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
If you have been following us for a while, you know there is nothing I love to read more than a book that celebrates books — and if it also happens to be an amazing book about strong girls, even better! Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpre, is one of those books!Read More
There is nothing more exciting to a self-proclaimed book nerd than a “meta” picture book that plays with form and storytelling in a truly unique way. What is "meta" fiction, you ask? A book described as “meta” is one that bends the traditional rules of storytelling, thus presenting the reader with something unique, surprising and even challenging. And so it is with the latest story by the brilliant Jon Agee, The Wall in the Middle of the Book. Folks, Agee hits a total SLAM DUNK with this one. I’ve read it a good twenty times since I’ve gotten it, and each time I read it, I find myself writing down another terrific discussion point.
In The Wall in the Middle of The Book, there is literally just that- 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 help, the one who comes to his rescue may be a whole lot different than the knight anticipated… and the other side of the wall may possess a lot more fun than fright.
There is a heck of a lot of power packed into these pages. The interplay between the text and the illustrations is something Agee handles masterfully (he employs this same technique brilliantly in Life on Mars, one of his previous books that is still a hit in our home - check out our review HERE!). There is so much discussion to be sparked from Agee’s genius story. Most importantly, though, is the simple, underlying message The Wall in the Middle of the Book coneys: there is tremendous danger in preconceived notions. Why? Because most of the time, they are not just wrong but extraordinarily harmful! Preconceived notions become dangerous both in our classrooms and in our society, and it becomes exceedingly difficult to scale the walls we build when we are simply too frightened to address the differences we see on the other side. Whether talking to young children about exactly what they see on these pages or older kids about the symbolic nature of this book as it pertains to xenophobia and so many other issues currently plaguing our country, The Wall in the Middle of the Book speaks volumes and can be utilized with readers young and old. This is a stand out work by Agee, and a definite favorite of 2018!
Want the book? Get it here! The Wall in the Middle of the Book, by Jon Agee. HEE received an advanced review copy of this book, but all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own.
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.
So many of us have stood in that uncomfortable spot, right there in the doorway about to enter a room where the blanket of faces staring back at you look wholly different from your own. It's one of those feelings that is bound to make your stomach hurt or your eyes sting - especially when you're only a child. At that moment, all we see are the differences in those people: different skin colors and eye shapes, different clothing -- even different accents when they begin to speak. What we forget during these challenging situations, however, and what we need to remind our kids, is that underneath these different exteriors lie a multitude of similarities.
This is the beauty of Jacqueline Woodson's newest picture book, The Day You Begin, stunningly illustrated by Rafael Lopez (you may remember him from one of my favorite books, Maybe Something Beautiful). The Day You Begin tells the story of a young girl who walks into a new classroom and finds no one like her. But then she sits down, her classmates begin talking, and as their words fill the air, shared sentiments become bridges to building connection.
The Day You Begin reads like music, with rich melodies that rouse your senses and settle softly upon your heart. Woodson's words, as is typical for her, are a song to celebrate. She reassures us that, when we are brave enough, we can all find connections with one another. When we muster up courage and extend our hands and voices, we will find possibility where it first seemed like none existed. The Day You Begin conveys wisdom, hope and heart, on vibrant, collaged pages that are a perfect accompaniment to the exquisite text. This is a book to treasure, reminding both children and adults that there is so much beauty to be found when we embrace who we are and find the strength to view challenges as opportunities. We give this one two trunks up, and we have no hesitation in calling The Day You Begin an absolute MUST for every home, classroom and library collection.
Want the book? Get it here! The Day You Begin, by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Rafael Lopez. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received an advanced review copy of this book, but all opinions expressed herein are entirely 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.
My grandparents met when they were only kids, living in Chicago the 1930s. Gigi taught Poppy how to dance; they met at his first lesson, and the rest (as they say) is history. Shortly thereafter Poppy broke barriers when he went to college—he was the first Jewish boy to receive a basketball scholarship to DePaul University. Poppy was a brave, moral man who always stood up for the underdog and championed those values he held dear. When he went off to fight in WWII, he was put in charge of a camp for prisoners of war. What did he do? He fashioned a basketball court for the men at the camp so they could entertain themselves. Humanity, he said. Even when the world disagreed on the very fundamentals of our rights as human beings, he thought it critical to treat each other with kindness and respect.
I've always cherished this story about my grandfather -- and I've always loved the way oral storytelling can shape and mold our lives as we try to embody the most beloved virtues of our ancestors. Perhaps this is why I so connected to Islandborn, the exquisite new picture book by one of my favorite authors, Pulitzer Prize winning Junot Diaz, and exquisitely illustrated by Leo Espinoza. In Islandborn, Lola's teacher asks the students to draw a picture of the country from which they immigrated. But Lola, perplexed and upset, can't remember The Island where she was born; she left when she was just a baby. She thus begins speaking with relatives and friends to learn more about her homeland. And as she hears story after story of The Island, Lola quickly understands that "[j]ust because you don't remember a place doesn't mean it isn't in you."
Islandborn is positively incredible! I love how Lola feels increasingly connected to her island the more she learns from her loved ones. I love how she suddenly sees, hears and tastes her birthplace, this place that is the essence of her core. More importantly, I love the various ways you can use this text in your homes and classrooms to help your children connect with their pasts, because their family stories will undoubtedly mold their futures. You can so easily guide children to learn about their ancestors, cultures, countries, and even the history and politics that shaped their families' daily lives. Read Islandborn and then have your students explore! You can use simple prompts for younger kids ("interview a family member about an experience that shaped his/her childhood") or go deeper for older children ("how did the political climate of your grandparent's home country shape his/her upbringing?") The information they learn can be used to write narrative essays, illustrate a picture book like Lola, or even create video presentations using apps like 30hands. The possibilities are endless. This is what happens when a phenomenal book finds its way into your hands. You can't stop thinking about it, and you want to use it to enhance learning in every way possible. Thank you Junot Diaz for this treasure!
Want the book? Get it here! Islandborn, by Junot Diaz. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received a review copy from the publisher, but all opinions expressed herein are entirely 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.