Oddbird (Derek Desierto)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Oddbird by Derek Desierto, a story of acceptance and fitting in.

It was a hot, steamy day in the jungle, and while all the colorful birds had gathered at the pool, none of them had decided to take the plunge. Instead, they are most concerned with showing off their brilliant colors, until one very… ODD bird appears. Oddbird’s feathers are dull gray, and while he looks forward to cooling off in the refreshing pool, he is chased off by a hostile reception from the colorful birds. Upset with being excluded for the color of the feathers he’s always had, Oddbird concocts a plan to get to the pool without hassle – and that will perhaps prove to the other birds that the feathers don’t make the bird.

Unfortunately, this one was a bit of a muddle. While stories about diversity and acceptance are always important, the metaphors of Oddbird’s dilemma and solution can have an unfortunate interpretation. Oddbird decides to camouflage himself in brightly colored “feathers” made of jungle foliage; this allows him to fit in long enough to make his way to the pool and convince the other birds that enjoying a cooling swim is more fun than showing off their plumage. Tidy enough, but then what is the message? Hide who you are long enough so that others may accept you, then maybe you can change their minds? Perhaps not the best lesson, especially for little readers who may feel insecure about their own “different” appearances. The resolution itself also feels like it’s missing something; while the other birds eventually accept Oddbird as he is, there is no apology or resolution for their aggressive exclusion of him earlier in the story (including comments that literally drive Oddbird to tears). And while the charming and, yes, beautifully colorful photo-cutout art is a treat, it doesn’t quite make up for the confusing theme. Otherwise, the length is fine, and JJ did enjoy the little bird. So while there are several other books about social acceptance I would recommend over this one, it does have a few genuinely redeeming qualities; a little uneven, perhaps a little odd, but still Baby Bookworm approved.

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

Sugar in Milk (Thrity Umrigar)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Sugar in Milk, written by Thrity Umrigar and illustrated by Khoa Le, a gorgeous and timeless tale of kindness and acceptance.

Told from the point of view of a young immigrant to the United States, the narrator recounts her feelings of loneliness and despair when she first arrived. While she was happy to have her Auntie and Uncle, who had done everything they could to make her feel welcome, she still missed her parents, friends, and cats. One day, her Auntie takes her for a walk and tells her an ancient story of a group of Persian refugees, forced to leave their home and cross the sea in search of a new one. Arriving on the shores of India, they are met by the local king who dismisses them, apologizing yet insisting that there is no room in their country for the newcomers. Since they share no common language, the king demonstrates this by filling a cup to the brim with milk. Yet the leader of the Persian refugees, a kind and clever man, begs for a moment more of the king’s attention – how can he convince the monarch to let his people stay?

Gorgeous. Based on an actual Persian parable, Umrigar’s deft storytelling and gentle prose does a wonderful job of showing the reader that acceptance and diversity are truly timeless concepts. Just as the Persian leader wins over the king by stirring sugar into the milk (showing that the addition of the refugees will only make the kingdom more interesting and sweet), the young modern immigrant is convinced by the tale that the diversity and “newness” of her new home is what makes it all the more special, something that she now brings her own unique sweetness to. With the addition of Le’s incredibly intricate and emotive illustrations, this is a tale that will inspire any young reader to understand the beauty and strength to be found in diversity. The length is fine for a storytime, and JJ loved the beautiful artwork. A powerful tale for bookworms of any age, 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.)

A Vulture Came To Town (B•dice)

Hello, friends! Our book today is A Vulture Came To Town by B•dice, a visually striking story of diversity.

The day a vulture came to town, the other animals were sent into a tizzy. Immediately, most are distrustful of the outsider; his bald skull, his oily black wings, and his diet of carcasses is enough to make every furred and feathered member pull away in disgust and fear. Confused, the vulture points out that he cannot help how he looks or what he eats; in fact, he shares many similarities with other animals in the group. This revelation causes the animals to splinter further, now looking at each other as enemies because of their differences. It’ll take one level-headed mouse and a bit of courage to convince the others that being different isn’t a crime, and one should never judge vulture by his feathers.

