A Sweet New Year for Ren (Michelle Sterling)

Hello friends, and Happy Year of the Rabbit! To celebrate, we have a special weekend review for you: A Sweet New Year for Ren, written by Michelle Sterling and illustrated by Dung Ho, a wonderful tale of family, tradition, and growing up.

Young Ren wakes with a heart full of excitement – Lunar New Year is nearly here, and she is hoping to be able to help with the preparations this year, especially the making of the pineapple cakes. Still, as she offers assistance to family members in hanging lanterns, steaming dumplings, and cooking noodles, she is gently told again and again that she is too little. At last, her big brother Charlie comes home and, with his patient assistance, she is allowed to try her hand at making the pineapple cakes, which are a hit! Gathering with family to celebrate, red envelopes are exchanged and firecrackers lit, as everyone shares sweet treats to usher in a sweet new year.

Delightful. Sterling’s text and Ho’s illustrations are rich with familial warmth, the childlike wonder of the holidays, and fantastic attention to detail in its depiction of Chinese-American heritage. Ren’s frustration with being “too little” is a universal one that kids of all backgrounds can relate to, drawing readers into a wonderful story that either celebrates their own culture or teaches them about a holiday they may not yet be familiar with. A recipe for Ren’s pineapple cake is even included in the backmatter. The length is perfect for a storytime, and JJ loved this one; she received her own red envelope from a friend this year, and was excited to learn more about the holiday that had prompted it. Overall, a sweet treat that all young readers are sure to enjoy, and we highly recommend 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.)

My Dadima Wears a Sari (Kashmira Sheth)

Hello, friends! For our last review of AAPI Heritage Month, we’re reviewing My Dadima Wears a Sari, written by Kashmira Sheth and illustrated by Yoshiko Jaeggi, a lovely tale of tradition and cultural dress celebrating its 15th anniversary of publication.

Rupa’s dadima (Hindi for “grandmother”) wears a sari every single day, morning and night, at home and around town. She wears cotton saris and silk saris, tucking the pallu – the end of the sari – in tightly or letting it flow in the breeze. One day, Rupa asks Dadima why she doesn’t wear Western-style clothing like Rupa’s mother and little sister, Neha, and Dedima replies simply that she’s never even thought to, as she loves her saris and finds them very useful. For example, her sari can be used to fan herself and her granddaughters in the heat, or protect them from rain, or form a makeshift pouch for collecting seashells. When Neha joins them and asks her own questions about Dadima’s saris, the girls’ grandmother invites them to see the three most important saris of her life, and learn how to tie a saris of their own.

A beautiful look at cultural dress, and the ties it can have to one’s identity and memories. Sheth’s text balances nicely between conversational and poetic, highlighting the bond between the family as well as their emotional connection to the saris. Jaeggi’s pastel-heavy watercolors create charming characters and a beautiful sense of motion in the fabrics, though I feel it fails to capture the vibrance of color in traditional saris; Dadima’s red-and-gold wedding sari, for instance, reads as a faded rose rather than a rich scarlet. Backmatter features an author’s note on her own connection to saris, as well as photographic instruction on how to tie one. The length of the book makes this best for older elementary readers, as it does take a little more time to finish, but JJ loved the artwork. Overall, this is a lovely way to pay tribute to the cultural relevance of saris, and we enjoyed 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.)

Chinese Kite Festival (中国风筝节) (Rich Lo)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Chinese Kite Festival (中国风筝节) by Rich Lo, a lovely bilingual dance through the sky with some unique kite creatures.

Join a menagerie of high-flying animals in a simple title that combines animal names with their symbolic meanings in Chinese culture and the Simplified Chinese written language. Readers can spy a bird soaring from its nest, a tiger pouncing across the sky, and a turtle sliding from a rock, among others, creating a sky-high dance of color and light.

Beautiful. Bringing together serene yet engaging artwork with gentle, simple sentences – both in English and Simplified Chinese – Lo creates a soothing early-reader look at animals that serves two languages with equal aplomb. Short sentences of soothing text, with a bold color highlighting each animal’s name in both languages, pair perfectly with digital watercolor artwork that give the kites themselves texture, depth, and motion. Backmatter explains what the animals represent in Chinese culture, a neat addition, though the text here is English-only for some reason, and I might have liked to see some information on Chinese kites and their cultural relevance as well. Otherwise, the length is perfect for a quick storytime for younger bookworms, and JJ loved the artwork. Overall, this is lovely read that brings together two languages and some lovely visuals, and definitely worth checking out. Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Tara the Rickshaw and the Tale of the Lost Kitten (Amna Nasima)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Tara the Rickshaw and the Tale of the Lost Kitten, written by Amna Nasima and illustrated by Saliha Arif and Sarah Rajper, a tale of friendship and community.

In an unspecified town on the coast of the Indian Ocean, a colorful little rickshaw named Tara loves nothing more than to introduce her passengers to the sights, sounds, and tastes of South Asia. One day, she meets a little gray kitten named Meru who has been separated from her family, and helpful Tara vows to help Meru search high and low for them. Tara enlists the help of her previous passengers and friends at a local dhaba, then searches mango groves, parks, the beach, and the market for signs of Meru’s family. Yet as the sun sets, there is no sign of them – what will Tara and Meru do?

A simple story with unique immersion. Nasima’s rhyming text offers a predictable yet sweet tale of finding lost family and making new friends along the way, with the main areas of interest coming from the immersive look at a few elements of everyday, multicultural South Asian life. The meter of the rhyme is fairly consistent, with only a few stumbles and awkward lines, which makes for easy reading aloud, and nicely incorporates a few Urdu/Hindi words like “chaiwala” and “piyari beti,” providing glossary definitions in the backmatter. The watercolor-and-digital art leans towards simplistic style for some characters, but the over abundance of watercolors unfortunately makes well-designed characters (like Tara) and locations difficult to distinguish visually from their surroundings. The length is fine for an elementary storytime, though the ending seems to drag a bit, and JJ enjoyed the animals and gentle story. Overall, this one definitely has some areas of improvement, but tells a classic and heartwarming story that incorporates authentic South Asian representation, and is worth a look. Baby Bookworm approved!

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

All You Need (Howard Schwartz)

Hello, friends! Sorry we missed you the past few days – we had some family commitments that we couldn’t miss. To make it up to you, we have two special weekend reviews today and tomorrow! Our book today is All You Need, written by Howard Schwartz and illustrated by Jasu Hu, a beautiful ode to the simple necessities of life.

“All you need,” the spare verse begins, weaving a quiet contemplation of the things one needs for life. A planet, a warm sun, clouds to gather rains, trees to clean the air. Good food, fresh water, plenty of sleep. A land of welcome and people to watch over you. The freedom and ability to share your lovely thoughts and the beating heart to give you life. What a person truly needs is simple, really – life, love, health, and joy.

Beautiful. Schwartz and Hu do something rare here: telling two different stories through the text and art that weave together beautifully in theme and tone. Schwartz’s uncomplicated free verse poetry highlights the theme of simplicity, neatly choosing a list of needs that is both almost entirely accurate and evocative of emotion. The story Hu tells with the stunning watercolor artwork reflects the early life story of a young child in China, growing amongst beautiful scenery and loving family before striking out into adulthood, yet maintaining a connection to home. These elements all combine to tell a heartwarming story about life, connection, nature, culture, and love, and the result is breathtaking. The length is great for a storytime at any age, and JJ adored the dreamlike artwork and easy-to-read text. Overall, this one is an absolute work of art, 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.)