All You Need (Howard Schwartz)

Hello, friends! Sorry we missed you the past few days – we had some family commitments that we couldn’t miss. To make it up to you, we have two special weekend reviews today and tomorrow! Our book today is All You Need, written by Howard Schwartz and illustrated by Jasu Hu, a beautiful ode to the simple necessities of life.

“All you need,” the spare verse begins, weaving a quiet contemplation of the things one needs for life. A planet, a warm sun, clouds to gather rains, trees to clean the air. Good food, fresh water, plenty of sleep. A land of welcome and people to watch over you. The freedom and ability to share your lovely thoughts and the beating heart to give you life. What a person truly needs is simple, really – life, love, health, and joy.

Beautiful. Schwartz and Hu do something rare here: telling two different stories through the text and art that weave together beautifully in theme and tone. Schwartz’s uncomplicated free verse poetry highlights the theme of simplicity, neatly choosing a list of needs that is both almost entirely accurate and evocative of emotion. The story Hu tells with the stunning watercolor artwork reflects the early life story of a young child in China, growing amongst beautiful scenery and loving family before striking out into adulthood, yet maintaining a connection to home. These elements all combine to tell a heartwarming story about life, connection, nature, culture, and love, and the result is breathtaking. The length is great for a storytime at any age, and JJ adored the dreamlike artwork and easy-to-read text. Overall, this one is an absolute work of art, 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.)

Playing with Lanterns (Wang Yage)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Playing with Lanterns, written by Wang Yage, illustrated by Zhu Chengliang, and translated by Helen Wang, a sweet tale of tradition and celebration.

While the first two days of the New Year are delightful in Zhao Di’s snow-covered northern village, she most looks forward to the fifth day, when her uncle gives her a paper lantern, as is tradition, to celebrate with. Zhao Di loves her lantern, and spends the next ten days of the new year inseparable from it: showing it off with friends, protecting it from troublemaking boys, taking care to keep the candle lit in the wind and cold. On the last day of New Years, when the lanterns are smashed for luck, Zhao Di does so with a touch a sadness. This bittersweet feeling lingers until the next morning, when she mourns the end of the New Years celebrations. Still, she cheers herself with the happy memories of playing with her lantern, and the knowledge that she’ll have another New Year to celebrate, next year.

Charming. This Chinese import is a fantastic cultural immersion into a New Year celebration in the Shaanxi province, told through the playful and wondering viewpoint of a child. Yage’s simple story is well-translated by Wang to create a narrative that is wonderfully engaging, balancing the recognizable with the novel to let the reader feel like part of the celebration, even if they are not immediately familiar with the specific traditions. Chengliang’s gouache illustrations have the same comforting feel, one of innocence and awe that perfectly captures Zhao Di’s perspective. The length is perfect for a storytime, and JJ really enjoyed the artwork, especially comparing what she could recognize (snowy landscapes and bundled-up children) with what was new to her (Chinese banners and lantern games). Overall, this was a lovely and unique title, and we enjoyed 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.)

Friends Are Friends, Forever (Dane Liu)

Hello friends, and Happy New Year! Our first book of 2022 is Friends Are Friends, Forever, written by Dane Liu and illustrated by Lynn Scurfield, a touching tale of tradition, immigration, and friendship.

Best friends Dandan and Yueyue are excited to spend another Lunar New Year celebrating their traditions: dumplings, making red paper-cut ice ornaments, and watching the fireworks. However, this year’s festivities are bittersweet – Dandan and her parents are moving to the United States the next day, and the girls must say goodbye. Yueyue gives Dandan a stack of red paper and a spool of string to make cutouts with new friends in America, and the girls tearfully hug one last time. Dandan struggles in her new country, feeling alienated by the unfamiliar surroundings, new language, and unfriendly classmates. Will she ever find a new friend to continue her traditions with?

Heartwarming and real. Dandan’s story, based on Liu’s own immigration experience, is told with raw authenticity and honestly, in a way that young readers can connect with. One can feel the pressure and isolation of adapting to a new culture and struggling with a new language while missing everything that once felt familiar and comforting, both through Liu’s frank, sincere text and Scurfield’s expressive and atmospheric illustrations. Fortunately, Dandan does find a new friend, and with some adjustments, is able to practice her Lunar New Year traditions, a resolution that encourages openness to other cultures and provides the promise of better days during transitional times. The length is great for a storytime, and JJ loved the story and instructions on paper cutting in the backmatter. Overall, this one is a treasure, and a great way to start the year – Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Ruby’s Wish (Shirin Yim Bridges)

Hello, friends! Today’s book is Ruby’s Wish, written by Shirin Yim Bridges and illustrated by Sophie Blackall, the true story of a girl and her thirst for education.

In a big house in China, a long time ago, there lived an enormous family. The patriarch had taken many wives and had many children, who married and had their own children. One of those grandchildren was Ruby, a little girl so called because she loved red, the Chinese color of celebration, and wore it every day. Ruby’s grandfather hired a teacher for the many grandchildren, and while it was unusual for the time, he allowed both the boys and the girls to attend lessons. Ruby loved school, and worked hard every day to master her subjects (harder even than the boys, because she had to spend her free time learning cooking and homemaking as well). One day, Ruby writes a poem for school, one that expresses her sadness at being born a girl. Her grandfather is concerned: why does Ruby think that the boys of the home are treated better? Will Ruby have the courage to speak her mind, and tell her grandfather of the opportunities she longs for?

This was a fantastic story, made all the more moving because it’s true. Ruby is a wonderful role model for little ones: she tells her grandfather of the special treatment the boys get, and expresses a desire to attend university. Moved by her passion, her grandfather secures her entrance to a school, both he and Ruby bucking the gender limitations of the time. It’s a triumphant ending, and teaches an important lesson: both men and women must fight for gender equality. The illustrations are beautiful, and along with the text offer a glimpse into the fascinating history of a culture. The length is good, and JJ really enjoyed this one. A moving tribute to a courageous young woman ahead of her time, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!