If you are looking for a fabulous book for any child questioning his or her identity, an LGBQT story, or a thought-provoking read about one tween’s journey to understanding and finding herself, you must check out Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, by Ashley Herring Blake, stat.
My goodness, can these middle grade books get any better? Where were these phenomenal stories when I was a young girl? I remember when I was 12 years old, and my home in Miami was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew. It was a pivotal year in my life- I had just become a Bat Mitzvah, I was struggling to figure out if I would ever become a graceful teenager and not just a gawky teen, I longed to know if boys would ever look my way, and I wondered if my community would ever get put back together after suffering from total destruction. So many questions, so much angst— and so few stories to help me feel less alone and less confused.
Though my longings were not quite the same, I wish I’d had a book like Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World! Ivy Aberdeen’s angst hit all the right notes and resonated so very deeply. In this story, Ivy’s home is flattened by a tornado that rages through her town. All she manages to save is her pillow which contains her most precious possessions inside a thin case - fancy markers and a journal filled up with drawings, many of which contain illustrations of her and an unidentifiable girl. While staying in a school gym with other displaced persons after the storm, Ivy’s notebook goes missing. When her pictures start turning up in her locker, together with notes encouraging her to be true to herself and come clean with who she is at her core, Ivy begins to hope that the mysterious letters are coming from a girl on whom she has secretly developed a crush. Will Ivy let go of her fears and embrace who she is meant to be?
Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World will be a valuable window book for some and a mirror book for so many others. Ivy fears being unlike those around her- being shunned for wanting something so different than her friends and her big sister. After all, when Ivy’s sister and her best friend stop speaking and Ivy believes it’s because her sister’s friend has come out of the closet, Ivy fears her sister will totally disown her, too. Though the yearnings expressed in Ivy’s story may certainly be different for some tweens, the burning desire to understand who you are at your core, to not just accept those things that make us unique but love them too, is simply universal. We have all experienced, in unique ways and to varying degrees, the unsettling and anxiety-provoking fear that comes hand in hand with feeling so wholly different from those around us.
Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World gave me chills, and it is a book of incredible importance that has an especially significant place in every library, every classroom, and every child’s bookshelf. I am so grateful to the fabulous kidlit authors that continually place these notable books into children’s hands around the globe. There is nothing like a book to make you feel less alone and more understood.
What did you think about Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World? Let us know on our Facebook page, and make sure to follow us there! If you liked this post, make sure to check out our Favorite Middle Grade Books of 2018. We think you will also love these books about tweens discovering themselves: Front Desk, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, and Brown Girl Dreaming.
Want the book? Get it here! Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, by Ashley Herring Blake. *This is an affiliate link.
Antisemitism. Child Labor. Social Justice. These are some of the issues that have always been critically important to me - to understand, to work towards, or to fight against. So when these problems are explored in a beautifully written, fantastical story about one child’s struggle with her position in society and her relationship with an unconventional new friend, I want nothing more than to shout about it from the rooftops and share it with every child, parent and educator I can. Enter Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster, by Jonathan Auxier. When I tell you this book sucked me in and I couldn’t put it down, I speak the honest truth. I was utterly captivated, from beginning to end, and I now want to read every single story ever written by Auxier. What a brilliant writer!
Sweep is the story of Nan Sparrow, an orphaned chimney sweeper who spends her days performing a thankless — and wholly dangerous — job. After her “Sweep” leaves her, and after she almost loses her life in a chimney fire, Nan fears her days are numbered. But when she awakens in an abandoned attic and discovers a golem made of soot and ash in the room with her, she begins a new life full of hope, friendship and the courage to conquer her greatest challenges.
I love stories that teach without being didactic, ones that encourage you to make new discoveries every time you open their pages. Sweep is that and so much more - a book that tackles tough topics and follows Nan as she puts one foot in front of the other after facing so many unspeakable losses. Sweep is separated into two sections, appropriately called Innocence and Experience, and they so beautifully illuminate Nan’s journey from a guileless young child to a tween fraught with complicated questions and even more troubling realizations about society and her place within it. Why are children forced to work dangerous jobs? Why are kids losing their lives due to nothing but their unfortunate lot in life, and what on earth can she do to change it?
