Fred’s Big Feelings: The Life and Legacy of Mister Rogers (Laura Renauld)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Fred’s Big Feelings: The Life and Legacy of Mister Rogers, written by Laura Renauld and illustrated by Brigette Barrager, a loving tribute to the incomparable Fred Rogers’ life and work.

“Hello, neighbor!” the book begins, and welcomes the reader into a familiar television living room set. While we remember Fred Rogers as “America’s favorite television neighbor,” he was once a child; bullied and ignored for his weight and shyness, isolated by childhood illness, and full of very big feelings at a time when children – especially boys – were not encouraged to express them. Yet through music, puppetry, and the support of a few trusted adults like his grandfather McFeely, Fred learned to channel and express his big emotions in positive ways. And Fred grew, he found that kindness and empathy were his strengths, and his confidence grew as people began to see him for the good person he was. It was this talent at expression, empathy, listening, and connecting that led Fred to work in television, where he helped generations of children learn to deal with their own big feelings, and create a kinder world.

As we said in our review of You Are My Friend by Aimee Reid and Matt Phelan, we are big fans of Fred Rogers, and this tender, inspiring, and educational biography does an equally wonderful job at both recounting Rogers’ life while also – as the man himself always sought to do – educating and uplifting its audience. Both books are marvelous, yet distinct; Fred’s Big Feelings makes its mark by covering Rogers’ high school years, notable moments and guests on his show, and his incredible Congressional testimony to save public television. The illustrations are phenomenal, capturing Fred’s emotions and charm from childhood to adulthood, and utilizing a sweet motif of colorful rising hearts to show emotions. The length might be better for slightly older bookworms, though JJ loved it, and was delighted to see her neighbor Mister Rogers on the page once again. A lovely ode that reminds readers that it’s okay to feel, and Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Pocket Full Of Colors: The Magical World Of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire (Amy Guglielmo & Jacqueline Tourville)

Hello, friends! Our book tonight is Pocket Full Of Colors: The Magical World Of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire, written by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville and illustrated by Brigette Barrager.

Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Mary who lived in a lemon yellow house. When her family moved out West, Mary was sure to tuck her friend lemon yellow in her pocket. You see, where some people collected bottle caps or baseball cards, Mary collected colors: steel gray, viridian, aquamarine, taupe, celadon. After art school, Mary became one of the first female artists to work at Disney Studios, but is often dismissed by her male bosses and admonished for creating concept art that is too bright, bold, and colorful. Mary leaves to have the freedom to create, but receives a call from Walt Disney himself – he wants Mary’s designs for a new ride called It’s A Small World. Mary is interested, but will not be stifled creatively again. She agrees to come back on one condition: she will lead the project and be her own boss – and Walt agrees. Mary goes on to create, among other works, one of Disney World’s most beloved and enduring attractions – and fills it with every color in her pocket.

So cool! I’m a bit of a Disney nerd, but I had never heard of Mary, so it was wonderful to learn about her contributions to Disney and the rest of the design world. I also appreciated the feminist lessons of the story: Mary refused to let male colleagues compromise her work, and isn’t afraid to ask for the recognition and creative control she has earned. And while Small World is a bit of a problematic favorite as rides go, there’s no denying it’s popularity or staying power. The illustrations are as vibrant, energetic and exciting as you would expect, and JJ positively loved them. The length is very manageable as well, so this one’s definitely Baby Bookworm approved!

Uni The Unicorn (Amy Krouse Rosenthal)

Hello, friends! Today, we read Uni The Unicorn, written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Brigette Barrager, the story of a unicorn, a girl, and belief.

Uni the unicorn is like all the other unicorns: flowing mane, twinkling purple eyes, magical powers. But there is one thing that makes Uni different: she believes in little girls. All the other unicorns mock her, but Uni just knows that there is a special little girl out there. A little girl who, like her, looks to the night sky and dreams of a special friend.

Oh, boy. This is a pretty popular book, so I’m going to get some people who disagree, but we didn’t love it. There is some gorgeously colorful art, flipping the trope and having a unicorn believe in people was cool, and the length is good, but for positives, that was it for us.

In the meantime, the book lacks a satisfying conclusion. It bills itself as “A Story About Believing,” so I can understand why the author chose to never have Uni and her friend meet, but it’s a choice that ends the story rather abruptly. Furthermore, the book is extremely gendered. Uni believes in little girls, and only little girls. Apparently, little boys and unicorns are not meant to have special friendships. And, uncomfortably, Uni only seems to believe in little white girls. Her dream friend is blonde and blue-eyed, and all the drawings of little girls that Uni makes or looks at in books are light-skinned. In fact, the only time children of color make an appearance is as villains, taunting the little girl for believing in unicorns. So as far as gender and race representation, this one misses the mark, to say the least.

We had heard good things about this book and were looking forward to it, but it honestly just left me underwhelmed and slightly troubled. Even JJ didn’t seem very interested beyond our initial read-through. If you have a daughter who loves unicorns (and, again, only a daughter), this could be a fun read, but otherwise, not one we would recommend.