Oddbird (Derek Desierto)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Oddbird by Derek Desierto, a story of acceptance and fitting in.

It was a hot, steamy day in the jungle, and while all the colorful birds had gathered at the pool, none of them had decided to take the plunge. Instead, they are most concerned with showing off their brilliant colors, until one very… ODD bird appears. Oddbird’s feathers are dull gray, and while he looks forward to cooling off in the refreshing pool, he is chased off by a hostile reception from the colorful birds. Upset with being excluded for the color of the feathers he’s always had, Oddbird concocts a plan to get to the pool without hassle – and that will perhaps prove to the other birds that the feathers don’t make the bird.

Unfortunately, this one was a bit of a muddle. While stories about diversity and acceptance are always important, the metaphors of Oddbird’s dilemma and solution can have an unfortunate interpretation. Oddbird decides to camouflage himself in brightly colored “feathers” made of jungle foliage; this allows him to fit in long enough to make his way to the pool and convince the other birds that enjoying a cooling swim is more fun than showing off their plumage. Tidy enough, but then what is the message? Hide who you are long enough so that others may accept you, then maybe you can change their minds? Perhaps not the best lesson, especially for little readers who may feel insecure about their own “different” appearances. The resolution itself also feels like it’s missing something; while the other birds eventually accept Oddbird as he is, there is no apology or resolution for their aggressive exclusion of him earlier in the story (including comments that literally drive Oddbird to tears). And while the charming and, yes, beautifully colorful photo-cutout art is a treat, it doesn’t quite make up for the confusing theme. Otherwise, the length is fine, and JJ did enjoy the little bird. So while there are several other books about social acceptance I would recommend over this one, it does have a few genuinely redeeming qualities; a little uneven, perhaps a little odd, but still Baby Bookworm approved.

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

Bird Hugs (Ged Adamson)

Hello, friends! The Baby Bookworm household has been down with another bug, so we’re happy to be back today with a review of the lovely Bird Hugs by Ged Adamson.

Bernard is different from the other birds. When he was a baby, he didn’t realize it; he just enjoyed playing with his friends on the ground and in the trees. When his friends began to fly, however, it became clear: Bernard’s extra-long wings – both of them many times the size of his small, round body – make flight impossible. Watching as his friends frolic through the sky, Bernard wallows in disappointment, particularly after a series of failed attempts to circumvent his impairment. But one day, he hears someone crying: an orangutan who feels inexplicable sorrow. Sympathizing, Bernard wraps his extra-long wings around his new ape friend, and is surprised to find that not only does the orangutan feel better… so does he.

Loved this. Much like one of our recent favorites, All The Ways To Be Smart by Davina Bell and Allison Colpoys, this sweet story illustrates that talent and ability come in many forms, and celebrates the value of empathy and emotional aptitude. Bernard comes to find that there are many animals in need of emotional support, and both his hugs AND his talent for listening are of immense help. This earns him a jungle full of new friends, including a few who adorably help him in return in the final spread. This focus on how being different is often a strength in and of itself is a wonderfully welcome and heartwarming message, bolstered by Adamson’s adorable, emotional illustrations and clever yet tender text. The length is perfect, and JJ and I both adored it. A warm hug of a tale, and it’s 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.)

It’s Okay To Be A Unicorn! (Jason Tharp)

Hello, friends! Our book today is It’s Okay To Be A Unicorn! by Jason Tharp, a sweet tale of individuality and having the courage to be oneself.

On a sleepy isle lies the town of Hoofington, which is populated entirely by equines – horses, ponies, but NOT unicorns, who are the subject of vicious rumors. Cornelius, a citizen of Hoofington, is a talented hatmaker; in fact, he’s positively never seen in public without one of his signature hat creations. Hoofington’s townsfolk are all a-tizzy, preparing for the yearly Hoofapalooza, an enormous festival of food and fun. Every year, the festival is capped off by a performance of epic proportions, and this year, Cornelius has been tapped to put on the show. He’s excited, but also nervous; you see, Cornelius has a secret, and it’s one that may change his life in Hoofington forever.