Simply put, Sweep is a feat. It is an adventure of the greatest kind, an ode to friendship, a discovery of self, and a testament to the power of one voice to create change. But my favorite part? Sweep excels in its exploration of “monsters,” finds tenderness in the terrifying, and combats all of our preconceived notions about the frightening things that keep us up at night. Exquisite - this marvel will stay with me for a long, long time.
Want the book? Get it here! Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster, by Jonathan Auxier. *This is an affiliate link.
If you have never read a story by Kate DiCamillo, prepare to get swept away by magic. If you are already a fan of Kate’s work, then prepare yourself for another mesmerizing character and another extraordinary story. From the second you open the first page of Louisiana’s Way Home, you are so clearly in the hands of a brilliant storyteller. DiCamillo simply plucks you off of the couch/bed/chair where you are curled up reading and drops you squarely in the middle of her world. That’s how vivid Louisiana’s Way Home is- that’s how magical each and every page.
Louisiana’s Way Home is a companion book to Raymie Nightingale. In it, we revisit one of the three girlfriends, Louisiana Elefante, of circus family fame. But our story begins not in Florida, and instead with Louisiana and her granny on the run - they have left Florida in the middle of the night and are driving straight up to Georgia, where they must stop when Granny suffers from a horrific tooth ache. And so it is that the pair winds up at a motel, and when Granny up and leaves again - this time without her granddaughter - Louisiana fears she is destined for only goodbyes. There is a curse on her head, after all. When Louisiana learns a painful secret, her past unravels before her eyes and she must decide what she wants — and who she wants to be.
“I want you to know something, Louisiana. We all, at some point, have to decide who we want to be in this world. It is a decision we make for ourselves. You are being forced to make this decision at an early age, but that does not mean that you cannot do it well and wisely.” Tears. Streaming down my cheeks. These characters, this voice. These decisions. Standing at a crossroads is tough- no matter the age. But when we reach this point, we have big choices to make. We have to decide if we want to forgive, and if so, how? We have to decide if we want to move forward, and if so, how? Most importantly, we have to strive to believe in love, compassion and generosity. Because without that steadfast belief, we may truly lose our way home. Louisiana’s Way Home is a beauty; perfectly paced, impeccably plotted, and the most compelling hero’s journey i’ve read in some time. I savored every word and every character, and I am already eagerly anticipating the third installment in this trio of books. TWO TRUNKS UP!
Want the book? Get it here! Louisiana’s Way Home, by Kate DiCamillo. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher, but all opinions contained herein are entirely our own.
“Own Voices.” It’s a prominent term in the children’s literature world right now. What is it, you ask? Own voices is a term coined to describe books written by authors that share a minority or marginalized trait with their main character. So in other words, these books aim to provide a more authentic perspective, then say, a white author writing about a Muslim main character, or an able-bodied author writing about a protagonist with a signifiant physical disability. When I learned about Ellie Terry’ Forget Me Not, an "own voices” novel in verse about a young girl struggling with Tourette’s Syndrome, I was immediately intrigued and couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.
Forget Me Not tells the story of Calliope “Callie” June, a seventh-grader with Tourette’s Syndrome who is constantly on the move with her mother, which means she is constantly having to start over at new schools. And what does that mean? It means Callie is constantly having to find ways to hide her embarrassing disorder that makes her so different than the rest of her classmates. When Callie arrives in a new town and makes friends with her neighbor, Callie finds something that resembles the smallest sliver of happiness. So what happens when Callie discovers that her mother might make her move, yet again, right as Callie is on the cusp of something special?
Forget Me Not is written in verse from Callie’s perspective and in prose from the perspective of Callie’s neighbor, Jinsong. Callie’s desire to be accepted among her peers is both honest and gut-wrenching as she struggles to understand her Tourette’s and hide it from those around her. But hiding it is impossible, and when her behaviors are on full display at school, the cruelty she experiences is heart breaking. Callie’s poetry is lyrical, deep and, at times, breathtaking. Add to this Jin’s story - one in which we feel his immediate affection for Callie, but watch as he struggles with own internal conflict: can he maintain his “cool” among his peers and still befriend the “weird girl”? Or will he risk social suicide by letting anyone realize how much he adores Callie? Their intertwined stories explore acceptance, connection and confidence, and the two share a heart-felt story you don’t want to miss.
