The Welcome Chair (Rosemary Wells)

Hello, friends! Our book today is The Welcome Chair, written by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, a moving story of the immigrant experience in the United States.

Partially based on Wells’s family history, the story begins with a young woodcarver from Bavaria leaving home to strike out on his own, traveling across the sea to the United States. He finds work as a bookkeeper and apprentice, creating a rocking chair with the word “Willkommen” (German for “Welcome”) carved into the backrest as a gift for his employers. As the chair is passed down through his family, then eventually on to other immigrant families, the Welcome Chair has a new word for “welcome” added to it: “Baruch Haba” in Hebrew, “Welcome” in English, “Fáilte” in Irish, and more. With each new culture that makes the chair a part of their home, they add to its beauty and legacy, until it becomes a gift to a newly arrived refugee family, a gesture of friendship and, of course, welcome.

Gorgeous. Wells takes a deeply personal story and expands upon it to highlight the fact that, to this day, the United States is a nation built on immigration and diversity. The welcome chair is both a unique and memorable artifact as well as a poignant symbol of how a diversity of cultures can add to the beauty of the whole, and its story is compelling to read. Pinkney’s realistic illustrations give a grounded view of the chair and its long life, giving the necessary gravity to the characters that surround it and their often-serious circumstances and experiences. These experiences (which include brief descriptions of deaths, war, and other weighty subjects), as well as the tone and length, make this a story best suited to older elementary to middle grade readers; JJ enjoyed the illustrations but struggled with the more advanced text and tone. Overall, however, this is a beautiful story about the immigrant experience, and it’s absolutely worth the read. Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Hope And Freckles: Fleeing To A Better Forest (Bill Kiley)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Hope And Freckles: Fleeing To A Better Forest, written by Bill Kiley and illustrated by Mary Manning.

Mother deer Hope and her fawn Freckles have lived in the Olden Forest all their life, but the time has come for them to leave; food is growing scarce and the number of predators are increasing. Fearing for her baby’s future, Hope decides to head to the Big Pine Forest. Together, the two walk for many days, meeting other deer who have also been forced from their homes and traveling beside them. At last, they reach to Big Pine Forest, only to find a big wall and two rangers barring their entrance. Initially combative, the rangers listen to the deers’ pleas for refuge and decide to let them in, but under a few conditions: they will have to be separated from the other deer, fenced in until the higher-ups decide if they can stay. Most frighteningly, they declare the adult deer must be separated from their fawns. Freckles cries at the thought of being separated from his mother, and Hope tries her best to comfort him by promising they’ll see each other again soon. Yet as the days go by with no word or sign of Freckles, Hope begins to wonder: will she ever see her baby again?

Whew, this one is heavy. Essentially a storybook retelling of the current immigration crisis at the United States’ southern border, this animal-fable is striking honest. Hope and Freckles are eventually reunited, but other refugee deer are suddenly loaded into trucks that take them back to their origins – without their fawns (there is a vague promise that the fawns will be brought to them later, but this is never shown and left ambiguous). It’s sad, and could potentially be upsetting for younger readers, yet does a commendable job of making such complicated subject accessible and understandable. The digital art is exceptionally good for an indie, with expressive characters that inspire empathy. The length and subject matter are better for older readers, though JJ was very invested throughout. A challenging tale to be sure, but one that may help little ones find sympathy for those seeking better lives. Baby Bookworm approved.

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

Carmela Full Of Wishes (Matt de la Peña)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Carmela Full Of Wishes, written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson, a subtle and moving story of a little girl’s birthday wish.

It’s Carmela’s birthday, which means she gets to go with her brother into town today. After a breakfast of pancakes adorned with birthday candles, the children set off, she following on her scooter as he goes about running errands. The unnamed brother, only older by a few years, is annoyed by his sister’s presence, often snippish as she plays or intentionally rattles her bracelets to annoy him. During the course of their day, Carmela finds a dandelion puff and is testily informed by her sibling that she must make a wish when she blows on it. Mystified by the concept, Carmela thinks of several wishes: a machine that dispenses treats, a soft bed for her mother like the ones she makes in the hotel all day, that her father’s papers will be fixed so he can finally come home. As she ponders over which one to choose, she trips and falls, destroying her “wish”. Her brother’s irritation falls away, and he set about lifting her spirits, showing her a place where wishes know no limits.

Touching and beautiful. A careful and delicate tale that follows a day-in-the-life narrative, its the perspective of the characters that is pitch perfect and unique. Carmela acts, thinks, and speaks as a 7-year-old would, and while larger themes such as immigration, Mexican culture, farm labor, and poverty are seen, to Carmela, they are not nearly as interesting as a dandelion puff or accompanying her brother into town – indeed, something she views as an adventure while he views it as a chore (laundry, quite literally). It’s authentically representative in a way that few books are, and encourage discussion yet maintain a childlike innocence that reminds the reader that children, no matter their circumstances or surroundings, are always still children. The art is lovely, especially the innocently heartbreaking wishes depicted on papel picado. The length is great, and JJ and I loved it. Baby Bookworm approved.

Dreamers (Yuyi Morales)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Dreamers by Yuyi Morales, a breathtakingly beautiful love letter to a Dreamer.

“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. Bundling their only belongings on her back, the mother takes her infant across a bridge to a new land. Leaving all she knows behind and unable to go back, she places her faith in the promise their new home holds, of education and opportunity. The language spoken is unlike her own, but she tries, until the day when she stumbles upon another place of education and promise: a public library. She marvels that the library opens their arms, sharing books and language and trust and safety. 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.”

Stunning. A deeply personal tale told in an ecstatically beautiful way, 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 (Morales details the story and items that inspired the book and its visuals in the backmatter). 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. The length was great, JJ and I adored it, and I can’t recommend it enough. Baby Bookworm approved.

We Came To America (Faith Ringgold)

Hello friends, and happy Independence Day! We wanted to read a special book for the occasion, so we chose We Came To America by Faith Ringgold, an illustrated poem in picture book form that celebrates the diversity that founded our nation and our culture.

“We came to America, every color, race, and religion, from every country in the world,” the rhyming text of We Came To America repeats, accompanying a folk-style portrait of a person, group or family from a different corner of the Earth. Some came in chains, some came escaping persecution, some came hoping for opportunity, even a very few have always been here. Most important, they all came together to form the United States, a country built from voyagers, migrants and dreamers who came here and gave of themselves to create the land we all call home.

Lovely book with a fantastic message. I love that the diversity of America, and Americans, is explored with tact but still honest (for instance, it’s important that slavery is not shied away from as one of ways people came to be in the US). But ultimately, it’s a celebration of the great multitudes of cultures, religions, and communities that built the nation and continue to make up it’s very fabric. The folk art is colorful and vibrant, and JJ enjoyed it a lot. The length was great, and the message is as timeless as it is timely: no matter our origins or appearances, we are ALL Americans. Baby Bookworm approved!