Top 20 Reviews of 2018

Copy of Top 5

Hello, friends! Happy New Year’s Eve! It’s that time of year again, when we take a moment to look back at some of our favorite reviews from this past year: the books that filled us with hope, brought us joy, made us laugh, made us think, and inspired us to be our best selves.

And just as it was last year, editing this list was EXCRUCIATING. But while we had leave out some incredible stories, we have decided on a list of the Top 20 books that made a lasting impression on both JJ and me.

So here are, in no particular order, our Top 20 Reviews of 2018! Each one features a short summary and an excerpt from our original review that captures what made the book so special to us. Please note: not all of these books were released this year, but 2018 is the year we reviewed them. We hope they entertain and inspire you and your little bookworms in 2019! Please enjoy, and we’ll see you in the new year!

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

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This wordless picture books tells the earnest, compelling, and inspiring story of Vanessa, a new girl in school who suffers bullying, and nameless protagonist who decides to take a stand against it by showing empathy and kindness. Rather than a might-makes-right approach to fighting harassment, Kerascoët shows that sometimes, all that needs to be done is to show bullies that they will always be outnumbered by good and compassionate people.

“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.”

2. Dreamers (Yuyi Morales)

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“I dreamed of you, then you appeared. Together we became Amor – Love – Amor.” So begins a love letter from a mother to her baby, and the story of their journey together to a new land. The language spoken is unlike her own, but she tries, until the day when she stumbles upon a place of education and promise: a public library. As her son grows, she and he both use the books and resources to learn, to adapt, and to stretch their dreams ever higher. “We are stories. We are two languages. […] We are dreamers, soñadores of the world.”

“[…] Morales channels her immigration experience into a factual story with a fantastical look. Every word of the quietly powerful text has intent, each element of the mixed media art a nod to the author’s past, present, and future […]. It’s not just one love letter, but many – from mother to son, from patron to library, from reader to book, from immigrant to both home countries – all folded into a story that inspires, relates, and deeply moves.”

3. Tim’s Goodbye (Steven Salerno)

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A pure, powerful, and deeply moving story about loss, grief, and supporting our loved ones in times of need or sorrow. Margot is sad because Tim is gone, but through the quiet and faithful support of her friends, she mourns his loss and begins to find peace. JJ adores this book – likely because of the soothing tone and color palette – and despite reading it dozens of times, it never fails to leave me misty-eyed by its gorgeous finale.

“Heartbreaking, uplifting, comforting, and dear all at once. The way the progression of Margot’s grief unfolds […] is a subtle and powerful way of letting kids know that mourning is just that: a process. Furthermore, in her friends’ gentle and thoughtful actions, it shows young children how they can be there for someone who is dealing with loss. Finally, the non-denominational depiction of Tim’s beautifully serene afterlife will give children comfort for their own losses.”

4. My Hair Is A Garden (Cozbi A. Cabrera)

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When Mackenzie is humiliated once again for her short, unruly hair, she runs to Miss Tillie for a cry. Mack’s hair has always been especially hard to style – even her own mother doesn’t know what to do with it. Miss Tillie listens sagely, then agrees to teach Mack how to care for her hair. Excited, Mack asks if her hair will one day look like Miss Tillie’s smooth, elaborate style. But using her lush and lovingly-maintained garden as a metaphor, Tillie shows Mack that the style of the hair is not what matters, but that her hair is healthy, well cared-for and, most importantly, loved.

“As many women of color can attest, the struggle of having “good hair” – and the social and body-image connotations therewith – starts early on. It’s what makes a book like this so vital: […] Cabrera give practical tips on caring for black hair […], but also provides an affirming encouragement for young girls of color to love and take pride in their hair. This tone is further explored in the gorgeous illustrations that give rich, emotional connections to the text: a vignette of a boy dumping sand in Mack’s hair is heartbreaking, inside covers depicting girls of various skintones and hairstyles are heartwarming, and the cover/inner illustration of Mack’s hair growing healthy, natural, and strong is spellbinding.”

5. Julián Is A Mermaid (Jessica Love)

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A gorgeous tale of pride and acceptance for a gender nonconforming boy. Julián imagines himself as a mermaid, growing a tail of his own and long, beautiful hair that waves gently through the ocean, making friends with the sea creatures who love and accept him. Left alone as his abuela bathes, Julián is struck with inspiration: he sheds his normal clothes and crafts a mermaid outfit for himself, with a headdress of flowers and palm fronds, a long flowing tail made from a curtain, and a pop of lipstick to complete the look. Enjoying his new ensemble, he doesn’t hear his abuela exit her bath, and finds her staring at him in silence. At first, the reader and Julián think he must be in trouble… until he finds that acceptance is not only found in the sea.

“The story is simple, subtle, but incredibly moving. The rich, earthy-colored illustrations need only minimal text to assist in getting the message across, but what is there is equally, perfectly understated. And the visual symbolism strikes a perfect tone, using texture, motion, color, and pattern to explore Julián’s hidden world of imagination and connect it to the reality of his quietly supportive abuela. […] A beautiful story for little mermaids of all genders.”