Very cute. The ultimate revelation – that Cornelius is a unicorn himself – is spoiled on the cover, yet not at the detriment of the story; in fact, the audience sharing in Cornelius’s struggle to hide – and ultimately reveal – who he is gives a nice sense of camaraderie with the colorful character. This works well, especially as the story progresses and Cornelius becomes a clear allegory for marginalized people living in the closet (LGBTQ+ in particular), especially with the introduction of the rumor and hearsay elements of the story. Cornelius’s “coming out” performance, in which he reveals his unicorn horn, is ultimately triumphant, especially in a sweet spread that shows his closest friends accepting who he is without hesitation or surprise, then the rest of Hoofington quickly following suit after their initial shock. And while it may feel like a bit of a fairytale ending, it works for the relentlessly positive tone of the book. Colorful, energetic illustrations are a treat, the length is great, and JJ likes it a lot. Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Lola Goes To School & Chester Learns To Swim (Gwendolyn Javor)

Hello, friends! Our books today are Lola Goes To School and Chester Learns To Swim, both from the Absurdimals series, written by Gwendolyn Javor and illustrated by Melissa Aker Spears.

In Lola, a young Belephant – half bunny, half elephant, and the first of her kind – prepares for the first day of school. As she is introduced to the class, she notices other kids staring, but tries to shrug it off. At lunch, however, she tries to sit with some elephants and is rudely rejected, one claiming that she’s not a “real” elephant. Distraught, Lola flees and runs into her principal, who encourages her to be proud of who she is, noting that others are often afraid of what’s new. Lola takes his advice to heart, and the next time she has a run-in with bullies, she knows just what to say. In Chester, one of Lola’s new friends, a “dock” (half dog, half duck) is worried about an upcoming race. To his shame, he has a fear of swimming, and faces pressure from teammates who believe this will cost them the race. Approaching his friends – each with their own special talent – he attempts to overcome his fear with their advice, but to no avail. But on the day of the big race, he realizes that the key to finding his courage was within him all along.

While the books’ concept is solid, they vary in quality, and both stories feel rushed. Lola is stronger overall: analogies for being mixed-race yet not feeling accepted by either, how attitudes about race are constantly changing (hopefully for the better), and not allowing oneself to be defined by stereotypes are well done. Chester, however, falls a bit flat. The title is misleading; Chester never “learns” to swim, he finds the courage to, so those looking for a more instructional book may be disappointed. The plot point of “meet a friend, this is their talent, it doesn’t work” repeats a few too many times, becoming redundant by the end. Chester’s moment of self-assuredness is nicely triumphant, but I would have loved to see his teammates apologize for their behavior. The cute and creative art adds some charm, the lengths are good, and JJ enjoyed them. A strong start yet a middling sequel to this series, but Baby Bookworm approved.

(Note: Copies of these books were provided to The Baby Bookworm by the author in exchange for an honest review.)

Chrysanthemum (Kevin Henkes)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes, a sweet tale of the joys of being unique.

When Chrysanthemum was born, her parents chose a name that encapsulated everything they felt about her, that she was precious and priceless and beautiful and fascinating. As she grew, Chrysanthemum loved her name – the way it looked written out, the way it sounded when her parents said it, and simply that it was hers. But when she starts school, and the other children tease her for her distinctive name, she suddenly feels ashamed of it. As the mean girls, lead by Victoria, cruelly bully her, even her parents’ love and support can’t stop Chrysanthemum from feeling sick over her name. However, their class is about to meet a very cool and popular teacher… one with a unique name of her own.

Using a cute plot with a sharp of edge of honesty to it, this story examines how bullying can hurt long after the words are spoken. It’s heartbreaking to watch the cruelty of others turn something a child loves about herself into something she feels shame for, but is definitely a story that many kids can relate to. As a parent, it’s tough to watch the little mouse’s own parents do everything they can to buoy Chrysanthemum’s spirits at the end of each day, only for her to still have nightmares, anxiety, and then her heart broken again the next. The ending is a little tidy, and I wish Chrysanthemum could have found a way to love her name again without having to be validated by another outside source. Also, it seemed petty that Victoria’s blunder in the epilogue is then mocked by Chrysanthemum – she shouldn’t need to sink to her bully’s level. But as a story of knowing how to recognize which people’s opinions to value, and loving yourself for who you are, it’s still a pretty special story. A little longer, but JJ didn’t mind because the story and text were compelling, and the illustrations are a bit dated but still adorable. Overall, Baby Bookworm approved!