All Welcome Here (James Preller)

Hello, friends! Our book today is All Welcome Here, written by James Preller and illustrated by Mary Grandpre, a poetic look at the varied experiences and emotions of the first day of school.

Told in a serious of titled haiku, readers are treated to nearly thirty miniature stories, featuring a diverse array of characters, settings, and situations that recall the first day at a new school. There are emotions, like trepidation, excitement, and shyness; new experiences, like meeting the principal and boarding the bus for the first time; and new places to explore, like the school library and playground. And at the end of the day, everyone heads home, knowing that they’ll return the next day for more learning, laughter, and adventures.

Interesting. Since the “first day of school” theme is a common one for picture books, it’s always nice to see a novel approach, and one of a collection of haiku poetry is certainly that. And on occasion, the form, combined with the colorful, energetic paintings of the artwork, results in a lovely effect, such as in “Growing Up”, where a child boarding a bus is compared to a bird leaving the nest, or “Library”, an ode to the heart of nearly every school building. However, many of the haiku fall flat or feel incomplete, the medium not quite suited to the feeling it’s meant to evoke. Certain poems, such as “Harold” and “Prank” even feel a little mean-spirited, which is perhaps not an unrealistic view of school life but hardly an encouraging one for young readers who may be nervous about their own first day. Otherwise, the length is fine, and broken up easily as the reader wishes, and JJ enjoyed some of the poems and artwork immensely. An uneven offering to a popular genre, but not without its charms; overall, Baby Bookworm approved.

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

Blooming Beneath The Sun (Christina Rossetti & Ashley Bryan)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Blooming Beneath The Sun, a picture book featuring the work of 19th century poet Christina Rossetti and illustrations by Ashley Bryan.

Who has seen the wind? What is pink? Including 13 poems by Rossetti (plus a bonus poem that accompanies an informational paragraph about the poet), these are the questions and contemplations posed to young readers. Kid-friendly poems, none more than 16 lines in length, invite them to ponder peacocks, reflect on roosters, and wonder at the waves of an angry sea. Each poem is accompanied by a colorful, layered paper collage that brings its subject to life, and encourages further consideration.

Admittedly, I was not familiar with Rossetti’s work prior to reading this, but both JJ and I really enjoyed some of the poems that this mini-anthology has to offer; “Color”, “Wrens and Robins in the Hedge”, and “Where Innocent Bright-Eyed Daisies Are” were particular favorites. And Bryan’s beautifully intricate paper art is a marvelous companion to the poems, especially his bold choices concerning color, movement, and layout. However, the often-counterintuitive rhythms of the 1800’s poems make more than a few of them challenging to read at first pass, especially where rhymes are far better suited to the British pronunciation of words. There’s also the vaguely sexist undertones of poems like “If I Were A Queen” and “Mother Shake The Cherry Tree”, indicative of the time period in which they were written, to consider. The length was fine for a single sitting, and JJ loved the colorful art. Not sure if this one will go down as a favorite of ours, but it definitely has some gems to offer, and as such, is worth a look. So overall, Baby Bookworm approved!

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

A Song For Gwendolyn Brooks (Alice Faye Duncan)

Hello, friends! Our book today is A Song For Gwendolyn Brooks, written by Alice Faye Duncan and illustrated by Xia Gordon, an appropriately poetic look at the life and work of the famed Pulitzer Prize winner.

Gwendolyn is a shy young girl, growing up in Chicago in the 1920’s. Other children her age play and yell and live out loud, but Gwendolyn is content to read, to observe, and most of all, to write. She fills journals with poems, challenging herself to compose one each day, reworking the ones she likes and burying the ones she doesn’t in her mother’s garden. Her poems are so advanced for her age (and, it is implied, skin color) that her teacher accuses her of plagiarism. Her theretofore-quietly supportive parents protest this, her mother having Gwendolyn compose a poem on the spot to prove her talent. With the encouragement of her parents, then later friends and husband, Gwendolyn continues to compose, write, study, and create, her work winning awards and accolades wherever it is published. In 1950, she wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, the first black person to do so – the shy young bud having grown into a furious flower.

Beautiful. Exploring Brooks’s life and work through poems – mostly free-verse couplets – Duncan invites the audience to share Gwendolyn’s voice in the telling of her story. Several of Brooks’s own poems are included in the text as well, and readers get a real sense of how much work and effort went into perfecting her craft (an element that greatly appealed to me; picture books about artists don’t often explore the WORK that goes into being great, only the talent). The art is wonderfully done, using a minimalist eye with rich, folksy tones that evokes both the art of the time and Brooks’s work and personality. The length might be better for slightly older bookworms, though JJ was engaged throughout due to the beautiful art and passionate verse. A beautiful tribute to a brilliant artist, 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.)

Rain (Anders Holmer)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Rain by Anders Holmer, a lovely look at nature and life in haiku form.

Using the format of the traditional poetry form, each spread offers an expanse of scenery from around the world and a glimpse into the lives of those that inhabit it. A group of humans and reindeer cross a tundra, the youngest calf stopping to discover fresh lichen. A song plays on a car radio, but no one hears it; the driver is changing the tire and his children are greeting a dog. As cherry blossom petals flutter down, two friends are struck by the beauty and quickly resolve a spat, enjoying moment together instead. The reader journeys around the world, showing how different the world can be, even when it often comes down to something we all share, like rain.

Soft, simple, and beautiful. This book had such a wonderfully calming look and tone, using the haiku format to tell each story richly yet with an economy of words. The art uses light and dark to perfectly set the stage while pops of color, details, and movement make the subjects come alive. It inspires the reader to examine each scene carefully, and allows the art and spare text to evoke the desired emotion. The length is great, and JJ and I really enjoyed it. A soothing meditation on a wider world, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved.

Hey Black Child (Useni Eugene Perkins)

Hello, friends! Our book today is the joyful Hey Black Child, written by Useni Eugene Perkins and illustrated by Bryan Collier, a poem to encourage, enlighten, and inspire little readers of color.

Using the spare yet impactful text of Perkins’s beloved 1975 poem, words and visuals weave together to form a message of motivation for little black boys and girls. The poem asks three simple questions of its listener: Do you know who you are? Do you know where you’re going? Do you know you are strong? The answer to all three is the same – it all depends on you, and the only limits are the ones you set for yourself. The world is waiting, so go forth and do great things, and you will build a better world for doing so.

Love. This. Going in, I had no knowledge of Perkins’s poem, which is often attributed to other sources. It’s a compact powerhouse, using an economy of words to spread a message of self-confidence, faith in oneself, and hope for a better tomorrow. It translates beautifully to book form, with a flawless rhythm that makes it a joy to read aloud and straightforward text that is sure to engage little bookworms. Collier’s work is gorgeous as always, and there are some especially breathtaking spreads here: a stargazing young girl with the expansive cosmic universe spread out behind her, balloons rising from a piano as a little girl grows into a ballerina, the real-life faces of dozens of black children forming radiant beams of sunlight. The length is great, and JJ loved it. A perfect staple for any child of color’s library at any age, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!