Luli and the Language of Tea (Andrea Wang)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Luli and the Language of Tea, written by Andrea Wang and illustrated by Hyewon Yum, a sweet tale of cross-cultural connection.

In her ESL daycare, young Luli notices that none of the children are playing together; despite being full of young ones, the room is quiet, as none of the children share a language. Luli, wanting to find a way to bring her playroom together, comes up with a plan. She brings in a teapot, a thermos of hot water, and a ball of tea leaves, as well as enough teacups for everyone. When the tea is steeped, she calls out: “茶!” (Chá!), inviting her friends to the table. While the children do not share a language, the language of tea is universal, and each one responds with the word for “tea” in Russian, Swahili, Persian, Turkish, etc. But when they gather at the table and Luli is finished pouring, they find that there is not enough for everyone to have a full cup! What can they do?

Wonderful! Finding cross-cultural connections, especially in cuisine, is always a great subject for a picture book, and this one cleverly incorporated a beverage that is a dietary and cultural staple to so many: tea. Wang’s text is simple and sweet, and cleverly structures the multilingual sections to represent both the written version of the language and the phonetic pronunciation, the latter of which can often feel intrusive or extraneous in multi-language books but works perfectly here due to the breadth of languages and the similarity between the the different pronunciations of “tea.” Yum’s illustrations of a diverse group of characters and their caregivers are adorable, immensely playful and bright. Endpapers featuring traditional teacups from around the world are especially delightful. Informative backmatter gives a brief overview on the history of tea, tea traditions in each character’s native country, and a few notes on immigrants living in the United States. The length is great for a storytime, and JJ and I both really liked this one. This is a great way to introduce the idea of language and cultural diversity – both what makes us different and what we share – and we absolutely 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.)

The Hair Book (LaTonya Yvette & Amanda Jane Jones)

Hello, friends! Our book today is The Hair Book by LaTonya Yvette and Amanda Jane Jones, a sweet and simple book about diversity and inclusivity.

People can have all different types of hair! They can have long hair, short hair, wavy hair and poufy hair. They can have mustache hair or beard hair (or monster hair!). People can choose to cover their hair with a hijab or a kippah. Some wear their hair in afros or cornrows, pull it back or leave it loose. And some people have no hair at all. But no matter your hair, how you choose to style it, or what you wear on top of it, “you are welcome… everywhere.”

Lovely! This simple and colorful look at diversity in hair types, hairstyles, and religious headwear sends the important message that all hair and headwear – and by extension, all cultural affiliations thereof – are valid and beautiful. Yvette and Jones use basic text and saturated, high-contrast artwork to show the diversity of hair. This works very well most of the time, though it might have been nice to get a better feel for curlier/more coily textures (like an afro) with an art style that allowed for slightly more detail. The length is perfect for even the very youngest of baby bookworms, and JJ really enjoyed the art and easy-to-read text (and especially the “monster hair” page. Overall, a great way to explore diversity and promote inclusivity for little ones, 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.)

I Am Golden (Eva Chen)

Hello, friends! Our book today is I Am Golden, written by Eva Chen and illustrated by Sophie Diao, a moving exploration of the Asian American experience and cultural pride.

Told from the perspective of a Chinese-American immigrant couple addressing their daughter, Mei, the narrative begins by noting that the heritage of both China and America are written in Mei’s features and name. Mei’s parents are honest with her about the difficulties of being a child of Chinese-American immigrants; the racism, the othering, the pressure to culturally assimilate, the fact that her parents will often rely on her for translation and navigation through American culture. But they want Mei to know that no matter what challenges she faces, she carries an immeasurable strength within her, one that has the power of her history, her culture, her ancestors, her family, and most of all, herself. Finally, they teach their daughter the word mìng; “It means destiny, Mei. Our destiny was YOU.”