Very interesting. With a premise that is fairly straightforward – an always-welcome, well-argued lesson in diversity and acceptance – the tale of vulture and the other animals is one that hits the expected beats at first. A newcomer is ostracized for being unfamiliar or strange, until a brave voice stands up to defend the virtues of diversity – a resolution the narrative ties in nicely to a tale about the animal kingdom (for instance, Mink’s logical argument that Vulture eating Wolf’s leftovers is better than just leaving them there to rot). The rhyming text has a good rhythm and reads well, and the length is fine. What sets Vulture apart is its unique visuals – a black-and-white abstract geometric style that often depicts the animals and scenes in unexpected perspectives; a smile clawed foot, falling feather, or large text in stark white against a black background, or vice versa. It’s a challenging art style, but one that both very young readers and their older siblings might find stimulating. The book has some of the rough edges often found in indie titles, mostly in pacing, but JJ enjoyed the story (though she did find some of the illustrations confusing). Still, this quirky title is definitely worth a look, and we recommend it. Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Everybody’s Welcome (Patricia Hegarty)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Everybody’s Welcome, written by Patricia Hegarty and illustrated by Greg Abbott, a sweet tale of communities built from acceptance.

A little mouse sits in a forest clearing, dreaming of a home for shelter and warmth. As he begins to build it, a frog wanders up, despondent over the loss of his own home pond. The mouse invites him to help build, and they will share the house together. As the project continues, more animals show up, looking for a place to belong; most have lost their homes or been turned away from their communities for being different. Together, they work as a team to build something to shelter everyone who needs it, creating a home that is more than walls and a roof, but acceptance and love as well.

This one had a wonderfully sweet message that is thoroughly needed right now. While the issues that lead the animals to the housing project are very storybook-oriented (Bear is turned away for being too scary, the birds are searching for a home after their tree has been cut down), there is definitely hints of how people can also find themselves in need of community due to their circumstances. It helps to draw a nice parallel to our own communities, and how diversity and acceptance can help them to be strong and kind. So it’s a bit of an odd choice that the finished product of the home is never shown; while this may be alluding to the fact that communities are forever growing and changing, or that home is not simply a building but the people who fill it, it still gives the story an incomplete feeling – I wish I could have seen the animals enjoying the physical fruits of their labor. However, the classical kidlit-inspired illustrations are darling, and JJ loved them. The length is also fine for any age, and the cutouts and unique page design make for some fun visual flourishes. So while the ending is a little abrupt, this one has a strong core message and some great visuals – it’s definitely worth a look. Baby Bookworm approved!

Kings Of The Castle (Victoria Turnbull)

Hello, friends! Today, we’re reviewing Kings Of The Castle by Victoria Turnbull, a lovely story of friendship breaking through barriers.

When night falls, young monster George is excited. He won’t waste a moment of the moonlight; tonight, his goal is to build the biggest sand castle ever. Unfortunately, his excitable dog Boris keeps impeding his progress. He is about to give up when a very strange and different-looking monster appears from the waves. George tries to say hello, but the monster, though friendly, doesn’t understand his language (though the new monster, Nepo, and Boris seem to understand each other’s yips and barks). George is ready to leave the new arrival, but Boris convinces him to give the newcomer a chance. And with a bit of creative thinking, George and Nepo find that they have much in common – including the desire to build a sandcastle more amazing than either could build alone.

This was a gorgeous story with a subtle yet powerful message. The adorable pair of George and Nepo, plus Boris, are illustrated in a gorgeous dreamlike style, with soft soothing colors that evoke a shoreline at night. But the story here is key: it’s a tale of reaching out, making connections, and showing kindness to those who may not look like you or even speak your language (to hear that Turnbull was drawing parallels to refugees is not a surprise). So while the characters and settings are firmly fantastical, the message of acceptance is as real and pertinent as it gets, and is imparted beautifully. The length is great, and JJ really enjoyed this one, so we are definitely calling it Baby Bookworm approved!