When I Draw A Panda (Amy June Bates)

Hello, friends! Our book today is When I Draw A Panda by Amy June Bates, a delightful tale of imagination, creativity, and expression.

A girl in white overalls and messy bun introduces herself to the reader as simply as possible: “I love to draw,” she states, gazing at a blank chalkboard wall with excitement. However, she points out that she is often encouraged to draw things “perfectly” or “the right way”. This does not appeal to the young artist, who prefers to create in her own way, such as swirling her chalk in circles until her own unique panda appears. She and the panda both enjoy drawing their own way, by giving their instruments free reign and allowing their imagination to fill in the blanks. So while their style may be a little “too crazy” for some, they don’t mind – not when their art makes them happy.

Adorable. This sweet tale reminds kids (and adults) that when it comes to art, there is no “right way” or “wrong way” to do things. This is both a nice encouragement for blossoming artists to let their creativity rule their efforts, as well as a good reminder to adults that children should be allowed to create in whatever way suits them personally. Bates’s charming illustrations and cheerfully irreverent text are a great match; the girl and her panda are both immediately lovable, and their imaginative illustrations are very entertaining; our favorite page gives a quick and fun tip for drawing dragons that we couldn’t wait to try out. The length is great for a quick storytime, and JJ loved it. A lovely ode to imagination, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Lost For Words (Natalie Russell)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Lost For Words by Natalie Russell, an adorable tale about the talents that make us special.

Tapir is flummoxed. He has a brand new notebook with fresh blank pages and a new set of sharpened pencils at the ready. Yet when he sets pencil to paper, he cannot think of a single thing to put down; his brain feels as empty as the page. His friends aren’t having any trouble: Giraffe has composed a poetic ode to his favorite tree; Hippo, a thrilling story about a brave (and handsome) hippo; Flamingo, beautiful song about the bright, warm sun. Tapir is proud of his friends, yet wishes he could figure out how to express himself as well. Retreating to a hill, he looks out over the place and creatures he loves, and reflects… and suddenly, he knows just how to express the feelings within.

Lovely. This gentle, sweet tale covers some pretty classic kidlit subject matter: individual talents and skill, artistic block, frustration, and friendship. The lovely ending sees Tapir not only finding his talent, but using it to show appreciation for the ones he cares about, dovetailing the themes smoothly and with considerable warmth. The art manages to create the cuddliest-looking creatures out of simple lines and colors; JJ was especially fascinated by Tapir, an animal who rarely gets a starring role in kidlit. The length is perfect for a short storytime, and we both loved it. A loveable cast and an encouraging tale, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Lali’s Feather (Farhana Zia)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Lali’s Feather, written by Farhana Zia and illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman, a delightful story of ingenuity and friendship.

Lali is playing in the field one day when she finds a feather. Wishing to return it to its owner, she asks Rooster, Crow, and Peacock if they are missing it. They all say no, pointing out the feather’s plainness (as opposed to Peacock’s fancy feathers) and pokeyness (as opposed to Crow’s perky feathers), and so on. So Lali decides to keep her feather to play with. Her friends Hen, Duck, Jay laugh at the little feather, but as Lali finds more and more ways to creatively play with the feather, all six of the birds become more excited and invested. Then, when a gust of wind blows the feather out of Lali’s grasp, she is left broken-hearted. Fortunately, her feathered friends are there, and eager to bring her feather back.

Wonderfully unique. Various themes are explored in this one (different species of birds, imaginative play, not judging by appearances, etc.), all weaving together to create a story that is rich with substance yet light and fun to read. Particularly enjoyable is Lali’s creative mind, which can find a hundred uses for a plain, small, pokey feather, such as tickling, sweeping, writing, and more. It shows little readers that any ordinary object can be a toy, and the very best games are often the ones we create ourselves. The illustrations are gorgeous, creating a lush country home setting and memorable characters. Lali’s Indian culture is flawlessly woven throughout, from her bindi and clothing to the Indian slang used in the dialogue (translations are not provided, yet easy to guess from context). The length is perfect, and JJ adored the colors and characters. A marvelously enjoyable tale, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Just Because (Mac Barnett)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Just Because, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, a sweet tale of imagination.

As a little girl cuddles into bed for the night, she has a question for her father: “Why is the ocean blue?” Rather than replying with the titular phrase, dad instead answers with a more creative explanation: the fish like to take out their guitars and sing sad songs, which makes them cry blue tears. The little girl counters: why is the sky blue? Well, those are the tears of flying fish, naturally. With each question, her father spins a new imagining of the explanation, from why the leaves change color to what happened to all the dinosaurs. At last, the little girl wonders why she must go to sleep, and her father answers simply: “there are some things we can only see with our eyes closed.”

A sweet ode to creative storytelling, and especially to childhood curiosity and wonder. Each fantasy that the father constructs for his little one is illustrated in lovely detail on a two-page spread, bringing the dream to life in a phenomenal traditional art style, featuring largely grayscale features with explosive pops of color. The explanations themselves are wonderfully creative – especially the dinosaurs, which had JJ and I both giggling – and the ultimate lesson on the importance of dreams, and of fostering them in young and curious minds, is just perfect. The length is fine for a bedtime read, yet the art invites closer examination anytime. JJ enjoyed this one a lot, and so did I – Baby Bookworm approved!

Julia, Child (Kyo Maclear)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Julia, Child, written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Julie Morstad, an ode to cooking and childhood.

From the first time young Julia tastes sole meunière, she is enchanted by cooking and cuisine. She and her friend Simca spend days together, at the market shopping for ingredients, learning the craft of creating fine food, testing new recipes together in the kitchen. Their pursuits bring them such joy that when they notice the dreary and uninspired adults around them, they wonder if their culinary creations can help. Gathering a diverse group of busy, serious people for a meal, Julia and Simca serve them a plentiful gourmet table that contains all the delights and joys of childhood. Their guests are exuberant at first, yet quickly turn selfish, hoarding the food from the others when they fear it will run out. Frustrated and disappointed, Julia and Simca return to their comfort zone, the kitchen, to figure out how to tweak their recipe and achieve just the right flavor of happiness.

Deliciously inventive. Obviously, this reimagining of the friendship between Julia Child and Simone Beck isn’t historical; the women met and discovered a shared love of French cuisine in adulthood. But this is no matter: Julia and Simca are sweet nods to their real-life adult counterparts in a story that is not about them, but about finding a passion and using it to create, and to inspire others. And while it felt like parts of the metaphor flew over my head – particularly the sequence in which the adults aggressively reserve the food – the overarching message is one of appreciating the little things, especially things like a meal made with love, or the bond between two best friends. Morstad’s illustrations are as lovely as ever, using soft colors and fine details to create unique, engaging characters and food that looks good enough to eat. The length is perfect, and JJ enjoyed this one a lot. A scrumptious read, especially for fans of the real life chef, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!