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.)

Amy Wu and the Warm Welcome (Kat Zhang)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Amy Wu and the Warm Welcome, written by Kat Zhang and illustrated by Charlene Chua, a charming story of cross-language communication and the spirit of inclusivity.

Third in Zhang and Chua’s Amy Wu series, we, along with Amy and the rest of her elementary class, meet new classmate Lin. Lin and his family have recently moved from China, and their teacher bids the class give Lin a warm welcome. Amy takes this to heart, and makes gestures of friendship to Lin throughout the day, yet Lin remains distant and silent. However, after school, Amy observes Lin animatedly speaking with his little sister in Chinese, and sees a different side of her new friend. Amy relies on her talent for pondering, and tries to come up with a way to reach out to Lin. But just when she’s thought of the perfect thing, she develops her own fears of speaking in front of a crowd. Can Amy overcome her fears to offer Lin a warm welcome?

Wonderful. This is our first time reviewing an entry in the Amy Wu series, and we were so pleased to see that this one is just as delightful as the previous installments. While telling a sweet story of hospitality and being inclusive, Zhang also deftly explores the challenges of communicating across languages, especially for those learning a new language in a predominantly-monolingual environment (been there). A nice touch was having Lin’s dialogue with his sister being written in pinyin characters, allowing the reader to feel the sense of being in Lin’s shoes, while also providing translations in the back of the book. Chua’s illustrations are cheerful and colorful, and feature a nicely diverse cast of characters. The length is perfect for an elementary storytime, and JJ really liked it, especially the dumpling-making scenes (side note: this is the second time this week we’ve reviewed a book where the art has made me crave dumplings, and I’m not mad about it). Overall, a great story with a fantastic message, 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.)

I Am Golden (Eva Chen)

Hello, friends! Our book today is I Am Golden, written by Eva Chen and illustrated by Sophie Diao, a moving exploration of the Asian American experience and cultural pride.

Told from the perspective of a Chinese-American immigrant couple addressing their daughter, Mei, the narrative begins by noting that the heritage of both China and America are written in Mei’s features and name. Mei’s parents are honest with her about the difficulties of being a child of Chinese-American immigrants; the racism, the othering, the pressure to culturally assimilate, the fact that her parents will often rely on her for translation and navigation through American culture. But they want Mei to know that no matter what challenges she faces, she carries an immeasurable strength within her, one that has the power of her history, her culture, her ancestors, her family, and most of all, herself. Finally, they teach their daughter the word mìng; “It means destiny, Mei. Our destiny was YOU.”

Stunning. Chen’s powerful words and Diao’s exquisite art weave a beautiful narrative that is heartbreakingly honest, deeply empowering, and truly heartwarming. Cuttingly accurate statements on xenophobia – “people will call you different in one breath and then say that we all look the same with the next” – do not shy away from the reality of stereotypes and othering that members of the AAPI community face while also fearlessly pointing out their absurdity. Even the core concept of Mei’s “golden”-ness ties into a description of her skintone; “brushed with gold,” in comparison to demeaning descriptions of AAPI skintones. Diao’s digital illustrations are striking, colorful and fluid, and filled with energy; a top-down tablescape of traditional Chinese foods makes the mouth water, and a depiction of Ming glowing from the center of a blooming lotus is joyful and serene at once. The length is perfect for a storytime, and JJ and I both loved this one. This one is a rare and beautiful look into the Chinese-American and AAPI experience, and is a must-read. Emphatically Baby Bookworm approved!

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

I Am Able to Shine (Korey Watari)

Hello, friends! Our book today is I Am Able to Shine, written by Korey Watari and illustrated by Mike Wu, an lovely tale of cultural, racial, and female empowerment and pride.

Keiko often feels out of place. In school, at ballet class, and on the basketball court, it seems like she is either invisible or being judged for her differences. Yet Keiko is proud of herself and her Japanese heritage, so with the support of her family, she decides to hold her head high. Eventually, new friends are drawn to the unique hobbies, skills, and attributes that set Keiko apart. By being confident and unapologetically herself, Keiko is able to succeed, to lead, and to shine.

Uplifting and affirming. As we are only a few days away from AAPI heritage month, this celebration of being Japanese- and Asian-American comes at a great time for young bookworms who may be navigating their own cultural identities. Keiko’s story strikes a nice balance of honoring how her heritage and personality inform each other, as well as who she is as a whole. Adding in a smattering of unambiguously feminist and LGBTQ+ messaging, this is also a unique look at cultural intersectionality for young readers. Wu’s artwork, which draws from traditional Japanese ink painting, fits the theme of blending cultures to form one’s identity perfectly. The length is great for a storytime, and JJ really enjoyed the encouraging text. Overall, a wonderful story about finding pride in oneself, and it’s 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.)