wild, by Catherine Thimmesh.
HONOR: Spooked!: How a Radio Broadcast and The War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America, by Gail Jarrow.
HONOR: The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees, by Don Brown.
HONOR: When Angels Sing: The Story of Rock Legend Carlos Santana, by Michael Mahin and illustrated by Jose Ramirez.
Schneider Family Book Award
This award goes to a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience.
WINNER (YOUNG CHILDREN): Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship, by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes and illustrated by Scott Magoon.
HONOR (YOUNG CHILDREN): The Remember Balloons, by Jessie Oliveros, illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte.
WINNER (MIDDLE GRADE): The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle, by Leslie Connor.
HONOR (MIDDLE GRADE): The Collectors, by Jacqueline West.
WINNER (TEENS): Anger is a Gift, by Mark Oshiro.
HONOR (TEENS): (Don’t) Call me Crazy: 33 Voices Start the Conversation About Mental Health, by Kelly Jensen.
Congratulations to all the winners!
For the complete list of awards, including the Michael L. Printz Award, CLICK HERE!
Looking for fantastic children's bedtime story books? We’ve got you covered right here with the very best goodnight stories for kids! Enter and find all kinds of books to bid your little ones goodnight, from funny bedtime stories to happy ones, from books to help kids overcome fears of the dark to dealing with the things that go bump in the night. Come on in!
Bedtime. I don’t know an adult that doesn’t love it. In our exceedingly frenetic and fast paced world, bedtime is so often the only time of the day when I can finally be quiet. It’s when I can be mindful and present with my breath, when I can think about and reflect upon my day, and when I can surrender to the comfort of my bed and the hush of darkness. I love when the only sound I hear is the ceiling fan whirring above my head!
If only children felt the same way about going to sleep every night! Unfortunately, though, if your house is anything like mine, the sheer call of “bedtime!” inspires nothing but madness. The word alone can conjure so many frightening emotions for a child. For my boys, it’s loneliness. The idea of being alone, confined to a bed in a dark room, is such an uncomfortable feeling for them, not even all the stuffies, lovies and comfort objects in the world can soothe it. It’s the reason my boys keep asking for water, for one more hug, for one more trip to the bathroom. They simply don’t want to be by themselves.
For others, its fear. Fear of the dark. Fear of something in the closet. Fear of something under the bed. How many times has your child asked you to turn the light back on? Called you out of your room because they heard a frightening noise in theirs? Asked you to look in their closet, or in their drawers, or in their toy box just one more time to make sure the coast is clear? The fear can be crippling, and it will undoubtedly have your kids dashing from their rooms like marathon runners and catapulting into your bed like pole vaulters.
For a select few, though, bedtime undoubtedly inspires a quiet journey to the depths of the imagination. The call for bedtime means jumping into a safe haven of blankets and pillows and the soft, comforting cadence of a loved one’s voice reading a wondrous story. There’s nothing better than snuggling under the covers, close to a caregiver, as he or she opens the pages of a crisp picture book and begins to read a story that fills a child with laughter or awe. This is what we want for all of our kids, and this is what we as parents should strive for at bedtime.
But how do we make this happen? It’s easier said than done - trust me, I know. But bedtime stories can help tackle some of these common childhood anxieties and give kids the courage they need to get to sleep calmly. In addition to the significant developmental benefits that reading aloud with children provides, sharing stories with your little ones at bedtime can help soothe their nerves and reinforce bonds between children and their loved ones, making them feel safer and more secure when going to bed. So what are you waiting for? Grab a hold of these books, snuggle up with your kids, and get reading.
The following stories are ones we love in our home, books that ease my boys’ nerves through thrills, wonder, and good old fashioned laughter. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do!
Sleep Like a Tiger, by Mary Logue and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski: A quietly magical bedtime book about a girl whose parents insist she get ready for bed even though she declares she is wide awake. Once under her covers, the child asks her parents how particular animals sleep at night. Through gentle prose, her parents describe the animals’ sleeping habits, which the little girl then mimics once she is alone in her bedroom. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the child falls sound asleep. This story speaks perfectly to little ones who want nothing more than to stay awake when it's time for bed. For our full review of Sleep Like a Tiger, click here!
Orion and the Dark, by Emma Yarlett: Darkness personified- it's a brilliant concept. Yarlett takes darkness, something many kids are terrified of, and gives him a cuddly frame, a timid but warm smile, and a gentle hand to hold. She shows our little ones that the dark can wrap you up and squeeze you in the most perfect hug, and that the unknown and scary expanse of the night isn't so frightening after all once you explore it with a friend. To simply say this book is "special" doesn't do it justice; it leads the pack when it comes to stories for kids afraid of the dark. For our full review of Orion and the Dark, click here!
It Is Not Time for Sleeping, by Lisa Graff and illustrated by Lauren Castillo: The premise of the story is simple- a little boy is staunchly resisting his bedtime. Yet even though he becomes more stubborn in his convictions as he moves through each part of his habitual bedtime routine he eventually - finally!- succumbs to his fatigue. Children will feel an immediate connection to the child in the book as well as his familiar routine, both of which create a sense of comfort for little ones as they snuggle under their covers. For our full review of It is Not Time for Sleeping, click here!
Shhh! This Book is Sleeping, by Cedric Ramadier and Vincent Bourgeau: It is a rare child that likes to be told to brush his teeth, go to the bathroom one last time, and get into bed. But this interactive bedtime book allows the kids to be the "boss." It enables the reader to make sure the book has completed its bedtime routine, that it is warm enough, and that it gets a good hug and kiss before turning out the light. What I love most about this simple and quick read is that it gives little ones power in a situation where they often feel totally powerless. For our full review of Shhh! This Book is Sleeping, click here!
A Big Mooncake for Little Star, by Grace Lin: In this whimsical book, a 2019 Caldecott Honor, Little Star cannot resist the great Mooncake her mama bakes her - but she simply cannot resist a nibble! This wonderful book, a modern day myth, tells an enchanting -- and totally delightful -- story about the different phases of the moon.
Please Bring Balloons, by Lindsey Ward: A note, a carousel and a polar bear. Is it a dream? A fantastical adventure? We are still wondering—and that’s so much a part of why we love it. Both artistically beautifully and perfectly fanciful, we adore this captivating story! For our full review of Please Bring Balloons, click here!
Dream Animals: A Bedtime Journey, by Emily Winfield Martin: A lyrical tale with one of those perfectly rhythmic cadences that will gently lull little ones to sleep. This book invites kids to close their eyes so they can discover their own dream animals -- and find out what adventures their animals will take them on as they soar through the stars.
Don’t Blink!, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and David Roberts: Oh, how I love this ingenious bedtime book, and I have no doubt your kids will too! Can your little ones rise to the challenge and refrain from blinking as they turn these pages? I guarantee they will do everything in their power to pass the test however they can, because if they can get to the end of the book without blinking, they win a very coveted prize— they can avoid bedtime! This one is a must.
I Need My Monster, by Amanda Noll and illustrated by Howard McWilliam: This book is guaranteed to get your kids laughing about ogres and beasts, rather than fearing them. When Ethan looks under his bed to check on his monster, Gabe, Ethan finds a note from Gabe instead. What does it say? Gabe has gone fishing and will be back in a week! How on earth will Ethan get to bed without his monster’s heavy breathing lulling him to sleep? This book is a hoot and will help your kids turn the tables on their monster woes.
The Goodnight Train, by June Sobel and illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith: All aboard for dreamland! If your kids love trains or cookies, or trains and cookies, then they want to make sure to climb aboard the Goodnight Train, one that soars past mermaids and ice cream clouds and has heaps and heaps of cookies on board. This was on reread in our house for a good year, as my children loved being rocked and rolled to bed.
The Big Bed, by Bunmi Laditan and illustrated by Tom Knight: A young girl has no interest in sleeping in her own bed in her own room (*ahem* nope, can't relate to that one at all!) So what does she do? She comes up with the perfect solution to her problem: she sleeps in her parents’ bed and gifts her dad a camping cot, attempting to convince him why he should no longer be sleeping in his own big bed where he belongs. From the girl's well thought out arguments to the hilarious illustrations, The Big Bed will have your kids laughing from start to finish. For our full review of The Big Bed, click here!
Night Out, by Daniel Miyares: This book is exquisite! The words are sparse, but the illustrations are rich with detail and emotion, telling stories upon stories in and of themselves. A young boy at a boarding school finds himself friendless and alone, but when he gets ready for bed one night, he finds a mysterious invitation. The boy then departs on a magical, mystical journey where he befriends dancing animals and attends a glorious celebration. He returns to his room with the perfect story to tell to a new friend.
The House in the Night, by Susan Marie Swanson and illustrated by Beth Krommes: If you love Goodnight Moon (or, perhaps, if you are in the camp of people who do not like it at all!) then you must check out this elegant book immediately. Gentle and lyrical prose inspired by cumulative poetry combines with exquisite scratchboard illustrations to make this story an absolute winner. This book is bedtime perfection, a quiet good night book sure to lull your child to sleep with its dreamlike narrative and pictures.