6. Ocean Meets Sky (The Fan Brothers)

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Finn loves the ocean, a love he once shared with his grandpa; he would have been 90 today. In honor of his grandpa, he has built a ship from scraps and flotsam – he hopes to one day take it on a voyage of his own, to find the mythical place his grandfather once spoke of, a place where ocean meets sky. After nodding off in his boat, he awakes to find that he has been swept out to sea – the journey has begun!

“Breathtaking yet touching and intimate. Once again, the Fan Brothers have created a detailed world straight out of a child’s imagination, with sights, landscapes, and creatures that fascinate and amuse. Every page is beautiful and inviting, and inspires the reader to share Finn’s wanderlust. The story is soft and gentle, but filled with meaning, working in concert with the art to explore themes of remembrance, family, and even Chinese culture.”

7. Pie Is For Sharing (Stephanie Parsley Ledyard, illus. Jason Chin)

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Following a gathering of families for a day at the lakeside, the text begins with the titular sentiment: “pie is for sharing.” It starts as a round thing, but it can then be cut into as many pieces as you need, so everyone can have a slice. Lots of other things are for sharing, too: books, toy boats, music, stories, climbing trees, hugs – there are so many things you can share with the people around you, and the people you care about. Night breezes, berries, the last slice of homemade bread, and fireworks – these are made for sharing too. “Just like pie.”

“At first, this can be read as a simple ode to summer – swimming, picnicking, playing in the sand with friends, enjoying a fireworks show as a community. The art certainly captures the joyful, carefree atmosphere of children in summertime, creating a lovely sense of nostalgia on every page. But not far beneath the surface appeal, there is a fantastic message about community and diversity to be found. […]With this, it becomes a story about sharing our world, our neighborhood, and ourselves with others, and experiencing the happiness that doing so brings. […]This is a warm summer’s day of a book: relaxing, bright, and leaving the reader with a sense of comforting hope.”

8. Here We Are: Notes For Living On Planet Earth (Oliver Jeffers)

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Welcome, new person! Here we are; this is Earth, a big globe spinning in a massively bigger universe, and carrying all of human and plant and animal life as we know it. There are pointy, cold mountains, and hot, flat grasslands, and deep, mysterious oceans. There are all kinds of people here, all different shapes and sizes and colors, but all of them people just like you. It can be a little overwhelming, but we’ll take it step by step as you grow. We are here, after all – you’re never alone on Planet Earth.

“Jeffers created Here We Are as a gift for his first child, and it shows in the care, humor, and affection that sing from each page. The art is positively lovely: gorgeous, sweeping land-, sea-, and starscapes blended with Jeffers signature quirky details and characters. A spread featuring dozens of animals makes for delightful identification practice; another featuring a tongue-in-cheeky look at the solar system informs and amuses. The text is clever, sweet, and full of wonder at the world around. The rare story that little ones can enjoy more and more and they grow, and that encourages us to be curious and kind.”

9. I Am Enough (Grace Byers, illus. Keturah A. Bobo)

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“Like the sun, I’m here to shine,” the rhyming text begins, and each page that follows offers an affirmation of all the strength, talent, and promise that young girls have within them. While praising their inherent strengths and virtues, the text also encourages girls to show kindness, to be fighters, and to accept their fellow female for who she is, and embrace all the unique qualities that make her that way. And no matter what, to know that no matter what the world expects of her or tells her she must be, she needs only to remind herself of the truth: “I am enough.”

“Oh, but we do love a great girl-power book, and this one is PHENOMENAL. The text does a great job of encouraging girls to embrace who they are, both physically and personally; to support other women; to not be afraid of their strength or their empathy. The illustrations then bring the message to another level; there are girls of every color, every build, every ability, girls with hijabs, girls in wheelchairs – an absolute rainbow of young women working together, showing each other as friends and supporters. The one thing often missing from female-empowerment kidlit is diversity, but not here, and there IS a girl that looks like your little bookworm in this book.”

10. A Stone For Sascha (Aaron Becker)

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A young girl is collecting yellow flowers and bringing them back to her family, where they are holding a funeral for their recently deceased dog. She lays the flowers down over the large stone used to mark the grave and mourns. A short time later, the family leaves for a lakeside retreat. The girl is sad, watching other children play with their dogs, but at dusk she finds a small oval stone near the water. The art cuts to a large meteorite falling from space. It impacts, and the reader follows along as the stone takes an eons-long journey. As history plays out around it, the rock remains, until it finds itself at the shore of a lake, picked up by a little girl and brought to her home. She lays it on her dog’s grave in memory – a piece of time and the universe as the symbol of her love.

“I mean. Wow. This felt like a book as much for adults as it was for children. The story is so moving and passionate without a single word, the concept is profound and humbling, and the art is incomparable. It’s remarkable in scope, moreso that it never feels like it reaches too far or goes too big – it encourages the reader to think about life and death and the passage of time as something that is enormous and vast and small and personal, all at once. It’s breathtaking, awe-inspiring and yet comforting too.”

