Jazz for Lunch! (Jarrett Dapier)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Jazz for Lunch!, written by Jarrett Dapier and illustrated by Eugenia Mello, a toe-tapping, finger-snapping musical, culinary romp.

A young boy has a lunch date with his Aunt Nina, and she’s taking him to the hottest and tastiest jazz club to enjoy some music and eats. Unfortunately, as great as the music sounds, the crowd forces Nina and her nephew to the back – they can’t see the band, the dancers step on their toes, service is taking forever, and its far too hot. Cutting out early, Aunt Nina promises a surprise for the next day: a jazz-inspired, home-cooked lunch. Nephew and aunt prep and cook together, listening to vinyls of the jazz greats and naming their culinary creations after them. And once lunch is ready, one more surprise is on the way – one that will lift this musical meal to a new level.

Electric. First, Dapier’s phenomenal rhythmic text is an absolute joy to read aloud, and metered perfectly to emulate the syncopation and tempo of an upbeat jazz tune. Mello’s illustrations are bright, colorful, and full of ecstatic life, perfectly melding musical and food imagery to fit the theme; they also feature a fantastic diversity of skintones, genders, hair textures, and body types (have I mentioned that I LOVE seeing kidlit with diverse body types?). Endpapers give twenty mini-biographies of the jazz legends mentioned within the story, a wonderful touch and well-integrated. The length is perfect for a story time, and JJ and I had a blast reading it. This is a entertaining title that is a wonderful way to introduce young readers to a new art form – jazz, cooking, or both! Highly recommended, and Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Have You Seen Gordon? (Adam Jay Epstein & Ruth Chan)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Have You Seen Gordon? by Adam Jay Epstein and Ruth Chan, a hilariously clever twist on seek-and-find books.

Have you seen Gordon? You’d think a bright purple tapir wouldn’t be tough to find, but in a crowd of creatures of all shapes, sizes, and species, it can be tricky. Unless, of course, Gordon decides that he doesn’t want to hide – in fact, he wants to stand out. This fourth wall-breaking declaration throws the book’s narrator for a loop, and they are left fumbling with how to continue a seek-and-find book with a irrepressibly fabulous and flamboyant main character.

A perfect mix of humor and heart. Epstein’s witty take on seek-and-finds – particularly the dialogue between the narrator and the characters – is immediately enjoyable for readers of all ages. What’s truly impressive is how it also explores the idea of agency and individualism: by the end of the book, both the narrator and reader have been shown that the characters in the crowd scenes should be treated with respect as individuals with their own personalities, preferences, and life stories. It’s a surprising turn that frames the entire book in a different light, and had us eager to go back and explore every inch of the intricately illustrated spreads to see all the details we had missed (which Chan even uses to introduce some lovely moments of comedy and inclusivity). The length is perfect for a storytime, but these charming crowd scenes make the book endlessly explorable as readers begin to imagine each background character’s story. JJ and I absolutely loved it; she was giggling up a storm by the midpoint. A perfectly constructed story that entertains as it enlightens, and we were blown away. Baby Bookworm approved!

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

When Langston Dances (Kaija Langley)

Hello, friends! Our book today is When Langston Dances, written by Kaija Langley and illustrated by Keith Mallett, a wonderfully empowering tale of one boy’s passion for dance.

Langston likes basketball, but after attending an Alvin Ailey performance, he finds that he LOVES ballet. Having a newfound passion for dance, and with his mother’s ready support, Langston begins practicing poses and moves at every opportunity. He does his best to brush off negative comments, throwing himself into his first dance class in a way that stuns his fellow students and impresses his new teacher. Being a ballet dancer will take work, but Langston is ready – he LOVES to dance.

Majestic. While ballerina books are readily available, ones with male and/or POC protagonists are rare, making this a uniquely inclusive title from the jump. But it is the work of Langley and Mallett that elevate this story of self-acceptance, passion, and pride to a must-read. Langley’s energetic text captures Langston’s irrepressible love for ballet, while deftly and delicately tackling outdated ideas about masculinity. Mallett’s photorealistic illustrations are incredibly engaging – one can see the love in Langston’s mother’s eyes, the pride in ballet teacher Ms. Marie’s smile, and the unfettered joy in Langton’s graceful movements. The final few pages are simply breathtaking, and perfectly capture the exuberance one feels when doing the thing that most brings them happiness – all the more powerful when that someone is a young black boy expressing himself without reservation. The length is great for an elementary storytime, and JJ and I absolutely loved it. Simply put, a fantastic book with the potential to be a modern-day classic, and we highly recommend it. Baby Bookworm approved!

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

My Name is Bana (Bana Alabed)

Hello, friends! Our book today is My Name is Bana, written by Bana Alabed and illustrated by Nez Riaz, a powerful tale of resilience, tenacity, and strength.

When Bana asks her mother how she got her name, her mother explains that she was named after a tall, green tree that grew in their native Syria. Bana’s parents gave her the name with that hope that their daughter would be strong like the tree – by showing kindness to others, by standing up against injustice, and by being brave in the face of fear. And in fact, Bana has already shown such strength in many ways: bringing joy to her brothers even amidst bombings and war; starting over in a new country with a new language and new classmates; and speaking on behalf of all Syrian refugee children in front of world leaders. Bana has more than shown that she is “qawia” (strong) like her namesake tree, and stronger still that her strength is rooted in “amal” – in hope.

Stirring. Based on Alabed’s true life story, this inspiring and empowering tale of fortitude manages to finely balance the gravity of its subject matter with language and a tone filled with the concept of hope that it explores. Riaz’s emotional illustrations capture moments of strife, courage, and peace with incredible nuance; Alabed’s text is lyrical yet conversational, and lovely to read aloud. Alabed’s author’s note in the backmatter is not to be skipped, and the closing lines will remind adult readers that strength should not always lie on the shoulders of children. The length is great for a storytime, and JJ and I really enjoyed the heartwarming exchange between mother and daughter. Overall, this is a fantastic book that covers a crucial topic in an accessible and uplifting way, and we highly recommend 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.)

Mermaid Dance (Matthew Van Fleet)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Mermaid Dance, written by Matthew Van Fleet and illustrated by Mara Van Fleet, an absolutely delightful interactive board book that will get little merfolk tails a-flappin’.

The merkids have all gotten an invitation to a big dance party, but there’s just one problem: none of them know how to dance! One mermaid mentions this to her little fishy pal, who has the answer. He introduces her and the other merkids to his own sea-dwelling pals, each with their own unique dance move – the seahorse swish, the narwhal nod, the polar bear twist, and so on. In no time at all, the merkids are ready to dance the night away with all their underwater pals.

An entertaining, interactive delight. This hefty little volume is full of fantastic design, engaging text and illustrations, and wonderful interactive elements. Each “dance” is exhibited through sturdy pull tabs that activate movement behind plastic-covered cutouts, protecting each moving element from rough treatment by young readers (the exception being the final page, which is a traditional glued-in pop-up spread). All of the dances are also easily-imitated, and with the bouncy text to provide rhythm, allows for little bookworms to move and shimmy along with the characters. The diversity of the “merkids” – who present with different genders, pronouns, skintones, and hair types – promotes inclusion, making this a perfect title for educators to share with groups and classes. The length is perfect for a storytime, and JJ had an absolute blast making the characters move and trying the dances out herself. Simply put, this one is tons of fun, and we highly recommend 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.)