Llama Llama Red Pajama, by Anna Dewdney: This is one we recite by heart in our house, a classic story about a little llama who gets himself in a tizzy at bedtime. When baby Llama settles into bed, he begins to worry as soon as his beloved Mama leaves his room. How will he handle the dark on his own? Before long, Llama’s whimpers and worry turn into hollers, and soon it escalates into an all out Llama Drama!
Stop That Yawn!, by Caron Levis and illustrated by LeUyen Pham: Gaby is over bedtime. Yawns and snores are such big bores! So she decides to take some action and leave bedtime behind, setting out with her bewildered granny to find a place where beds are for bouncing, ice cream is available round the clock, and there is no more hushing and shushing. But despite her best efforts, even poor Gaby realizes that sometimes, it is just a bit to difficult to stop that yawn!
The Night Box, by Louise Greig and illustrated by Ashling Lindsay: When a child opens the Night Box, day slips into evening as darkness unfurls and stars light up the sky. He is the holder of the key that opens this wondrous box, the one that breathes out night and breathes in the day. What a wonderfully imaginative and unexpected story about one child who holds the key (literally) to our world’s most natural cycle. For our full review of The Night Box, click here!
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Looking for fabulous children’s books to celebrate Black History Month? Look no further, because Happily Ever Elephants has got you covered!
Black History Month. It’s a celebration engrained in the fabric of our society, a month of learning and healing and remembering in our homes and schools. The national celebration was established around 1976, when President Gerald Ford decreed it an annual American observance. His goal? To honor the frequently overlooked or neglected accomplishments of Black women and men across America.
Throughout our lives, and most notably during our grade school years, many of us studied the groundbreaking — even radical —accomplishments of important social justice advocates such as Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. But African-Americans were not only leading the fight for civil rights. They were doing so much more to leave lasting and vital impacts on our world! Contributions by Black Americans on our society were - and continue to be - nothing short of phenomenal. Yet, they are so frequently ignored. From artists to engineers, dancers to doctors, the stories of Black Americans who tenaciously broke boundaries and challenged societal norms are not just inspiring, but necessary to our country’s beautiful, multi-layered tapestry. I am absolutely delighted that we are finally beginning to see these thrilling stories come to life through picture books.
While the children’s publishing industry has made progress over the last couple of years, it continues its tremendous push to bring diverse books of superior quality to the market. There is a concentrated effort to publish more representative stories, including more biographies of Black men and women highlighting their remarkable achievements. Though we still have significant work to do, the results are tangible. As our homes, schools, libraries and bookstores continually showcase these beautiful new books, the smiles that light up children’s faces when they find themselves in stories for the first time is nothing short of magical.
As we lead into Black History Month, Happily Ever Elephants is thrilled to share some of our favorite picture books. Below you’ll find several outstanding picture books on Martin Luther King, Jr, as well as numerous biographies about Black men and women whose determination and accomplishments have left indelible contributions on our country. And that’s not all. You’ll also find a moments and movements section, which contains numerous breathtaking stories about slavery, the fight for civil rights , and even music and space. Happy reading!
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
I Have a Dream, by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and illustrated by Kadir Nelson: On August 28, 1963, MLK stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. during the March on Washington. It was there he delivered one of the most powerful speeches our nation has ever witnessed. His words from this monumental speech are paired with Nelson’s exquisite paintings, making this a magnificent book to be treasured, memorized and honored for generations to come.
Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and You, by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by James E. Ransome: I love reading this beautiful book with my youngest students, for it imparts all of the values MLK stood for, without going into the more painful details of his journey. This book encourages a new generation of young people to be kings by emulating MLK’s remarkable character traits and actions. The lovely illustrations show kids how they can reenact his teachings in their own lives by always standing up for peace, breaking the chains of ignorance, and stamping out hatred by putting a foot down and standing tall.
As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King and Abraham Joshua Herschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom, by Richard Michelson and illustrated by Raul Colon: We all know the story of Martin Luther King, Jr., a Black boy who grew up to witness horrifying racial discrimination in America. He became a minister like his father before him, and subsequently rose to become one of the most visible and vital voices of the Civil Rights Movement. Abraham grew up years earlier in Europe, and as a Jewish man, he too, faced atrocious persecution. Abraham fled to America where he became a rabbi, and like MLK, he became a voice for equality. This is the story of how these two remarkable men came together as victims of discrimination, formed an unbreakable friendship, and used their voices to fight for peace and social justice. An extraordinary story, and a favorite to read to tweens.
Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Bryan Collier: Through his own famous quotes, this beautiful picture book brings MLK to life. Beginning with his life as a young boy and his vow to one day get “big words” like his father, to his death at a garbage worker’s strike, this biography is a fabulous introduction to one of the most prominent voices of the Civil Rights Movement. This is one of my favorite books to read with early elementary students, for its simple narrative that doesn’t stray from the gritty facts but hits all the right notes for younger readers. Age appropriate, powerful, and elegant.
I am Martin Luther King, Jr., by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulous: We absolutely love the Ordinary People Change the World series for the way it tackles big stories and remarkable heroes in a kid-friendly, accessible manner. Through comic illustrations and word bubbles, this story gives voice to MLK as a child, then subsequently showcases his journey to changing the American landscape through peaceful protests and powerful words. This series is a favorite of my students.
PICTURE BOOK BIOGRAPHIES
Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad, by Ellen Levine and illustrated by Kadir Nelson: Henry Brown was born into slavery, never even knowing his own birthday. Torn from his family at a young age, he is put to work at a warehouse. And though he grows up, marries, and has a family of his own, he is once again devastated when his own family is sold at a slave market. Henry longs to be a free man, and upon lifting a crate at his warehouse one day, he knows just what he must do: he will mail himself to freedom. Teach children about the Underground Railroad with this gripping true story.
Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis, by Jabari Asim and illustrated by E.B. White: Provide kids with background on the Civil Rights movement and the childhood story of one of its most important heroes. John wants to be a preacher when he grows up - but he doesn’t want to wait! Upon being put in charge of the family’s farm, John discovers his chickens make an amazing congregation, and he begins preaching to them. John’s journey — from addressing his farm animals to becoming one of the most vital voices of the Civil Rights Movement, to his stint as a Georgia Congressman to his continued contributions as a significant activist in America — is simply remarkable.
Rosa by Nikki Giovanni and illustrated by Bryan Collier: Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a white man on the city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, remains one of the most pivotal moments - and remarkable actions - in American history. The stunning prose and cut paper illustrations are a winning combo here, bringing new life to Parks’s perseverance, courageous story and steadfast commitment to the civil rights movement.
Through My Eyes, by Ruby Bridges: At just six years old, Bridges became a focal point of the Civil Rights Movement when she walked, surrounded by federal marshals, through a mob of angry segregationists and became the first Black student at an all white school in New Orleans, Louisiana. This stunning memoir describes Bridge’s courageous- and at times harrowing - journey, in her own words. It is a testament to hope, courage, and the lengths one innocent child went to be afforded an equal education to her white peers.
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Ekua Holmes: This gorgeous biography highlights the life and achievements of Fannie Lou Hamer, particularly her stunning accomplishments in connection with the Civil Rights Movement. Fannie, the youngest of twenty children, grew up in a family of sharecroppers. She endured hardship after hardship at her home in Mississippi but never gave up, eventually making it to the stage at the Democratic National Convention in 1964, giving a speech that roused support for the Freedom Democrats and was integral to civil rights for black Americans.
The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist, by Cynthia Levinson and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton: Inspire child activists with the true story of a little girl who fought for freedom despite her young age. At nine years old, Audrey wanted to go places. So when she heard grownups speaking about doing away with Birmingham's horrible segregation laws, she knew she wanted to be a part of it. Audrey stepped up with confidence, used her voice, and marched for freedom alongside thousands of children and teens. The youngest person to be arrested for protesting in Birmingham, Audrey’s story shows that you are never too young to make a difference.
Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library, by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Eric Velasquez: This book absolutely blew me away. Schomburg tells the story of Arturo Schomburg, an Afro-Puerto Rican man who was astonished that people of African descent had no historians to bring their stories to life. Schomburg became determined to correct history, and his quest led him to curate a remarkable collection at the New York Public Library that became the cornerstone of the new Negro Division. I can’t rave enough about this fascinating story – this was my favorite picture book biography of 2017.
Take a Picture of Me James VanDerZee, by Andrea Loney and illustrated by Keith Mallett: James VanDerZee fell in love with the camera when he was just a young boy. He moved to the bustling world of New York City after school and got a job, only to be told by his boss that no white person would want their photographs to be taken by a black man. VanDerZee was undeterred and opened his own studio in Harlem where he took portraits of not just the ordinary neighborhood folk but prominent Harlem Renaissance figures as well, including Marcus Garvey, Florence Mills, and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. His portraits were eventually displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe, by Deborah Blumenthal and illustrated by Laura Freeman: Ann Cole Lowe, great grand-daughter of slaves, learned to use a needle and thread as soon as she could walk! She worked with her mother in their dress shop, sewing dresses for fancy ladies who had fancy parties to attend. Ann’s mother died when Ann was only 16, and Ann eventually left home for New York City to pursue her dreams. She went to design school, but due to segregation Ann was forced to study on her own. Through it all, Ann never gave up. She studied, designed and sewed, working her way towards becoming society’s “best kept secret” and designing dresses for Oscar winners and even Jackie Kennedy.
