Do you love Philip Stead as much as we do? If you adore A SICK DAY FOR AMOS MCGEE, A HOME FOR BIRD, and SAMSON IN THE SNOW, you absolutely must check out MUSIC FOR MISTER MOON, his latest and greatest!Read More
It is challenging to find children’s books about refugees or the immigration experience that are authentic and not didactic. But Lubna and Pebble, a new picture book about friendship and refugees, stuns, shines and shatters everything you think you know about this genre of books.Read More
We adore picture books about friendship here at Happily Ever Elephants, and BIKES FOR SALE is fabulously fun, quirky and perfect! If you love reading about adorable characters and chance encounters, this book is a must!Read More
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.
I love kids books about kindness that simultaneously show children how acts of generosity can impact a person so profoundly. Thank You, Omu! Is a new favorite children’s book that handles this topic exquisitely. Check it out!Read More
There’s something about Those Shoes, written by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Noah Z. Jones, that calls to me every November. And so each year, the week before Thanksgiving hits, this is the book I pull out to read to every single one of my elementary school classes. And each time, without fail, when my students see me pull the book out from behind me, they clap and cheer. Those Shoes is beloved by our school, and it fills me with such joy to see student reactions to this story.
Jeremy wants nothing more than the same pair of shoes that the rest of the kids at school wear. But, according to his grandma, Jeremy’s “wants” are not nearly as important as his “needs.” When his shoes fall apart at school, Jeremy is both ashamed and embarrassed that he has to wear babyish sneakers given to him by the school guidance counselor. So when his grandma takes him to the thrift stores, Jeremy is in heaven when he finds a pair of THOSE SHOES- and he buys them with his own money even though they are too small and destroy his feet. Leave it to grandma, though, to sneak a new pair of warm snow boots into Jeremy’s closet. What happens when Jeremy’s friend, Antonio, the only boy who didn’t laugh at Jeremy’s babyish shoes, comes to school with taped up sneakers, and his feet are noticeably smaller than Jeremy’s?
Those Shoes is an honest and poignant story. Before I begin reading this with students, I always start with a discussion of the differences between wants and needs- it provides such an amazing entryway into the book. After we read, the maturity and depth of conversation usually skyrockets. Why? Because the book so beautifully conveys that the things Jeremy has - family, new snow boots to protect his feet, and the opportunity to help someone in distress - truly are more valuable than holding on to something he wants because it’s “cool.” Often times, the things we so desperately “want” don’t bring us nearly as much fulfillment as the things we need. You can practically see the wheels spinning in the kids’ heads after they read this book! Those Shoes offers a perfect segue into a discussion of gratitude and the countless things we have to be thankful for. It also reminds us that there are so many ways we can help others less fortunate during the holiday season and all year round.
Want to #gettrunky* with it? Here’s an easy and quick idea. If you are an educator, use the Padlet app (it’s free!) and create a Gratitude Wall. I used a simple prompt- “what is one thing you are thankful for and why?” I made sure to limit student responses so they would have to think more deeply - thus, they were not allowed to answer with “family,” “friends” or “food.” Using their school devices, the students could write, draw, photograph or video their responses. The result? A beautiful, interactive bulletin board, showcasing the things our students value most, from backpacks (because they hold tools used to create!) to names of teachers (because they teach us and help us learn every single day), to the ability to dance (because dancing is a way to express myself). The results will both astonish and surprise you.
*What on earth does it mean to #gettrunky? Click here to find out!
Want the book? Get it here! Those Shoes, by by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Noah Z. Jones. *This is an affiliate link.
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.
Oh man! I am always look for the very best books for beginning readers, and this one is just hilarious! For a fun book thats easy to read and sure to elicit laughs, Snail and Worm is a must! It’s also a part of our list of easy chapter books. This one is a double whammy!Read More
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.
The Invisible Boy is one of the most phenomenal picture books about friendship, the power of kindness, and the significance of making sure no one child is ever made to feel invisible. Check it out!Read More
Friendship is a journey, complete with laughter and tears and make believe and making up. We've all been there, and our children will experience this sometimes challenging but always rewarding journey too. Molly and Mae: A Friendship Journey, is a beautiful new book by Danny Parker with gorgeous illustrations by Freya Blackwood. The story is a lovely testament to friendship and all of its ups and downs, and it has quickly become a go-to read in our stack.
