Real Friends

Real Friends by Shannon Hale is a memoir about the author’s own experience navigating friendships in elementary school. This graphic novel perfectly captures the highs and lows many young girls experience in their upper elementary years in school, trying to find real friends who accept us for who they are. It’s a delicate balance of understanding and acceptance along with being true to yourself.

One of the most powerful lessons I learned about friendship in middle and high school was that just because someone was your best friend at one point in time does not mean they will be your best friend forever. That being said, just because someone is no longer your best friend, does not diminish the important role they played in your life and vice versa at that time.

As an elementary school teacher working with 4th graders, I wish this was a lesson I could just transfer to my students, particularly the girls, through osmosis. I watch it happen each year and know that other than encouraging students to be kind to one another, even as their friendships drift apart at times, it’s something they have to experience for themselves.

One powerful characteristic of the protagonist Shannon is her willingness to branch out and make new friends even though time and time again it does not work out well. She keeps putting herself out there and learns to stand up for herself and what she believes will be fair.

Shannon learns that friends can act one way one-on-one and then treat you differently when they are around other peers, particularly when popularity and clique behaviors are at play.

 

Real Friends has a powerful message. It teaches about hope and resilience during a difficult time in the transition from childhood to adolescence. It does not sugar coat the complex emotions kids feel and how important friendships become to them in their everyday lives.

I would recommend this books for students in grades 4-7. Real Friends is a level S text. Click here to purchase a copy of Real Friends by Shannon Hale (affiliate link).

 

“We’re not all the same. Thank goodness we’re not.”

Nancy Tillman’s newest book You’re All Kinds of Wonderful is another magical, empowering picture book for young children that teaches an important lesson. Written in beautiful couplets, the story celebrates differences and the fact that we are not, in fact, all the same.

You’re All Kinds of Wonderful digs deeper than more picture books that explore differences, focusing on our different personalities and abilities as individuals. The story embraces the idiom of “bells and whistles” and says that when we are born, we’re each supplied with our own bells and whistles to set us apart. The bells are what we do best, but for some people it takes practice to make those bells ring. Sometimes figuring out what that bell is takes patience, other times getting good at ringing it does.

You’re All Kinds of Wonderful teaches the reader that not only are we all good at something, that the journey of uncovering what that something is can sometimes be long and challenging but to stick with it because in the end it’ll be worth it.

The powerful impact of this story reaches readers of all ages as it beautifully promotes resilience and perseverance. You’re All Kinds of Wonderful is a must have in any home or school library. As a classroom teacher, books like You’re All Kinds of Wonderful are invaluable in that they open up the dialogue for celebrating what makes us unique individuals.

Click here to purchase a copy of this book.

*I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest and open review.

 

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke is an adventure filled retelling of the childhood classic Jack and the Beanstalk. Jack’s little sister Maddy was carried into another realm by an ogre. Jack and his friend Lilly bravely follow them through a portal into an unknown world of magic and terrifying creatures.

Though they begin the journey together, Jack and Lilly are quickly separated. Jack must choose whether to follow Lilly or to continue his pursuit of the ogre that kidnapped Maddy. The reader follows both characters through their parallel stories in their quest to save Maddy and themselves.

The character Lilly was a personal favorite as I read Mighty Jack and the Goblin King. It quickly becomes apparent that Jack is an impulsive and brave character, and if the two stayed together, Lilly would be the more cautious sidekick. The decision to separate the duo allowed Lilly to evolve as a character and to shine in an unexpected way. She is clever and emerges a leader.

Left to his own devices, Jack learns to be less of an act now, think later kind of character. He is protective of his sister Maddy who is on the Autism spectrum.

Ben Hatke skillfully blends adventure and fantasy in this second installment of an awesome graphic novel series. He continues to tackle important social issues including diverse family structure as well as different abilities.

Click here to purchase a copy of Mighty Jack and the Goblin King (affiliate link).

*I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest and open review.

A Powerful Picture Book About Standing Up for What’s Right

The Secret of Black Rock by Joe Todd-Stanton is a wonderful picture book about curiosity and exploration. Erin Pike lives with her mom and dog in a big fishing town. Erin yearns to go out to see but it’s just too dangerous, especially the legend of Black Rock. Erin is a brave girl and all the warnings and cautionary tales do not diminish her desire to venture out to sea.