Want the book? Get it here! Forget Me Not, by Ellie Terry. *This is an affiliate link.
Wow. WOW. It is not very often that I finish a book and want nothing more then to pick it right back up again, flip back to page 1, and read it cover to cover just one more time. But that’s exactly how I felt when I put down Harbor Me, a stunning new novel by Jacqueline Woodson. If I have said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Woodson is a gift to literature. Her words resonate deeply, and she possesses an extraordinary ability to tap into timely, almost desperate situations in a manner appropriate and gentle enough for young kids to grasp.
In Harbor Me, six children are taken to their school’s old art room and told it’s a place for them to have a weekly chat— without teachers, thus making it totally unmonitored. The six kids, from varying walks of life, are hesitant at first. They each have their stories, but is it safe? Can they open up to one another? The room becomes dubbed the ARTT room, an acronym for “a room to talk,” and soon enough, their stories begin. As their connections develop and their words bridge divides, the students realize that sharing their stories could be the very thing they needed to give them the strength to handle circumstances that once made them feel so desperately alone.
Harbor Me is stunning. At once both a coming of age story and an exploration of how America’s political and social challenges affect children daily, Woodson’s words ground us firmly in the ARTT room as the kids struggle to comprehend both their identities as individuals as well as their places in society. These children are America’s children. They are OUR children- children affected by the headlines pervasive in our country today including immigration, deportation, incarcerated parents, and the black lives matter movement. These children are in our homes and schools, and their confidence and self worth is being shaken regularly due to government regulations, racial profiling and harmful ignorance. Through Woodson’s evocative prose and magical storytelling, we watch the children become safe harbors for one another, their initial apprehension slowly turning into compassion, connection and perhaps most importantly, courage.
Want the book? Get it here! Harbor Me, by Jacqueline Woodson. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received an advanced review copy of this book, but all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own.
If you’re following us over on Instagram, you know we’ve been on a strong and mighty girls kick, and here’s one more awesome read for your shelves that gives us glimpses into our world’s many vibrant cultures. I adore this gorgeous, re-issued collection of folktales featuring heroic women around the globe. Not One Damsel in Distress: Heroic Girls from World Folklore, is collected and told by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Susan Guevara, and its one you don’t want to miss. This is a diverse collection of stories featuring smart, strong and savvy women that I cannot wait to share with my smart, strong and savvy little boys.
Did I say I want to share stories about female heroes with my BOYS? Heck yes, I did! Books featuring strong girls and female protagonists are not just “girl books.” It is crucial to share these books - both fiction and non-fiction - with our sons and male students. If we truly seek to change our country’s narrative for future generations, we must show our boys, starting at tender young ages, that reading about female heroes is just as necessary — and perhaps more importantly, just as FUN — as reading about male heroes.
Frankly, it is time to level the playing field. Given the current state of affairs in America, this is not just significant, but vital to the functioning of our democracy. Women’s voices are just as critical as their male counterparts, and we need our boys to recognize this from the time they are born. Raising a generation of compassionate, respectful men begins with those of us who nurture and teach them in our homes and in our schools. Reading to them — true stories about real women as well as fictional books with strong female protagonists - is such an effective way to make a difference in our communities, which in turn helps affect greater societal change. And such change is critical, because the current social structures and the gender inequality so frequently displayed in our communities, workplaces and government is simply unacceptable. As parents and educators, it is up to us to change it. So grab Not One Damsel in Distress, add it to your strong girl book collection, and talk it to up your girls AND boys. Let’s give our children opportunities to see that heroes come in all shapes, all sizes and all genders.
Want the book? Get it here! Not One Damsel in Distress: Heroic Girls from World Folklore, by Jane Yolen. *This is a affiliate link. HEE recived a review copy of this book, but all opinions expressed herein are expressly our own.