11. Life (Cynthia Rylant & Brendan Wenzel)

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This was one of JJ’s presents from Santa this year, and every re-read reminds me of how special a book it is. Life begins as something small, and then? It grows. As days and nights pass, it becomes larger, and different, and more incredible than the day before. Life comes in many forms, from the smallest insect to the biggest whale. But life is hard sometimes, and there can even be times when it’s hard to find the beauty in it. But we must push through, because the morning will bring something new, something unique, something incredible – because life is beautiful, and so are you.

“Rylant and Wenzel have crafted something absolutely astonishing in its simple grace and powerful message. At the start, the story is a look at the animal kingdom through a different angle, and the detailed and eye-catching mixed media art sweeps the reader on this journey in a striking style. Then halfway through, the tone shifts, becoming a story about overcoming hardships and finding hope in troubling times. It encourages the reader that the dark and scary times will end, and that life is worth seeing and loving and experiencing. It’s an unexpected and deeply moving sentiment, […] and with suicides and self-harm among young children on the rise, it’s a message that all young readers should hear as much as possible. […]This is a must-read, and we strongly recommend it to anyone who needs a reminder to find hope in the storm.”

12. The Girl Who Thought In Pictures: The Story Of Dr. Temple Grandin (Julia Finley Mosca, illus. Daniel Rieley)

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There are SO FEW kidlit books with ASD representation, and this one is a lovely one. From the start, Temple was different. At three, she had yet to say her first word, didn’t like noises or crowds, and hated to be hugged. A doctor recommends that she be institutionalized, but Temple’s mother refuses, instead surrounding Temple with supportive people who work to help her adapt, and eventually find the right diagnosis: autism. Under the right care, Temple begins to speak, learn, and invent. She becomes a world-renowned expert in animal behavior and earns three degrees, all because Temple and the people who loved her knew she was “different, not less.”

“We’re great admirers of Dr. Grandin and the feminist and ASD role model she is, and this story captured so much of what makes her story inspiring. Told in fun, bouncy, yet often quite powerful rhyme, it shows how the odds were stacked against Temple at many turns – an autistic woman working in the male-dominant STEM and livestock fields – but she refused be regarded as anything less than the genius that she was. The art is wonderful, using simple, adorable characters and plainly laying out complex ideas to connect with little ones, and a wealth of backmatter expands on the details of Temple’s life.”

13. Dear Girl, (Amy Krouse Rosenthal & Paris Rosenthal, illus. Holly Hatam)

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“Dear Girl,” each page begins, before imparting bite-sized wisdoms to its reader: “Keep that arm raised! You have smart things to say!”, “Look at yourself in the mirror. Say ‘thank you’ to something that makes you YOU”, and “Find people like you. Find people UNLIKE you.” Readers are encouraged to form supportive friendships, to ask questions, and to trust their instincts. And if they ever need encouragement, they can turn to any page in the book, and remember that they are appreciated, celebrated and loved for the dear girl that they are.

“The late, great Rosenthal’s books are always tinged with a bit of sadness – each a reminder of what a lovely and profound writer she was. […]So many positive messages are woven in: confidence, loyalty, kindness, wonder, individuality, inclusion, hope and more. It encourages girls to think and speak for themselves, and a particularly powerful page reminds them that they always, in any situation, have the right to say “NO”. The art keeps it simple and does exactly what it needs to do, using ink lines with mixed-media and paint embellishments to keep the art minimalist yet impactful.”

14. Crown: An Ode To The Fresh Cut (Derrick Barnes, illus. Gordon C. James)

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A stylish and empowering book that pays homage to black boys and men, and the unique kingdom of the barbershop, a place of majesty and wonder where true works of art are created. It’s where a black boy can go and be treated like royalty, draped in robes and given a cut and/or style that makes him feel his best self. He can look around to see men – and women – who look like himself being fitted with their own fresh styles: flawless fades, a lion’s mane of locs, a shining wave, a razor sharp part, and the vitally perfect line. Each patron leaves looking and feeling regal, ready to take on the world with their power, grace, intelligence and soul, and the young man is no different. For each black boy has within him a king, and “the shop” is where he is crowned.

“[…R]epresentation in kidlit is still extremely lacking for people of color. So to see a book like Crown is revelatory: from the first page, it bursts with unapologetic pride, each page singing with black excellence and effortless cool. The illustrations are vibrant, colorful, and full of the style the story evokes. The text is rhythmic and energetic, with a perfect flow and a liberating dynamic. It’s a story that both celebrates black hair and style while also assuring boys of color that their hair is a mere reflection of the limitless capability and potential they possess within.”

15. Write To Me: Letters From Japanese American Children To The Librarian They Left Behind (Cynthia Grady, illus. Amiko Hirao)

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A moving true story from one of the darkest moments in American history. Librarian Clara Breed’s young patrons come to turn in their library cards; she provides them stamped postcards in return. “Write to me,” she says, “and tell me where you are.” It’s WWII, and they are being forced into imprisonment by the US government for being of Japanese descent. Through the letters, Clara learns of the children’s lives: sleeping in deplorable conditions in internment camps, suffering extreme weather and limited food. Clara sends them books, school supplies, and always more postcards – giving them a voice in their time of tragedy.