Mae Among the Stars, by Roda Ahmed and illustrated by Stasia Barrington: This beauty of a book tells the story of Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to travel to space! With her mother’s words of encouragement continually whispered in her ears, Mae’s intelligence and drive led her to conquer insurmountable odds until she found herself at NASA. “If you believe it, and work hard for it, anything is possible.” You can even touch the stars.
The Doctor With an Eye for Eyes: The Story of Dr. Patricia Bath, by Julia Finley Mosca and illustrated by Daniel Rieley: From toy chemistry sets to laser probes, this engaging, rhyming book tells the story of Dr. Patricia Bath, a woman born in Harlem with big dreams of becoming a doctor. Undeterred by the evils of sexism and racism, Dr. Bath persevered, eventually becoming an ophthalmologist and subsequently co-founding the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting, preserving and restoring the gift of sight. Another win for STEM!
Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery, by Sandra Neil Wallace and illustrated by Bryan Collier: My students fell hard for this fascinating story of Ernie Barnes, a young black man who loved art but took to playing football in order to make a living. After all, the south was segregated when Barnes grew up, and he knew there was no future in painting - there were no black artists in the museums! Nonetheless, despite his career as a professional football player, Barnes never stopped yearning to be an artist. He eventually conquered his dreams, painting for the NFL and influencing a generation of artists and illustrators.
Champion: The Story of Muhammad Ali, by Jim Haskins and illustrated by Eric Velasquez: Sure there have been books about the great Muhammad Ali, but this one is a gem. With beautiful illustrations that at times are so real they look like photographs, this stunning biography of the great boxer and his commitment to social justice touches upon the struggles, successes and set backs of Muhammad Ali. It truly shines a light on his great legacy and will be a treasure for fans new and old
Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, by Leda Schubert and illustrated by Theodore Taylor III: Today’s generation of ballerinas admire and hope to emulate the great Misty Copeland. But do these young ladies know about the famous ballerina who inspired Misty herself? Raven Wilkinson was the first African-American woman to dance for a major classical ballet company, never letting racism and mockery hold her back from her dreams. Raven’s persistence led her to dance for royalty in Holland and at the New York City Opera after that— until she was fifty years old. A must have for your little dancers.
Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams, by Lesa Cline-Ransom and illustrated by James E. Ransome: If you know kids who can’t stop, won’t stop when it comes to tennis or any sport, they will absolutely love this beautifully illustrated story of tennis stars and sisters Venus and Serena Williams. The dynamic sisters are two of the greatest athletes of all time, but they didn’t become champions without dedication, talent, and a whole lot of heart. A wonderful story of perseverance and a testament to their tenacity and love for their sport.
Dream Big Dreams: Photographs from Barack Obama’s Inspiring and Historic Pregnancy, by Pete Souza: Souza was President Obama’s Official White House Photographer for two years and was with him during more critical moments of his presidency than anyone else. In this stunning book of approximately seventy-five photographs, Souza captures photos of Obama that showcase him as both an extraordinary leader and man, one who frequently engaged with America’s youngest citizens and continually encouraged them to “dream big dreams.”
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, by Vashti Harrison: This stunning anthology features snippets of 49 black women who, in their own various ways, helped change the world. From poets to pilots to politicians, the fascinating stories combined with stunning illustrations make this book a winner, conveying to our children how people can break barriers when they dream, persevere and never stop believing in themselves.
MOMENTS AND MOVEMENTS
Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Dreams and Their Lives Brought to Life, by Ashley Bryan: This stunning book of poetry incorporates actual documents from an estate appraisal on July 5, 1828, valuing the will and worth of eleven slaves who live and work on the plantation. The only thing that can not be valued? The dreams of these men and women. On stunning collaged spreads, each slave is given a voice, with one page describing the “worth” and skills he or she brings to the plantation, while the other page explores the dreams that each slave wishes he could achieve with those skills. Powerful, astonishing, and incredibly emotional, this is a stunning achievement and an important, unique look at this stain on American history.
Freedom in Congo Square, by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie: In this poetic work of nonfiction, readers learn about a little-known piece of Black history. Though slaves toiled during the week in nineteenth century Louisiana, they counted down to Sunday afternoons - a time when they congregated at Congo Square in New Orleans. Here they could temporarily forget about their oppression and, for several hours, sing, dance, play, and even open up a market. Congo Square was a place of celebration, freedom, hope and resilience, and it helped black men and women maintain some of their significant cultural traditions.
Let the Children March, by Monica Clark-Robinson and illustrated by Frank Morrison: After hearing the powerful words of Martin Luther King, Jr., many Black children volunteered to march for their civil rights in protest of the laws that forbid them from attending the same schools, playing on the same playgrounds, and drinking from the same water fountains, as white children. Despite their fears, these children faced hatred and danger to march in The Children’s Crusade, using their voices to change the world.
Freedom Summer, by Deborah Wiles and illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue: This remarkable story describes what happened after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, forbidding segregation. When two best friends, one white and one black, discovered the town pool would now be open to everyone, the two boys raced each other there, only to be in for a very rude awakening. Use this story as a springboard to discuss segregation and the unfortunate reality that it takes more than new laws to eclipse hate. One of my very, very favorite stories - incredibly powerful and thought-provoking.
Sit In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down, by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney: This wonderful book celebrates the Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-in, when four college students, following Martin Luther King’s example of peaceful protest, sat down at the “white’s only” counter at Woolworths and placed a simple order for a doughnut and coffee with cream. This sit-in became a defining moment in the struggle for civil rights and racial equality in America.
Lillian’s Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Shane W. Evans: This is a powerful historical picture book about a 100 year old African-American woman who makes a long trek up a steep hill to vote for the very first time. As she walks, she remembers her family history — from the passage of the fifteenth amendment to her parents registering to vote, from the impossible tests given to prevent Black men and women from voting to marching in the civil rights protest from Selma to Montgomery. Moving, lyrical and tremendously important, this is a fabulous glimpse at American history.
The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage, by Selina Alko and illustrated by Sean Qualls: I love this beautiful, non-fiction book about the Lovings and their fight to make interracial marriage legal in every state across America. Richard (a white man) and Mildred (a Black woman) fell in love and got married - yet, marriage between people of different races was illegal in Virginia and they were thus forced to marry legally in Washington D.C.. After their marriage, the police barged into their Virginia home and jailed the couple, prompting a fight against the unfair law that ended up before the Supreme Court -- where the Lovings won. A fabulous intro to the Lovings and the fight for marriage equality.
Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly and illustrated by Laura Freeman: Did you love this movie? Well now you can share the inspiring story of these four brilliant women with your kids and students. Hidden Figures is the captivating true story of four Black women who lived at a time when being Black— and being women — limited their abilities to do what they wanted to do: math. And they were really good at math. Did they let societal and gender norms stand in their way? Absolutely not… and so they broke boundaries. This book is outstanding.
Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph, by Roxanne Orgill and illustrated by Francis Vallejo: We are in love with this beautiful tribute to jazz musicians in the fifties! In 1958, Esquire Magazine planned to salute the American jazz scene in one of its issues. One graphic designer had a crazy idea to gather and photograph a group of beloved Black musicians on a Harlem stoop. The photograph became iconic, and this fascinating collection of poetry celebrates the lives — and even quirks — of some of America’s most beloved musicians.
Roots of Rap: 16 Bars and the 4 Pillars of Hip Hop, by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Frank Morrison: Did you know that hip hop has its roots in folktales and poetry? That rap music long preceded DJ Cool Herc and Grandmaster Flash? With a forward by Swiss Beatz, this vibrant book uses the four pillars (graffiti, break dancing, rapping/MCing and DJing) to illustrate how hip hop is a language spoken around the globe, including nods to some of the music’s most prominent artists today.
We hope you commemorate Black History Month in your homes and schools with these outstanding works of children’s literature. Enjoy!
Which of these books are your favorite? Make sure to let us know on our Facebook page (and don’t forget to “like” us there, too!)
Did you like this post? We think you will love these too! Kind Hands, Kind Words, Kind Hearts: 21 Books to Promote Kindness, Inclusiveness and Equality, Ten Favorite Books to Evoke Change, Twenty Picture Books About Amazing Women, and Favorite Nonfiction Picture Books of 2018.
Children’s Books About Imagination are the best ways to help your kids’ imaginations set soar! If you want to inspire creativity in your kids, this list of funny, zany, and dreamy books is the one for you!Read More
Another year, another incredible array of nonfiction picture books for your youngest readers! The nonfiction picture books for kids released in 2018 were simply unbelievable. The stories were engaging, the facts intriguing, and the illustrations truly remarkable.Read More
Another year in the books, and what a year it was! 2018 brought stunning reads to our bookshelves. There were picture books that touched our hearts, spoke to our souls, illuminated our world with wonder, and made us laugh until we cried. Perhaps most importantly, there were books that helped us navigate our current climate and talk with our children about challenging topics, some of which have affected our daily lives no matter where you may live around the world. This year brought us stories featuring more diverse characters than ever before, works written and illustrated by marginalized authors and illustrators, and most of all, a multitude of books highlighting the goodness that shines so brightly within each of us.