I have read so few middle grade books touching upon a parent with mental illness, yet it affects an astounding number of adults in the United States. The National Alliance on Mental Illness notes that 1 out of every 5 American adults experience mental illness in a given year. Of these, 1 in 100 American adults live with schizophrenia. What do these staggering statistics tell us then? Mental illness is not taboo. And the fact that there are so many adults afflicted means there are children struggling to make sense of a parent’s disease. How can we help these children feel less alone and more understood? One answer is to give them books in which they can see themselves and their stories.
Enter Where the Watermelons Grow, a powerful new middle grade novel by Cindy Baldwin. This beautiful book tells the story of Della Kelly, a tween girl whose mother suffers from schizophrenia. The book opens with Della’s mother digging seeds out of a watermelon in the middle of the night, talking to people only she can see, and Della at once knows her mother is being tugged back down a dangerous road that once landed her in the hospital for months. With her Dad distracted by trying to save the family farm and her mom spinning out of control, Della decides she is the only one that can heal her mama and save her family - and she refuses to let others in for help. Will Della be able to hold her family together as her mother’s symptoms worsen by the day?
I love Where the Watermelons Grow for so many reasons. First, its tackling of mental illness felt authentic at every step. It provided gut-wrenching, yet age appropriate details of schizophrenia, giving children a glimpse into this disease in a way that felt both informative for those who haven’t experienced it, and trustworthy for those who have. More importantly, though, I loved Della’s emotional journey and the way in which she matured during the story. Our protagonist went from keeping her mother’s secret buried deep down, not only for fear of what others would think of her family but because of her own fear that she somehow caused or contributed to the sickness. Yet as her mother worsened, Della matured enough to understand that not only was she in no way responsible for the illness, but allowing others to support her would give her the love and strength she needed to survive. Community can be healing, but sometimes, we shy away from that very notion because letting others in to our family secrets can be downright frightening. Della’s eventual acceptance of her mother’s schizophrenia - and the recognition that it is not a badge of shame upon her family- resonated deeply and reminds readers that all families struggle with challenges, but there are always people who will be there to help. We just have to let them in. A beautiful, tender and poignant novel.
For another, totally different yet wonderful read about a child struggling with a parent’s mental illness, check out our review of The Secret of Nightingale Wood, by Lucy Strange.
Want the book? Get it here: Where the Watermelons Grow, by Cindy Baldwin. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher, but all opinions contained herein are expressly our own.
Oh my goodness. This book. These characters. Refugee by Alan Gratz is middle grade literature at its finest, and once again, my mind is blown by the quality and richness of the stories that are available to our children. Kid lit has come such a long way since I was little, and I love it so much! I’d heard huge accolades about Refugee, and I’m always a bit nervous to read something when my expectations are set so high. But this book didn't let me down. To the contrary, Refugee exceeded my expectations. Simply put: it was absolutely phenomenal.
Refugee tells three seemingly separate stories that all merge in beautiful ways at the end. Josef is a young Jewish boy living in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. With the horrific threat of concentration camps on the near horizon, he boards the St. Louis with his family, seeking refuge on the other side of the world. Isabel is a Cuban girl, and her story is set in 1994 as riots and unrest plague her community and her country. She and her family set out on a scrappy raft for Miami, hoping for freedom and safety. Mahmoud is a Syrian boy in 2015. When a bomb strikes his home and his entire world is torn apart by violence, he and his family begin a harrowing journey to Europe. All three kids are driven from their homes due to extreme danger, and all embark on unimaginable voyages towards refuge and freedom.
I cannot get over this book. The characterization was stellar. The settings were vivid and authentic, and though the stories shared many similarities, the uniqueness of each journey was made evident through the authors meticulously researched details. The pacing was terrific, the pages begged to be read, and the suspense left me with my heart in my throat. This is a must read -- for learning about world history, for providing windows into the harrowing experiences so many children face on a regular basis, and for recognizing that, despite our differences, we all long for the same things: safety, security, and a welcoming homeland in which to establish our roots. Two trunks up.
Want the book? Get it here! Refugee, by Alan Gratz. *This is an affiliate link.
The American Dream. People come from all corners of the globe seeking it: freedom, opportunity, justice. Because this is America, right? America -- land of the free, home of the brave. But unfortunately, life in America doesn’t ensure a hardworking family will obtain the proverbial golden ticket. To the contrary, life as in immigrant here can be downright tough, leaving families on edge as they struggle to make money, live in safe homes, and put food on the table for their families. Enter Kelly Yang’s Front Desk, a gut wrenching yet achingly poignant story about a young girl who immigrates with her parents to America from China.