“By the fourth page of this book, I was openly sobbing. The tragic and infuriatingly unjust treatment of the Japanese-American detainees is brought to devastating reality by the excerpts from the actual postcards to Clara Breed. Reading the children’s words as they describe their inhumane conditions is heartbreaking […]. The art is delicate and soft, yet illustrates the bleak, uncertain lives the children led. Please, read this book. Read it and discuss it with your children. It celebrates a good person we should know, and remembers a shameful event we should never forget.”

16. Franny’s Father Is A Feminist (Rhonda Leet, illus. Megan Walker)

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Franny’s father is a feminist. What does that mean? Well, Franny’s father believes that his daughter (and everyone else’s daughters too) can do anything boys can do, and that they deserve to have the same rights, freedoms, and opportunities. Franny’s father is a feminist, because he believes that boys and girls deserve a world in which they are treated equally.

“Seeing as the definition of “feminism” is something that even some adults have trouble with, this story is perfect for introducing the concept to little ones, as well as the fact that feminists are often men. The story remains light, but still touches on many topics relating to feminism in a way that is easily understood and encourages further conversation. The cartoonish illustrations are bright, colorful, and eye-catching, and filled with wonderful details. […A] fabulously feminist family tale[…]”

17. Pride: The Story Of Harvey Milk And The Rainbow Flag (Rob Sanders, illus. Steven Salerno)

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In 1977, Harvey Milk became one of the first openly gay elected government officials. The next year, he and his friend Gilbert Baker came up with a symbol to unite their community and the people who supported it, and to show pride: they created the first rainbow Pride Flag. Then later that year, the unthinkable: Harvey was assassinated because of one man’s hatred and fear. Yet despite his life being cut short, the seed of hope, courage, and pride that Harvey and Gilbert had planted with their flag had already taken root, and was beginning to grow.

“Like many luminaries that have tragic – and tragically short – lives, it’s hard to tell Harvey Milk’s story in a child-friendly way, but this book does so with grace and a sense of hope. As Milk’s life story ends, the story of the flag becomes the focus, elegantly showing how it grew across the nation, then the world, ending with the note that on the day gay marriage was finally legalized in the United States, the White House itself wore the colors of Pride. It’s a delicate balance of history, tragedy, then encouragement and possibility, and it all fits together perfectly.”

18. Yo Soy Muslim: A Father’s Letter To His Daughter *(Mark Gonzales, illus. Mehrdokht Amini)

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A father speaks to his daughter about the big things in life, the questions and revelations we all share as we grow and discover who we are. He warns her that there are other questions that we will asked of her: “What are you? And where are you from?”. He sadly notes that these questions will not always be asked in kindness. Still, he encourages her to simply reply, “Yo soy Muslim.” This statement encapsulates generations of history, culture; proud hardworking people and her own future as it lies ahead. He urges her to say it proudly, and to define the words in her own way as she defines herself. “Yo soy Muslim,” he says, “Our prayers were here, before any borders were.”

“Taking an exceptionally personal sentiment, the text and art weaves the father’s words to his daughter into a larger lesson about how we treat people who are “other” than us. Quiet, powerful language emphasizes the importance and value that every child possesses, even as the world makes groups – especially children of those groups – feel small and powerless. The vibrant, strikingly colorful art fits this tone perfectly, drawing from both indigenous Latin American and Middle Eastern art to paint a world of explosive color. […] A gorgeous book to share with any little one to encourage understanding and pride, and for children of Latin and Muslim backgrounds, an astounding gift of representation.”

19. Huggy The Python Hugs Too Hard & Roary The Lion Roars Too Loud (Ame Dyckman, illus. Alex G. Griffiths)

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Perhaps not as weighty or serious as the other books on this list, but let me tell you: Huggy The Python was 100% JJ’s FAVORITE book this year. Aiming to help little ones learn basic social skills, both books introduce adorable characters with lessons to learn. For instance, Huggy the python loves to hug the things he loves, but he finds that when he hugs things too tight (such as a balloon or an ice cream sundae), he can break or hurt them. Similarly, Roary the lion loves to let loose his big roar, more often than not startling his family members. In both cases, the reader is employed to help teach the character how to calmly interact, making these wildly entertaining and interactive books stand out.

“The lessons were well-imparted, necessary, and used the interactive elements in both fun and educational ways. The characters and illustrations were absolutely charming, and the friendly conversational text made reading them aloud a joy. The lengths were perfect, and JJ had an absolute blast with them, especially the interactive pages and the art. Even the clever twist at the end of Roary was perfect. I hope to see more of this series very soon[…]”

20. Love (Matt de la Peña, illus. Loren Long)

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We end our list with love. The first voices we hear, and the first faces we see, wide-eyed and smiling down at us in wonder: these are love. So, too, is the sunset sky over a happy home, no matter how modest. It’s in music, in words, in gestures of kindness. Love guides us when we are lost, comforts us when we are scared, supports us as we grow. And when the world is cold or cruel or darkened by hate, don’t despair – love will still be there to chase away the darkness once again.

