Rosie the Dragon and Charlie Say Good Night (Lauren H. Kerstein)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Rosie the Dragon and Charlie Say Good Night, written by Lauren H. Kerstein, and illustrated by Nate Wragg, second in the duo’s series featuring the titular pair.

Charlie and his pet dragon Rosie are back, and ready for bedtime. Well, Charlie’s ready; Rosie would like a few extra minutes, please? In fact, mischievous Rosie seems determined to bend or break the rules at every turn of Charlie’s well-organized bedtime routine for her: she tries to sneak juice into her water bottle, overdoes it with the bath bubbles, and picks out footie pajamas for her and her beloved toy horse, Vern (despite Charlie’s attempts to explain that she will overheat… which she does). And just when Charlie thinks Rosie is down for the count, a scary thunderstorm starts up…

Very cute. The delightful dynamic of the particular and rambunctious Rosie, who causes the majority of the bedtime-related snafus, and the ever-patient and caring Charlie is absolutely charming, and paired nicely with the conversational dialogue and colorful, entertaining illustrations. Little readers will sympathize with Charlie’s attempts to usher Rosie through her routine – and in turn, may sympathize with their parents doing the same for them. But perhaps the most unexpectedly heartwarming quality of the book was how much JJ ADORED it; she has asked for several repeat readings, a rarity. Whether intentionally or not, Rosie displays characteristics of someone with ASD; she is nonverbal, requires very specific routines and comfort items, and is distressed by sensory overload (a too-hot set of pjs, a thunderstorm, etc). Yet Charlie treats her proclivities and preferences with patience and kindness, never losing his temper or scolding his scaly friend. It makes for a surprisingly rich and, at least from our perspective, layered tale of caring for friends who may be different needs. Great length, lovely book, and definitely Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by a representative of the author in exchange for an honest review.)

Paper Dolls Don’t Have Hearts (Shannon Woodworth)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Paper Dolls Don’t Have Hearts by Shannon Woodworth, a middle-grade poem that tackles issues of self-image and body dysmorphia.

Annie Jones has just started at a new (high?) school, and feels intimidated by the growing and changing of her fellow classmates. Whenever Annie compares herself to older girls, or even her own friends, she feels inadequate: hair too short, body too curvy, eyes too big, etc. She begins to change her diet, eating less and less and even skipping a piece of her own birthday cake. Sensing that something is wrong, her mother sits her down and encourages her daughter to open up. Annie explains that she wishes she could draw herself as a paper doll, making all the changes to her appearance that would help her feel confident. Her mother understands, but points out that a paper doll wouldn’t have Annie’s spirit or her talents or all the qualities that make her truly unique and special; after all, paper dolls don’t have hearts.

Heartfelt. Inspired by her own experiences with ED, Woodworth infuses this middle-grade tale with gentle, empowering poetry that feels genuine. However, while the language is sincere, the rhymes themselves are often clunky and uneven, losing the rhythm and meter with too many or too few syllables per line. The illustrations are similarly pedestrian: line and shade drawings that give a visual basis for Annie’s journey yet lack texture and depth throughout. Lastly, the length and subject matter are best for middle-graders, not baby bookworms; JJ lost interest very quickly. I also would have loved to see some resources provided in the backmatter for readers struggling with ED who may not have an immediate support system like Annie did. An earnest and meaningful effort from a freshman indie creator with a worthy message, yet it simply lacks finesse. Perhaps not Baby Bookworm approved, but worth a read for those who might be struggling.

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the author in exchange for an honest review.)

A Doll For Grandma: A Story about Alzheimer’s Disease (Paulette Bochnig Sharkey)

Hello, friends! Our book today is A Doll For Grandma: A Story about Alzheimer’s Disease, written by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey and illustrated by Samantha Woo.

For Kiera, days with Grandma are filled with fun: painting their nails, going for rides in Grandma’s convertible, dressing up, knitting, and baking cookies. But suddenly, Grandma appears to be struggling. She forgets how to knit, leaves objects in unexpected places, and gets confused easily. Soon, she moves into a place for people like her, whose brains are “forgetting to remember”. Kiera isn’t sure how to interact with Grandma anymore, now that she can’t do all the things they used to do together. But from an unexpected encounter, Kiera will get an idea of how to brighten her Grandma’s day, and find new ways to play.