Front Desk is the story of Mia Tang who, together with her parents, arrives in America in search of the American Dream. But their hard work and determination doesn’t mean life will be easy, and when Mia’s family finds themselves operating a motel for a cruel and exploitative owner, life is anything but what they had imagined. Mia runs the front desk at the motel, and the tougher her days are, the more she longs for a better and easier life. With the help of a new friend, the motel’s “weeklies,” her devoted parents, and a lucky pencil, Mia may be able to find that she can achieve her own American dreams with a hefty amount of perseverance and a whole lot of heart.
Front Desk was absolutely fantastic! I read it while the boys were at a play date for several hours, and I COULD NOT put it down. Yang’s story, a window for some but a mirror for so many more, is a welcome addition to our tween shelves. The story interweaves some of Yang’s own childhood experiences, and it seamlessly tackles themes of bullying, poverty, assault and racism with compassion and authenticity, all the while being age appropriate for young readers. Front Desk beautifully conveys to readers the power of hope and steadfast determination, and it illuminates one child's struggle to live with grace and integrity in the harsh face of adversity. Front Desk is a thought provoking, beautifully written novel that I cannot wait to get into my students’ hands this Fall. Two trunks up!!
IF YOU LOVE NOVELS FOR TWEENS, YOU MUST CHECK OUT THESE POSTS TOO!
Want the book? Get it here! Front Desk, by Kelly Yang. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received an advanced copy of Front Desk, but all opinions contained herein are expressly our own.
Wow. WOW. My gosh, was this book fantastic! Amal Unbound was an emotional, powerful story, one I read so quickly because I simply could not put it down. Set in a poor Pakistani village with themes of social hierarchy, education, and indentured servitude, this was a searing "window" book that opened my eyes to the tragic circumstances and sacrifices that children in some communities must experience to save their families from ruin.
Amal Unbound, elegantly written by Aisha Saeed, is the story of Amal, a bookish, smart girl with dreams of becoming a teacher. But one day at the market, Amal mouths off to the wrong man: Jawad, son of her village’s wealthy landlord. In order to pay off the debt for her insulting behavior, Amal is forced into indentured servitude with his family, leaving her own family behind. At the landlord’s pretentious home, Amal sees firsthand the dangers of illiteracy and gender inequality, and she begins sneaking books from the library and teaching others to read. When Amal is sent by the family to be a patron at the village's new literacy center, she recognizes that her education has given her a powerful hand- the ability to take a critical stance against corruption.
A poignant exploration of unjust power structures and the extreme consequences families must endure to repay debts for “poor” behavior, Amal Unbound will be an eye opener for so many students. It is an important testament to the power of education and the way words can change worlds and correct damaging social injustice and corruption. Knowledge is power, and literacy, in this story, truly becomes Amal’s key to freedom. This is an important read for all upper elementary and middle school students students -- a story of literacy, resistance and, ultimately, sweet sweet justice. Amal Unbound is hands down one of my favorite middle grade novels of 2018 so far. Two trunks up!
Want the book? Get it here! Amal Unbound, by Aisha Saeed. *This is an affiliate link. Happily Ever Elephants received an advanced review copy of this book, but all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own.
Some children have moral compasses so strong, you wonder if it is an innate part of their nature or whether their parents instilled in them this fundamental respect for fairness and justice. It never ceases to amaze me how even young people can experience overwhelming desires to solve some of society’s significant challenges. Perhaps that’s the reason why I loved Every Shiny Thing, the new beautiful middle grade novel by Cordelia Jensen and Laurie Morrison. Or perhaps it was the more complicated notion of what happens when these desires to “correct” come at the expense of your own better judgment. Either way, one thing is certain: Every Shiny Thing is a beautiful and intriguing new middle grade novel that I can’t wait to get on the shelf in our library.
