Once Upon A Forest (Pam Fong)

Hello, friends! So sorry for the technical difficulties we’ve been having this week, but I think we’ve got them cleared up – on to our next review! Today we’re looking at Once Upon A Forest by Pam Fong, a lovely meditation on the love and care that goes into helping something grow.

As a little marmot tends her small garden one day, she spies a whisp of smoke. Following it, she sees that it is the result of a small fire in her forest, one that humans have just extinguished. The marmot gathers her supplies, including a few tiny sprouts, and heads off with her bird friend to scout the situation. Finding several burned-out trees, she mourns them briefly, then gets to work: clearing the burnt roots, tilling the soil, and planting new seedlings. She camps near them through wind, heat, and snow, protecting and nourishing them as they grow. When the seedlings have grown to young sturdy trees, the marmot heads home, her job done… until the next time she is needed.

Hopeful and heartwarming. A simple tale of the kindnesses we sow in dark times told entirely through pictures, this sweet title exemplifies delicate gentleness in both its visuals and narrative. Fong beautifully captures the spirit of growth and renewal after tragedy in the soft grayscale illustrations, using color only to draw attention to the plants and the things that give them life, sunlight and water. The fluffy marmot and her faithful bird companion are expressive and endearing, and the theme is a classic one with a timeless message. Without text, the length is what you make it, but JJ really enjoyed verbalizing the story as she watched it play out. Overall, this one is absolutely worth a look, and a touching reminder of why our small kindnesses matter in times of trouble – because they can grow into big things. Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Over And Under The Snow (Kate Messner)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Over And Under The Snow, written by Kate Messner and illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal, a look at the wondrous natural habitats that animals form during snowy winter.

A little girl and her father cross-country ski through a quiet wood, the trees bare and the ground covered in pure white snow. The girl sees a red squirrel disappear through a snowbank, and asks her father where the squirrel went. “Under The Snow,” he replies. As the girl and her father continue on their trek, they spot tracks and animals making their way through the frozen forest, while the reader is shown the animals who have made their shelter beneath the snowdrifts and the girl’s very feet.

This was a really pretty book with a lot of interesting information about how animals’ habitats can change in snowy climates. Between the tranquil, understated text that describes the activity above and below the snow and the serene simplicity of the mixed-media illustrations, the story achieves an almost meditative quality that is very soothing. For curious little readers, there is an informative appendix that expands on the information about the animals and habitats introduced throughout the book. The length is good, though I will say that the calmness of the text and the mostly-winter whites palette did not seem to hold JJ’s attention for long. This one would be best for slightly older bookworms, especially those interested in nature – animal lovers will treasure the gorgeous art and informative text. Overall, a lovely look at winter creatures, and Baby Bookworm approved!

Tidy (Emily Gravett)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Tidy by Emily Gravett, a cautionary tale of a well-meaning badger and his penchant for neatness.

Pete the Badger likes to make sure things are neat and tidy, and the fact that he lives in the forest isn’t going to stop him. He makes sure to scrub and polish each rock and tree, washes and grooms his fellow animals (much to their discomfort), even vacuums the forest floor! So naturally when autumn rolls around, and the leaves litter the ground, Pete is sent into a tizzy. He rakes and bags every last leaf, but now the trees look too spindly and bare. But Pete’s got a way to fix that: he digs up all the trees and leaves the forest barren, which is easy to keep neat – until the first rain, when it floods and turns to mud. No problem, Pete will simply pave over the forest floor with concrete… but now the forest isn’t looking much like a home for Pete or his friends any more. Pete will have to learn that messing with his habitat can cause a havoc, and that sometimes a little mess is what makes a home.

This was a clever story that slyly uses its silly story to explore some serious environmental concerns. Pete’s obsession with cleanliness is a great way to explore the very real cost of messing with natural habitats, as well as showing what can happen if someone is so intent on perfection that they lose sight of the necessity of balance. The rhyming text is fun to read, and works well with the allegorical nature of the story. The illustrations are as amusing yet frank as they need to be, and are filled with Gravett’s signature charm. The length is great, JJ enjoyed it, and this one was an enjoyable read overall. Baby Bookworm approved!

The Littlest Family’s Big Day (Emily Winfield Martin)

Hello, friends! Today’s book is The Littlest Family’s Big Day by Emily Winfield Martin, a sweet story of a tiny bear family’s move to a new neighborhood.

The Bear family has just moved to the forest, and they are excited to explore their new neighborhood. They aren’t like regular bears; only five inches tall, different colors, and their youngest child an adopted fox cub, they look very different from their neighbors. Still, the neighbors welcome them with cheer and hospitality as the family goes for a wander around their new home. But after much wandering, the family finds that they are lost! Fortunately, a kindly owl carries them home, where they find that the neighborhood has put together a huge party to welcome them to the forest.

This is a very cute book. As always, Martin’s art is the star of the show: her delicate yet rich environments and characters capture the magic of the forest. The story is simple, but there are some great lessons to be found about acceptance, being neighborly and welcoming, and showing kindness to new people. It feels very much like a metaphor for the immigrant experience, which is cool, and definitely includes a non-traditional, mixed-race adoptive family, which is even cooler. The length is great, and JJ always enjoys Martin’s art, as there are so many details to pick out. We really enjoyed this one, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Owl Sees Owl (Laura Godwin & Rob Dunlavey)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Owl Sees Owl by Laura Godwin and Rob Dunlavey, a unique and lovely little tale about a curious little owl on the nighttime.

Told in four words per page, the story begins with a young owl waking from sleep in the nest he shares with his mother and siblings. From there, he ventures out into the night sky, exploring a twilight world of autumn leaves, scampering mice, and moonlit ponds. Stopping to rest on a branch, he sees his reflection in the water (“owl sees owl”), and the text reverses, covering the same quartets of words backwards as the little owl makes his way back home.

This is a cool concept for a book, and we both really liked it. The simple, short vocabulary words that comprise the text make for a quick read for babies, while giving them gorgeous nighttime landscapes and creatures for illustrations, then transitions well into a book for beginning readers. And though it lacks a traditional narrative, the words are evocative enough to still make reading it aloud entertaining and fun. We enjoyed this one! Baby Bookworm approved!