In Molly and Mae, two little girls meet on the platform of a train station. They connect instantly, playing hide and seek and other games as they await the train with their families. Upon boarding, however, their games turn into conflict, and the two girls turn away from each other. Will they be able to restart their relationship and enjoy the rest of the ride together?
I remember those trying days of childhood, when one minute a trusted companion had me squealing with glee and the next found me sobbing into my mother's lap because so-and-so said she would never be my friend again. I wish I had Molly & Mae then. I love the manner in which Parker and Blackwood use the train's journey as an extended metaphor of the ups and downs and starts and stops inherent in the journey of friendship. It was a perfect - if not masterful - comparison, and I love how the train signage truly grounds the reader into every scene of the story. Blackwood has fast become a favorite illustrator of mine, and her soft illustrations add tremendous significance to Parker’s spare text. Such a beauty!
Want the book? Get it here! Molly & Mae: A Friendship Journey, by Danny Parker. HEE received an advanced review copy of the book, but all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own.
Every once in a while you pick up a new book and the first time you read it through, the combination of words and pictures speak to you so deeply, it just makes you breathe in and say "Yes. This." This is exactly what happened to me the first time I read On the Night of the Shooting Star, written by Amy Hest and illustrated by Jenni Desmond. I can't pinpoint why I loved it so much, but the manner in which this story tackles the contradictory feelings of loneliness and connection was so emotionally resonant and a story I think any and every child will be able to relate to and connect with as well.
In On the Night of the Shooting Star, Dog and Bunny reside on opposite sides of a fence, living virtually parallel lives. They see each other every day, but the two never talk or even acknowledge one another. They care though, as evidenced by wistful glances onto the other's property to check and see what may be happening on the other side of the fence. Seasons come and go, but one evening, as both are outside gazing into the night sky over their homes, the two witness a shooting star. And that miraculous site may just be the thing to help bring these animals together.
It doesn't matter how "popular" or well-liked you think your child is. Everyone struggles with feelings of loneliness, and everyone has looked across a fence-- or a classroom or a quad or a playground-- and felt a pang of sadness when they realize there's one person-- or even a group of people- they would love to connect with. But it seems awfully challenging, right? Reaching out isn't easy. In fact, it can be downright hard. The rewards though? Tremendous. Use On the Night of the Shooting Star to remind little ones that these feelings of solitude are universal-- but we can't overcome them until we make an effort and force ourselves just a little out of our comfort zone. Sometimes, even the tiniest step is all it takes. Absolutely love this one.
Want the book? Get it here! On the Night of the Shooting Star, by Amy Hest. HEE received an advanced review copy of this book, but all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own.
Accepting imperfection is not an easy task for many adults, much less many children. Flexibility, too, is something that so many of us struggle with. Learning to let go, to embrace the flaws and blemishes that inevitability mar our daily lives, can be a fearful journey, one that must come from deep within ourselves before we can learn to appreciate the sweet in the seemingly sour. Perhaps this is the reason why we so love Grandmother Thorn, the beautiful debut picture book by Katey Howes, with gorgeous, multimedia illustrations by Rebecca Hahn.
The titular character, Grandmother Thorn, treasures her beautiful garden- it is pristine and perfect, with not a twig out of place. But when an unwanted plant begins to sprout without her permission, Grandmother Thorn begins to break down. With the help of a dear friend and the passage of time, Grandmother Thorn may just learn that some things in life are beyond anyone's control- and that life's greatest disappointments can also give rise to the greatest gifts.
What a gem this book is. Grandmother Thorn powerfully conveys the message that beauty can be found where we least expect it-- or want it-- when we learn to let go of our stubborn ways. The story reads as if it's a time-tested classic or an age-old folk tale, with rich characters, lush prose and not a word out of place. This is an especially fabulous story for upper elementary and middle school students- sparking important discussions on the meaning of perfection, friendship and embracing fear. A gorgeous debut -- two trunks up!
