Just Because (Mac Barnett)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Just Because, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, a sweet tale of imagination.

As a little girl cuddles into bed for the night, she has a question for her father: “Why is the ocean blue?” Rather than replying with the titular phrase, dad instead answers with a more creative explanation: the fish like to take out their guitars and sing sad songs, which makes them cry blue tears. The little girl counters: why is the sky blue? Well, those are the tears of flying fish, naturally. With each question, her father spins a new imagining of the explanation, from why the leaves change color to what happened to all the dinosaurs. At last, the little girl wonders why she must go to sleep, and her father answers simply: “there are some things we can only see with our eyes closed.”

A sweet ode to creative storytelling, and especially to childhood curiosity and wonder. Each fantasy that the father constructs for his little one is illustrated in lovely detail on a two-page spread, bringing the dream to life in a phenomenal traditional art style, featuring largely grayscale features with explosive pops of color. The explanations themselves are wonderfully creative – especially the dinosaurs, which had JJ and I both giggling – and the ultimate lesson on the importance of dreams, and of fostering them in young and curious minds, is just perfect. The length is fine for a bedtime read, yet the art invites closer examination anytime. JJ enjoyed this one a lot, and so did I – Baby Bookworm approved!

Julia, Child (Kyo Maclear)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Julia, Child, written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Julie Morstad, an ode to cooking and childhood.

From the first time young Julia tastes sole meunière, she is enchanted by cooking and cuisine. She and her friend Simca spend days together, at the market shopping for ingredients, learning the craft of creating fine food, testing new recipes together in the kitchen. Their pursuits bring them such joy that when they notice the dreary and uninspired adults around them, they wonder if their culinary creations can help. Gathering a diverse group of busy, serious people for a meal, Julia and Simca serve them a plentiful gourmet table that contains all the delights and joys of childhood. Their guests are exuberant at first, yet quickly turn selfish, hoarding the food from the others when they fear it will run out. Frustrated and disappointed, Julia and Simca return to their comfort zone, the kitchen, to figure out how to tweak their recipe and achieve just the right flavor of happiness.

Deliciously inventive. Obviously, this reimagining of the friendship between Julia Child and Simone Beck isn’t historical; the women met and discovered a shared love of French cuisine in adulthood. But this is no matter: Julia and Simca are sweet nods to their real-life adult counterparts in a story that is not about them, but about finding a passion and using it to create, and to inspire others. And while it felt like parts of the metaphor flew over my head – particularly the sequence in which the adults aggressively reserve the food – the overarching message is one of appreciating the little things, especially things like a meal made with love, or the bond between two best friends. Morstad’s illustrations are as lovely as ever, using soft colors and fine details to create unique, engaging characters and food that looks good enough to eat. The length is perfect, and JJ enjoyed this one a lot. A scrumptious read, especially for fans of the real life chef, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Pippa’s Night Parade (Lisa Robinson)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Pippa’s Night Parade, written by Lisa Robinson and illustrated by Lucy’s Illustrations, a clever tale of courage and ingenuity.

Little Pippa has quite the big imagination, enough that it can sometimes be a problem. For instance, the sudden proclivity of her bedtime stories to come alive and terrify her in the night with their beasts, baddies, and brutes. During the day, Pippa uses her creativity to craft clever suits of armor with her fashion sense, but at night she is at the mercy of the villains, and no amount of trickery or even retreat seems to keep them at bay. Pippa decides to face them down once and for all, slipping invitations into each of her books for everyone to come out, and tirelessly planning her mode of attack. She manages to subdue some of the monsters, but not all, and scurries back to the drawing board to regroup. Seeing her protective fashions, she comes up with one last scheme – but is it just crazy enough to work?

A nightmarishly fun romp. Pippa’s last-ditch plan, which is hinted at in the title yet still an entertaining final twist, is a great example of a little one using both courage AND intelligence to solve a problem, with a dash of creativity added in as well. It’s especially nice to see in a young female protagonist, and sends the message that girls are both brave and smart enough to solve their own problems. I especially loved Pippa’s unique fashion sense and the outfits she puts together with it referred to as “armor”; rather than fashion being viewed as frivolous, it’s presented as a form of self-expression and a mark of confidence, and as an interest not mutually exclusive from reading, invention, and imagination. The artwork is fantastic, filled with hilarious details and beautifully-designed creatures, and creating truly creepy (then fun) environments. The length is great, and JJ enjoyed the playful text and artwork. A great story to lead us into spooky season, and it’s 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.)

Happy Dreamer (Peter H. Reynolds)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Happy Dreamer by Peter H. Reynolds, an ode to creativity and imagination.

A little boy introduces himself to the reader as a happy dreamer: a creative soul who simply cannot help but let his mind wander, explore, create, and of course, dream. The world may tell him to sit down, be still, and keep quiet, but when his dreaming starts, he simply cannot. Whether they be quiet dreams, loud dreams, high-flying dreams, explosive dreams, colorful dreams, or a dozen other types of dreaming, he is proud that his mind is a doorway to the endless unknown, and that his dreamer’s spirit will guide him through.

Sweet. Reynolds’s meditation on the creative mind features colorful and appropriately expressive illustrations, and story that reads like a jazz song – each spread is a variation on the theme, culminating in a wonderful pull-out section that features dozens of diverse young dreamers expressing their creativity in their own ways (from art and music to community and civic service). There were a few moments that weren’t my cup of tea, such as the suggestion that a symptom of being creative is to also be disorganized – speaking from personal experience, this just isn’t true – or disobedient in the face of structure. But overall, for many imaginative kids who might share these qualities, it is a nice way of letting them know that they aren’t alone. The length is fine, and JJ enjoyed the colorful art. This is a cute book that encourages the dreamer in all of us, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved.

Flora’s Tree House (Gabriel Alborozo)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Flora’s Tree House by Gabriel Alborozo, a wonderfully sweet sibling tale.

Flora watches her little brother Will as he rambunctiously plays around the tree that holds her treehouse; he’s more than a little rude and annoying, but he’s a wonderful muse for her artwork: crayon drawings inspired by his limitless imagination and the adventures he conjures with it. This day, Will curiously follows Flora up the ladder to her tree house (despite the “No Wills Allowed!” sign), and marvels to find the walls filled with drawings of his escapades. While Flora is initially nonplussed by his presence, she is quickly charmed by his fascination with her art, and the two bond by reminiscing over the memories of Will’s adventures. Will is especially surprised to find that even when he didn’t notice her, Flora was always there with him, exploring the cosmos or battling mummies, or even off on adventures of her own. Realizing that these playtimes were something they actually shared all along, Will invites Flora to be a part of his newest, a ocean-faring quest beset by pirates – Flora is happy to volunteer her treehouse as their vessel.

Lovely! For whatever reason, there seem to be a lot of books about the bond between sets of sisters or brothers, but fewer about brother-sister relationships, and this one is a heartwarming example of how important those sibling relationships can be. Flora and Will’s sibling rivalry – and eventual harmony – feels organic enough to be realistic while setting a nice example for readers, and the focus on both imaginative play and creativity is wonderful. The illustrations are sweet, and are wisely centered around the crayon drawings, further inspiring little bookworms to create and pretend on their own. The length is fine, and JJ liked this one; overall, a solid read, especially for families with siblings. Baby Bookworm approved!

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