“It’s really, really hard to describe what makes this book so special. It sounds like a pretty simple concept, and could have made for a very generic book in less-skilled hands. But this is a wonder, and I have teared up at least ten times just thinking of it. The text is simple to read yet filled with quiet depth. The illustrations are earnest and grounded in reality yet carry an overall sense of hope: a spread depicting a nightmare shows a bright light leading the dreamer away from fear, a boy hiding under a piano during an argument between his parents is comforted by his dog. It’s… real, but a reality that encourages hope and understanding and inclusion and connection in terrifying times, with the belief that these things MATTER, and will lead us into the light as well. It’s breathtaking. Please read it. We loved it. You will too.”

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Top 5: Back To School

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Hello, friends! As summer winds down and we start heading towards fall, we wanted to bring you a new Top 5 list! This month’s theme: Back To School! We’re taking a look at some of our favorite books about school and education. We’ve chosen books that recognize the trepidation that little bookworms may be feeling as the first day grows near and celebrate all there is to love about going to school: new friends, new experiences, and the power of education.

So please enjoy our Top 5 list, in no particular order, of our favorite Back To School books:

1. School’s First Day Of School (Adam Rex, illus. Christian Robinson)

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One summer, a special building is built on an empty lot, and named Frederick Douglass Elementary. School thinks that’s a very nice name for himself, and he enjoys spending his days with Janitor, who comes to clean him. He tells Janitor as much, only to be surprised by his reply: soon, School will be filled with teachers and children who come to learn and play! How scary! Will they like School? Will they be nice to him? Will he make any friends like Janitor? The story follows School through his tumultuous first day and shows that even School gets first-day jitters.

“The illustrations are cute and colorful, and really bring School and his inhabitants to life, and the story is just great. It’s perfect for any child who might be feeling a bit unsure about heading to school.”

2. Dad’s First Day (Mike Wohnoutka)

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After an entire summer of playing with his dad, Oliver is ready to for the next adventure: his first day of school. But the first day of school can be a nerve-wracking thing… for Oliver’s dad! His dad complains of tummy aches and foreboding feelings, but Oliver reassures him: school will probably be lots of fun! The day that Oliver goes, dad gets left behind, and begins to worry more than ever. But after seeing Oliver happy with his new friends, we realizes that it’s time to let his little buddy strike out on his own.

“It’s enjoyable how the story flips expectations and has the father as the one most nervous about Oliver’s first day – not only is this humorous for little readers, but it’s a clever and subtle way of showing that nervousness about school is natural, and even parents can feel it. It also opens up the possibility for a discussion of these feelings so that parents and kids can help each other settle their nerves.”

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

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Vanessa, a new girl at school, is shy around her more boisterous 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. 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.

“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.”

4. Ruby’s Wish (Shirin Yim Bridges, illus. Sophie Blackall)

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In a big house in China, a long time ago, there lived an enormous family. One of the grandchildren was Ruby, a little girl so called because she loved red and wore it every day. Ruby’s grandfather hired a teacher for the many grandchildren, and while it was unusual for the time, he allowed both the boys and the girls to attend lessons. Ruby loved school, and worked hard every day to master her subjects (harder even than the boys, because she had to spend her free time learning cooking and homemaking as well). One day, Ruby writes a poem for school  that expresses her sadness at being born a girl. Her grandfather is concerned: why does Ruby think that the boys of the home are treated better? Will Ruby have the courage to speak her mind, and tell her grandfather of the opportunities she longs for?

“This was a fantastic story, made all the more moving because it’s true. Ruby is a wonderful role model for little ones: she tells her grandfather of the special treatment the boys get, and expresses a desire to attend university. Moved by her passion, her grandfather secures her entrance to a school, both he and Ruby bucking the gender limitations of the time. It’s a triumphant ending, and teaches an important lesson: both men and women must fight for gender equality.”

5. Goodbye Brings Hello (Dianne White, illus. Daniel Wiseman)

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Changes can be daunting, especially the big ones. But it’s important to remember that when we say goodbye to the old, we say hello to the new. You may be sad that you’ve outgrown your beloved old sweater, but it makes room in your closet for a fresh new winter coat. It may be hard to give away your old tricycle, but it means that you’re ready to take your big girl bike out for a ride. Haircuts, new shoes, flying in a plane from home to go visit grandparents – leaving the old might be scary, but it allows to new into our lives. And after all that changing and growing, you might just be ready for the next step, and the one after that, knowing that for each goodbye, there’s a chance to say hello.

“This is a great way of discussing change with kids, and encourages them to find what’s exciting about what that change may bring. The simple yet adorable illustrations give plenty of examples – culminating in the children’s first day of school – but the lesson and language is broad enough to help little ones through any sort of major or minor life changes they may be dealing with. A cheerful, diverse cast of kids are featured in the art, which keeps things minimal but still manages to express emotion and humor wonderfully. […] A dose of encouraging words for the unsure that can help during difficult transitions, and we loved it.”

That’s our list! Did we miss any of your favorites? Do you have a book you would like to recommend to us? Let us know in the comments, or message us from our Contact page. Thanks so much!

Top 5: LGBTQ Books – Part 2

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Hello, friends! We’re here with a new Top 5 list for the month of June! And while June has many lovely holidays and themes to celebrate, we thought we’d take a look at one that’s dear to our hearts: LGBTQ Pride! We’ll already compiled one list of some of our favorite books with LGBTQ themes (which can be found here), so we’re back to kick off Pride Month with part two! It includes some of our favorite books that help introduce little readers to what the LGBTQ community and Pride are all about: acceptance, understanding, and the right to be who you are and love who you love.

