Becoming Blue (Ellen Tarlow)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Becoming Blue, written by Ellen Tarlow and illustrated by Julien Chung, a colorful tale of self-discovery and -actualization.

Timid, square Blue is simply in awe of his pal Red, a circular dynamo who exemplifies all that is brave and bold. While Blue is too shy to tell jokes or direct traffic, Red is out there having big emotions, spouting crowd-pleasing wisecracks, and fighting fires (or sometimes being a fire). Blue tries his best to emulate Red, but he’s just not as bold and vibrant as she is. Then one Valentine’s Day, Red – who is known for her fiery temper – snaps at Blue: “Stop copying me! You are Blue! Go be Blue!” Having grown so used to following Red’s lead, Blue doesn’t even know where to start to be himself. He feels frustrated and rejected, and begins to cry… then suddenly, he begins to realize that there are lots of things that only Blue can do.

Simple and sweet. It’s a pretty common issue for young readers to compare their own talents and abilities to those of their peers, and Tarlow does a good job of exploring this concern through the story of Red and Blue. It’s not a completely novel concept, and the plot and outcome are fairly predictable, but combined with Chung’s appealing and expressive illustrations, it still makes for a fun ride with a great message. The best part is Red and Blue’s discovery of how their individual talents can combine to facilitate an entirely new way to play, which dovetails the visuals and theme perfectly for the finale. There’s also a great depiction of expressing emotion as a positive ability, something made all the more impactful by Blue’s male pronouns. The length is great for a storytime, and JJ really enjoyed the earnest tone and empathetic Blue. Overall, a great addition to the subgenre of self-actualization, and we 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.)

You Can Be (Elise Gravel)

Hello, friends! Our book today is You Can Be by Elise Gravel, a board book of feelings that encourages little ones to always be themselves.

There are lots of ways to be a kid: you could be happy, or thoughtful, or quiet. Boys can be artsy or sensitive or caring and so can girls; girls can be strong or stinky or leaders, and so can boys. The most important things are to never be mean or rude, and to ALWAYS be yourself – it’s the very best way to be.

Lovely. On the surface, this short board book is a visual look at different emotions or personality attributes, illustrating each in Gravel’s boldly-lined and energetic cartoon style. But the subtler (and much appreciated) message for baby bookworms is that it is okay to feel emotions, have interests, and express aspects of your personality, no matter one’s gender, skin color, or even just what others say. The art cleverly shows girls and boys as examples of aspects that they may not be readily associated with (such as a “sensitive” boy crying over a good book, or girl getting “dirty”, playing with trucks in the soil), and undercutting stereotypes such as “girls can’t be funny” or “boys can’t be caretakers”. And more broadly, it sends the message that it’s okay to feel things, even grumpy or angry or shy – your feelings are a part of you, and never wrong. It’s a great way of combining education with encouragement for the youngest reader, and we loved it. The length is great, and JJ and I had a ball with the adorable art – definitely Baby Bookworm approved!

The Day You Begin (Jacqueline Woodson)

Hello, friends! Our book today is The Day You Begin, written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Rafael López, a beautiful and moving ode to the courage it takes to be oneself.

In life, there will be places that you go where you are different. Places where no one else has your hair, or your skin tone, or speaks your language. Places where the food you grew up with is suddenly “too weird”, or other people will not pick you to play with them. Places where you may not have as much money. Places where they might whisper about you, or say mean things because you are different from them. These places can be scary and lonely, and you may be tempted to think “what does my life matter?” – but it does. You are only a fraction of what you will be, of all that you will learn and do and see. And this place is but a few notes in the symphony of your life. So summon your courage, and be yourself, differences and all – you never know who might be different just like you…

Absolutely gorgeous. This book gets to the nitty-gritty of being “other”, looking at all-too-familiar ways that children can marginalized or ostracized based on race or culture or economic status or simply that, sometimes, kids can be quite mean. It also subtly yet powerfully touches on the feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness this can invoke, and validating them. And it encourages kids to soldier through, but not at the sacrifice of who they are. In a time in which self-harm and suicides due to bullying is on the rise, and we face an often terrifying attitude about minorities, this is a vital message for vulnerable young minds. The art is bursting with color and light, serving to brighten a sometimes dark theme, and is just perfect in tone. The length was great and JJ and I both loved it. This should be read to every single child, to show that it’s always been our differences that make us great. Baby Bookworm approved!

It’s Show And Tell, Dexter! (Lindsay Ward)

Hello, friends! Our book today is It’s Show And Tell, Dexter! by Lindsay Ward, the adorable second installment of the Dexter T. Rexter series.

Dexter T. Rexter, a dinosaur toy, is back with a new challenge to face. His owner, Jack, is having show-and-tell at school, and he’s going to bring his very favorite toy: Dexter, of course! Dexter is so excited, and he’s been preparing for weeks. However, he’s also pretty nervous: will the kids like him? What outfit should he wear? Should he try to wow everyone? Will he make Jack proud? Dexter works himself into a frenzy over his worries, but the reader offers a suggestion: instead of trying to impress Jack’s classmates with costumes or flashy tricks, what if Dexter just went as… himself?

Wonderful! This was a story with a lot of comedy, yet had a very encouraging message for little ones who also may be feeling nervous about their first day of school. Dexter’s histrionics are presented in laughably dramatic text that is a blast to read aloud and act out – JJ was screeching with laughter by the time we got to “TOTAL FREAKOUT!”. But the message that being yourself is always the best way to face new experiences is the best part, and brought the plot full-circle beautifully. The art is bright, colorful, and full of energy, and JJ loved seeing Dexter’s antics. The length is great, and we both enjoyed this one a lot. A fantastic follow-up, yet stands on its own as a wonderful lesson in being oneself. 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.)

Where Oliver Fits (Cale Atkinson)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Where Oliver Fits by Cale Atkinson, a fantastic story of finding where you fit without compromising who you are.

Oliver is a puzzle piece, and like all puzzle pieces, he’s excited to find where he fits. He certainly hopes he’ll be a part of a super-awesome, exciting puzzle, but when he tries to fit into all the cool puzzles, they reject him. “Not enough red!” they say, or “too round, not square enough”. Oliver is sad, so he comes up with an idea: he will change the way he looks and is shaped so that he can fit in. But no matter what, he still stands out from the rest of the pieces, and they tease him away. Finally, in desperation, Oliver changes absolutely everything about himself, and finally finds an amazing puzzle to fit into. But when he sees his fellow pieces teasing other different-looking pieces, Oliver takes a hard look at himself and wonders: if he has to change everything about who he is to fit in, is it even still him anymore?

Fantastic. Using the wonderful puzzle piece metaphor, Atkinson teaches a valuable lesson in when the price of “fitting in” becomes a burden. It’s a story that assures readers that changing who you are to be part of the cool kids is ultimately quite empty, and may even limit your opportunities for finding your people. The last page is especially meaningful, reminding children that to make a complete, beautiful puzzle, every piece is important, including you – a poignant metaphor for “it gets better”. The art is wonderful, full of bright colors and fun visuals that kept JJ fascinated throughout. It’s a great length, and a vital reminder for little ones that, while it may take time, they WILL find where they feel – and make others feel – complete. Baby Bookworm approved!