Want the book? Get it here! Grandmother Thorn, by Katey Howes. *This is an affiliate link.
Having grown up myself on a 141st Street in South Florida, I about died when I first glimpsed the beautiful cover of this book, making its way from Instagram blogger to Instagram blogger so many months ago. I immediately requested a copy, and I was delighted I did. We've all heard the age-old phrase, "home is where the heart is," right? Well, Karina Yan Glaser's new book, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, is the epitome of that saying.
The Vanderbeeker family has lived in a Harlem brownstone on 141st Street forever, so when their reclusive landlord tells them they have just days to move out as their lease will not be renewed, the siblings take matters into their own hands. The five Vanderbeeker kids act quickly, coming up with one crazy antic after another - they will stop at nothing to convince their landlord just how special their family is and why they need to remain in their home. Will they be forced to leave nonetheless? You have to read it to find out!
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street has an old fashioned, throwback feel, even though it is set in the modern day. The Vanderbeeker siblings are so full of heart, and the book harkens back to simpler times when family, relationships and good old pluck trumped gadgets, electronics and cell phones. Two things struck me the most here- the manner in which the siblings worked so creatively as a team - using nothing but their hearts and minds- to save the home they love so dearly, and (2) the relationships these siblings had with each other, their parents, and even more importantly, their community. Glaser beautifully depicts - if not nails- the community aspect of her book. Harlem comes alive, as do it's inhabitants, with the neighborhood becoming as much a force in the story as the characters -- including the Brownstone itself. Heartwarming and fun, this will be devoured by elementary students and I can't wait to get it into our library!
Want the book? Get it here! The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, by Karina Yan Glaser. HEE received an advanced review copy of this book from the publisher, but all opinions contained herein are expressly are our own.
Attention, little explorers! Whether your kiddos are fans of outer space or the deep dark sea, one thing is certain: they will adore Hannah Barnaby's newest picture book, Garcia & Colette Go Exploring. With adorable illustrations by Andrew Joyner, this book hits all the right notes, highlighting themes all of our kids love including adventure and, most importantly, friendship.
In Garcia & Colette Go Exploring, the two title characters are having quite the disagreement. Garcia the bunny think space is the coolest, but Colette the fox thinks the sea is where it's at. In order to determine whether space or sea will come out on top, the two decide they must go exploring... alone. Garcia builds a rocket and Collette builds a submarine, and the two embark on their own fantastic adventures to prove to the other that their chosen location is the best. But as they travel, both discover that winning may not be the best answer- especially if it comes at the expense of friendship.
Garcia & Colette Go Exploring is just the sweetest, with illustrations that can't help but bring a smile to your face. I love the parallel structure in which the book is written as it so perfectly emphasizes the differences in each character's journey but also conveys the loneliness each feels without the other. But more importantly, I adore what happens when Garcia and Colette are reunited. Rather than lie and boast about their adventures, they practice honesty and are not ashamed to admit the shortfalls of their respective journeys. It can be quite challenging for our little ones to refrain from "one upping" their friends, but Garcia & Colette Go Exploring handles what could be a sticky situation just perfectly. Even better? The compromise the characters come to at the end of the book.. and the recognition that a friend at your side makes every journey (even one that wasn't your first choice) that much better. Two enthusiastic trunks up!
Want the book? Get it here! Garcia & Colette Go Exploring, by Hannah Barnaby. *This is an affiliate link.
Who am I? Where did I come from? When does childhood end and the next phase begin? These are just some of the perplexing questions our children grapple with from the time they are young-- but in all honesty, do these questions ever really go away? Do we ever stop wondering who we are, and when and how the next chapter of our lives will unfold?
These are the issues the protagonist in Laurel Snyder's startlingly beautiful new novel, Orphan Island, ponders throughout the story. Young Jinny is one of nine children -- orphans, to be exact-- living on a mysterious, idyllic island. Don't be fooled, though. While all seems perfect in paradise, there is one day of the year when a strange green boat glides to the shore to drop off a new child... and take the oldest one away. When Jinny's best friend Deen is taken at this "Changing," Jinny suddenly becomes the group's "elder" and must care for the new arrival. Jinny knows her responsibilities as the oldest kid on the island, but will she abide by the "rules" as she counts down to the inevitable arrival of the green boat to take her away, or will she buck tradition and mess up the island's peace in the process?
