Beautifully Me (Nabela Noor)

Hello, friends! Our book today is the Beautifully Me, written by Nabela Noor and illustrated by Nabi H. Ali, a fantastic story about body positivity and what it means to be beautiful.

As young Zubi prepares for her first day of school, she greets the audience with confidence and exuberance. She dons a fabulous outfit that expresses her Bangladeshi culture and makes her feel unique and beautiful. But when she runs to her parents to show them her stylish look, Zubi overhears her mother complaining about her waistline. Then she finds that her slim sister Naya is dieting to “look pretty” for a school dance. Her father also bemoans his weight gain, and despite making new friends at school, she overhears one classmate bullying another by calling them fat. Full-figured Zubi is confused and distraught – does she have to be skinny to be beautiful? Announcing at dinner that she is now on a diet, her family is shocked. And when they realize that their offhand comments have damaged Zubi’s self-worth, they set about fixing things, for Zubi and for themselves.

In a word, BEAUTIFUL. This utterly unique take on body positivity not only emphasizes to kids the timeless message that beauty comes in more than one size and shape, but also deftly manages to tackle the internalized fatphobia that permeates most young adult and adult cultures. The fact that it shows how seemingly “harmless” comments by adults can reinforce these toxic ideas about body types to children is incredible, and makes this a teaching opportunity for readers of all ages. Combine these much-needed messages with gorgeous art that celebrates Zubi’s family’s Asian and Muslim culture and diversity at her school (one character uses they/them pronouns, another uses a wheelchair, a third wears a patka), all with warmth, energy, and yes, beauty. The length is great for elementary and older kids, and JJ and I absolutely loved it. A stunning reminder to embrace all that makes us beautiful, and 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.)

Paper Dolls Don’t Have Hearts (Shannon Woodworth)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Paper Dolls Don’t Have Hearts by Shannon Woodworth, a middle-grade poem that tackles issues of self-image and body dysmorphia.

Annie Jones has just started at a new (high?) school, and feels intimidated by the growing and changing of her fellow classmates. Whenever Annie compares herself to older girls, or even her own friends, she feels inadequate: hair too short, body too curvy, eyes too big, etc. She begins to change her diet, eating less and less and even skipping a piece of her own birthday cake. Sensing that something is wrong, her mother sits her down and encourages her daughter to open up. Annie explains that she wishes she could draw herself as a paper doll, making all the changes to her appearance that would help her feel confident. Her mother understands, but points out that a paper doll wouldn’t have Annie’s spirit or her talents or all the qualities that make her truly unique and special; after all, paper dolls don’t have hearts.

Heartfelt. Inspired by her own experiences with ED, Woodworth infuses this middle-grade tale with gentle, empowering poetry that feels genuine. However, while the language is sincere, the rhymes themselves are often clunky and uneven, losing the rhythm and meter with too many or too few syllables per line. The illustrations are similarly pedestrian: line and shade drawings that give a visual basis for Annie’s journey yet lack texture and depth throughout. Lastly, the length and subject matter are best for middle-graders, not baby bookworms; JJ lost interest very quickly. I also would have loved to see some resources provided in the backmatter for readers struggling with ED who may not have an immediate support system like Annie did. An earnest and meaningful effort from a freshman indie creator with a worthy message, yet it simply lacks finesse. Perhaps not Baby Bookworm approved, but worth a read for those who might be struggling.

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

Dancing In The Wings (Debbie Allen)

Hello, friends! Today’s book is Dancing In The Wings, written by Debbie Allen and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, a story about a young girl finding the self-confidence to achieve her dreams.

Since she was very little, Sassy has always longed to dance. She works hard in her ballet class, but there is one problem: Sassy is a head taller than all the other pupils, with long legs and large feet. Because of her size, she rarely gets to perform, having to dance in the wings offstage instead. When an opportunity to audition for a special ballet program comes up, Sassy is eager to try out. That is, until she overhears two girls making fun of her size. Crestfallen, she begins to lose her nerve, until her Uncle Red convinces her that standing out is nothing to be ashamed of. Determined, Sassy decides to embrace her uniqueness: rather than try to blend in, she finds the confidence to stand out.

We had a mostly positive experience with this one. First, as a tall woman with a daughter who may grow be tall herself, I’m happy to find a book that celebrates tall girls. Sassy’s revelation that being different or being noticed can often help us toward our goals is a fantastic lesson for girls, inside and out. Being confident, self-assured and having positive body-image is always something that young girls should be encouraged to do. Two sticking points for me, though: a lot of premium was placed on Sassy’s looks, but far less on her non-physical attributes. I was also slightly disappointed that when another character would insult Sassy’s appearance, she would often retort by insulting the other person’s appearance in turn. Sinking to a bully’s level of being petty or cruel isn’t the best lesson. Still, this was a mostly positive story, with some lovely art to boot. The length was a bit long for babies, but JJ enjoyed it. So we’re calling this one Baby Bookworm approved!

Zero (Kathryn Otoshi)

Hello everyone! Our book today is Zero by Kathryn Otoshi, a numbers book that’s part counting, part confidence, and all about finding value.

Zero is a big round number, and she feels a bit empty inside. All the other numbers have value, they can all count together, and Zero feels left out. After all, you can’t count Zero. She tries to make herself look like the other numbers, but no matter how she tries, she’s always just herself. The other numbers want to help, but they aren’t sure how to. Can Zero find the value in herself and be happy with who she is?

We really enjoyed this one. JJ is a whiz at her numbers, so she was very excited to identify and count the brightly colored 1-9 throughout the book. But beyond the numbers is a sweet story about body types, fitting in, and finding self-worth. Zero’s journey feels like one that so many of us have taken in finding our own unique talents and what we bring to the table. This makes it a rare book that can really grow with a child, from simply learning to count as a baby, on to learning to count on themselves as they become older. The illustrations are simple yet striking, and give the numbers, which are anthropomorphized in the vein of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, a lot of unique personality. This is a really cool book that little readers can enjoy and benefit from for years, and we liked it a lot. Baby Bookworm approved!

Freckleface Strawberry (Julianne Moore)

Hello everyone! Our book today is Freckleface Strawberry, written by Julianne Moore and illustrated by LeUyen Pham, the story of a little girl learning to love her freckles.

Freckleface Strawberry is a girl who is just like everyone else, except for her red hair and freckles, the latter of which she is rather self-conscious, as people comment on them all the time. She tries to hide her freckles, to varying degrees of success, until she finds she can cover up all her freckles at once… by wearing a ski mask! However, this keeps her friends from recognizing her. Can she ever accept her freckles as part of who she is?

This was such a sweet book. I think Freckleface’s embarrassment of her appearance is something that most adult readers can identify with, and I love that this book teaches younger readers to be confident in their bodies (even in its unique qualities), and know that it is much more important to accept yourself for who you are, and to surround yourself with people who do the same. Furthermore, the book is funny, and the text is enjoyable to read. It’s a fine length for baby bookworms, and the illustrations by Pham (who also drew one of our favorites, Grace For President), are adorable. Overall, a great book for littles that teaches them to embrace the skin they’re in. Baby Bookworm approved!