At the close of every year, I truly believe the quality of books can’t possibly get any better. But, alas, as one year slides into another, the new stories that find their way onto our shelves exceed my wildest expectations. These new stories become cherished treasures for our children, books they hug to their chests and sleep with under their pillows because they make bedtime magical and reflect their own experiences and identities through beautiful words and illustrations. I am forever grateful to those who write, illustrate and publish these amazing stories.
What do I look for when selecting our favorite books of the year? Books that are surprising, timely and unique, of course. Books that resonate with my own children and my students. Books I can’t stop thinking about even months after the story has been put down. Most importantly, books that delight, enlighten and convey messages of goodness in wondrous ways.
And now, in alphabetical order, here are our favorite picture books published in 2018. It’s a big list, but it’s been narrowed down from hundreds!
Alma and How She Got Her Name, by Juana Martinez-Neal: 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 for whom she was named. Upon learning all about her vibrant name, Alma realizes that it may be the perfect fit after all. For our full review of Alma and How She Got her Name, click here!
Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse, by Marcy Campbell and illustrated by Corinna Luyken: Adrian Simcox tells his classmates he has a horse - 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. 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? For our full review of Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse, click here!
Be Kind, by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Jen Hill: A young girl is in despair after spilling grape juice on her new dress. Seeing her sadness, one of the girl’s classmates wonders what it means to be kind- even when others aren’t. This book explores acts of kindness big and small and beautifully imparts that even our youngest children have the power to make an impactful difference simply by making kind choices. For our full review of Be Kind, click here!
The Day You Begin, by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Rafael Lopez: So many of us have felt anxiety upon standing in a doorway about to enter a room where the blanket of faces staring back at us look wholly different from our own. This book tells that story, that of a young girl who walks into a new classroom and finds no one like her. But eventually she sits down and her classmates begin talking, and as their words fill the air, shared sentiments become bridges to building connection. A breathtaking read, both in pictures and prose. For our full review of The Day You Begin, click here!
Drawn Together, by Minh Le and illustrated by Dan Santat: A young boy visits his grandfather, only to find a giant chasm between them as they do not speak the same language. But then the two sit down to draw, and that’s when magic happens. Drawn Together is a testament to the power of art to transcend words and bridge divides, and this stunning book perfectly encapsulates that bonds can be found and formed even when we may not share the same language.
Dreamers, by Yuyi Morales: This is an exquisitely crafted and collaged book about immigrants and the way in which words and stories changed the lives of a mother and her son upon arriving to the United States. It is a beautiful and poignant testament to the power of libraries, the magic of books, and the enormous promise that lies within the pages of every piece of literature.
Everything You Need for a Treehouse, by Carter Higgins and illustrated by Emily Hughes: In this achingly beautiful and wondrous story, readers are given "instructions" on what they need to build a treehouse, beginning with time, a look up, and a hefty imagination. The book breathes life into each and every requirement for the house. Together, the story and illustrations spark magic and awe. For our full review of Everything You Need for a Treehouse, click here!
Hello Hello, by Brendan Wenzel: This was one of the very first books we read in 2018, and it blows me away every time we read it. The story is so simple, yet it’s message is profound. Even when we meet someone so very different from ourselves, there is one simple word we can say to combat differences and create a connection: hello.
I’m Sad, by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi: Getting children to understand and talk about sadness - what it means to be sad, why they feel sadness and how to cope with it - is no easy feat. But it is ok to feel sad, and this wonderful story reminds us that we won’t always have these tough feelings. Sometimes the best thing to help alleviate sadness is knowing you have a pal who will stick by your side no matter how you feel. And when this message is conveyed through a fun story line, silly characters, and vibrant illustrations, you have a winning picture book on your hands.
I am Human: A Book of Empathy, by Susan Verde and illustrated by Peter Reynolds: This is the most beautiful book to remind us that we are all human, all works in progress. Sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes we even hurt others — but we can always improve and better ourselves through good choices, thoughtfulness and kind actions.
Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise, by David Ezra Stein: In this sequel to the Caldecott Honor Book, Interrupting Chicken, everyone’s favorite little red chicken can’t wait to tell her father what she learned at school: every great story has an elephant of surprise! Or is it an “element” of surprise, as Papa tries to explain? The little red chicken insists she is right and Papa sets out to convince her otherwise. After all there are definitely no elephants in Rapunzel or The Ugly Duckling. Or are there? This work of brilliance and hilarity cracks us up every single time!
I Walk with Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness, by Kerascoet: This stunning wordless book explores how a single act of kindness by one upstander can be a change agent for an entire community. The illustrations are simple enough that even your youngest readers will be able to work out what is happening on each page. Even better? Because it is wordless, you may find your kids writing their own experiences of bullying and subsequent acts of kindness into the story. A truly brilliant work — listen closely as your kids and students read this one.
Julian is a Mermaid, by Jessica Love: While Julian, a young boy, rides the subway one day, he is dazzled by a glorious sight: three women dressed up as beautiful mermaids. Julian can think of nothing better than dressing up just like them, with his own tail and a magical headdress, so he attempts to do just that. But what will Abuela think about the way Julian sees himself? Such an important book, so perfectly executed!
Kate, Who Tamed the Wind, by Liz Garton Scanlon and illustrated by Lee White: An old man lives at the tippy-top of a steep hill where a strong wind blows and blows, turning his world upside down and leaving him throwing his hands up in frustration. What to do with all this wind? A young girl in an itty-bitty town at the bottom of the hill finds the man's hat that blew out of his house - and after hearing his cry of "what to do?!" carrying on the wind, she finds a solution. A rhythmic story of friendship, ingenuity and problem solving make this book a treasure. For our full review of Kate, Who Tamed the Wind, click here!
Love, by Matt De La Pena and illustrated by Loren Long: This is a meditation on love- that transcendent, all encompassing, powerful emotion so integral to who we are as humans, an emotion so easy to feel but so difficult to adequately express in words. The prose is poetry in its purest form, the message is timeless, and the notion that love can be found in both the familiar and the unexpected is masterful. The stunning illustrations will be mirrors for kids worldwide. For our full review of Love, click here!
Mixed: A Colorful Story, by Arree Chung: There are three colors that started it all- red, yellow and blue. All were special and all lived harmoniously, until one fateful day a fight ensued among the colors and they all retreated to separate parts of the city. There was no more interaction between the colors - ever. But one day, a yellow noticed a blue, and the two realized how happy and calm they made each other. Can you guess what happens next? For our full review of Mixed: A Colorful Story, click here!
Moon, by Alison Oliver: Moon is a young girl who leads a busy, busy life between school, homework, music lessons and other afterschool activities. One night, though, she goes astray when she happens upon a wolf. The wolf takes her deep into the forest where Moon gets a little lesson in letting loose -- how to be wild, how to be free, and how to howl. And once she learns how good it feels to live a little, Moon doesn't want to let go. For our full review of Moon, click here!
The Rabbit Listened, by Cori Doerrfeld: Something bad has happened to Taylor: she cannot get over her devastation when a tower she worked so hard to construct crashes to the ground. Her friends try to help. They offer suggestions and unsolicited advice, trying everything in the books to get her to calm down. But only when the rabbit sits and listens -- just listens, quietly, calmly and patiently - does she begin to feel better. How I love this one!
Sleepy, the Goodnight Buddy, by Drew Daywalt and Scott Campbell: If your child hates bedtime, you need this book in your life! Roderick hates going to sleep by himself, and after trying endless ways to stall and distract his parents, they decide to get him a goodnight buddy so Roderick won’t be alone in his room. But Roderick’s new buddy, Sleepy, also happens to be the king of distraction, and his antics will have you and your kids in stitches. When Sleepy’s shenanigans are too exhausting to entertain any longer, Roderick’s bedtime buddy may live up to his name after all.
Thank You, Omu!, by Oge Mora: Everyone in the neighborhood follows the delicious scent of stew to Omu’s doorstep, where Omu (meaning “queen” in the Igbo language of the author’s parents) dishes her meal out with love. But when it comes time for Omu to sit down to eat her own dinner, she realizes she left no stew for herself! This is a gorgeous, timeless story of generosity and community. For our full review of Thank You, Omu!, click here!
Time for Bed, Miyuki, by Roxanne Marie Galliez and illustrated by Seng Soun Ratanavanh: This gorgeous book tackles a universal problem and is set against an exquisite backdrop adorned with images depicting Japanese culture on every page. Sweet Miyuki just doesn’t want to go to sleep, despite her grandfather’s pleas. Why? There are too many things to do, like water the vegetables, gather the snails and prepare for the arrival of the Dragonfly Queen. With gentleness and patience, her grandfather indulges Miyuki’s antics until finally, she is ready for bed and sleep overtakes her. Exquisite. For our full review of Time for Bed, Miyuki, click here!
The Wall in the Middle of the Book, by Jon Agee: In this powerful story, there is literally just what the title says - a wall running along the gutter of the book. On one side of the wall stands a knight who proudly proclaims he is safe. The dangers, after all, live on the other side of the wall. So what exactly is on that other side? Angry animals and evil ogres, of course. What the knight doesn’t realize, however, is the rising water and the crocodile looming on his side of the wall. When the knight finds himself in need of serious help, the one who comes to his rescue is someone much different than the knight anticipated… and the other side of the wall may possess a lot more fun than fright. For our full review of The Wall in the Middle of the Book, click here!