Orphan Island is a meditation on growing up -- on what happens when we ask tough questions and realize we may never get answers. It is thoughtful, wise and, perhaps more importantly, unwavering in its honesty. Jinny is a narrator we root for- but one who is also, at times, a bit unlikable. Yet even as we may disapprove of certain actions she takes or choices she makes, we never cease to understand her motivations. Smack dab in the middle of that awkward transition between childhood and adolescence, Jinny is undoubtedly flawed. Her flaws, though, make her story all the more compelling. She is the reason you will fall into Orphan Island and not be able to put it down. Her internal dissonance - fear of losing the island's stability while simultaneously yearning for something beyond its stagnancy - will strike a chord and resonate with your children who will relate to her innermost thoughts and longings. Orphan Island is contemplative, lyrical, and a brilliant study in character. A must read for your tweens.
Want the book? Get it here! Orphan Island, by Laurel Snyder. *This is an affiliate link. We received a copy of this book from the publisher, but all opinions are our own.
If you love quiet, gentle stories that will tug just a little at your heart strings and stay with you long after the final page is closed, you must check out Pandora, written and illustrated by Victoria Turnbull. If you love The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc, this tender story will capture your heart in much the same way.
Pandora is a fox who lives alone in a world of broken things, carefully repairing what she can and breathing life into the lifeless. Though she has a home, made with care out of the things people have left behind, no one ever comes to visit her. But then one day, a wounded bird falls from the sky with a broken wing. Pandora helps the bird grow stronger and stronger-- but what happens when the bird is strong enough to fly away on its own?
The beauty of Pandora is it's subtlety in speaking to the need for connection sparking so brightly within each of us. Her story is a journey of things lost and found, hearts broken and mended, hope diminished and renewed. The wonderfully complex art is a perfect match for Turnbull's spare prose. Though muted to start- likely to reflect Pandora's isolation in a land replete with broken material goods- the illustrations fill with increasing brightness as the story progresses, highlighting the impact that love and kinship can have on our lives. A meditative story on the power of connection to heal our loneliest days, Pandora is a story to treasure and pull out on days when your children need to be reminded of the power of love.
Want the book? Get it here! Pandora, by Victoria Turnbull. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received a copy of this book from the publisher; however, all opinions expressed herein are our own.
One smile. One smile can break boundaries and illuminate the darkness of the unknown. In no uncertain terms, one smile -- one tiny, simple smile -- can be life changing. Sometimes we forget how easy it is, in the midst of too much yelling or too many other deafening noises, to smile at someone who needs it. But this one simple action can move mountains, and it is so important to remember that for so many people, a smile may be all it takes to carry them through a day.
One of my insta pals (but I can't remember WHO! please remind me!) recommended My Two Blankets, by Irena Kobald, with illustrations by Freya Blackwood. In this gorgeous story, a girl called Cartwheel moves to a new country with her auntie, and in her new surroundings, everything is strange. Only a metaphorical blanket brings her comfort, until the day that she meets a new girl and the two embark on a friendship that begins with a smile. Soon Carthweel's friend is teaching her new words and helping her acclimate to her new world. And as Cartwheel becomes more and more comfortable, she begins to weave a new blanket, one that grows warmer and more comfortable every day.
My Two Blankets is beautiful and touching, and it sheds a much-needed light on the refugee experience as well as what it means to be a stranger in a strange land. As a parent, there is nothing I want more than to instill in my boys the importance of being global citizens, citizens who celebrate diversity and welcome the opportunity to learn from those of different backgrounds. It is so easy to fear "other," but this heartfelt and touching story reminds us that "other" is something we can so easily embrace if we simply open our hearts and minds. It can start with a smile. A hello. The extension of a hand. And sometimes, that's all it takes to change a life. My Two Blankets is a must read multicultural friendship story, especially in today's times. A beautiful, moving story that gets two huge trunks up.
Want the book? Get it here! My Two Blankets, by Irena Kobald. *This is an affiliate link.