Outside Amelia’s Window (Caroline Nastro)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Outside Amelia’s Window, written by Caroline Nastro and illustrated by Anca Sandu Budisan, a quiet yet stirring story about having the courage to leave one’s nest.

When the little boy in the blue cap and the little girl with pigtails move in next door to Amelia, her mother suggests that she try to play outside with them. Yet Amelia doesn’t feel that she can play the way she did before, “not anymore” (while the text never states it outright, illustrations and context show that Amelia is transitioning to the use of a wheelchair for an undefined ailment). While watching the outside world from her window one day, a bird steals her yellow ribbon and uses it to build a nest, fascinating Amelia. She does some research and finds that the mother bird and her chicks – whom she names Penelope and Osiris – are migratory redstarts, who will fly tens of thousands of miles once they are mature. Inspired by Penelope and Osiris’ courage and growth, Amelia decides that perhaps she can make a journey of her own; one that is much shorter, yet requires no less fortitude.

Lovely. Times of transition are always tough for kids, and this one subtly weaves in more than a few into its allegory on learning to fly. Notable is the choice to make Amelia’s disability an element of her journey but not the main obstacle; from the jump, the audience understands that it is not that Amelia CAN’T go outside, it’s that she isn’t READY as she is transitioning to the use of her wheelchair. The narrative also never suggests that her unreadiness is a negative – like the redstart chicks, she will leave the nest when the time is right for her. It’s a nuanced and delicate approach that assures as it encourages, and works wonderfully, especially alongside the intricate and atmospheric artwork. The length is great for a storytime, and JJ and I both liked it. A heartwarming and heartening tale, and it’s 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.)

Logan’s Greenhouse (JaNay Brown-Wood)

Hello friends! Our book today is Logan’s Greenhouse, written by JaNay Brown-Wood, and illustrated by Samara Hardy, a lighthearted lesson in produce with a lovely side-serving of disability representation.

Logan is searching his winter greenhouse for carrots; he’s planning to harvest them for his pet play date, where he and his parents will be serving both human and four-legged friends. With the aide of his trusty pet chameleon, Logan searches the greenhouse high and low, comparing the characteristics of each fruit and veggie he encounters with what he knows about carrots – but to no avail. But at the last moment, Logan and the reader (with the help of the chameleon) are able to spot the crunchy carrots, just in time for them to be pulled and prepared for a healthy (and pet-friendly) feast.

Delightful. On the surface, this simple and straightforward story engages readers by allowing them to compare and contrast the features of growing carrots (they grow down from their seed, have textured orange skin, bushy leaves, etc.) with the features of other fruits and veggies growing in the greenhouse. This approach nicely accomplishes educating kids on the growth of various edible garden treats and, with the addition of the illustrations, what those growing plants look like. This in itself makes for a fun read, but what makes the story stand out is its protagonist using adaptive devices, including a manual wheelchair and grabber, without the story centering around it or even calling attention to them. It is exceptionally rare for a picture book to feature a wheelchair user as its main character without the story also being about their disability, so this inclusion of representation is an added treat that makes this title all the sweeter. The length is perfect for an elementary storytime, and JJ enjoyed learning about the produce (and making herself laugh by insisting that ripe oranges could be mistaken for carrots). Overall, definitely one to check out, especially when learning about where our fresh produce comes from. Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Dancing with Daddy (Anitra Rowe Schulte)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Dancing with Daddy, written by Anitra Rowe Schulte and illustrated by Ziyue Chen, a heartwarming tale of a dance, a dress, and the love between family.

Elsie can’t wait for the upcoming father-daughter dance! She’s picked out a dress that matches her daddy’s soccer jersey, complete with sparkly bow, and her sisters have helped her find her dancing groove. Unfortunately, the snow keeps coming down all night, and Elsie is scared that the dance will be cancelled. Will Elsie get her chance to spin and swirl with her sisters and Daddy?