What Would You Do With a Chance, by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom: Here, a young child is confronted with a chance out of the blue. But the boy doesn't embrace it; he is uncertain, and thus pulls away. When the next chance comes around, he reaches for it and falls. He is overcome with fear, never wanting to feel so foolish again. The chances keep appearing, though, but because he keeps ignoring them, they eventually cease. Only then, of course, does the boy realize that as scared as he is, he does want to take a chance. Will he be brave enough to seize a new opportunity? For our full review of What Would You Do With a Chance, click here!
Zola’s Elephant, by Randall De Seve and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski: When Zola moves into the neighborhood, her new neighbor is too shy to go introduce herself and say hello. After all, Zola has an elephant to play with, so why would she need a new friend? Things aren’t always what they seem though, and sometimes, the things we imagine may not be reality. By summoning a bit of courage, two little girls embark on a new friendship that leads to an imaginary world they can discover together. Zagarenski’s stunning art will forever be a Happily Ever Elephants’ favorite!
Which of these books were YOUR favorites of 2018? What would you add to the list? Make sure to let us know on our Facebook page!
If you liked this post, we think you will love these too! Top 20 picture books of 2017, Happily Ever Elephants Favorite Picture Books (when we began this blog in 2016), and 21 Books to Promote Kindness, Inclusiveness and Equality.
There’s this joke among us Jewish folks that Hanukkah is always either too early or too late… so when on earth is it ever on time? This year the holiday is so early in December that we’ve barely finished our Thanksgiving leftovers, yet I’m already preparing to make potato latkes for our family Hanukkah party this weekend. Yum! My kids have pulled out our menorahs (including the ones we’ve all made at school over the years!), played with our entire dreidel collection, and are already trying to pull the chocolate gelt down from the tippy-top of our pantry. The countdown has officially begun!
Whatever you celebrate this December, whether you’ll be lighting your own menorah for eight nights or teaching your kids about the holiday at home or in school, Happily Ever Elephants has compiled a list of our very favorite Hanukkah books for kids of all ages. These books celebrate the brave Maccabees who stood up to King Antiochus’ huge army and fought for the right to practice their religion and study their Torah. The books also celebrate the miracle that occurred when the Maccabees took back their temple, and the tiny amount of oil they had kept the menorah lit for eight whole nights, giving them enough time to find more oil for the temple’s eternal flame.
So gather your dreidels, eat some gelt, and settle in with these special books about the Festival of Lights. Happy Hanukkah to all!
Without further ado, here are our favorite Hanukkah stories, beginning with books for your youngest readers, and gradually progressing to our older ones. Enjoy!
Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel, illustrated by Amy Cartwright: Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made you out of clay… Your young kids will be mesmerized by this adorable little board that brings the famous dreidel song to life. The cute illustrations and pop up detail at the end will have your children totally enchanted. The spinning dreidel makes their eyes widen with joy, and I guarantee it — when you read this book with tiny tots, they will make you feel like the greatest showman in the world!
Sammy Spider’s First Hanukkah, by Sylvia Rouss and illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn: This is a wonderful Hanukkah book for your toddlers, a part of the Sammy Spider series that helps the youngest readers learn about the Jewish holidays. In this installment, Sammy Spider looks on as the Shapiro family lights the menorah and spins brightly colored dreidels to celebrate the festival of lights. Sammy longs for a dreidel of his own, but his mother continuously reminds him “Spiders don’t spin dreidels. Spiders spin webs!” My littlest students adore Sammy Spider!
Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas, by Pamela Ehrenberg and illustrated by Anjan Sarkar: Move over latkes, hello dosas! We adore this book about one young boy with a multicultural family - an Indian mom and a Jewish dad, to be exact. So as Hanukkah approaches and the family gets ready to celebrate, Indian traditions and foods are woven into the lively narrative. Any book that embraces a unity of culture and practices is a winner in our world!
Maccabee!: The Story of Hanukkah by Tilda Balsley and illustrated by David Harrington: Judah and his team of super-hero like Maccabees fight to free Jerusalem from the cruel King Antiochus in this rhythmic, rhyming story that is perfect for reading aloud. The book tells of the miraculous oil that lasted for eight days and the Maccabee’s determination to stand up for what they believed in, making this a perfect read to share with little ones curious about the real story behind the holiday.
Hanukkah Bear, by Eric Kimmel and illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka: This story never disappoints and is one of my absolute favorite Hanukkah tales. A retelling of The Hanukkah Guest, Hanukkah Bear tells of an old woman, nearly blind and deaf, who is known throughout her village for her fabulous latkes. When Hanukkah arrives, the woman invites the rabbi to dinner to celebrate Hanukkah and feast on latkes, but the aroma from her kitchen awakens an old bear who arrives at her home before the rabbi. Due to her poor vision and eyesight, the story never fails to elicit giggles as the old lady mistakes the bear’s furry coat and happy growls for the rabbi’s beard and blessings.
Meet the Latkes, by Alan Silberberg: Lucy Latke comes from a family of — you guessed it — latkes! And these potato pancakes are a little wacky. So when Grandpa Latke tells the story of Hanukkah to the family, complete with mighty Mega-bees who battle evil alien potatoes, things get a little off the rails. Laugh out loud funny for those looking for a creative and fun take on the Hanukkah story!
Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, by Eric Kimmel and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman: We love this story of clever Hershel who outwits the goblins that repeatedly attempt to ruin Hanukkah for everyone in a small village. How does he do so? With pickles and eggs and dreidels, of course! This a unique adaptation of the ancient Hanukkah story, reminding all that miracles can happen even when the odds seem stacked against you.
Chanukah Lights, by Michael Rosen and Robert Sabuda: This is a stunner of a pop-up book, following the Festival of Lights through place and time as the Jewish people search for a land to call home. For each of eight nights, the menorah is pictured in a different scene, and the intricate pop-up designs on each page are sure to thrill little readers.
The Dreidel that Wouldn’t Spin: A Toyshop Tale of Hanukkah, by Martha Seif Simpson and illustrated by Durga Yael Bernhard: Oh, how I love this wonderful spin on Hanukkah miracles! What happens when a peddler gifts a toy-shop owner an exquisite dreidel? The owner sells it at a hefty-price. But the wealthy purchaser and his daughter are distraught that the dreidel doesn’t spin, so they demand their money back. On and on it goes, with each spoiled customer returning the defective dreidel, until a poor man and his son enter the shop, content to simply peruse all the wonderful toys. And so it is that these two, the only patrons carrying the true spirit of Hanukkah within their hearts, are able to witness the small miracle of the dazzling dreidel.
Oskar and the Eight Blessings, by Tanya Simon and Richard Simon, and illustrated by Mark Siegel: A young refugee arrives in New York City on the seventh night of Hanukkah, after escaping the horrors of Kristallnacht and World War II. In his pocket? A photograph and the address of an aunt he has never met. As Oskar wanders through the city in search of his new home, he encounters many of the city’s residents who offer him small acts of kindness, reminding him of his father’s words: “You have to look for the blessings.” A true, timeless beauty.
The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story, by Lemony Snicket and illustrated by Lisa Brown: Oh my goodness. The first time I read this to my students, they were in hysterics, laughing so hard some of them literally had tears streaming down their faces. This zany story, written by THE Lemony Snicket, begins with the birth of a potato latke that starts screaming the moment it hits the frying pan. And then? The latke takes off… and tries to explain the miracle of Hanukkah to flashing Christmas lights, candy canes, and a Christmas tree. Love, love, love.
Celebrate Hanukkah with Light, Latkes and Dreidels, by Deborah Heiligman: This stunning book does what National Geographic does best - it pairs gorgeous photographs and smart text to teach readers about the history and significance of Hanukkah, and it illustrates how Hanukkah is celebrated around the world - from Israel to India to Ghana. With discussions ranging from lighting the menorah, to the traditional foods eaten during the festival, to the spinning dreidels, this is a wonderful, factual introduction to this festive holiday.
Nine Spoons: A Chanukah Story, by Marci Stillerman and illustrated by Perren Gerber and Pesach Gerber: This is my very favorite Hanukkah book to read with my upper elementary students. Nine Spoons is set in a Nazi concentration camp, and it tells the story of a group of young women in one of the barracks who search for nine spoons. Why? So they can make a menorah for the children in their barracks and celebrate Hanukkah in secret. Utensils were a rarity in the camps, and the celebration of a Jewish holiday was literally done at the risk of death. Based on a true story, this book is a phenomenal testament to the importance of fighting for the freedom to practice your religion and keeping meaningful traditions alive even amidst the most unthinkable horrors.
Hanukkah at Valley Forge, by Stephen Krensky and illustrated by Greg Harlin: During the American Revolution, George Washington sees a soldier lighting the Hanukkah candles and murmuring a prayer. The soldier then tells Washington all about Hanukkah and the Maccabee’s triumph against the oppressive King Antiochus and his strong army. Washington finds inspiration in the soldier’s story, even drawing some parallels between the Hanukkah story and the American fight for independence. A wonderful complement to any classroom learning about the Revolution.