Here’s our Top 5 LGBTQ Books, Part 2:

1. This Day In June (Gayle E. Pitman, illus. Kristyna Litten)

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Told in cheerful rhyming couplets, the scene is set on a city getting ready for a very  special parade! As the parade begins, people of all kinds march down the street: women on motorcycles, people dressed in rainbows and waving flags, musicians and performers and children and animals. Some of them look different, some are dressed in their own way, but all of them are there to celebrate one thing: unity. For on this day in June, it doesn’t matter who you are, what you look like, or whom you love; all that matters is that you come and be proud of who you are, inside and out.

“The text is simple, sweet rhymes that flow well and introduce children to some of the basics of a Pride celebration: rainbows, unity, acceptance. From there, joyfully colorful illustrations are packed with both widely- and lesser-known Pride traditions and LGBT+ groups […]. An extremely comprehensive Reading Guide in the back provides tons of information and history on Pride and LGBT+ culture, and a Parents’ Guide covers how to talk to children of all ages about gender identity and orientation. This is a phenomenally versatile book that celebrates Pride in a way that is honest yet accessible, and carries the message that who you are is always a thing to be celebrated.”

2. Introducing Teddy: A Gentle Story About Gender And Friendship (Jessica Walton, illus. Dougal MacPherson)

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Errol and Thomas the Teddy are the best of pals. Every day they play together, eat together, and go on adventures together. One day, Thomas is sad, and nothing seems to cheer him up. When Errol asks his friend to tell him what’s wrong, Thomas nervously confides that he is afraid to tell Errol for fear of losing their friendship. Thomas has grown up as a boy teddy bear, but he feels in his heart that he is a girl teddy. He no longer wants to be “Thomas,” but “Tilly” instead. Errol hugs his friend tight, and assures Tilly that no matter what name, appearance, or gender makes Tilly feel most comfortable, Errol will always be Tilly’s best friend.

“As the subtitle says, it’s very gentle: the only conflict to be found is Tilly’s indecision, and she is readily accepted and supported by Errol and their friend Ava. Every detail related to gender identity is spot-on: there are no gender stereotypes (boys have tea parties, girls build robots), no extended questioning of Tilly’s gender […], no assumption that her preferred gender will affect her personality (Errol and Tilly go back to doing the same things everyday that Errol and “Thomas” did). The illustrations are adorable, with a soothing color palate and a certain sweetness that sits well in the heart. […]Best of all, it’s a story about being yourself, the right to feel comfortable in your own skin, and being a good friend.”

3. Stella Brings The Family (Miriam B. Schiffer, illus. Holly Clifton-Brown)

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At school, Stella’s teacher announces that the class will be having a Mother’s Day celebration, and the kids are excited. Everyone in class has a mom to bring (Howie has two!), but Stella isn’t sure who to invite, as she has two daddies. Sure, her daddies do all the things that the other kids’ mommies do: make her lunch, help with homework, and tuck her in. Stella decides to invite her whole family to the party, because while she may not have a mom, she has plenty of people who love and support her.

“What is presented as a feather-light and sweet story about non-traditional families is actually one with great depth that focuses on what defines a “family” outside of societal constructs. Stella and her fathers are considered a family unit from the start, and are never portrayed as something Stella or her classmates are ashamed of or upset by. The question is never “Who is Stella’s mommy?” or “Doesn’t Stella need a mommy?,” instead asking the broader question of “What makes a family?” It then follows this is up by showing that one can have maternal influences (even male ones!) without necessarily having a mother in their life.”

4. We Are Family (Patricia Hegarty, illus. Ryan Wheatcroft)

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Following ten very different families – including nuclear families of different skintones, LGBTQ families, a blended family, a single-parent family, the family of a disabled child, etc. – the simple rhyming texts explores what makes a family. As we see, while the families may look different, they still care for each other when sick, eat meals together, spend time together, help each other through the hard times, and show each other support and love.

“Truly inclusive picture books are always a wonderful to see, and this one did a tremendous job of representing families of different shapes and sizes. I especially like the choice to stay with the ten core families through the majority of the book – it teaches and reinforces the message that yes, families with gay parents or with children being raised by grandparents or of a different color than the reader indeed do all the same things they do, from wakeup until bedtime […].”

5. Not Quite Narwhal (Jessie Sima)

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Kelp was born under the ocean, but isn’t quite like the other narwhals. Still, he loves his home and his friends, who always make him feel safe and loved. But one day, a strong current sweeps Kelp away from his home. He ends up near an island, where he sees a fabulous creature that looks just like him! He learns that the animal is called a unicorn, and he is one too! The unicorns welcome him gladly, and teach him more about being a unicorn. Yet while Kelp is happy to be with unicorns like him, he misses his narwhal friends in the ocean. Kelp is caught between two worlds – which should he choose?

