Remarkables (Lisa Mantchev)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Remarkables, written by Lisa Mantchev and illustrated by David Litchfield, a magical tale of the families we make.

Going for a dive in the sea, a child happens upon a mermaid. The two become fast friends, sharing laughs and stories, and the mermaid shows the child the underwater kingdom that was once her home, now wrecked and abandoned. The child sees that the mermaid is alone, and invites her to come live with his immediate family, and their extended “family”: a traveling circus. The circus folk and mermaid are shy around each other at first, but quickly grow friendly, and then eventually as close as family. The mermaid makes her debut as an attraction at the circus, amazing crowds and finding joy in entertaining. But still, looking out from her tank, she misses the sea… and once more, sensing her sadness, her young friend and new family helps her to feeling complete.

Charming. To get it out of the way, this is certainly a glamorized version of circus life: the performers appear to have an egalitarian way of life, where the circus folk are treated with respect and reverence by each other and their audiences, and even the animals roam about freely and comfortably. It’s idealized, yet with purpose: the mermaid, left orphaned and alone by seeming tragedy, finds a place within the group of “others”, which include families of diverse skintones and physicalities, a tattooed couple, a pair of clowns, and even the sly inclusion of a mixed-race gay couple. It’s a deeply sweet metaphor for found family, even if a slightly unrealistic one (however, this is a story about a MERMAID, so some creative license seems fair). The rich, gorgeous illustrations and sparse text work together nicely to form an uplifting narrative, and the length is great for a quick read or even a longer perusal of the art. JJ really liked this, and so did I. A fantasy with a message of love, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved.

(Note: This review was featured on Twinkl in their article “Fantasy Books for Kids,” which can be read here.)

Little Elliot, Big Family (Mike Curato)

Hello, friends! Today’s book is Little Elliot, Big Family by Mike Curato, a story about the family we have and the family we make.

The second book in the Little Elliot series, the story opens with Elliot (a small, spotted elephant who lives in NYC) and his best friend and roommate Mouse waking to a lovely winter day. Mouse is in a rush; his family reunion is today, and he’s looking forward to seeing his two hundred-odd family members. Elliot sees him off, but immediately feels a bit lonely once his pal is gone. Going for a walk around the city doesn’t help much: everywhere he goes, he sees families spending time together. He even goes to see a movie, but is left in tears at the sight of an elephant family on the screen. Venturing back out into the snow, he is stopped by Mouse, who has missed him as well. Mouse invites Elliot to his family reunion, where everyone has a lovely time. And when the time comes to take the family portrait, the many mice find that there is plenty of room for a little elephant to squeeze in. After all, Elliot is family.

We have loved the Elliot books so far, which are sweet yet touching, and have a lovely, gentle innocence to the story and art. Elliot’s loneliness is so palpable through the text and illustrations, and readers would be hard-pressed to not sympathize with the sensitive little elephant. I also love that this is a book about found family, which is great for children whose families are not strictly biological. This is a story that children of blended families, adoption, or foster families might relate to, and that’s wonderful. The length is perfect, and JJ loved the “effent,” so this one is definitely Baby Bookworm approved!