Happy Hanukkah, friends! And if you are looking for our list of holiday books including books about Christmas and Kwanzaa, make sure to click here!
I love the holiday season, when the joy bubbling within festive homes spills out front doors and floods the streets outside. I love the smell of fir trees and fireplaces mingling in the air, colorful lights shimmering from roof tops and menorahs big and small glimmering from window sills.
There’s no doubt about it - the atmosphere in December is practically electric, tinged with hope and positivity. Kindness abounds, neighbors are merry, and the festive spirit soothes even the toughest of days. Though my childhood has long since passed, I still feel an extra skip in my step after Thanksgiving, knowing my family will soon light the menorah, stuff ourselves with latkes, and gather at friends’ homes to decorate their majestic Christmas trees with ornaments of silver and gold.
I’ve always found it magical to think that people worldwide spend the month of December preparing to celebrate, and then celebrating their own meaningful holidays, whether it’s Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. Even more meaningful is the fact that I live in a community so open to learning about all religious and cultural traditions. No matter what you believe, holiday celebrations are our families’ steadfast foundations, infusing our lives with meaning, purpose, and love.
Though we celebrate Hanukkah, I truly enjoy exposing my boys to the traditions so significant to our friends and neighbors. And what better way to learn about the holiday season than with fabulous picture books we can share with our children? Here are some of our very favorite stories that celebrate the rich and meaningful holidays that bring such joy to our lives in December. Happy Holidays, friends!
1) A World of Cookies for Santa, by M.E. Furman and illustrated by Susan Gal: This fabulous book came out last year and details the varied ways in which children worldwide prepare themselves for Santa’s arrival. Santa doesn’t get milk and cookies in India. Instead, kids leave Christmas Baba (Father Christmas) a crispy fried treat called a kulkuls, together with a cup of spicy chai. And in South Africa, Kersvader arrives by donkey and children leave him hertzog cookies filled with apricot jam and topped with coconut meringue. Yum! This is a fascinating look at how Christmas is celebrated across the globe, filled with gorgeous illustrations to boot. Definitely a new favorite!
2) Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, by Eric Kimmel and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman: We love this story of clever Hershel who outwits the goblins that repeatedly attempt to ruin Hanukkah for everyone in a small village. How does he do so? With pickles and eggs and dreidels, of course! This a unique and creative adaptation of the ancient Hanukkah story in which the Syrians prohibited the Jews from worshiping as they desired, reminding all that miracles can happen even when the odds seem stacked against you.
3) The Broken Ornament, by Tony DiTerlizzi: More! More! More! Isn’t that what we all hear our children say all the time? Jack constantly wants more of everything, so when he breaks his mom’s old Christmas ornament, he doesn’t understand why she is so upset. Can’t they just buy more ornaments? Turns out, that dusty old ornament was his mother’s treasured heirloom, and Jack has much to learn about the true meaning of the holiday and Christmas spirit.
4) Chanukah Lights, by Michael Rosen and Robert Sabuda: This is a stunner of a pop-up book, following the Festival of Lights through place and time as the Jewish people search for a land to call home. For each of eight nights, the menorah is pictured in a different scene, and the intricate designs on each page are sure to thrill little readers. Equally gorgeous? Robert Sabuda’s The Christmas Story — another pop-up that captures the wonder of Christmas and the Nativity on every exquisite page.
5) The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg: You can’t celebrate Christmas without this marvelous classic, the story of a young boy who is welcomed aboard the Polar Express on Christmas Eve, right at a time he begins to question Santa’s existence. The boy’s magical journey to the North Pole reminds us that being a believer will keep us young at heart, and even as we age, the spirit of Christmas can continue to enchant.
6) The Little Reindeer, by Nicola Killen: Oh how I adore the illustrations in this book! This is one of those quiet, understated stories that breathes magic on every page. The story tells of a friendship between a little girl and a lost reindeer, and a Christmas eve the two will never forget. It’s a simple, sweet, and wondrous tale – complete with die cut pages and metallic ink – sure to become an enthralling family favorite.
7) Room for a Little One: A Christmas Tale, by Martin Waddell and illustrated by Jason Cockcroft: This is a gorgeously illustrated book that tells the story of all the animals sharing the manger — animals who are typically foes but instead rest together in harmony. At the end, Joseph and Mary arrive and Mary gives birth to Jesus, who is welcomed by all. A heartwarming and simple story that celebrates Jesus’s arrival in a manner even toddlers can understand.
8) Meet the Latkes, by Alan Silberberg: Lucy Latke comes from a family of — you guessed it — latkes! And these potato pancakes are a little wacky. So when Grandpa Latke tells the story of Hanukkah to the family, complete with mighty Mega-bees who battle evil alien potatoes, things get a little off the rails. Laugh out loud funny for those looking for a creative and fun take on the Hanukkah story!
9) Together for Kwanzaa, by Juwanda G, Ford and illustrated by Shelly Hehenberger: Kayla loves celebrating Kwanzaa every year, but when her brother is trapped at school due to a snowstorm, Kayla fears Khari will miss their family celebrations completely. This is a lovely story that introduces young readers to the practices and traditions that make Kwanzaa a special December holiday.
10) Hanukkah Bear, by Eric Kimmel and illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka: This story never disappoints and is one of my absolute favorite Hanukkah tales. A retelling of The Hanukkah Guest, Hanukkah Bear tells of an old woman, nearly blind and deaf, who is known throughout her village for her fabulous latkes. When Hanukkah arrives, the woman invites the rabbi to dinner to celebrate Hanukkah and feast on latkes, but the aroma from her kitchen awakens an old bear who arrives at her home before the rabbi. Due to her failing eyes and ears, the story never fails to elicit giggles as the old lady mistakes the bear’s furry coat and happy growls for the rabbi’s beard and blessings.
11) Maccabee!: The Story of Hanukkah by Tilda Balsley and illustrated by David Harrington: Judah and his team of super-hero like Macabees fight to free Jerusalem from the cruel King Antiochus in this rhythmic, rhyming story that is perfect for reading aloud. The book tells of the miraculous oil that lasted for eight days and the Macabee’s determination to stand up for what they believed in, making this a perfect read to share with little ones curious about the real story behind the holiday.
12) Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa by Donna L. Washington and illustrated by Shane Evans: When Li’l Rabbit’s grandma falls ill and is forced to miss out on the Kwanzaa feast, he seeks to find something else for his Grandma to enjoy. This story perfectly captures and celebrates several of the principles of Kwanzaa and illuminates the true meaning of the holiday – working together to help others.
13) The Dreidel that Wouldn’t Spin: A Toyshop Tale of Hanukkah, by Martha Seif Simpson and illustrated by Durga Yael Bernhard: Oh, how I love this wonderful spin on Hanukkah miracles! What happens when a peddler gifts a toy-shop owner an exquisite dreidel? The owner sells it at a hefty-price, of course. But the wealthy purchaser and his daughter are distraught that the dreidel doesn’t spin, so they demand their money back. On and on it goes, with each spoiled customer returning the defective dreidel, until a poor man and his son enter the shop, content to simply peruse all the wonderful toys. And so it is that these two, the only patrons carrying the true spirit of Hanukkah within their hearts, are able to witness the small miracle of the dazzling dreidel.
14) The 12 Sleighs of Christmas, by Sherri Duskey Rinker and illustrated by Jake Parker: If your kids love Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site, don’t walk, but run out to buy them The 12 Sleighs of Christmas. When Santa’s elves discover Santa’s sleigh is totaled just before Christmas, the elves split into a dozen teams and set out to build Santa Claus a cool new sleigh — and Santa himself will decide which one to use for his special day. A fun new read aloud that will have kids marveling at the coolest sleighs imaginable, inspired by big rigs, motorcycles and zeppelins, too! And make sure to check out their newest Christmas themed read, Construction Site on Christmas Night! Another gem!
15) Plum: How the Sugar Plum Fairy Got Her Wings: by Sean Hayes & Scott Icenogle, illustrated by Robin Thompson: Did you ever wonder how the Nutcracker’s Sugar Plum Fairy got her wings? Look no further than Plum, an utterly charming new story about one orphan whose sweet and pure heart earns her the most unexpected rewards. A sweet book featuring magic, fairies, and even two kings. What a joy!
What are your favorite holiday books? Let us know on our Facebook page! And don’t forget — if you liked this page, we think you will love these too: Favorite Books About Hanukkah, Favorite Books About Gratitude, Favorite Books About Love.
He handed it to me after school, his face glowing as if lit by a hundred lanterns. “Fankful,” he said. I looked at the orange construction paper, his turkey hand print, and his teacher’s handwriting, my heart instantly flooding the floor:
I am thankful for mommy, daddy, my brother and Daniel Tiger.
Yep. That about nailed the things my sweet boy loved and needed more than anything else in the world: his mommy for snuggles, his daddy for safety, his brother for laughter, and Daniel Tiger to teach him, well, pretty much everything.
I can’t bear to take his picture off the pantry door where I taped it nearly two years ago. To me, this simple, sweet list is perfection. As my son grows, I know his “thankful” list will morph and change, but I want to continually remind him that the things we should be most grateful for are our relationships and the necessities, not the materialistic objects that clutter up our lives, blinding our eyes with the fastest and shiniest games and gadgets.