Every Shiny Thing is the story of two unlikely friends, Lauren and Sierra, whose worlds collide when Sierra is sent to live with foster parents who happen to be Lauren’s neighbors. Lauren is grappling with her parents decision to send her autistic brother to a fancy boarding school out of town, and Sierra is struggling with being apart from her alcoholic mother. Both girls are lost- until they find each other. But when Lauren enlists Sierra in her plan to raise money to help less fortunate autistic children get the therapeutic services they require, her plan takes a turn towards the illegal— and their friendship takes a downturn too. Will Lauren’s desire for justice cost the girls their new bond?
Told both in powerful verse and authentic prose, Every Shiny Thing is a compelling look at privilege, a flawed health care system and the lengths we go to to please new friends. I love the unique lens through which Lauren views this injustice - children who require interventional services like occupational and physical therapy but do not have the funds to cover the recommended treatment. It’s a thought provoking and very real problem, and her struggle is understandable. Morrison handles Lauren's exploration authentically and with a light touch, especially when her excellent intentions quickly go bad. Similarly, Jensen tells Sierra's story through first person verse which simply sings, and her battle is also a familiar one for so many kids: straddling the fine line between pleasing a new friend or enlisting help when that same friend's behavior is out of control. A beautiful story tackling important issues, Every Shiny Thing gets two trunks up! You know it's a good one when you can't stop thinking about it weeks after you've finished the book.
Want the book? Get it here! Every Shiny Thing, by Laurie Morrison and Cordelia Jensen. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received a review copy of this book, but all opinions contained herein are expressly our own.
Do you have an advanced second grade reader at home or in your classroom? This is the book for you!
Wishtree, the latest novel by Katherine Applegate, got a lot of hype. A LOT. And I’m always hesitant to pick up books like this because I pick them up with extremely high expectations. But this one- with its quiet, piercing beauty- absolutely blew me away. Wishtree lived up to the hype and then some, and I continuously find myself trying to get it into as many hands as I possibly can.
"Trees can't tell jokes, but they can certainly tell stories..." And so it is with Red, a majestic oak tree that is nearly two hundred and sixteen "rings" old, harboring secrets and stories that have been nearly forgotten by the people in the community in which it lives. Red is a wishtree who watches over the neighborhood, keeping mostly to himself. When a Muslim family moves onto the street, however, Red witnesses firsthand that all neighbors aren't so welcoming, and even children are forced to undergo hateful messages. It is then that Red realizes his status as a wishtree is more important than ever, and it might be just the time to break with tradition and intervene.
Descriptive language? Check. Incredible characterization? Check. Depth? Check. Real world issues? Check. Sensitive for even younger readers? Check. My goodness, how I love this book. Applegate writes with such a light, unadorned touch, yet her words move deeply and speak volumes. She tackles tough, mature topics in an accessible, easy to understand manner, allowing even young readers to grasp the enormity and import of these issues. I am so frequently asked for great books for advanced second graders, and I finally found a modern, perfect one. Wishtree is an absolute beauty. It is a timeless story that soars, with words that stir your soul. It is a treasure, and it will undoubtedly be devoured and loved by children and adults for generations to come.
Want the book? Get it here: Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate. *This is an affiliate link.
I've always particularly loved window books. There's just so much to be learned by reading about a person so different from you, or a time period so removed from the one in which you live. From challenges faced to experiences had, the world seems to open at your fingertips, giving you glimpses into lives so opposite from your own. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I loved Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, by Dusti Bowling, a middle grade novel written about a girl with no arms.
Aven Green, the story's protagonist, is a spunky girl who loves to make up stories about how she lost her arms. But the truth is, she was simply born without them. And her adoptive parents wouldn't let her sit by and mourn a life of things she couldn't do. Instead, they made her work for everything she wanted -- she opens her own backpack and plays the guitar and eats her own food -- all with her feet. But life with no arms is not easy. Especially when you suddenly find yourself moving to a new state, starting a new school, and friendless. But when Aven meets Connor, a boy at her school struggling with Tourette's Syndrome, a new world opens up for both kids, and they not only learn how to help each other, but they learn a ton about themselves, too.
If your kids or students loved Wonder, this is a fabulous "read-a-like" that upper elementary children will devour. Equal parts humorous and emotional, with even some mystery thrown in for good measure, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus was a quick read that truly gave me much to ponder about my advantages as a fully able bodied woman. It is a book that will build bridges and empathy, taking the stigma away from "others" who may be different in certain respects, but who have the same yearnings for friendship and connection as everyone else. A beauty, and one I cannot wait to get into my students hands. Two trunks up!
