Free at Last: A Juneteenth Poem (Sojourner Kincaid Rolle)

Hello, friends! We’re here today with a special Sunday review! Our book today is Free at Last: A Juneteenth Poem, written by Sojourner Kincaid Rolle and illustrated by Alex Bostic, a beautiful look at the meaning behind, and importance of, Juneteenth.

On June 19th, 1865 in Galveston, Texas, the news had finally arrived: the Civil War was over, and slavery had been declared illegal by the Emancipation Proclamation. And after 300 years of enslavement, “descendants of Africa picked up their souls – all that they owned” and began the process of remaking their lives. Some celebrated with song, some prayed. Some journeyed as far from Texas as they could, and some boldly made their homes as neighbors of the very people who had held them in bondage. And every year, on June 19th, their lives and journeys and celebrations and prayers are remembered by those who came after, so that their trials, triumphs, and the moment they first knew freedom, may never be forgotten.

Powerful. Rolle’s beautiful free verse poem and Bostic’s stunning oil paintings combine here to tell a story of a pivotal moment in American history that, until very recently, was unknown to so many, making a title as impeccably and passionately constructed as this one all the more vital (admittedly, I grew up never knowing of Juneteenth until my adulthood). Rolle’s poem is filled with beautiful phrasing and impactful moments of rhyme, yet maintains a tone and vocabulary that school-aged children will easily understand. Bostic’s artwork is similarly engaging, conveying intense emotion that young readers will recognize and empathize with. Combined with a perfect length for storytimes, this becomes a fantastic book for introducing Juneteenth and educating on its significance. JJ and I both really loved this, and I was especially blown away but what a powerful teaching tool this is. Overall, an absolute must-read, and we highly 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.)

Mina (Matthew Forsythe)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Mina by Matthew Forsythe, a hilariously off-kilter spiritual sequel to the author-illustrator’s previous title, Pokko and the Drum.

Mina lives in a world of books and stories, and is generally unbothered by the world around her, even when her father is bringing unusual treasures and loud guests into their home. Mina is pretty forgiving of her father’s eccentricities… that is, until the day he brings home a rather suspicious-looking “squirrel.” Mina does not feel entirely certain that this large, noticeably cat-shaped “squirrel” has the best of intentions, but her father brushes off her concerns readily. Still, Mina decides to keep her eye on her father’s pet “squirrel,” as she feels a little caution in this situation may be warranted (and potentially life-saving).

Hilariously unexpected. Fans of Pokko and the Drum will be well-pleased with this follow-up, which sees a return of Forsythe’s winning combo of warm, otherworldly artwork and wonderfully dry humor. Whichever way you think the story is going, it’s not, and Forsythe expertly subverts expectations with deadpan comedy and absurdist details that bring Mina’s tale perfectly full-circle. The length is perfect for a storytime, and JJ loved the visual gags, especially Mina’s father’s ridiculously oblivious preconceptions about his new pet. Overall, a delightfully unusual and absolutely hilarious tale, and we loved 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.)

Some Daddies (Carol Gordon Ekster)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Some Daddies written by Carol Gordon Ekster, illustrated by Javiera Mac-lean Álvarez, a diverse and inclusive look at what makes daddies different, and what makes them the same.

There are all different types of daddies! Some are early birds, while some take a while to get going in the morning. Some drink coffee, some drink tea, and some drink neither. Some wear suits, some wear uniforms, and some even go to work in their pajamas! But while there are all types of different ways that daddies can look, eat, play, and be, there’s one thing that all daddies have in common: daddies are special people who love their little ones.

Lovely. There’s always room for stories about parents and families that celebrate the potential diversity of both, and this one does a great job of exploring how each daddy is unique in many ways. While Ekster’s simple text mostly explores how daddies can differ in personality, dress, and interests, Álvarez’s cheerful and colorful illustrations also depict a diversity of skintones, abilities, religious dress, and body types. Especially awesome is that non-traditional family makeup is addressed in both text and artwork, noting that families can have two daddies, or that daddies can be special grownups that a child has picked for themselves. The length is perfect for a storytime, and JJ enjoyed the sweet artwork. Overall, this is a great way to explore the diversity of what it means to be a daddy, and we liked 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.)

My Dad is a Grizzly Bear (Swapna Haddow)

Hello, friends! Our book today is My Dad is a Grizzly Bear, written by Swapna Haddow and illustrated by Dapo Adeola, a fun look at a father with distinctly ursine qualities.

Be cautious, be careful, and be aware; the unnamed narrator of this silly tale has a hulking grizzly bear for a father! Fuzzy fur on his face, enormous paws, and a love of honey – yup, all pretty bearlike! He also falls asleep anywhere, then growls and grunts when he wakes, hunting for food. He also LOVES the outdoors, taking his kiddos camping and hiking, even though it’s soggy or rainy sometimes. But when the narrator is scared, there is no one who gives better bear hugs.

Sweet and silly. Haddow’s conversational text exploring the many bear-reminiscent qualities of the narrator’s father will definitely inspire some giggles in young readers, especially for those who have parents of their own that share said habits. For those reading aloud, there’s a strange rhythm on the first page that suggests the book’s text will be rhyming – it’s not – and it may cause a stumble on the first read, but the story itself is fun and warm (possibly with the exception of the narrator’s mother terrifying her children with stories of bears on a camping trip). The illustrations are equally amusing, depicting the characters’ mixed-race family with humor and affection. My only other complaint is equally small as the previous two, but there is something about the pale flesh-colored patches around the father’s eyes when he is depicted as a bear that just… weirded me out. But that could absolutely be a hangup unique to me – JJ loved the artwork and story, and the length was perfect for a storytime. Overall, an entertaining read to celebrate papa bears, 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.)

Rosa’s Song (Helena Ku Rhee)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Rosa’s Song, written by Helena Ku Rhee and illustrated by Pascal Campion, a touchingly bittersweet story of friendship, community, and the immigrant experience.

New to “the country, the city, the building,” young Jae is struggling to adjust to his new surroundings and new language. His mother suggests introducing himself to some of the other kids in the building, and behind the first door he tries is Rosa and her pet parrot, Pollito. Rosa is a warm and welcoming bundle of energy, who instinctively sees Jae’s homesickness for his native country and invents games of imagination to help him adjust. She also teaches him to sing her special song with Pollito: “When I fly away, my heart stays here.” All summer, the friends play, pretend, and learn from each other… until the day that Jae wakes up, and Rosa has suddenly left. Heartbroken, Jae is left only with Pollito, a parting gift from his friend when her family had to leave “in a hurry” against their will. Once again, Jae struggles with sadness and loss, but now for a person instead of a place. Yet with the help of Pollito’s song and some new faces, Jae may learn how to carry on the spirit of Rosa’s friendship.

A complicated theme executed with tenderness and hope. Rhee’s wistful tale follows a familiar format at the start, but takes a surprisingly bold turn with Rosa’s departure, both hinting at the immigration status of Rosa’s family and facing the sometimes transitory nature of friendships based on proximity (as a former military family, we FELT that). This development is handled impeccably though, with honesty and heart, and may help little ones who experience similar closure-less separations from loved ones. Campion’s illustrations are warm, soft, and comforting – even in moments of sadness – and help ease the reader through the sadness of the plot. The length is great for a storytime, and JJ liked the rich artwork, especially of adorable and expressive Pollito. Overall, this is a poignant tale that encourages us to reach out and form connections – even if they may not last. It’s moving, and we loved it; 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.)