Big Bear and Little Fish (Sandra Nickel)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Big Bear and Little Fish, written by Sandra Nickel and illustrated by Il Sung Na, a story about finding companionship in unexpected places.

Bear is hoping to win the biggest stuffed bear at the carnival, so she can’t help but be a little disappointed when she ends up with Fish instead. Bear doesn’t necessarily have anything against Fish, but they are just so different. Bear is big and Fish is small; Bear is gold and eats golden things, Fish is orange (and, therefore, probably eats orange things, Bear assumes). Bear likes long rambles through the countryside, and Fish… well, Fish lives in a bowl. So while Fish attempts conversation, Bear doesn’t know how to answer… she just doesn’t think they could ever have anything in common. After an extra-long ramble and a good, long think, Bear finally decides to tell Fish that it would be best if she did not stay… but after finally sparking up a conversation with her new companion, Bear will be surprised to find that they have a lot more in common than previously thought.

A very sweet lesson on making assumptions based on appearances. With peaceful yet pragmatic text, Nickel weaves a wonderful tale of pre-judging others in a way that allows children to immediately understand the flaws in Bear’s thinking (while still making her a sympathetic character), yet also introduces a lesson on perspective that proves thought-provoking for all ages. Along with Na’s charming illustrations, it makes for a compelling narrative with extremely applicable life lessons. The length is perfect for a storytime, and JJ truly enjoyed Bear and Fish’s interactions, especially the idea that friends don’t always have to be exactly like us to find common ground. A peaceful and encouraging little contemplation, and we absolutely recommend it – 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.)

Friends (Daniela Sosa)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Friends by Daniela Sosa, a surprisingly candid look at the world of friendship for young readers.

What is a friend? It could be someone you’ve known since birth, or someone you’ve only just met. Someone who was your friend for just a short while, or someone whose friendship will follow you for decades. Friends can be imaginary, or live far away, or perhaps be someone you haven’t met yet. Friendships can teach us, test us, hurt us, and heal us. We can make friendships and lose them, or sometimes we simply grow out of them. But one thing is for sure: even if you feel like you’ll never find a friend, be patient and look closer – a friend may be nearer than you realize.

Boldly realistic yet uplifting. Even for children, friendships can be complicated and mutable things, and Sosa takes a unique approach to the concept with a book that explores both the highs and lows of interpersonal relationships. Adult readers will recognize the sometimes bittersweet aspects of friendship that Sosa describes, yet she manages to do so in a way that never loses sense the excitement, support, or joy that comes from friendships (even temporary ones). It’s a far more complex and honest look at friendships, and one that leaves younger bookworms with realistic understandings and expectations than simply being “best friends forever.” A diverse cast and soft, homey, emotive illustrations nicely match the subject matter. The length is perfect for a storytime, and JJ and I both really enjoyed this one, especially the sincere yet hopeful tone. Overall, this is a unique title for children who may have questions about friendship and want frank answers, and we 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.)

Rosa’s Song (Helena Ku Rhee)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Rosa’s Song, written by Helena Ku Rhee and illustrated by Pascal Campion, a touchingly bittersweet story of friendship, community, and the immigrant experience.

New to “the country, the city, the building,” young Jae is struggling to adjust to his new surroundings and new language. His mother suggests introducing himself to some of the other kids in the building, and behind the first door he tries is Rosa and her pet parrot, Pollito. Rosa is a warm and welcoming bundle of energy, who instinctively sees Jae’s homesickness for his native country and invents games of imagination to help him adjust. She also teaches him to sing her special song with Pollito: “When I fly away, my heart stays here.” All summer, the friends play, pretend, and learn from each other… until the day that Jae wakes up, and Rosa has suddenly left. Heartbroken, Jae is left only with Pollito, a parting gift from his friend when her family had to leave “in a hurry” against their will. Once again, Jae struggles with sadness and loss, but now for a person instead of a place. Yet with the help of Pollito’s song and some new faces, Jae may learn how to carry on the spirit of Rosa’s friendship.

A complicated theme executed with tenderness and hope. Rhee’s wistful tale follows a familiar format at the start, but takes a surprisingly bold turn with Rosa’s departure, both hinting at the immigration status of Rosa’s family and facing the sometimes transitory nature of friendships based on proximity (as a former military family, we FELT that). This development is handled impeccably though, with honesty and heart, and may help little ones who experience similar closure-less separations from loved ones. Campion’s illustrations are warm, soft, and comforting – even in moments of sadness – and help ease the reader through the sadness of the plot. The length is great for a storytime, and JJ liked the rich artwork, especially of adorable and expressive Pollito. Overall, this is a poignant tale that encourages us to reach out and form connections – even if they may not last. It’s moving, and we loved it; 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.)

Stella, Star Explorer (Kelly Leigh Miller)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Stella, Star Explorer by Kelly Leigh Miller, a trip through our solar system that combines practical knowledge and new perspectives (as well as a few laughs) along the way.

Stella LOVES space. She dreams of exploring the cosmos, the galaxies, and of any planet in the universe… except, that is, for dirty, boring old Earth. Deciding she needs a change, Stella and her dog don their spacesuits, say goodbye to Stella’s parents, and blast off on an interplanetary adventure. It doesn’t take long before she makes a new friend: a green, seven-limbed fellow explorer named Io and his purple snake/cat pet Mimas. The pair have gotten lost looking for a very special planet, but Io cannot remember its name! Determined to help, Stella takes him on a tour of the solar system to help narrow the search – but is surprised to find that his destination is a familiar one!

A wonderful mix of fact and fun. Stella’s tour of the solar system does a great job of incorporating true factoids about each of the planets while also providing simple comedy that engages young readers. Best of all, the ending of the story really brings home a nice lesson on appreciating the things we have – especially our own fascinating, unique, and special planet – with a continued thirst for exploration and knowledge. Miller’s cartoonish illustrations are wonderful, with colorful and detailed settings and characters both land-based and intergalactic. Diverse representation is nicely integrated – Stella is coded as East Asian, her caregivers present as a queer, mixed-race family, and other background characters reflect a small variety of skintones, body types, and hair textures. The length is perfect for a storytime, and JJ loved the adorable artwork and uplifting story. Overall, this one is a treat, and we really enjoyed 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.)

Almost Always Best, Best Friends (Apryl Stott)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Almost Always Best, Best Friends by Apryl Stott, a sweet tale of friendship and communication.

Poppy the tiger and Clementine the llama (alpaca? sheep? adorable and fluffy regardless) are best, best friends. They love to spend the day together – playing, doing experiments, baking, and working on their bookmark-crafting business. One afternoon, Clementine is playing at the house of a new friend, Georgia, and Poppy is nervous that Clem will like Georgia better. When Clementine returns singing the praises of Georgia, Poppy feels betrayed and insecure, and lashes out. Can Poppy and Clementine repair their relationship, or is this the end of the best, best friends?

Heartwarming. Little bookworms’ friendships can often be plagued by jealousy, especially when a new figure upsets the status quo of an established friendship. In addition to exploring the idea that friendship is not a finite resource, and that best friends can come in threes just as well as twos, Stott also nicely works in a lesson on communicating feelings and the use of “I” statements (“I feel… when… because… What I need is…”). An extremely effective approach to conflict resolution, Stott introduces it in simple terms and shows how helpful it can be when trying to work out disagreements. Beyond that, the lovely watercolor and digital art is bursting with life and character (and flowers!), the length is great for an elementary storytime, and JJ enjoyed it. This is a gentle yet functional look at friendship dynamics for little ones, and we liked it a lot. