Xander’s Panda Party (Linda Sue Park)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Xander’s Panda Party, written by Linda Sue Park and illustrated by Matt Phelan, a positively delightful story of a friendly panda’s party-planning woes.

Xander the panda has come up with a fantastic idea: a panda party! Only one problem, of course: Xander is the only panda at the zoo. So Xander decides to open up the party to all the bears, and sends invitations to his fellow ursines, but is surprised to find out from Koala that he is not a real bear but a marsupial. Not wanting Koala to be left out, Xander opts to invite all the mammals – but Rhino doesn’t want to go without his BFF bird. So a furred-and-feathered party it will be! Well, until Crocodile points out that reptiles and birds are distant relatives, so could the scaly zoo denizens come as well? With a little help from a salamander named Amanda and a new surprise friend, Xander finds out that the best parties are the ones where no one is excluded based on who or what they are.

Fantastic! This was such a treat. From the phenomenal, jaunty rhyming text to the adorable illustrations of zoo creatures big and small, this was a blast for us. The added bonus is the subtle lesson about inclusiveness, showing that categorizing people can often narrow our experiences and possibilities for friends and fun. The length was great, JJ went wild for the animals, and it was just wonderfully fresh and different story that was a joy to read aloud. A lovely story for party animals of any age, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

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A House That Once Was (Julie Fogliano)

Hello, friends! Our book today is A House That Once Was, written by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Lane Smith, an interesting examination of what makes a house into a home.

Two children are exploring the woods one day when they come upon a derelict house. Its path is overgrown, its paint is cracked and fading, and its windows are broken, the last providing entry for the curious kids. Inside, they find evidence of a life once lived there: faded photos, dusty kitchen contents, even a still-made bed. They speculate as to who might have once inhabited the home: a lady who painted squirrels in the garden? A little boy who made model planes? A girl who loved to dance? And what became of these people? The children return home after their expedition, and reflect on the house that was once a home – for a house is only truly be a home because a person makes it so.

This is definitely an intriguing story, and it has it’s ups and downs for me. As a mom, I think I got hung up on the idea of two children exploring a crumbling house unsupervised, starting by climbing in through a shattered window that still had shards of glass; I realize that it’s a kid’s book, and begs a suspension of disbelief, but it still made me clench. Also, there was something faintly bothersome about the way the story left the speculative former family of the home, wandering the woods because they couldn’t find their keys. Again, it’s a figment of a fictional child’s imagination, but it felt a little unsatisfying. However, past those two trifles, there is a beautifully illustrated meditation on home, things, and how we leave traces of ourselves in both. The text flows like a gentle stream, and JJ seemed very soothed by it. It’s a good length, and overall a very pretty book, so we’re calling this one Baby Bookworm approved!

Yoga Frog (Nora Carpenter)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Yoga Frog, written by Nora Carpenter and illustrated by Mark Chambers, a wonderful introduction to yoga from a very flexible frog.

Just like you, Yoga Frog can sometimes feel stressed, or anxious, or just plain yucky. But when he’s feeling this way, he likes to practice his yoga poses, and he invites to you join in. Moving through eighteen different poses from Mountain to Resting, Yoga Frog shows how the readers should position themselves, sometimes making notes about the intention or goal of the pose. After he’s moved through his session, Yoga Frog feels much better – and hopes you do too!

Very cute! There’s a lot to like from this yoga primer, especially the clear yet charming demonstrative illustrations, the text that helps connect little bodies and minds to the poses, and the inclusion of the Sanskrit translations of every pose. As in other kids’ yoga books, the decision was made to change the names of some of the poses (Warrior becomes Giraffe, Child’s Pose is called Hawk In Nest, etc.). It’s kind of an odd choice, especially because it was done for so many poses here, and might turn off readers looking for more accuracy. However, if the idea is simply to start teaching wiggly little bodies to calm and center themselves, this is a great book to start with. The illustrations are fun, JJ loved the little frog, and the length was easily read through in a sitting. Overall, Baby Bookworm approved!

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

A Storytelling Of Ravens (Kyle Lukoff)

Hello, friends! Our book today is A Storytelling Of Ravens, written by Kyle Lukoff and illustrated by Natalie Nelson, a wonderfully quirky book about animal collectives.

Basing each illustration/text example around a different animal collective noun (such as a “storytelling of ravens” or a “shrewdness of apes”), the reader is treated to a number of delightfully weird situations in which the animals play out the literal definition of their collective name. For instance, a parliament of owls thought their motion would pass unanimously, but there was one vote of dissent. The tower of giraffes aren’t sure where the pine tree decorated with candy canes and popcorn came from, but they do know it’s delicious. And the memory of elephants was SURE that peanut patch was around here somewhere…

Strange, silly, and full of charm. While some of the jokes might fly over the heads of smaller bookworms, they are nonetheless hilarious for older readers. But most of the gags do a fantastic job of straddling simple exaggeration for little ones with deadpan text that will delight adults – who wouldn’t enjoy the image of a bloat of hippos making their way to a smokestack spewing sprinkles, accompanied by the text: “Five words: explosion at the cupcake factory”. It’s ridiculous fun aided nicely by the colorful art, and comes in at an easy length for any age. JJ and I had a lot of fun with this one, and we recommend it. Baby Bookworm approved!

My Old Pal, Oscar (Amy Hest)

Hello, friends! Our book today is My Old Pal, Oscar, written by Amy Hest and illustrated by Amy Bates, a sweet story about moving forward after loss.

A tiny black and white puppy huddles under a pier on a windswept beach as threatening storm clouds hide the sun overhead. He spies a little boy playing in the sand, and approaches him with a wagging tale. The boy acknowledges the pup, admits that the little mutt is very cute, and allows it to keep him company – but he firmly states that they are NOT pals. The boy already had a pal, he explains: his old dog, Oscar. But Oscar has passed away, and the heartbreak was simply too much. He misses Oscar, and keeps a drawing of him beside his bed to wish good night and good morning to. But as he opens up to the little dog about his old friend, he realizes that he’s made a new one – and that might just feel okay.

Tender and sweet. There are a some incredible children’s books about loss out there, but this one focuses on a specific issue: the reluctance to let new people into our hearts after that loss. Despite the fluffy, friendly pup being just about the cutest thing on four legs, the boy is not sure he’s ready to love another dog, and the text subtly explores the reasons why: a sense of loyalty to the deceased, a reluctance to be hurt again, or simply the sadness and loneliness that comes with grief. I especially loved that what bonded the boy with his new friend was remembering Oscar to the pup; it encourages children to discuss their grief as a means of dealing with it. The art is absolutely gorgeous, with a rich environment, lifelike and endearing characters, and a beautiful sense of mood and tone. The length is fine, and JJ enjoyed it. It’s a quietly moving story that may help to encourage little ones to have hope after loss, and we loved it. Baby Bookworm approved!