Erin devises the perfect plan to stowaway on her mom’s boat. Things don’t go exactly as she planned and Erin ends up in a very dangerous situation. Just then Black Rock wakes up and lends a helping hand. It is then that Erin realizes that Black Rock is not dangerous, it was in fact a very misunderstood creature. People fear Black Rock because they don’t understand it. In reality, Black Rock provides shelter for many different sea creatures.

 

Erin returns home to help reveal the truth about Black Rock, but the grown ups are so lost in their own misconceptions, they don’t take the time to listen to her. They are intent on viewing the creature as an enemy. Will Erin be able to change the way they see Black Rock?


The Secret of Black Rock is the perfect picture book for teaching kids to stand up for what they believe in and to advocate for others. It takes a girl with curiosity and courage to see something or someone for what it really is, rather than for what everyone else has told her it is. The diverse family structure portrayed is an added bonus along with the subtle yet impactful environmental message.

Click here to purchase a copy of The Secret of Black Rock (affiliate link).

*I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest and open review.

A Stunning Take on a Norse Myth

Joe Todd-Stanton’s Brownstone’s Mythical Collection: Arthur and the Golden Rope is a remarkable blend between a graphic novel and a picture book. Here is the tale of young Arthur who joins forces with the Norse god Thor to take down Fenrir, a huge wolf who has terrorized his town and extinguished the great fire.

Though Arthur has had many adventures, the other townsfolk consider him a nuisance and doubt his ability to actually help them.

Instead of letting their harsh words get to him, Arthur decides to go find the god of storms.

It turns out that all of his previous adventures and experience collecting strange objects works in his favor. Arthur does not allow anyone or anything to get in his way, and when all seems hopeless conducts research and gets creative. A great lesson and skill for readers of all ages!

Arthur and the Golden Rope is an action-packed book with wonderful illustrations to accompany the text. The illustrations depict an ancient Viking land with magical objects and mythical dangers. It teaches that even the unlikeliest of characters can be the hero.

Click here to purchase a copy of Brownstone’s Mythical Collection: Arthur and the Golden Rope.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

A Fantastic Spin on a Childhood Classic

The Giant of Jum by Elli Woollard is a clever twist on the classic childhood tale Jack and the Beanstalk. The Giant of Jum is hungry. He sets out in search of a legendary snack, a boy named Jack. This storyline reminds me of one of my favorite books, The BFG by Roald Dahl, which I love reading to my upper elementary-aged students each year.

The Giant of Jum is presented as a horrific creature. He is grumpy and grouchy. He stomps all about and dreams about eating young children. Each time the Giant of Jum encounters young children, he ends up helping them rather than feasting on them. From fetching a ball from the top of a tall fountain to rescuing a skeptical looking cat.

When The Giant of Jum finally meets a young boy named Jack, will he fulfill his destiny or start to see himself in a different light?

The Giant of Jum is a funny and engaging book about a giant who sees himself one way and ends up learning a lot about himself on his journey to find the elusive snack, a boy named Jack. The story is beautifully written with hilarious rhymes woven throughout. The illustrations by Benji Davies complement the tone of the story perfectly. The Giant is large in comparison to the characters and objects that surround him, yet his features are exaggerated in a way that make him odd looking rather than scary.

Click here to purchase a copy of The Giant of Jum (affiliate link).

I received a complimentary copy of The Giant of Jum in exchange for my honest review.

 

An Autobiographical Account of a Penny

One of my most memorable experiences as a student teacher came from a regular math routine early in the school year in a second grade classroom. Each day the class came together for a morning meeting and part of that routine included tracking the number of days we’ve been in school. They kept track of this number by writing the number, collecting colored dots on the tens frame and also by collecting coins that equaled the total number of days. On the first day the teachers put a penny underneath the document camera for the class to see. They asked the students, “What do you notice about this coin?” A young boy named Jack raised his hand and instead of describing the shape of the coin or the color of the coin, as we’d all expected, he gave the lengthy history of the coin. This experience was so important to me as a future teacher, you never know what to expect from kids and what knowledge they bring with them into the classroom if you don’t ask.

One Proud Penny by Randy Siegel is an awesome picture book that presents historically accurate information about the penny. It is narrated as an autobiographical account by a penny. It begins with information about when this penny was “born” and where, in 1983 in Philadelphia. Then continues on to explore the different uses of a penny, from providing exact change to spinning and flipping out of boredom or for fun.