I would like to use this November to go even beyond that. I aim to model an attitude of gratitude for my children, in which we continually express our appreciation for the things we are so lucky to have while simultaneously reminding them that others are not so fortunate— and wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could find a way to help?
I know I’m not alone in seeking a way to encourage my boys to have grateful hearts all year round and not simply when Thanksgiving approaches. I’m confident that if I can instill a feeling of gratitude in my kids at these impressionable ages, the more likely they will be inspired to help those who may not be able to help themselves. This is what I hope for more than anything.
Of course, I want my children to become intelligent young men. But if they grow up to be compassionate, grateful and directed by a strong moral compass that encourages them to give back to their community, whenever possible, I will feel like I have succeeded as their mom.
Below are some of my favorite books to get both my students and my own children talking about the things for which they are thankful. But, perhaps more importantly, this list includes stories that can serve as “window” books— books that remind us that the things we take for granted are missing from many homes around the country. So many people face daily challenges while simply trying to provide for their families, and as thankful as we may be for what we have, we need these stories to open our children’s eyes to the struggles challenging the community around them and the myriad ways that they can give back.
It’s a good reminder for us grown-ups as well.
Enjoy these stories, and happy Thanksgiving!
We are Grateful: Ostaliheliga, by Traci Sorell and illustrated by Frane Lessac: What a fabulous new book on gratitude, set in a vibrant Cherokee community. This “own voices” picture book travels through the seasons, giving readers a glimpse of the Native American community at rest and play. The word “ostaliheliga” is used by the members of the Cherokee Nation to express gratitude and is sprinkled throughout the pages. We simply LOVE this one!
Those Shoes, by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Noah Jones: 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.” This is such a special story, one I read to my students every year around Thanksgiving because it masterfully sparks a discussion about wants and needs, as well as the fulfillment that can be found in helping others. For our full review of Those Shoes, CLICK HERE!
Maddi’s Fridge, by Lois Brandt and illustrated by Vin Vogel: This sweet story provides an important look at childhood hunger in a manner so readily understandable for young kids. I always read this with my elementary students, and it prompts great discussions not just about how important it is to help others in need, but also how to handle a situation when a friend makes you promise to keep a secret that causes you to worry about his or her well-being.
Thank you, Omu!, by Oge Mora: A stunning debut! Everyone in the neighborhood follows the delicious scent of stew to Omu’s doorstep, where Omu (meaning “queen” in the Igbo language of the author’s parents) dishes her meal out with love. But when it comes time for Omu to sit down for dinner, she realizes she left no stew for herself! This is a gorgeous, timeless story of generosity and community, beautifully conveying that one good deed deserves another — and sharing is everything.
Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Pena and illustrated by Christian Robinson: As a boy and his grandmother ride the bus one afternoon, the child continually asks his grandma about various luxuries they don’t have. His grandmother helps open the boy’s eyes to all of the ways in which they are rich, even though they may not have certain gadgets and gizmos. When their bus ride ends, the reader learns the two are going to volunteer at a soup kitchen. A surprise ending to a marvelous, remarkable book.
Thank You, Mr. Panda, by Steve Antony: I can’t get enough of this series of books. They are pure perfection when talking about manners with little kids, and this one, Thank You, Mr. Panda, shows us how we can graciously accept gifts even if they aren’t quite what we were hoping for. This is such a great story to help children understand that the simple act of being given a present is something to be thankful for, even if the present itself may not be our favorite.
All the World, by Liz Garton Scanlon and illustrated by Marla Frazee: This gorgeous book showcases the glorious wonders of life, from the world’s oceans to our human bodies, from sweet music to the earth’s bountiful harvest. The illustrations are breathtaking and the sentiment is spot on, giving us a gentle reminder of the many gifts our world continues to offer. We have so much to be thankful for!
Secret of Saying Thanks, by Douglas Wood, illustrated by Greg Shed: “The heart that gives thanks is a happy one, for we cannot feel thankful and unhappy at the same time. The more we say thanks, the more we find to be thankful for. And the more we find to be thankful for, the happier we become.” Need I say more?
The Thankful Book by Todd Parr: This is such a perfect book to read with toddlers and young children! The Thankful Book, with its vibrant, childlike illustrations, encourages kids to recognize the everyday things in their lives for which they should be grateful.
It Could Always Be Worse, by Margot Zemach: I just adore this Yiddish folk tale, the story of an unfortunate man who lived with his mother, six kids and his wife in a one bedroom hut. When the man seeks advice from a wise rabbi because the home is crowded and the family is bickering, the rabbi tells the man on several different occasions to bring his animals into the hut– first his chickens, then his goat, then his cow. When the man eventually tells the rabbi he can’t take it anymore, the rabbi tells him to let all the animals back outside. What ensues? The man ends up exactly where he started – but now he is so grateful for the serenity!
Spoon, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Scott Magoon: Sometimes it is hard to recognize how much we have to be thankful for when it comes to ourselves and our abilities, especially when you watch your friends with envy and marvel at the things they do so well that you just can’t do at all. This sweet story reminds us to celebrate our differences and to be grateful for everything that makes us special as individuals.
A Chair for My Mother, by Vera M. Williams: After their home is a destroyed by a fire, Rosa and her family save coins in a big jar. What are they saving up for? A big, comfortable chair so the family can relax after their respective long days. This story is poignant and so beautifully conveys one spirited family’s will to persevere after a tragedy as well as the gratitude they display to those around them, even when their own losses were devastating.
The Thank You Book, by Mo Willems: Who better to teach young kids about gratitude than our dear friends Elephant and Piggie? Join the two animals in the last book of this hit series as they go on a thank-o-rama and show their appreciation for everyone who helped make their stories a hit. If your little ones love Piggie and Gerald like my kids and students, this is one not to miss. For our full review of The Thank You Book, CLICK HERE!
Which of these books about gratitude are your favorites? Make sure to let us know on our Facebook page! And guess what? If you found this list of picture books about gratitude to be helpful, we think you will love checking out these picture book lists too: Favorite Picture Books About the Holidays, Favorite Picture Books About Love, Favorite Picture Books About Hanukkah.
We spend a significant amount of time impressing upon our children those qualities we hope they eventually embody: kindness, respect, honesty, self-confidence. We do everything we can to teach them right from wrong, to be upstanders in their classrooms and to be selfless in their actions. Our goal is to create a generation of gracious, honest and generous leaders, children who grow into adults that want to both BE good and DO good. In light of our current climate, though, there’s something else we must strive for, something that holds equal importance.
We are privileged to live in a country where we can make our voices heard. We have inalienable rights, we have freedoms, and we have the power to elect representatives. So how do we make sure we raise children that understand these rights, participate in the democratic process and also take an active role in protecting and defending our freedoms?
You may think it’s way too early to talk to kids about the government, our political process, and the United States Constitution. But guess what? We can so easily bring these topics down to levels children understand by relating this subject matter to their everyday lives. Kids have school rules they must follow every day (just like real “laws”!) They have leaders that make decisions for them (school principals- who, in their young eyes, are virtually akin to the president!), and they even have their own version of elections (student government, starting as early as kindergarten!)
The point? Even young children can grasp the basics of our government and the importance of protecting the fundamental ideals our country was founded upon. Midterm elections are fast approaching, making it a perfect time to talk with your kids about how our government works, why we vote, how we got the right to vote and how we choose which candidates we want to represent our voices. This is not just important - it is essential if we seek to forever safeguard our constitution and the healthy functioning of our government. We’ve been reading a lot in our house, and from fun fiction picture books for your littlest kids to non-fiction works for your older children, Happily Ever Elephants has a new list to help provide you with some fabulous books to explain democracy in action. We sincerely hope you enjoy this list, share it widely, and, most importantly, vote on November 6!
Grace for President, by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by LeUyen Pham: When Grace learns there has never been a female president, she takes matters into her own hands and decides she must be the next president of her school. Grace thus enters the race, only to find herself running against another student who claims to be the “best man for the job” and has already captured all of the boys’ votes. Instead of getting nervous, Grace buckles down and runs on the platform that she is the best “person” for the job - and she may have just what it takes to go all the way!
President Squid, by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Sara Varon: What makes a good leader? Is it the size of his house? The tie he wears? Having a book named after him? President Squid is satire at its finest, providing young readers with a keen look at the qualities needed to be the big boss. We use this book frequently at school to discuss the important qualities any leader must possess, whether in the classroom or in the White House.
Duck for President, by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin: Duck isn’t happy with life on his farm, so he takes matters into his own hands and organizes an election for a new leader. Who wins? Duck wins! But Duck’s ambitions don’t end at his farm alone. He next makes a run for governor and then for president… and through it all Duck learns that being a leader requires quite a lot of hard work.
Vote for Me, by Ben Clanton: This is quite the satire on the current state of American politics, featuring a donkey and an elephant in the throes of an election. It is a witty take on the nomination process and the negativity that often prevails, showcasing how absurdities are made prevalent and how mud-slinging tactics are often utilized to make a candidate’s case. Is this the right way to campaign? Does it detract from the real issues? This is a fabulous picture book for prompting important discussion with your older readers.