“The story was wonderfully sweet, and had a lot of great humor. The illustrations are just adorable, full of colors and charming characters […]. Best of all is the message: there’s nothing wrong with being different, even from your own family. Kelp’s experiences with the narwhals and unicorns can especially be read as a touching allegory for being LGBTQ or adopted, with both communities loving him, even his connection to each bringing the two groups together to bond. It’s a great way to show children that with supportive friends and family, being different can be the very thing that makes you special.”

That’s our list! And stay tuned: we’ll be reading more books all this month that celebrate Pride! Did we miss any of your favorites? Do you have a book you would like to recommend to us? Let us know in the comments, or message us from our Contact page. Thanks so much!

Top 5: New Baby

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Hello, friends! It’s a new month, so we’ve got a new Top 5 list for you! As it so happens, several friends of The Baby Bookworm have welcomed new additions over the last month, so we thought we’d celebrate these growing families with a list of our Top 5 New Baby Books! Whether helping older siblings with the transition, bringing a little levity to the stressful lives of new parents, or simply welcoming the new arrivals themselves to the world, these books are perfect for the newest bookworms on the block.

So without further ado, here’s our Top 5 New Baby Books:

1. Here We Are: Notes For Living On Planet Earth (Oliver Jeffers)

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Hello, new person! Here we are; this is Earth, a big globe spinning in a massively bigger universe, and carrying all of human and plant and animal life as we know it. Created as a gift for his first child, Jeffers brings care, humor, and deep affection in both the text and art, assuring Earth’s newest arrivals that there is a whole universe to explore as they grow, and that they are never alone in it.

“The art is positively lovely: gorgeous, sweeping land-, sea-, and starscapes blended with Jeffers signature quirky details and characters. A spread featuring dozens of animals makes for delightful identification practice; another featuring a tongue-in-cheek look at the solar system informs and amuses. The text is clever, sweet, and full of wonder at the world around. […] The rare story that little ones can enjoy more and more as they grow, and that encourages us to be curious and kind.”

2. King Baby (Kate Beaton)

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When King Baby is born, it is clear that he is the ruler of all he surveys. People crowd around to greet and fawn over him. He is given mountains of gifts as tribute. His loyal servants (otherwise known as Mommy and Daddy) fulfill his every need and whim, even if they are occasionally simple fools who do not understand his instructions. This hysterical look at the first year of #babylife will make new parents laugh along with their little ones.

“While King Baby and his imperious dialogue were entertaining for JJ, the text and concept of the book are filled with tongue-in-cheek humor for parents. Beaton’s signature comic style makes it feel like this is as much a book for grown-ups as it is for baby bookworms […]. Add to that the charming and colorful illustrations and a perfect length for little ones, and you’ve got a book that is sure to please readers of all ages.”

3. I’ve Loved You Since Forever (Hoda Kotb, illus. Suzie Mason)\

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When does a mother or father begin to love their baby? From the day they meet them? No no, the love between a mother or father and their baby began long before that. It began before the flight of birds, and before bees made honey. It came before rivers and sunsets and even the silvery glow of the moon. Before all of that, there were two bright points of light traveling through the stars, destined to meet – and that’s when a parent’s love begins, and waits for the day that ”you and me” becomes a ”we”.

“Sentimentally sweet, elegant yet earnest. […] Inspired by the adoption of her daughter, Kotb is careful to keep the story gender-neutral (with the exception of one illustration) and open a diverse cross-section of families: the narrator could represent a mother or a father, and could be a biological, adopted, step-parent, or other types of caregiver, allowing for many types of families to feel a personal connection to the story. Both the text and the art have a soothing, dreamy quality that makes for a perfect bedtime read, including a gorgeous reoccurring cosmic motif that serves as a beautiful visual metaphor for the story’s theme.”

4. Mama’s Belly (Kate Hosford, illus. Abigail Halpin)

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The unnamed young protagonist knows her baby sister is on the way – she can see the swell of her Mama’s belly like a rising sea. And she has a number of questions about the new arrival: Will her sister know her, when she arrives? Will she have freckles like her? Will the girl have to share her beloved blanket with the baby? And lastly, will her parents have enough love for her and the baby to share?

“Gentle, warm, and simply lovely. There’s a sincere and almost meditative quality in which the narrative of the family’s day unfolds, inviting the reader into the mind of the curious, and perhaps a bit anxious, big-sister-to-be. Then, as her parents comfort her with reassuring and encouraging words, the soothing text and vivid, inviting illustrations wrap around the reader like a cozy blanket. The art is just beautiful, bringing the audience into a comfy house bursting with color in rich, warm tones.”

5. Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide For New Arrivals (Mo Willems)

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Welcome! You have officially been born, and are now experiencing life. It’s a big, complicated thing to do, so we hope that this introductory guide will help you navigate some of the major points. Occasionally, there may be disappointments, like injustice or spilled ice cream. But there are people working to make this world better for you all the time, and we can share our ice cream. Overall, there will be much to experience; the good, the bad, and the very silly. We’re so glad that you are you, and that you are here, and that we are reading this book together.

