Secret Engineer: How Emily Roebling Built The Brooklyn Bridge (Rachel Dougherty)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Secret Engineer: How Emily Roebling Built The Brooklyn Bridge by Rachel Dougherty, an awesome look at a woman ahead of her time.

As a child, Emily was fascinated by science and math, pursuits rarely encouraged for girls in the 1800’s. She eventually grew up to marry Washington Roebling, a fellow lover of knowledge and the son of famed engineer John Roebling. When John sent his son to Europe to learn about new technologies for building bridges, Emily joined him and studied the techniques as well. And when John passed away during the early stages of construction on a bridge – the biggest and most advanced of its kind at that time – her husband took over, only to fall gravely ill as well. Though she had never received a formal education in engineering, Emily became Washington’s right hand, conveying his instructions and notes by day and teaching herself engineering by night. Over the next ten years, Emily became an expert on the bridge: conducting negotiations, answering questions, and allaying doubts on her own. When the bridge was finished, she became the first person to cross it, proving that her and her husband’s work had built a structure that would last lifetimes: the Brooklyn Bridge.

Hands up: who’s ever heard of Emily Roebling? Fortunately, this loving biography shines a light on her remarkable efforts to build one of the world’s most beloved bridges, a technological marvel in its time. The text can be a bit dense at times, but only to provide important context on the complexities of the bridge, and science-minded bookworms will love the mini-lessons on the bridge’s construction and design. In this respect, the art does a marvelous job as well, nimbly integrating blueprints, engineering terms, and mathematical concepts with art that is instructional, inspiring, and often both at once. The length may be best for slightly older bookworms, but JJ enjoyed it and so did I. A wonderful profile of an unsung hero, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved.

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

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Brave Ballerina: The Story Of Janet Collins (Michelle Meadows)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Brave Ballerina: The Story Of Janet Collins, written by Michelle Meadows and illustrated by Ebony Glenn, the true story of the remarkable dancer who became the Metropolitan Opera’s first black prima ballerina in 1951.

Born in 1917 in New Orleans, Janet Collins found a passion for dance at an early age. Her tradesmen parents paid for her ballet lessons by making costumes for recitals, and Janet worked hard to improve her craft each day. Yet despite her obvious talent, each ballet academy turned her away at the door, refusing to accept a black student. Continuing to train, mastering new styles and learning from any instructor who would teach her, Janet was finally accepted to a ballet company – only to be told that she would need to paint her skin white to match the other dancers. Janet refused, continuing to work and train and perform where she could until finally, a company saw her skill and talent. Earning her place as prima ballerina at the Met in 1951, Janet Collins was able to step out on stage as herself and do what she was born to – dance.

Powerful. I admit to never having heard Collins’ story before, and it’s a testament to Meadows’s rhyming text and Glenn’s artwork that, by the time the story was through, the reader feels as though they have joined Collins in her journey. The passion for dance bursts from her face and form in each illustration of her in motion; the frustration and shame of the prejudice leveled against her is palpable; the glorious final spread of her beaming onstage before a cheering audience is triumphant. The text is succinct enough to keep the story moving at a brisk pace, yet never glosses over or rushes – each beat feels important and necessary. A beautiful story of perseverance, determination, and pride, and we loved it. Baby Bookworm approved.

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

Woke Baby (Mahogany L. Browne)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Woke Baby, written by Mahogany L. Browne and illustrated by Theodore Taylor III, a baby book that aims to empower the youngest of bookworms.

A tiny baby wakes in their crib, peeking open their eye before the sun has even risen (the baby’s gender is kept ambiguous throughout). The narrator muses on each motion of waking the baby goes through, and the promise of power it shows: stretching out with fists raised to represent the strength of a panther, eyes open, wide and bright and seeing; feet kicking through glass ceilings, and hands reaching for what is theirs. Woke Baby is here, with limitless promise and possibility, and ready to take on the world.

I admit, on my first read-through of this book, I didn’t get it – tying the actions of a waking baby to the symbols and mores of social activism seemed a bit of a stretch. However, by the second time, I began to understand. I think a universal concern for parents is bringing a child into the world that seems to have so many problems, so much that is going wrong and so much that needs to be fixed; that baby needs to be protected from. This story challenges both the adult and little one to look at it a different way, positing that our power and capacity for change is innate, that it’s in every movement and gesture from the time we first raise our first, babble our first thoughts, and open our eyes – “woke” to the world around us. It’s a very subtle but ultimately encouraging and empowering message for little ones. The art is kept simple, using a limited color palette and a command of light and shadow to keep the titular baby as the visual focus. The length was fine for teeny tiny bookworms, and JJ enjoyed it as well. A minimalist book that inspires complex consideration, and very nicely done. 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 Crankenstein Valentine (Samantha Berger)

Hello friends, and Happy Valentine’s Day! Our book today is A Crankenstein Valentine, written by Samantha Berger and illustrated by Dan Santat, a hilarious sendup of Valentine’s Day traditions.

Have you seen Crankenstein? Well, come Valentine’s Day, you can’t miss him. While other kids and grownups might love all the mushy-gushiness of Valentine’s Day, Crankenstein – a little boy turned green and sour by his crankiness – has only one thing to say: “YECHHHHHH!”. Valentines, flowers, hearts, hugs? Yech, yech, yech, and double yech! As he muddles through the day of love, Crankenstein is increasingly frustrated with the holiday’s tropes, culminating with his being forced to be part of the Valentine’s pageant! But just as he thinks that the day is over, he receives a Valentine himself, one delightfully in line with his feelings on the holiday.

Silly, subversive fun. While reading this book’s prequel, Crankenstein, might help a bit to establish the main character earlier, many kids will identify with the green-and-stone-faced boy’s absolute disdain for the holiday, and find his disgusted reactions at the sentimental trappings hilarious (JJ, for instance, descended into hysterical giggles at every “YECHHH!”). There are a few instances of children expressing romantic love, of which I am not a fan in picture books, but since Crankenstein’s reaction is so throughly anti-love, it didn’t offend me too much. I especially liked that, in the end, Crankenstein found a friend who seemed to hate the holiday as much as he; it’s nice that the final focus is on friendship over romance. Santat’s illustrations are as vibrant, dynamic, emotive, and engaging as ever, and the length was great. A wonderful Valentines story that breaks the mold and brings the laughs. Baby Bookworm approved!

Love (Stacy McAnulty)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Love, written by Stacy McAnulty and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, an ode to ways of feeling and expressing love.

What is love? What does it look like? Like a fancy meal or a designer card? Is it expensive gifts or fancy dinners? What do we mean when we say it happens at first sight? And how can we express it to the people who matter to us? A gloriously diverse cast of characters show the reader that love comes in many forms, and that there is no way too big or too small to show someone we love them.

Fabulous. As with their previous books Beautiful and Brave, McAnulty and Lew-Vriethoff expertly utilize the convention of making broad statements in the text then subverting them with the illustrations: “fancy dinner” is a lovingly-prepared bowl of food for an injured pet dog; a “designer greeting card” is a child’s joyously expressive crayon drawing; “first sight” is an adoptee being greeted with signs and grins by their new blended family. Especially striking is the tremendous diversity of these characters: adults, children, elderly, differently-abled, hearing-impaired, different faiths, different versions of non-traditional families, all in a rainbow of skintones that create a story world as vibrant as our own. The love is equally as diverse, showing the love we have for family, friends, pets, neighbors, or even total strangers. It’s an uplifting and affirming reminder that love colors our lives in every way imaginable, and is something we all share, and has infinite means of expression. The length is great, JJ loved it, and we can’t recommend it enough. Baby Bookworm approved!

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