Hardly Haunted (Jessie Sima)

Hello, friends! Our book today is part of our Spooky Season series – an extra spooky book every Friday in October! Today’s title: Hardly Haunted by Jessie Sima, a unique tale about being and loving yourself just as you are.

High on a hill sat a spooky old house – and that house was feeling worried. No one wants to live in her, and she finds herself lonely because of it; in fact, she thinks she might be haunted. She does everything she can to suppress her spooky qualities – her creaks and squeaks and rattles – even holding her breath to keep the creepy sounds at bay. Yet when a rushing wind causes her to scratch and howl and groan, the house realizes something: being haunted is kind of awesome. She decides to be herself, but she’s still lonely… that is, until a very special family comes to stay.

Delightful. This rather original take on the classic “be yourself” theme is a great mixture of humor, heart, and spookiness. Sima’s illustrations and story give off a sense of creepy-cute that never veers into scary; in fact, there’s a distinct Miyazaki-ish vibe to the anthropomorphic house and it’s surroundings, especially in details like the gothic style of the house, the windswept hill, and an expressive black cat that leads the reader through the house’s interior. The frequent use of onomatopoeia makes it a joy to read aloud, and the overall message is lovely. The length is perfect storytime at any age, and JJ loved the artwork, sound effects, and especially the little cat. A fantastically fun Halloween read with a great lesson, and we loved it. Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Jules Vs. The Ocean (Jessie Sima)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Jules Vs. The Ocean by Jessie Sima, a sweet and funny story of a summer’s day.

When Jules hits the beach, she has a clear mission: she wants to build the biggest, most awesome sand castle ever to impress her big sister. She sets to work right away, but as soon as she’s making progress – SPLASH! A wave rolls in to wash her castle away. Her sister promises that this happens to everyone, and encourages her to keep trying. Jules begins again, and again, yet each time the ocean sends a massive wave targeting her efforts. On her third try, it even snatches away her bucket, and she cries out in frustration. Her sister arrives once more to console her, and together they begin work on a masterpiece: the biggest, most fancy, most wonderful castle ever created! And no sooner are they done then – CRASH – the sea destroys their work once more. Yet this time the girls laugh and find joy in the shared experience, running off to tell their mother of their epic battle against the ocean waves.

Delightful. This adorable day-in-the-life tale uses a simple story with a distinctively childlike voice to explore a classic rite of passage and a loving relationship between sisters. The gentle humor – including a hilariously offbeat ending – gives the narrative a light and sunny feeling, perfect for a summer storytime. Sima’s art is colorful, fun, even edging on epic at times, enchanting to the “girl vs. nature” theme. The length is great, and JJ loved it. This is a fun read with a little humor, a little adventure, and a good deal of heart. Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Spencer’s New Pet (Jessie Sima)

Hello, friends! We’re back from our vacation with a new review: Spencer’s New Pet by Jessie Sima, a deliciously odd and unexpected tale.

Borrowing elements of a silent movie (such as title cards to indicate the story’s three “parts”, film grain over select spreads, and even a leader countdown), this textless story introduces us to a boy, Spencer, and his new pet… a balloon animal. Besotted with the balloon beastie, Spencer takes him home from the carnival and dutifully cares for him, getting pet supplies, going for walks, playing, attending parties, and sharing plenty of (gentle) hugs. It’s at a visit to the veterinarian that a complication of having a balloon animal for a pet presents itself: when the pet drifts a bit to close to a prickly hedgehog, Spencer clutches his pet to his chest and backs away in fear. And it’s in Part II of the story (“The Park”) that this foreshadowing is expanded upon; breaking loose from Spencer’s grip, the balloon begins to careen toward a gauntlet of sharp, pointy, or hot things that threaten its well-being. Spencer tears after his friend, desperate to save it from a grisly fate – can he protect his pal in time?

Delightfully strange. Sima has a talent for telling unusual yet heartwarming stories, and this may be her most original yet. To discuss the last third of the book any further would do any prospective reader a disservice; the ending was so unexpected (yet so BRILLIANTLY foreshadowed) that I laughed out loud once I realized what was going on. And while the more subtle winks may fly over the heads of younger readers, it’s an ending that’s both silly and sweet enough to charm any age. The wonderful “silent movie” patische introduces elements of a genre that few other pictures books (if any) do, and gives a book a wonderful and unique visual style. Sima’s illustrations are charming as always, and fans of her previous works will enjoy the Easter eggs hidden in backgrounds and crowd scenes. The length is fine, and JJ and I loved it. A thoroughly entertaining 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.)

Love, Z (Jessie Sima)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Love, Z by Jessie Sima!

Little robot Z is out exploring when he finds a bottle with a note inside. Most of the writing is illegible, but he can read the signature: “Love, Beatrice”. When his fellow robots tuck him in for the night, he asks what the meaning of the word “love” is, but the robots simply reply “DOES NOT COMPUTE”. Being the curious robot he is, Z sets off on a quest to find his answer, traveling on a boat with a stalwart captain (who is also a cat). Z meets new friends as he travels – a crow, a baker, some schoolchildren – who all attempt to explain love to him in their own ways, but Z doesn’t understand. At last, Z and the captain happen upon an island, a little house… and Beatrice herself inside. Z asks the woman who inspired his quest, and after some thought, she replies that love is warm, and cozy, and safe, but that one doesn’t really know it until they feel it. Z thinks about this, wondering if he’ll ever truly understand. But when some surprise visitors burst in, Z will find that he may know more about love than he ever realized.

Fantastic. This is a sweet fable with some memorable details, a great message, and an adorable main character. Showing that love comes in many forms and touches us in many ways, the art then takes time to illustrate this in beautiful, subtle ways: a father teaching his daughter to bake, two young women falling in love, all the little things (like puppies and garden gnomes) that bring us joy, and so on. It’s an exploration of what we love and how we love that has a tone of childlike innocence, and a perfect payoff (a clever visual Easter Egg, teased early on and paid off in the story’s climax, warmed my heart). Sims has a knack for touching and relatable tales, and this one was a joy. The length was great, JJ loved it, 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.)

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!