Pruett and Soo (Nancy Viau)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Pruett and Soo, written by Nancy Viau and illustrated by Jorge Lacera, a tale of shaking up the status quo.

Robot student Pruett lives a humdrum life on the Planet Monochrome, a place where everyone and everything blends in. He, his family, his classmates, and his teacher all follow very strict rules: be calm. Wear and write in only black, white, or gray. No asking or answering questions, and no zigzagging or playing tag. One day, a new student appears in Pruett’s class: a colorful transfer from the Planet Prismatic named Soo. Soo does everything against the rules – asking questions, coloring in crazy colors, and zigzagging to her heart’s delight – to the horror of Preutt’s classmates and teacher. Pruett feels the urge to join her, but struggles to follow the rules he’s always known. How will Soo adapt to Monochrome’s society… or will she and Pruett lead a change toward the more colorful?

Sweet, if slightly simplistic. This is a pretty classic tale of a newcomer shaking things up for an overly-rigid society, reimagined with a wildly creative and visually appealing interstellar twist. Bringing color to a grayscale world is a pretty common trope, but Viau and Lacera’s unique alien characters and settings give it some spice. There’s also a pleasantly surprising (yet respectful) subtext of challenging authority, especially when it seeks to conform or negate those who lie outside the mainstream. My main issue is with how quickly and effortlessly such a massive societal change takes place, which seems a little naive, even for a picture book. It’s a wonderful notion, but one that feels a little disingenuous to young readers. Other than that, the length was great for a storytime, and JJ did love the colorful artwork and expressive dialogue. Overall, absolutely worth checking out – 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 Most Important Thing (Antonella Abbatiello)

Hello, friends! Our book today is The Most Important Thing by Antonella Abbatiello, translated by Angus Yuen-Killick, a sweet and simple tale of celebrating differences.

One day, a group of animal friends are having a rather loud discussion over whose distinctive features are the “most important.” Rabbit insists that it’s long ears, while hedgehog is sure that it’s quills. Elephant extols the virtues of being big and having a trunk, while frog insists that everyone would find that being green is the way to be. With each new suggestion, the animals imagine themselves with such an adaptation: long necks like a giraffe, wings like a bird, or webbed feet like a duck. Finally, owl suggests that the answer to what the “most important thing” is perhaps more obvious than they realize…

A simple story with a classic message. This Italian import was first published in 1998, but has aged particularly well, likely due in part to its simplicity and genuine charm. Abbatiello’s illustrations are approachable and amusing, and the fold-out spreads of the animals imagining themselves as sharing the features of their friends are inventive and entertaining, especially for younger readers (JJ got a lot of laughs out of what a giraffe would look like with a trunk, or an alligator with beaver teeth). The text is uncomplicated and fun to read aloud, and Yuen-Killick did a great job with establishing meter in the rhyming refrain in this translation. The length is perfect for a storytime with young bookworms, and JJ loved it. An enjoyable title that imaginative animal lovers are sure to appreciate, 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.)

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.)

Bird Hugs (Ged Adamson)

Hello, friends! The Baby Bookworm household has been down with another bug, so we’re happy to be back today with a review of the lovely Bird Hugs by Ged Adamson.

Bernard is different from the other birds. When he was a baby, he didn’t realize it; he just enjoyed playing with his friends on the ground and in the trees. When his friends began to fly, however, it became clear: Bernard’s extra-long wings – both of them many times the size of his small, round body – make flight impossible. Watching as his friends frolic through the sky, Bernard wallows in disappointment, particularly after a series of failed attempts to circumvent his impairment. But one day, he hears someone crying: an orangutan who feels inexplicable sorrow. Sympathizing, Bernard wraps his extra-long wings around his new ape friend, and is surprised to find that not only does the orangutan feel better… so does he.

Loved this. Much like one of our recent favorites, All The Ways To Be Smart by Davina Bell and Allison Colpoys, this sweet story illustrates that talent and ability come in many forms, and celebrates the value of empathy and emotional aptitude. Bernard comes to find that there are many animals in need of emotional support, and both his hugs AND his talent for listening are of immense help. This earns him a jungle full of new friends, including a few who adorably help him in return in the final spread. This focus on how being different is often a strength in and of itself is a wonderfully welcome and heartwarming message, bolstered by Adamson’s adorable, emotional illustrations and clever yet tender text. The length is perfect, and JJ and I both adored it. A warm hug of a tale, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

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

It’s Okay To Be A Unicorn! (Jason Tharp)

Hello, friends! Our book today is It’s Okay To Be A Unicorn! by Jason Tharp, a sweet tale of individuality and having the courage to be oneself.

On a sleepy isle lies the town of Hoofington, which is populated entirely by equines – horses, ponies, but NOT unicorns, who are the subject of vicious rumors. Cornelius, a citizen of Hoofington, is a talented hatmaker; in fact, he’s positively never seen in public without one of his signature hat creations. Hoofington’s townsfolk are all a-tizzy, preparing for the yearly Hoofapalooza, an enormous festival of food and fun. Every year, the festival is capped off by a performance of epic proportions, and this year, Cornelius has been tapped to put on the show. He’s excited, but also nervous; you see, Cornelius has a secret, and it’s one that may change his life in Hoofington forever.

Very cute. The ultimate revelation – that Cornelius is a unicorn himself – is spoiled on the cover, yet not at the detriment of the story; in fact, the audience sharing in Cornelius’s struggle to hide – and ultimately reveal – who he is gives a nice sense of camaraderie with the colorful character. This works well, especially as the story progresses and Cornelius becomes a clear allegory for marginalized people living in the closet (LGBTQ+ in particular), especially with the introduction of the rumor and hearsay elements of the story. Cornelius’s “coming out” performance, in which he reveals his unicorn horn, is ultimately triumphant, especially in a sweet spread that shows his closest friends accepting who he is without hesitation or surprise, then the rest of Hoofington quickly following suit after their initial shock. And while it may feel like a bit of a fairytale ending, it works for the relentlessly positive tone of the book. Colorful, energetic illustrations are a treat, the length is great, and JJ likes it a lot. Baby Bookworm approved!

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