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!

Happy Dreamer (Peter H. Reynolds)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Happy Dreamer by Peter H. Reynolds, an ode to creativity and imagination.

A little boy introduces himself to the reader as a happy dreamer: a creative soul who simply cannot help but let his mind wander, explore, create, and of course, dream. The world may tell him to sit down, be still, and keep quiet, but when his dreaming starts, he simply cannot. Whether they be quiet dreams, loud dreams, high-flying dreams, explosive dreams, colorful dreams, or a dozen other types of dreaming, he is proud that his mind is a doorway to the endless unknown, and that his dreamer’s spirit will guide him through.

Sweet. Reynolds’s meditation on the creative mind features colorful and appropriately expressive illustrations, and story that reads like a jazz song – each spread is a variation on the theme, culminating in a wonderful pull-out section that features dozens of diverse young dreamers expressing their creativity in their own ways (from art and music to community and civic service). There were a few moments that weren’t my cup of tea, such as the suggestion that a symptom of being creative is to also be disorganized – speaking from personal experience, this just isn’t true – or disobedient in the face of structure. But overall, for many imaginative kids who might share these qualities, it is a nice way of letting them know that they aren’t alone. The length is fine, and JJ enjoyed the colorful art. This is a cute book that encourages the dreamer in all of us, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved.

Penguin Flies Home (Lita Judge)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Penguin Flies Home by Lita Judge, a sequel to her adorable Flight School.

Penguin is loving his new life at Flight School. Using the wire-and-feather harness contraption that his new friends gifted him in the first book, he is exploring the world from a brand new perspective as he soars over the clouds. The only thing that makes him sad is that he can’t share this new talent with all the friends he left behind at the South Pole. Seeing that their pupil and pal is homesick, the other birds plan a field trip… to Antarctica! Penguin’s old friends are delighted to see him, and he is equally eager to teach them everything he’s learned about flying. However, the other penguins simply aren’t as interested in achieving flight, and he realizes that his dreams are very different from theirs. He worries that his old friends must think he’s ridiculous for having such un-penguin-like goals, but he will find that when someone loves you, the differences don’t matter as much.

It’s rare that a sequel is even better than its predecessor, but this one absolutely is. Once again, the message is about not putting limits on your dreams, this time focusing on the idea that dreams should not be dictated by one’s background or community. Indeed, Penguin’s own anxieties of what the others will think of him are his hurdle in this book, and it’s an incredibly relatable emotion (a scene in which Penguin gazes at an aurora, contemplating his deep need to fly, is positively moving). The story resolves beautifully, with Penguin’s old and new friends coming together to show that while his dreams may differ from theirs, all they feel for him is love and pride. The art, from the round and cuddly penguins to the gangly flamingo and everyone in between, is delightful. The length is great, and JJ loved it. An uplighting treat, 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.)

If I Had A Horse (Gianna Marino)

Hello, friends. Our book today is If I Had A Horse by Gianna Marino, a stunning imagining of a child’s dream.

A young child imagines a common dream: what if they had a horse? If they had a horse, they would bring it the biggest apple they could find. They would need to be patient, and approach with caution and calm. The horse may be shy at first, like the child often is. But once it horse was within reach, they could give it a hug, and become its friend. From there, it will take, not only patience, but courage and determination to tame the horse enough to ride. The horse will need to learn gentleness, and the rider will need to learn strength. But with the right attitude, and a trusty friend by one’s side, nothing is impossible.

This was just so lovely. The stunning paint-and-pencil illustrations are simply breathtaking: charged with energy and emotion, yet by using solely the silhouetted forms of the horse and child, they are made all the more relatable to young readers. The horse could look like any little one’s dream horse, and the genderless, windswept child could be any reader. It’s perfectly fitting for the story, which is both an ode to the childhood love of horses and an apt allegory for chasing one’s dreams. The length is also great, and JJ adored the colorful horses, but this is a book that can leave readers of any age awed and inspired by its art and message. Absolutely gorgeous 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.)

Mae Among The Stars (Roda Ahmed)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Mae Among The Stars, written by Roda Ahmed and illustrated by Stasia Burrington, a story inspired by real-life astronaut Mae Jemison’s early years.

When her parents ask her what she wants to do when she grows up, Mae says something odd: “I want to see the Earth”. When they point out that Earth is all around her, Mae clarifies that she wants to see the Earth from space. Her parents stress that such a goal will require hard work and dedication, but if she dreams it and believes it, anything is possible. Mae begins to research astronautics on her own time, and even constructs an astronaut costume. But when she goes to school and shares her dream in class, her fellow students and even her teacher laugh at her, with the woman even suggesting she look into being a nurse instead – something more suited to “someone like” Mae. Devastated, Mae returns home and tells her mother about what happened, but her parents encourage her not to let others define her destiny. Reinvigorated, Mae promises to wave to her parents from space one day – a promise she keeps.

Fabulous! Mae’s early interest in space travel is winningly adapted into a storybook-style narrative, and it works so well here. It both simplifies Mae’s aspirations and struggles for the youngest readers while still allowing them to connect to and be inspired by Mae. The climactic scene at school is heartbreaking – while some children may not, adults will immediately understand that the others’ humiliation of Mae is entirely race- and gender-motivated, and a stark reminder of how hard women of color had to struggle to break barriers – and still do. It creates a subtle yet deeply inspiring lesson for children of color: don’t let the prejudices of others limit your dreams. The art is beautiful, using color and a running celestial theme that ties in with Mae and her passion for space. The length is good, and JJ and I both loved it. Baby Bookworm approved!