What Is An American? (Matt Scott)

Hello, friends! Our book today is What Is An American?, written by Matt Scott and illustrated by Ana Sebastian, the seventh book in the seven-part Find Something Awesome! series.

What is an American? In a confusing part-guided meditation, part-collection of self-help affirmations, and part-celebration of patriotism, this title aims to find the answer… and fails.

I’ll be honest, it’s really hard to review this book because it is so deeply disjointed. The introductory page mentions that each book in the series “stands alone and also builds on the concepts introduced in earlier levels”. As the seventh book in the series, perhaps reading the previous six may have helped illuminate these concepts; “stands alone”, however, it does not. Nearly every page reads like word salad: inconsistent rhyme schemes, run-on sentences, seemingly random capital letters/punctuation, and vague hypothetical questions abound. The backmatter helps little, offering “Awesome Capabilities” such as, “You can unplug your heart from the reflection you see”; and “Awesome Questions,” a lengthy appendix of questions grouped into vaguely related categories of widely varying topics, one of which takes a sudden and abrupt stance against socialism (in fact, if one takes this into account, the entirely of the book can be read as anti-socialist propaganda, but I can’t confirm this is the intent). The book’s saving grace are its charming and diverse illustrations, but even these can’t give the book a clear purpose or theme. The “story” is lengthy, and the bizarre sentence structure and arbitrary word emphasis make it incredibly difficult to read aloud; JJ was unimpressed (though, again, she loved the art and enjoyed describing the scenes in a more literal manner than the text allowed for). I can’t speak to the rest of the series, but if you’re looking to pick up this one first, we’ll make our recommendation clear: don’t.

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

Just Bunny and the Great Fire Rescue (Jeanne LaSala Taylor)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Just Bunny and the Great Fire Rescue, written by Jeanne LaSala Taylor and illustrated by Ana Sebastian, a sweet tale of a girl and her very special bunny.

New Yorker Francesca’s best friend in the world is her stuffed gray rabbit named Just Bunny. After a day of play at the park with her mom and little sister (and Just Bunny, naturally), Francesca and her family stop at a restaurant for dinner. But shortly after their chips arrive, the waiter appears to usher everyone out of the restaurant – there’s a fire in the kitchen! Safely out on the street, the family moves to another restaurant, but Francesca quickly realizes that someone was left behind: Just Bunny! Rushing back to the scene of the fire, Francesca and her mother implore a kindly firefighter to look inside for the plushie, explaining that he’s not simply a toy, but Francesca’s best friend. The firefighter understands, and braves his way inside to search… but is it too late?

Very sweet. While the rhyming text often loses meter and can be a little clunky when read aloud, the slice-of-life plot if simple and relatable, especially for any family who is familiar with the importance of a little one’s special toy. Indeed, the moment in which the firefighter asks if Francesca needs Just Bunny to sleep absolutely rung true to me, and was a heartwarming and realistic moment of a one parent understanding another family’s needs based on personal experience. The way this also celebrated the work and compassion of firefighters was a wonderful and unexpected theme. The art is colorful and lively, and the length is fine. One complaint, however, is the inclusion of a tertiary character named DJ Big Apple, a bunny identical to Just Bunny with the exception of sunglasses and a watch who, after an introductory page, appears in the background of each two-page spread, up until one scene where he… IS Just Bunny? Even though they both appeared in previous scenes? It’s unclear and feels like an unnecessary addition to an otherwise well-rounded story. Still, JJ enjoyed the tale of Just Bunny, and we can recommend this one. Baby Bookworm approved!

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