I Am Mine Alone (Raquel Díaz Reguera)

Hello, friends! Our book today is the powerful I Am Mine Alone by Raquel Díaz Reguera, translated by Cecilia Ross, an affecting metaphor that helps us recognize the difference between love and control.

Mousy, a hardworking mouse with lots of friends, is excited to have moved in with her partner, Buck. However, she quickly finds that living with Buck is not what she had imagined it would; they fight often, he buys her presents that encourage her to change her interests and style, he discourages her from spending time with her friends, and he frequently says things that make her feel small and scared. Mousy rationalizes that this is how Buck express his love, but as her friends begin to worry, Mousy begins to feel more and more unhappy (while Buck begins to look less and less like a fellow mouse). Will Mousy find the courage to break free from her dynamic with Buck, and find herself again?

Wow. First, I’ll say that this is probably a title better reserved for older readers; both the language and themes seem to be geared towards older elementary/juvenile audiences. However, I have never seen a picture book deal so candidly and so movingly with the issue of intimate partner abuse in most of its forms – emotional, verbal, physical, etc (sexual abuse, however, is not mentioned). Those who are aware of Buck’s tactics will recognize gaslighting, manipulation, and intimidation; those who are not will receive a crash course in the way abusers use these behaviors to isolate and control their targets. And between the narrative and visual storytelling, Reguera weaves a strikingly poignant cautionary/educational tale that ends in triumph, community, and self-determination. The length is fine for older kiddos, and while the majority of the story went over her head, JJ was still able to recognize and agree with the key themes: love should never make us afraid, and a person belongs only to themselves. Overall, an amazing achievement, and Baby Bookworm approved.

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

Manolo and the Unicorn (Jackie Azúa Kramer & Jonah Kramer)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Manolo and the Unicorn, written by Jackie Azúa Kramer and Jonah Kramer, and illustrated by Zach Manbeck, a gorgeous story of magic, belief, and being true to oneself.

Manolo believes in the magic that surrounds us, and that the world is full of mystery and wonder. He adores nature and creatures, and longs to one day meet his favorite animal: a unicorn. The young boy is positively enchanted by their wild grace and mystique, and when he and his fellow students are called to share information on, and don a costume of, their favorite animal in the next day’s Wild Animal Parade, Manolo proudly announces that he will be a unicorn. In response, several students snicker while informing their peer that not only are boys not supposed to like unicorns, such creatures don’t actually exist. Disillusioned, Manolo feels as though the world is entirely less magical… that is, until an unexpected visitor arrives to lead him on a journey of discovery.

Lovely. The mother-and-son author duo of Jackie and Jonah Kramer tell an understated yet rich tale of finding (and making) magic in a cynical world. Manolo is a fantastic character that many kids will see themselves in, but particularly those who are drawn to gender-nonconformity; once his belief in the magic of unicorns is restored, Manolo is utterly comfortable expressing his love of them in a costume of flowers, sparkles, and heeled boots. Manbeck’s lush, greenery-heavy illustrations complete the package perfectly, creating a natural wonderland that will leave readers as spellbound as Manolo’s classmates. The length is perfect for storytime, and JJ and I both adored this one. Emphatically Baby Bookworm approved!

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

The Together Tree (Aisha Saeed)

Hello, friends! Our book today is The Together Tree, written by Aisha Saeed and illustrated by LeUyen Pham, a heartfelt story on bullying, understanding, and forgiveness.

When Rumi starts at his new school, he feels nervous and isolated; he misses his friends and former home of San Francisco, and is having trouble finding his place in this new class. This is worsened when two of the other students begin to bully him, and a third watches without intervening. Every recess, Rumi retreats to a sheltering willow tree to avoid interaction – and harassment – until the day that the bullying goes much too far. At last, classmate Han stands up for Rumi, and the newcomer begins to make friends. Yet when Rumi is given the opportunity to exclude his former bully, will he?

Compelling. Saeed’s narrative is measured and emotional, delving into each character’s motivations in just a few words, or one of Pham’s expressive illustrations. I like especially that the bullies are not portrayed as irredeemable villains, but as fellow children who are just as capable of empathy as they are of cruelty; the moment that one of Rumi’s bullies, Asher, realizes that throwing a rock at the other boy and causing physical damage has caused pain and shame for both of them, is subtle yet striking. Pham uses color and grayscale to enhance the already wonderful visual storytelling, the length is fine for all ages, and JJ greatly enjoyed the moral of the story. Overall, a lovely and touching book that reminds us of the power of empathy, 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.)

My Brain is Magic: A Sensory-Seeking Celebration (Prasha Sooful)

Hello, friends! Our book today is My Brain is Magic: A Sensory-Seeking Celebration, written by Prasha Sooful and illustrated by Geeta Ladi, a wonderful exploration of sensory input and magical minds.

“My brain is MAGIC!” is the greeting offered by our child protagonist, who explains that the way in which they experience the world has much to do with their senses and how their unique mind processes them. Sometimes, for instance, their brain is a busy and buzzing bee, and it tells them to flit around the room and give crashing hugs to loved ones. Sometimes their brain is an octopus, and wants to touch everything (and everyone!); sometimes it’s a sloth, and prefers to move slow and steady. Indeed, what makes the child’s brain so special is that it can be many things – the possibilities are limitless.

Fabulous. Sooful’s cheerful and energetic text handles sensory-seeking and neurodiversity in a way that I’ve yet to see in other picture books, striking a tone that neither patronizes nor exotifies neurodivergence. Instead, Sooful approaches sensory-seeking children in a highly relatable way, exploring sensory processing in terms that readers of any age and ability can understand. It’s a clever approach that can help the nuerotypical better understand neurodivergent people, while it affirms those who have their own “magic brains.” Ladi’s illustrations are perfectly expressive and immensely endearing, the length of the book is perfect and features some pretty great backmatter (and a jacket that can be used as a informational/communication poster), plus JJ and I loved it. Highly recommended, and Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Linus (Stuart Hausmann)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Linus by Stuart Hausmann, a sweet story about the joys of diversity, and the possibilities we open by stepping out of line.

In the straight-laced city of Linneapolis, Linus just isn’t like the other rectangular inhabitants. While they all seem to favor grayscale colors, straight lines, and walling themselves off from the rest of the world, Linus can’t help but love shapes, colors, and finding reasons to celebrate. Feeling lonely due to his differences, he sadly decides to take off during the night and explore the colorful world outside of his city. He even finds new friends who understand his sense of style and perspective! But what happens when he starts to miss the ones he loves that are back home?

Simple yet sincere. While Hausmann’s plot feels a little familiar for the theme of bringing two worlds together while finding one’s place in it, the charm of the art and the nicely layered lesson on the benefits of cultural diversity – particularly during a time that it seems like one is desperately needed – make this a thoroughly satisfying read. I especially liked that it is made clear how much the citizens of Linneapolis love and care for Linus, even if his unique qualities put them outside their comfort zone. This detail makes for a smooth transition to building bridges (literally) with Linus’s more diverse friends, and shows that people who are averse to the new aren’t necessarily bad people; sometimes, they just need exposure and patience. Otherwise, the length is good for a storytime, and JJ and I enjoyed this one. Absolutely worth the read, 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.)