Lovely. This delicate treatment of Alzheimer’s disease from a young family member’s point of view is gentle, relatable, and filled with hope and encouragement. Kiera’s grandma confuses her for her own childhood friend, Sally Mae, so Kiera (quite maturely) decides to interact with her Grandma as she would a playmate, buying her a doll that matches her own and caring for them together. It’s not only a touching display of how our most precious relationships can endure major changes with a little adjustment, but a helpful strategy for young children who may be dealing with a similar transition. The story neatly balances this theme of transition throughout, showing that while Grandma has lost much to Alzheimer’s, she is still a person capable of love, joy, and connection. Similarly, the simple illustrations are warm and endearing, a good balance for some of the more complex elements of the narrative. Backmatter includes a guide to helping children understand Alzheimer’s. The length was fine, and JJ enjoyed it; a touching read overall, but a wonderfully useful title for families dealing with the effects of Alzheimer’s. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Bubble Kisses (Vanessa Williams)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Bubble Kisses, written by Vanessa Williams and illustrated by Tara Nicole Whitaker, a fishy fairy tale based on Williams’s song of the same name.

As the story opens, we are introduced to the unnamed narrator, a cheerful, Afro-puff-sporting little girl with a seeming fascination for all things nautical, and her very best friend and pet goldfish, Sal. Others may wonder why she is so close to her fish friend, considering she can’t do the things that other pets may be able to do. The little girl explains that Sal gives her bubble kisses (though the book is relatively vague on what these are). The illustrations show Sal and the narrator embarking on an underwater adventure, exploring shipwrecks, finding treasure, meeting mermaids, and attending a lively party on the ocean’s floor, before revealing that it was all a dream.

Oh, man; I’m a big fan of Vanessa Williams, so I wanted to like this a lot more than I did. Unfortunately, there is so much in this title that simply doesn’t work that it’s hard to enjoy what does. As I said, the eponymous “bubble kisses” are never explained; not in the text – which is made up exclusively of the, frankly, mediocre lyrics of the song – nor in the artwork. Are they actual kisses? Are the dreams the kisses? Who knows? The dull and irritatingly repetitive lyrics make for a clunky reading experience, including having to repeat the phrase “bub-bub-bub-bub-bubble kisses” no less than four times. The artwork is charming, especially the musical instrument-playing sea creatures, and it’s nice that the mermaids display a diversity of skin tones (though their features and body types are identical). The length is fine, but JJ and I were both underwhelmed by the story (though it should be noted that she enjoyed the artwork and shiny dust jacket). The included CD version of Bubble Kisses is… fine; a peppy yet largely vapid swing-inspired kid’s song that doesn’t do Williams’s voice any kind of justice. Overall, this might be nice for a a fan of mermaid artwork, but is otherwise one to skip.

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Do Grannies Have Green Fingers? (Fransie Frandsen)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Do Grannies Have Green Fingers? by Fransie Frandsen, a sweet and funny import that looks at color-related idioms.

First in the creator’s Alexander’s Questions series, this cheerfully silly little tale follows young Alexander as he questions some of the colorful figures of speech the grownups around him employ. When his mom notes that Alexander’s Granny, who has just won yet another gardening competition, has “green fingers”, he is puzzled. His mom often has green fingerNAILs, but she likes to change her polish color pretty frequently. And his dad, seeing a plethora of recycling bins outside, notes that the neighbor is “going green” – does this mean the neighbor has green fingers too? Curiously and contemplatively observing these turns of phrase, Alexander decides to conduct some surveillance and find out once and for all: do Grannies have green fingers?

This is a cute look at idioms and how silly they often are if taken literally. Alexander’s observations on the color of his family’s and neighbors’ fingers is described in delightfully childlike style, using simple, matter-of-fact inner dialogue paired with photo-and-illustration mixed-media artwork. The art of the spreads is sparse yet engaging, a nice balance of the different media elements it utilizes. Unfortunately, a choice to typeset the opening line of many pages horizontally on a narrow strip of contrasting color on the left side is a miss; these sentences are often missed as one turns the page, covered by the hands holding the book and requiring a 90-degree tilt of the head to read. And while the story is mostly light-hearted and fun, the ending bizarrely features Alexander’s jealous (“green with envy”) mom stealing one of Granny’s gardening trophies; a strange and off-putting choice that is played for laughs but entirely inappropriate for a preschool picture book. Otherwise, the length is fine, and JJ did enjoy the fun illustrations and mostly easy-to-read text. A clever concept with a disappointing ending, but worth a glance. Baby Bookworm approved.

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by a representative of the author in exchange for an honest review.)