Bubble Kisses (Vanessa Williams)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Bubble Kisses, written by Vanessa Williams and illustrated by Tara Nicole Whitaker, a fishy fairy tale based on Williams’s song of the same name.

As the story opens, we are introduced to the unnamed narrator, a cheerful, Afro-puff-sporting little girl with a seeming fascination for all things nautical, and her very best friend and pet goldfish, Sal. Others may wonder why she is so close to her fish friend, considering she can’t do the things that other pets may be able to do. The little girl explains that Sal gives her bubble kisses (though the book is relatively vague on what these are). The illustrations show Sal and the narrator embarking on an underwater adventure, exploring shipwrecks, finding treasure, meeting mermaids, and attending a lively party on the ocean’s floor, before revealing that it was all a dream.

Oh, man; I’m a big fan of Vanessa Williams, so I wanted to like this a lot more than I did. Unfortunately, there is so much in this title that simply doesn’t work that it’s hard to enjoy what does. As I said, the eponymous “bubble kisses” are never explained; not in the text – which is made up exclusively of the, frankly, mediocre lyrics of the song – nor in the artwork. Are they actual kisses? Are the dreams the kisses? Who knows? The dull and irritatingly repetitive lyrics make for a clunky reading experience, including having to repeat the phrase “bub-bub-bub-bub-bubble kisses” no less than four times. The artwork is charming, especially the musical instrument-playing sea creatures, and it’s nice that the mermaids display a diversity of skin tones (though their features and body types are identical). The length is fine, but JJ and I were both underwhelmed by the story (though it should be noted that she enjoyed the artwork and shiny dust jacket). The included CD version of Bubble Kisses is… fine; a peppy yet largely vapid swing-inspired kid’s song that doesn’t do Williams’s voice any kind of justice. Overall, this might be nice for a a fan of mermaid artwork, but is otherwise one to skip.

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

Hello, My Name Is…: How Adorabilis Got His Name (Marisa Polansky)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Hello, My Name Is…: How Adorabilis Got His Name, written by Marisa Polansky and illustrated by Joey Chou, an imagining of how a sea creature’s unique name came to be.

A small pink octopus is placed into a tank, and being a friendly sort, calls out a hello to the other inhabitants. Immediately, the deep sea creatures that make up his tank-mates (among them a yeti crab, a six-filled shark, a fangtooth, a mimic octopus, and more) approach the newcomer, commenting on how small and cute he is. They ponder aloud what he will be called, causing the little octopus confusion – called? The others explain that the humans that care for them give the creatures names, usually alluding to their appearance or special skills, such as parachuting from higher rocks, but begins to seriously worry about what his name will be. At last, a scientist appears and calls him by name: Adorabilis. The other creatures agree that this is a perfect name for the little guy, and the neighbors settle into their new life together.

This was – as the subject matter would imply – very cute, and a cool way to teach children about both the newly discovered Adorabilis species and how creatures can get their common names. The illustrations are darling, and bring the tank’s inhabitants to life, adding character and color (another reviewer did note that these species would all-but-impossibly share the same tank, so diehard marine life-enthusiasts may have to suspend their disbelief). My only issue is that the title gives away the ending! I wish they had kept the subtitle a little more vague, which would have added a fun layer of suspense to the story. As it was, knowing what the animal’s name is from before the first page diminished the urgency of the octopus’s anxiety. Otherwise, the length was great, and JJ enjoyed it. A fun tale that introduces some nifty creatures, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Henny, Penny, Lenny, Denny, And Mike (Cynthia Rylant)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Henny, Penny, Lenny, Denny, And Mike, written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Mike Austin, a story about how the quietest among us can often be the most brave and helpful.

Henny, Penny, Lenny, Denny, and Mike are all old friends from the pet store, and as close as friends can be. So naturally, they are delighted when a little girl buys all five of them and takes them home to a shiny new fish tank! The tank has everything: orange gravel, a cool rock, a neat diver, bubbles, and well, a slimey snail, but no one pays him any mind. Soon a hilarious clownfish and a striking angelfish join their clique, and the girl even adds a beautiful fairy castle for them to swim through. But – OH NO – Lenny gets stuck and no one can figure out how to free him! What will the friends do?!

This was a great little tale of inclusion, and we liked it a lot. It’s an interesting twist on the “popular kids” story because it shows things from the opposite point of view than is typical. The fish aren’t mean or nasty to the snail (who eventually saves the day to great acclaim), they just sort of breeze past him because they focused on each other. It shows young readers that the popular ones aren’t always bullies and unpopular kids aren’t always loners – everyone involved might just need to find the right way to connect. The art is cute, colorful, and very expressive, and I loved the integrated comic-book style text. The length was good, and JJ liked it a lot. A great story with a strong message: sometimes, the person on the other side of the fish tank is just a friend you haven’t made yet. Baby Bookworm approved!

Nugget & Fang (Tammi Sauer)

Hello, everyone! Today’s book is Nugget & Fang, written by Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Michael Slack, a hilarious and charming book about two best friends.

Nugget and Fang are the best friends in the ocean. They spend every day together, and that’s just about perfect. So naturally, it’s very difficult for them when Nugget starts school – and even more so when his school friends and teachers inform him that sharks like Fang eat minnows like Nugget! When Nugget informs Fang of this, effectively ending their friendship, Fang is brokenhearted: being a shark doesn’t make him a bad guy, does it? What he does know is that he needs his best buddy, so he’ll have to figure out a way to prove that being toothy doesn’t make you scary… but how?

This is always a fun one to read aloud for JJ; it’s got some wonderfully colorful art, expressive text and dialogue, and a great story with a surprisingly deep message. The way Nugget is peer-pressured and discouraged from his friendship with Fang, their reason being simply that Fang is a shark and therefore must be bad, is pretty clearly a metaphor for judging people on appearances and stereotypes. It’s a good way to teach children that people can’t be painted with broad strokes: Fang happens to be a vegetarian, and it’s his big sharp teeth that save the day. The art is fun, wth a cartoonish quality that gives the characters tons of personality. The length it great, and JJ adored this one. Definitely Baby Bookworm approved!

Swimmy (Leo Lionni)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Swimmy by Leo Lionni, the timeless story of a little fish, a big ocean, and what we can accomplish when we work together.

Swimmy is part of a big school of very small red fish. Swimmy is just a bit different though: his scales are black, and everyone says he is the fastest swimmer in the school. One day, a giant tuna comes up and begins eating the other fish, and everyone begins to scatter. Swimmy swims as fast as he can, but once he stops fleeing, he is surprised to find the ocean filled with marvels that he missed by never leaving his school. Upon finding another flock of fish like him, he tries to convince them to come and see the wonders of the sea, but they are too scared of the big fish and want to stay hidden. So Swimmy comes up with a brilliant plan for everyone to safely swim in the ocean. It will take teamwork, practice, and trust, but Swimmy knows that when everyone works together, they can accomplish great things.

I loved this simple, straightforward parable about cooperation. The story is brisk and has a great, matter-of-fact tone; it keeps the action flowing smoothly without lingering, but still gets the point across. I loved the emphasis on both hard work AND working together; it’s not enough just to organize, everyone still has to put their time in. And I loved the lesson about not living in fear, especially if you can find people to support and help you overcome those obstacles. The sponge-painting-style art is lovely and unique, and the length is perfect. JJ and I really enjoyed this classic, and it’s definitely worth the read. Baby Bookworm approved!