What’s the Big Deal About Elections, by Ruby Shamir and illustrated by Matt Faulkner: I absolutely adore this non-fiction book. It is jam packed with information and is fabulous for kids of all ages - just pare it down for your younger kids, or go over every important word with your older ones. This book is as fun as it is informative, featuring not just information about voting rights, our branches of government and the role of the electoral college, but also wacky facts and trivia to delight readers of all ages. This is a must for every home and library!
Lillian’s Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, by Jonah Winter and Shane W. Evans: This is a powerful historical picture book about a 100 year old African-American woman who makes a long trek up a steep hill to vote for the very first time. As she walks, she remembers her family history — from the passage of the fifteenth amendment to her parents registering to vote, from the impossible tests given to prevent blacks from voting to marching in the civil rights protest from Selma to Montgomery. Moving, lyrical and tremendously important, this is a fabulous glimpse at American history.
So You Want to Be President, by Judith St. George and illustrated by David Small: Take a walk through the first forty-one of our nation’s presidents, including wacky “tips” to abide by if you want to make it to the White House and some of the zaniest characteristics exhibited by our leaders. A fun and funny read with some fabulous information!
If I Ran for President, by Catherine Stier and illustrated by Lynne Avril: What would it take for you to run for president? A lot of hard work, that’s for sure. This is a fabulous primer for young readers about how one runs for president. What is a caucus? What is a primary? What is a debate? Simple answers to these questions, with fun and humor inserted throughout the pages, make this book a winner.
If I Were President, by Catherine Stier and illustrated by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan: Whereas If I Ran for President talks about actual campaigning, If I Were President discusses what happens when you make it to the Oval Office. From promising to protect the Constitution to the perks of being president to the notion of creating laws for the entire country, this is a simple and fun overview of the presidency for young readers.
Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, A Kitten and 10,000 Miles, by Mara Rockliff and illustrated by Hadley Hooper: In 1916, two women set out on a mission— to drive 10,000 miles across America to make their voices heard. What message did they want to share? That women should have the right to vote, of courses! This is a fascinating look at a fascinating journey during the women’s suffrage movement, featuring two strong women who would brave all the elements to further one singular, critical cause: equal voting rights for women. Lively and vibrant, this book rocks!
When you Grow Up to Vote: How Our Government Works for You, by Eleanor Roosevelt, Michelle Markel and illustrated by Grace Lin: This is a phenomenal, updated reissue of a chapter book that Roosevelt first wrote in 1932 when her husband was elected president. The book talks about something many children don’t always recognize- the government works for the people! The book begins by talking about government workers, then moves through explanations of our local and national governments, thus providing young people an exemplary overview about how our government is designed to function. A wonderful, informative and easy to understand book for your tweens!
I kind of hate Halloween. Every year as my friends eagerly plan their kids’ costumes – and sometimes, even their own – I groan inwardly and secretly count the days until November 1st. Maybe my parents scarred me for life when they dressed me, at three, in a yellow pillow case, slapped a pink bow on my head, and called me Ms. Pac-Man (35 years later, my mom insists on defending this costume).
Or maybe it’s the simple fact that Halloween in Miami, when temperatures are near ninety and the humidity is thick enough to wear its own witch’s hat, is anything but fun when dragging two sweaty little boys by the hands for blocks and blocks and blocks.
It inevitably goes something like this…
Part one: Halloween Ecstasy! My boys toddle from house to house with their friends and cousins, ring doorbells, shout with glee when they get a pack of “NNMs” and try to stealthily eat all of their candy as they traipse down one walkway and up the next. But then we come to…
Part two: Damage Control — that moment when the curtain falls on Halloween and the chocolate smeared all over their faces turns muddy as crocodile tears fall from their no longer sparkling eyes. The kids dash back down a walkway, their capes, glasses and other essential costume parts catapulted in a million different directions, screaming their heads off because the last house gave them – gasp! – an organic pack of raisins and a container of Oral-B dental floss. And when they finally calm down, one has to pee and the other wants water, and I’m calculating the time it will take to finish the street, get back in the car, drive home, and get them bathed. Then, of course, we come to…
Part three: Bedtime. And, you guessed it. The joke is most definitely on me.
Though I pride myself on creativity, my boys’ Halloween costumes have been sorely unoriginal. I’m hardly a Pinterest perfect “Spooktacular Snack” maker, and I’m definitely not one who decorates the outside of my house with a scary landscape sure to make the neighborhood kids scream. I do carve a mean pumpkin, though. And when my kids are excited because their friends are excited and they want nothing more than to get into the Halloween spirit, there is one thing I do enjoy– and I enjoy it tremendously.
What’s that, you ask?
I break out all of our spooky-but-definitely-not-scary books, where monsters and witches and ghosts creep across the pages and make my kids squeal with their deliciously monstrous fun. Though these books contain characters we usually think are “scary,” each story will surprise your family with valuable lessons about creativity, friendship, and empathy. These messages are valuable all year round, not just during Halloween season! Without further ado, here are our favorite books about monsters, witches, ghost, and other ghouls. Enjoy!
Monster Trouble!, by Lane Fredrickson and illustrated by Michael Robertson: Poor Winifred Schnitzel can’t seem to get rid of the neighborhood monsters that creep into her room at night and desperately try to scare her silly. Can she make them go away with a kiss?
How to Make Friends with a Ghost by Rebecca Green: What happens when you come face to face with a scary ghost? Make sure to grab this book if you want to have the essential tips handy, because some ghosts may simply need a friend. If you are sweet and warm and kind, I suggest you be on the lookout because a ghost may find you soon!
Crankenstein, by Samantha Berger and illustrated by Dan Santat: Even the sweetest kids become Crankensteins, from dusk till dawn, in rain, in heat and – most certainly – when standing in long, long lines. Beware the cantankerous Crankenstein!
Vampirina Ballerina, by Anne Marie Pace and LeUyen Pham: A young ballerina struggles to fit in when she can only take dance class at night and fights urges to take nibbles out of her fellow dancers. Will the delicate vampire become the prima ballerina she desires?
Creepy Carrots!, by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Peter Brown:Jasper rabbit loves carrots, especially the ones that grow in Crackenhopper field. He can never get enough of them, but will his greed become his undoing as the carrots begin to haunt him? Make sure to also check out the second tale about Jasper, one of our new family favorites— Creepy Pair of Underwear!
How to Scare a Ghost, by Jean Reagan and illustrated by Lee Wildish: This Halloween, you are guaranteed to be the one doing the scaring, not those daunting ghosts! Read this book for the ultimate list of tips to frighten your ghouls— and then have some fun with them too.
Quit Calling Me a Monster!, by Jory John and illustrated by Bob Shea:Even monsters try to buck stereotypes. Poor Floyd Peterson wants nothing more than to tell his readers that not all monsters are bad, even though they have fangs and crazy hair and clompy feet. Didn’t you know that monsters have feelings too? Won’t you just give him a chance?
Leo: A Ghost Story, by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Christian Robinson:A little ghost’s attempts to welcome the new family in his home are sorely misunderstood. Leo gathers he is unwanted and decides to leave. He meets a new pal on his journey, and using his wits, Leo teaches others that he is more friend than foe.
I Need My Monster, by Amanda Noll, illustrated by Howard McWilliam:When Gabe, the monster that lives under Ethan’s bed, goes on a fishing trip and won’t be back for a week, Ethan knows he’s got no chance of falling asleep without Gabe’s familiar breathing in his room. Ethan takes it upon himself to interview creatures that might hide under his bed temporarily, but will they be scary enough to do the j
Bone Soup, by Cambria Evans: Finnigan the skeleton is known for being greedy and having an insatiable appetite. When he arrives in a town replete with witches and ghouls, not a creature in site will share their food with him. How will he entice them to give him some grub? Stir up a magical bone soup, of course.
Bonaparte Falls Apart, by Margery Cuyler and illustrated by Will Terry: Oh, sweet Bonaparte! The skeleton’s bones seems to fall apart more than they stick together, making it awfully hard for him to get a hold of himself and make new friends. Luckily, with the help of pals Franky Stein and Mummicula, Bonaparte finds a way to keep himself in one piece.
Boo Who?, by Ben Clanton: It’s hard being the new kid in town, especially when that new kid is a ghost who has trouble playing games with the other neighborhood creatures. But even the ghost on the block can find a way to play, and he just might find that his greatest deficits are also his biggest strengths.
The Monsters’ Monster, by Patrick McDonnell: What do you do when your mean, mean monster always seems to remember his manners? Take him up on his offer to share a warm jelly doughnut!
My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.), by Peter Brown: Bobby has the worst teacher in the world, and she is, most definitely, a monster. But when he runs into Ms. Kirby at the park and a fierce wind blows away her hat, a turn of events helps Bobby realize that Ms. Kirby may have more bark than bite.
Room on the Broom, by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler: A generous witch makes room for helpful animals on her broom until the broom is so heavy, it breaks. When a dragon comes for the witch, all the little animals join together to scare the dragon away.
She Made a Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein, by Lynn Fulton: This is a fascinating picture book biography about the woman who created Frankenstein, a monstrous figment of her imagination that has lived on for more than 200 years.
The above links to Amazon are affiliate links. HEE received some, but not all of these books from the publishers. However, all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own.