Stunning. Chen’s powerful words and Diao’s exquisite art weave a beautiful narrative that is heartbreakingly honest, deeply empowering, and truly heartwarming. Cuttingly accurate statements on xenophobia – “people will call you different in one breath and then say that we all look the same with the next” – do not shy away from the reality of stereotypes and othering that members of the AAPI community face while also fearlessly pointing out their absurdity. Even the core concept of Mei’s “golden”-ness ties into a description of her skintone; “brushed with gold,” in comparison to demeaning descriptions of AAPI skintones. Diao’s digital illustrations are striking, colorful and fluid, and filled with energy; a top-down tablescape of traditional Chinese foods makes the mouth water, and a depiction of Ming glowing from the center of a blooming lotus is joyful and serene at once. The length is perfect for a storytime, and JJ and I both loved this one. This one is a rare and beautiful look into the Chinese-American and AAPI experience, and is a must-read. Emphatically Baby Bookworm approved!

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

The Most Important Thing (Antonella Abbatiello)

Hello, friends! Our book today is The Most Important Thing by Antonella Abbatiello, translated by Angus Yuen-Killick, a sweet and simple tale of celebrating differences.

One day, a group of animal friends are having a rather loud discussion over whose distinctive features are the “most important.” Rabbit insists that it’s long ears, while hedgehog is sure that it’s quills. Elephant extols the virtues of being big and having a trunk, while frog insists that everyone would find that being green is the way to be. With each new suggestion, the animals imagine themselves with such an adaptation: long necks like a giraffe, wings like a bird, or webbed feet like a duck. Finally, owl suggests that the answer to what the “most important thing” is perhaps more obvious than they realize…

A simple story with a classic message. This Italian import was first published in 1998, but has aged particularly well, likely due in part to its simplicity and genuine charm. Abbatiello’s illustrations are approachable and amusing, and the fold-out spreads of the animals imagining themselves as sharing the features of their friends are inventive and entertaining, especially for younger readers (JJ got a lot of laughs out of what a giraffe would look like with a trunk, or an alligator with beaver teeth). The text is uncomplicated and fun to read aloud, and Yuen-Killick did a great job with establishing meter in the rhyming refrain in this translation. The length is perfect for a storytime with young bookworms, and JJ loved it. An enjoyable title that imaginative animal lovers are sure to appreciate, 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.)

The Perfect Party (Laurel P. Jackson)

Hello, friends! Our book today is The Perfect Party, written by Laurel P. Jackson and illustrated by Hélène Baum-Owoyele, a raucous tale of diversity and inclusivity.

It’s Little Robin’s birthday, and all his animal friends have turned out to make his party something special. The perfect party requires the perfect music and food, right? But as the animals from the United States, Portugal, Jamaica, Germany, Korea, India, and more try to raise their voices over one another – first in fighting whose song is the best, then over whose native cuisine should be served – they only end up making a lot of noise and a big old mess. How can all the animals work together to give Little Robin the party he deserves?

Confusing and convoluted, yet fun. Jackson’s story starts with a good premise and an always-worthwhile theme, but never marries the two completely. While the glimpse into how different languages/cultures interpret animals noises (the Portuguese rooster sings “Cocoricó!” while the Nigerian ones sings “Kukurukuu!”, for instance) is interesting, it never really explains to young readers why the animals’ noises are interpreted differently before moving to the next concept. In contrast, the solution for the issues of multiple languages and cuisines – that the animals all sing together and the food all be mixed together – feel a little oversimplified (wouldn’t the individual cultures’ foods be better enjoyed at a shared banquet that equally celebrated each dish as its own unique creation, rather than a stone well of mushed-up food?). However, while the narrative is a bit messy, its theme of inclusivity is still solid for young readers, and the extremely vibrant and lively watercolor-and-digital artwork will delight animal lovers. The length is fine for an elementary-aged storytime, and JJ enjoyed the illustrations, though she was puzzled about the differing animal noises. Overall, this one is a little chaotic, but it still kind of works, especially as a celebration of the things that make us different. Baby Bookworm approved!

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