I Walk With Vanessa: A Story About A Simple Act Of Kindness (Kerascoët)

Hello, friends! Our book today is I Walk With Vanessa: A Story About A Simple Act Of Kindness by Kerascoët, a story of the power of empathy and compassion.

Using only pictures, we meet Vanessa, a new girl at school. She is shy, reserved and hesitant around her more boisterous and familiar classmates. When school ends, she walks home alone, where she is stopped by a bully who taunts her to the point of tears. Vanessa runs home crying, much to the dismay of another girl, who has watched the entire exchange. She tells her small circle of friends of what she saw, and they part ways sadly, upset over the incident. The girl worries over it all night, until she has an idea over breakfast. On her way to school, she stops by Vanessa’s house and offers to walk together. Vanessa accepts, and they chat as they go, until another friend joins them. Then another, then another, until a whole crowd of children is walking Vanessa to school, and she is protected from the chagrined bully. That day, Vanessa begins getting to know her new friends, finally feeling safe enough to come out of her shell.

Absolutely wonderful. It speaks to the sheer perfection of Kerascoët’s art that words aren’t needed to tell a compelling, touching, and uplifting story; in the absence of text, the bully’s harsh words are still cutting and cruel, the downcast expressions of the two girls speaks volumes, and the reader can practically hear the chatter of friendly, supportive children during the final scenes. The simplicity of the story can speak to readers of any age: hatred and callousness always loses when good people come together to stand against it. Wordless picture books are often tough with JJ, but the lovely, earnest art and compelling story it tells kept her riveted, and left me with a warm heart and misty eyes. A positively beautiful book, and Baby Bookworm approved!

What Happens Next (Susan Hughes)

Hello, friends! Our book today is What Happens Next, written by Susan Hughes and illustrated by Carey Sookocheff, a thoughtful story on bullying.

The unnamed protagonist (also cleverly portrayed as genderless) lays things out in a matter-of-fact way: “Why I Don’t Want To Go To School Today: Bully B.” Bully B. is a mean girl who teases and intimidates the protagonist, seemingly daily. “What Her Friends Do: Laugh. What Everyone Else Does: Nothing.” Sad and isolated, the victim trudges through days, taking comfort only in their science books and dog, Sparky; answering their mother’s inquiries about their day with a mumbled “Fine.” At last, the protagonist confesses the bullying, and mom responds with empathy and comfort. She presents several solutions, including one that may take a bit of courage, and a lot of understanding…

Books about bullying are hard, because each bullying situation, each bully, and each victim is so different. But that’s precisely what sets this story apart: it attempts to create connection and empathy with all parties involved. It features a main character defined by their emotions rather than physical attributes, allowing readers to easily place themselves in the subject’s shoes. It lays out facts, feelings, and dialogue in the same no-frills tone, giving equal importance to all. I loved that the mother encouraged empathy with the bully to make sense of their actions, and offered to intervene but also gave the protagonist a chance to settle the conflict themselves. Even the art plays into these themes beautifully, portraying the main character as blue and the bully green, and the rest of the world as colorless and gray during the harassment, then shifting the vibrant colors when a tentative peace is reached. It’s a quiet, reflective take on bullying, and a good way to talk to young readers – both the bullied and the bullies themselves – about its impact. Baby Bookworm approved!

Tip & Lulu: A Tale Of Two Friends (Lauren Isabelle Pierre)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Tip & Lulu: A Tale Of Two Friends by Lauren Isabelle Pierre, a story of unlikely friends who decide to take a stand against bullying.

Lulu is a leopard, and a rather lonely one. She tried to be friendly to the other animals, but no one wants to play with her – most are too scared. One day, after being teased by a group a meerkats, she follows them to find the larger three of the group picking on the smallest. She decides to step in, scaring off the bullies and showing kindness to the littlest meerkat, Tip. The two become fast friends, but are soon confronted with a tough choice. Happening upon their former bullies being bullied themselves, Tip and Lulu must decide if they should do what’s easy, or do what’s right.

This one got a number of things right. First, while I had a small issue with how the bullies are dispatched both times (using fear), the story is otherwise solid. It hit a number of points that many books on the subject don’t, such as that most bullies have bullies of their own. It also struck a chord with its bittersweet ending: despite being saved by Tip and Lulu, the meerkats still have no interest in being friends with a leopard. Tip assures Lulu that they will come around, but that’s less important than the fact that she did the right thing, not for a reward, but simply for the sake of doing it. It’s refreshingly honest, and all the more poignant for being so. The rhyming text is ambitious, and while it stumbles occasionally, it flows nicely otherwise. The illustrations are a standout here, and Pierre clearly put a lot of love and care into them; a shame then that formatting errors cause many of them to be grainy and pixelated. But overall, the story is great, the length is fine, and JJ loved it. This one has a great deal of potential, 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.)

Fred Forgets (Jarvis)

Hello, friends! Today’s book is called Fred Forgets by Jarvis, the tale of a forgetful elephant and his mischievous monkey friend.

They say an elephant never forgets; unfortunately, Fred is not that elephant. No, he’s extremely forgetful, and so relies on his “friend” Monkey to help him remember what he was in the midst of doing. Unfortunately, Monkey is a bit of a prankster – actually, he’s kind of a bully. Monkey tells Fred to do increasingly embarrassing, painful, or dangerous things until at last, Fred remembers what he wanted to do in the first place: sit on Monkey and squish him.

Honestly, I wasn’t a huge fan of this one. While the illustrations are fun, colorful and dynamic, the story was troubling. Monkey’s exploitation and manipulation of Fred’s memory problem is deeply uncomfortable; his “funny” pranks aren’t amusing, just mean, cruel, and occasionally life-threatening. And unlike Jarvis’s previous story, Alan’s Big Scary Teeth, the bully doesn’t come to understand the error of his ways. Instead, his comeuppance comes in the form of being sat upon – satisfying after all his antics, but hardly a positive lesson for little readers. And while the length was fine, and JJ enjoyed the animals and the vibrant art, and the author does include a pleasantly cheeky final page showing that “no monkeys or elephants were harmed in the making of this book”, I’m not sure if this is one we can recommend. For us, despite its positives, the story simply missed the mark by too much.

Dragon Was Terrible (Kelly DiPucchio)

Hello, everyone! Our book today is Dragon Was Terrible, written by the awesome Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli. This fun story is about a mean dragon, and the little boy who tames him in the most unexpected of ways!

There’s no getting around it: Dragon was terrible. Every day, he seemed to find new ways of being rude, mean and a bully to everyone around him. So the king advertises an award for the person who can tame Dragon, first to the brave knights (who fail miserably) and then to anyone who dares try (who also fail miserably). Still, there is one little boy who thinks he has the solution, though it’s a bit unusual: has anyone tried reading Dragon a story?

Kelly DiPucchio is one of our personal favorite authors, and she doesn’t disappoint with Dragon. The story is the perfect length, tons of fun, and has several fantastic messages to take away: the effectiveness of ingenuity over brute strength, and the power of books, patience and friendship. The illustrations are simply adorable and lots of fun, and JJ loved them. A fantastic and fun read to tame any terrible little dragon. Baby Bookworm approved!