“Using a instruction manual-style layout and his signature tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, Willems has created a story that captures both the lightness and gravity of welcoming an infant into the family and the world. Sections of silly comedy combine moments of earnest honesty and hope to give the book a weight beyond its whimsy, and simple yet bold block illustrations are perfect for the tiniest bookworm’s developing eyesight. […] A wonderful book for those welcoming a new addition to the world[…]”

 

That’s our list! We’d also like to note two favorites not on this list: Little Big Girl by Claire Keane and Love Is by Diane Adams! Both are gorgeous and touching stories, and the only reason we didn’t include them here is because we’ve featured them in previous lists. Did we miss any of your favorites? Do you have a book you would like to recommend to us? Let us know in the comments, or message us from our Contact page. Thanks so much!

Top 5: Foxes

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Hello, friends! It’s the start of a new month, so we’re celebrating with a new Top 5! This month, we thought we’d take a look at books featuring one of our favorite animals: Foxes! Who doesn’t love a clever, cuddly fox? Without further ado, here’s The Baby Bookworm’s Top 5 Books About Foxes:

1. The Fox In The Dark (Alison Green, illus. Deborah Allwright)

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Rabbit runs home at a hurried pace; there is a vicious fox out in the dark tonight. As soon as he secures himself in his burrow for the night, he hears a knock on the door. A duck has gotten stranded in the woods, and asks to take shelter with the rabbit. Soon after, an exhausted mouse and a timid lamb also beg sanctuary, making Rabbit’s only bed quite crowded for the evening. And just as they are settling in, there is another knock at the door: the fox! But he isn’t quite what he appears to be…

“This is one of our favorite bedtime books, and we enjoy it every time. The message, that things and people are rarely as simple as they appear, is a classic but with an important twist: don’t fear what you don’t understand. By revealing that the fox isn’t hunting for a meal but for her lost cub, it encourages little readers to consider things from all perspectives before snapping to judgement.”

2. Faraway Fox (Jolene Thompson, illus. Justin K. Thompson)

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A fox wanders what used to be the fields and forests of his home, now a confusing landscape of concrete, cars, and people. He has been separated from his family by an interstate, and he spends his days exploring the unfamiliar area. One day, he finds some humans building a tunnel under the freeway, and when he explores it, he finds that it leads to a wildlife preserve… and his family!

“This is a bold attempt to explain a common modern problem to children: urban sprawl and the effect it has on wildlife. In this, it succeeds, with gorgeous illustrations and a satisfying ending.”

3. Pandora (Victoria Turnbull)

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Pandora lives all alone in a land of broken things. She uses her cleverness and ingenuity to build a cozy home and fix lost treasures, but she is still lonely. One day, a small bluebird injures itself nearby, and Pandora takes the little bird in. The two grow close, and when the bird is healthy enough to fly away, it always returns with treasures from far-off lands, fixing them into a nest as a gift for Pandora. One day, the bird doesn’t return, and Pandora is broken-hearted. But when she wakes one sunny morning, she finds that once the seeds of friendship are planted and nourished, they will grow – and that it may take a while, but true friends always find their way back home.

“This is a stunning story that uses lovely, soothing art and simple text to cover some surprisingly advanced ideas. It’s a beautiful fable for young ones, but older readers will recognize subtle themes like depression, hope, and healing within the story’s message of friendship and kindness being returned to those who give it. It’s surprisingly powerful, especially with art that conveys these emotions as much as it does the story being told.”

4. Little Fox In The Forest (Stephanie Graegin)

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This wordless picture book begins with a teacher telling a class of students, including the protagonist, that the next day will be show-and-tell; they should bring something precious and old. The little girl protagonist knows just what to bring: her beloved toy fox, which she has had since she was a baby as a constant companion. After class, she brings the little fox to the playground with her friends, but as she is enjoying the swings, a real-life fox snatches it from her backpack! The little girl and her best friend race after the fox, going on an adventure through the woods that parallels the adventure of the toy fox and its new owner. Will the little fox find its way back home – or will home become something new and unexpected?

“JJ isn’t usually interested in wordless picture books, but we really enjoyed this one! The story is so charming and exciting, the characters are so expressive, and the illustrations so detailed and lively that it was easy to enjoy the story with our own narration. The ending was especially wonderful, with both the little girl and the real fox showing each other a touching generosity and kindness that stands as a great lesson for little ones.”

5. The Antlered Ship (Dashka Slater, illus. The Fan Brothers)

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Marco the fox is filled with big questions. His fellow foxes have little interest in his questions, content to their workaday lives. So when Marco sees the antlered ship dock in the harbor, and the captain offers work as a crewman, Marco accepts. But once the new crew disembarks, they find that sailing a ship is difficult work. Finding what they are each talented at, the crew eventually bands together and becomes a great team, each discovering what they initially sought – except for Marco. He still has more questions… but perhaps he has found the answer to one of them without even realizing.

“Just lovely. This is one part a story of finding friendship, one part a story of finding oneself, one part adventure tale, and one part meditation on the unknown, all wrapped up in a bundle of gorgeously detailed and stunningly imaginative art. The text is clever, sometimes wry and often profound, weaving a story that sweeps the reader along through the highs and lows of the animals’ voyage. The art is beautiful, evoking a quiet sense of wonder and wanderlust with each page.”

That’s our list! Did we miss any of your favorites? Do you have a book you would like to recommend to us? Let us know in the comments, or message us from our Contact page. Thanks so much!