Want the book? Get it here! Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, by Dusti Bowling.
Here’s another one of our favorite books about strong girls for your kiddos. We adore this one about a very favorite author of ours here at Happily Ever Elephants!
Another one to add to our collection of books about strong girls! Picture book biographies are flooding our shelves these days, and each one seems to be better than the next. The women and men I have learned about from these books are both inspiring and courageous, and their legacies - their stories of hope and determination and perseverance -- are ones I love to share with my boys and students. But the one I've been most excited about recently is Alabama Spitfire: The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird, written by Bethany Hegedus and illustrated by Erin McGuire. Because, of course, as cliche as it may sound, To Kill a Mockingbird is my all time favorite book (yes, I still have my original version from 9th grade). And this new biography hit a perfect note - here’s to amazing books about strong girls.
Alabama Spitfire tells the story of Harper Lee, born Nelle Harper Lee, on April 28, 1926 in segregated Monroeville, Alabama. An overall-wearing, tree-climbing tomboy, Nelle would spend afternoons at the courthouse watching her father, an attorney, fight for justice. From him, she learned to fight for what was fair and always took up for the underdog, including her good friend Truman Capote (yes, that Truman Capote!) Nelle and Tru both loved books, and with him, she began to embrace her love for words. What follows is Nelle's evolution from feisty child to famous writer: her move to New York City, her dream of becoming an author, and the events that inspired her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, one of the seminal books of the twentieth century.
Alabama Spitfire is such a phenomenal picture book to pair with any child holding To Kill a Mockingbird in their hands for the first time. It is also a wonderful story of being true to yourself and following your dreams. With famous quotes from To Kill A Mockingbird woven throughout the text, this gem of a book is a testament to the power of words and an ode to the writer whose story become a classic in American literature. Two trunks up!
Looking for more amazing books about strong girls? Check these out!
Want the link? Get it here! Alabama Spitfire: The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird, by Bethany Hegedus. HEE received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher. However, all opinions contained herein are entirely our own.
Oh, you guys! I absolutely LOVED LOVED LOVED this book! The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Rebecca Strange was one of the best chapter books I’ve read in a long time. I found myself thinking about the novel while I was at school and while I was driving and during all of those times that I was so busy parenting yet all I wanted was to climb into my bed to get back to Henrietta and her story. It is absolutely no wonder that this was one of Amazon editors' top chapter book picks of 2017. In short - it was fabulous.
In The Secret of Nightingale Wood, Henrietta (AKA "Henry") and her family have just begun to settle into their new home at Hope House, but shortly after they arrive her father must leave and go abroad. To make matters worse, her beloved brother, Robert, has recently died, her mother is suffering from a debilitating mental illness, and their devoted Nanny Jane is doing everything the doctors tell her to take care of Mama, even if it means keeping Mama locked in a room and giving her medicine that keeps her sedated. Henry is distraught - but when she wanders into the adjacent Nightingale Wood one evening, she may just meet something -- or someone -- who will help her find the courage to change the lives of those she holds closest to her heart.
Considering the current state of our country and the battle raging around mental illness, The Secret of Nightingale Wood was an especially fascinating read when considering how such illness was treated and viewed in the early 1900s. I was captivated by Henry's insight and maturity, as well as her recognition that the doctors treating her mother were getting it all wrong. Even more haunting was Henry's own emotional state, and her constant agonizing over whether she, too, was actually going crazy -- or just looked upon as such. What a beautiful story this was -- I can't stress it enough. The characters are nuanced and real, their struggles are relatable, and the setting feels just ghostly enough to make its almost tangible beauty both mysterious and intriguing. A must read for your upper elementary kids and students. I could not put it down!
Want the book? Get it here! The Secret of Nightingale Wood, by Lucy Strange. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received an advanced review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions contained herein are expressly our own.