Beautiful. This simple, lovely tale of family togetherness is made all the more impactful by its protagonist, Elsie, who is nonverbal and uses a wheelchair. Elsie’s disability is never treated as a spectacle, instead presenting aspects of daily life for her special needs matter-of-factly and without fanfare. She uses a communication book as well as a feeding tube, has loving and affectionate relationships with her able-bodied sisters and parents, and expresses her complex inner thoughts to the audience through italics in the text. This approach marvelously creates a special-needs main character that readers both disabled and able-bodied can connect and empathize with without exploiting her disability for dramatic effect. Chen’s artwork is tender, expressive, and colorful, though suffers the slightly flat aspect of much computerized illustration. The length is perfect for a elementary-aged storytime, and JJ absolutely loved seeing someone else who uses visual aids to help with speech. At its heart, this is a simple family story, but its unique main character elevate it to a must-read. We loved it, and its 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.)

I Will Dance (Nancy Bo Flood)

Hello, friends! Our book today is the stunning I Will Dance, written by Nancy Bo Flood and illustrated by Julianna Swaney, an inspiring tale of a young girl’s love of dance.

When Eva was born, she could barely breathe; the doctors said she would not survive more than a few minutes. Yet Eva defied the odds and, ten years of minutes later, she has one dream: to dance. Confined to a motorized wheelchair with very limited mobility, her moms and teachers encourage her to “imagine” or “pretend” that she is dancing, but this simply isn’t enough. Eva wishes she could swirl, glide, leap, and twirl like dancers do, and she will not give up this dream. Yet when one of her moms finds an audition notice for dancers of “all abilities, all ages”, Eva is nervous: what if the others laugh at her, or stare, or tell her she doesn’t belong? Eva must face her fears, but she may find that the ability to dance was actually hers all along.

Incredible. This beautifully inclusive and affirming tale, based on a real-life Eva and the Young Dance Company, uses a singular balance of lyrical text and soft, graceful illustrations to tell a powerful story. Eva’s dance company features children of all sizes, genders, and abilities – other dancers use crutches, walkers, prosthetics, and so on – who work together to rehearse and choreograph a dance that features each person’s unique abilities, culminating in a breathtakingly-illustrated performance sequence. It’s a rare story about disability from the perspective of a physically-disabled person, voiced in a way that invites readers of all abilities to identify and empathize with Eva, sharing both her frustrations and eventual triumph. This one is a little longer than other picture books, but JJ was rapt throughout; she was particularly taken with the visual theme of movement expressed as winding, sweeping lines, and enjoyed tracing them across the pages. This one is simply a must-read; Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship (Jessica Kensky & Patrick Downes)

Hello, friends! Our book today is is Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship, written by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes and illustrated by Scott Magoon, a touching story of two unique best friends.

On a special farm in the countryside, a young black lab named Rescue is worried. He’s failed his seeing-eye dog training, but his trainer gives him hope, suggesting he will likely make a better service dog. In the big city, a girl named Jessica is also worried: after a terrible accident, part of her left leg has been removed, and her right leg is badly injured. She will have to learn how to walk and move all over again using a prosthetic and wheelchair. Both work hard to learn their new skills, and when a Jessica is recommended for a service dog to help her, Rescue is brought in to meet her. The two bond instantly, and Rescue and Jessica learn how to work as a team – Rescue learning additional skills to assist Jessica in her daily life and providing comfort when her right leg needs to be amputated as well; and Jessica making sure that Rescue has a comfortable life filled with as much play, cuddles, and naps as his hard work. Together, the two form an unbreakable bond of friendship that changes both of their lives.

Heartwarming. Based strongly on the experiences of Kensky, a survivor of the Boston Marathon Bombing, and the real-life Rescue, the book’s story focuses on both the practical and emotional bonds formed between service dogs and their owners, as well as the training and work that goes into both recovery from traumatic injury, and the dogs who assist these survivors. It’s well-balanced, providing both an educational crash course in these subjects while also exploring their emotional impact. The illustrations carry this theme through, using shadow and light and excellent attention to detail to create both moods and teaching opportunities in each spread, while providing expressive characters that the audience can engage with easily. The length of this one might make it a better for slightly older bookworms, but JJ and I both enjoyed it. A wonderful introduction to the valuable work of service dogs, and Baby Bookworm approved!