One Proud Penny hints at the argument of whether pennies should be banned, one we explore in my 4th grade classroom during our argument and persuasive writing unit. It also highlights some important change over time (pun intended). For example, a penny used to be enough to buy ice cream or a newspaper, but that’s no longer the case.

One Proud Penny even details the difference in the composition of pennies when they were originally minted and today.

One Proud Penny is a wonderful tribute to the penny. A small yet durable coin that at times is a nuisance in our pockets or taking up lots of space in our wallet, and other times, helping us make exact change. The illustrations by Serge Bloch blend simple line drawings with actual images of pennies, in a way that adds to the comedic tone of the text. Together they create an informative and exciting informational book.

This is a must have book for any classroom and school library as well as any home collection of a kid who loves facts and information about money and coins. Click here to purchase a copy of One Proud Penny (affiliate link).

*I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

An Awesome Book About Friendship and Acceptance

Zombelina: School Days by Kristyn Crow is an awesome picture book about celebrating differences and being welcoming of a new student. Zombelina is an enthusiastic, friendly and quirky protagonist. She loves to dance and share her talent with her classmates.

One day a new student named Morty joins Zomeblina’s class. At first he has some trouble fitting in. Zombelina and her best friend Lizzie do their best to make him feel welcome and included.

 

There are so many things I love about Zomeblina as a character. She is an extrovert and confident. She embraces her weirdness and doesn’t allow her differences to bring her down. This allows her to make real friends and make the most out of each experience. Not to mention that Zombelina is a zombie and she is constantly chasing after different body parts and struggling to keep herself physically together, which adds the perfect comical element to the story.

The story is written using a fun end rhyme scheme and there are lots of clever puns throughout. Click here to purchase a copy of Zomeblina: School Days (affiliate link).

*I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

 

 

Invisible Bill

Bill is a young boy, who also happens to be the middle child, who is tired of feeling invisible. His mom is a busy woman with an important job. She is always checking her whatchamacallit for messages. His dad is an important man with a busy job who is constantly answering his thingamajiggy. His big brother is a brainiac who is always reading and spewing out facts. His sister is very athletic. Each member of his family is consumed by their own lives and ideas that nobody stops to pay attention to Bill.

The final straw is when Bill asks somebody to pass him to potatoes at dinner and nobody does. Then all of a sudden, Bill turns invisible!

The next morning Bill’s mother does what any mother whose child has turned invisible does, she takes him to the doctor. Instead of having a conversation with Bill to figure out what is going on or why he might have turned invisible, he receives a treatment plan of, “A strong dose of permanent markers.” Then life for his family returns to normal for his mother, father, sister and brother, and Bill continues to feel invisible.

He decides to wipe off the permanent marker, write a letter to his family to say that he is leaving, and watch what happens.

InvisiBill by Maureen Fergus is an honest story that explores how sometimes kids can feel unappreciated or unnoticed. It encourages readers and families to take time to really enjoy one another’s company and be present in the moment. It also provides an opportunities to talk about frustrations kids may experience when they feel unheard.

The illustrations by Dusan Petricic are perfect. Each character occupies his own rectangle, which shows how disjointed they are.

Click here to purchase a copy of Invisibill (affiliate link).

*I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

 

A Sentimental Read

Little Blue Chair by Cary Fagan is reminiscent of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.  A young boy named Boo has a special relationship with his little blue chair. When he outgrows the little blue chair, his mother places it on the lawn along with a sign that reads Please Take Me.

 Just like that begins the journey of the chair from one place to the next, serving a specific purpose until the user no longer needs it and places it out for someone else to take. The little blue chair becomes a stool for a potted plant to sit upon and a seat for children to take rides on an elephant.

Wherever the little blue chair goes it solves a problem, encourages imagination, and brings people together. One imaginative little boy ties a bunch of balloons to the chair so that it may carry him up into the sky, but before he sits down it flies away. Landing in the yard of a long lost friend who has the perfect use for it.

 Little Blue Chair is a beautiful story that pays homage to a simple household item that plays an important role in one’s life. When the person no longer has a use for the item, it is passed along to someone else who can repurpose it and treasure it in his own way.

Madeline Kloepper’s gorgeous illustrations include minute, hidden details and multiple scenes on a page which compliment the text perfectly. At times the movement from left to right across the page captures the passage of time in a subtle and thoughtful way.

Click here to purchase a copy of Little Blue Chair (affiliate link).

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.