We are so excited for the second post in our new blog series here at Happily Ever Elephants - cover reveals! What is a cover reveal, you ask? Cover reveals happen several months before a new book hits the shelves, and they provide a wonderful avenue for authors and illustrators to share a sneak peak at their upcoming release(s) with their audience. The front cover of a book is, for all intents and purposes, the first page of the story. It communicates to the audience a bit about the pages inside, and it must be compelling enough to draw a reader's attention. From the cover alone, readers often get a sense of the story's genre, tone and writing style. A cover often makes a strong emotional appeal to the reader, thus getting the reader excited about the book pending release. Need I say more?
For our second cover reveal here at Happily Ever Elephants, we are absolutely thrilled to introduce you to Suzanne LaFleur. I fell in love with Suzanne's writing when I read Love, Aubrey while I was studying writing for children and young adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I even wrote a critical essay on that book at the time (it was that good!!). Last year, I devoured her novel Beautiful Blue World (see our review HERE), which has become one of my all time favorite middle grade reads. I adored the sequel, Threads of Blue, just as much. I loved it so much, in fact, that my fourth and fifth grade student book club at school has just begun reading this series. Thus, when Suzanne reached out to ask if I would like to do a cover reveal for her new middle grade book, I was elated. Here is the summary for her new book, Counting to Perfect.
Counting to Perfect, by Suzanne LaFleur
From the author of Eight Keys comes a loving story of sisters who are trying to find their way back to each other.
Julia used to be the perfect big sister: she played great games and took good care of Cassie. Now life at home revolves around Julia and her daughter, Addie. No one pays much attention to Cassie: not to her competitive swim meets, and not to what's gone wrong with her friends.
When Julia confides in Cassie that she'll be leaving with Addie--without telling their parents--Cassie jumps in the car, too. As the days of lumberjack breakfasts and hotel pools start to add up, Cassie has to wonder: Could the sister who seems to be the source of all her problems also be the friend she's missed the most?
Without further ado, here is Suzanne, in her own words, with a bit about Counting to Perfect:
IN HER OWN WORDS:
I think readers who enjoy the relationships in my books will feel right at home in Counting to Perfect. I've devoted more pages than ever before to the experience of being sisters. The scenes with both Cassie and her sister Julia were my favorites to write. I love how the girls love each other and can be laughing even when they are fighting. I love how they talk to each other, how they banter and argue. I love how they have to discover who they are, with and without reference to each other.
And now, Happily Ever Elephants is proud to present the cover for Counting to Perfect:
Isn't it beautiful? This cover is a story in and of itself, and I cannot wait to get my hands on this book!
Ready for some more fun with Suzanne? Check out our speed interview!
UNDER THE COVER: Speed Interview!
1. As a kid: books or basketball? Books!! I read for hours every day...I was also a swimmer, but there was always a book in my swim bag, to read on the ride, on deck, between heats...
2. In college: study or soiree? Study
3. To start your day: coffee or tea? Coffee--but make that an espresso--iced--with almond milk--and vanilla--and something sweet. I'll have another in the afternoon, thanks!
4. In your car: top 40 or podcast? I live in NYC and take the subway, which means I have hands and eyes free to read books. So on the go I'm reading or thinking about what I'm writing. At home I have an audio book on around the clock (except for when writing)--so when cooking, cleaning, coloring, playing video games, and even when I'm sleeping. In the morning I set it back to the last thing I remember.
5. Writing schedule: 9-5 or whenever it fits in? No schedule--but not because I'm trying to fit it in. Because every hour or two of writing takes at least eight hours of thinking. I never sit at a blank page or computer without already knowing what I'm going to write. I carry the scenes around, roll the words in my head until they settle. I listen to the narrator say the same thing over and over. When a scene seems ready, I'll sit to record it. I usually do this in the morning, at a coffee shop, though sometimes I work better in the afternoon, so it varies. I put in longer hours when revising under deadline.
6. What came first: character or setting? Always character. The character explains the setting to me as needed.
7. First draft: sloppy or sleek? A sloppy arrangement of sleek scenes.
8. Writing reward: vino or vanilla? A raspberry tart from Le Pain Quotidien. I love both raspberries and pastry cream so that dessert is heaven.
9. On your nightstand: Newbery or Pulitzer? Newbery. I read one book for adults to every dozen for children.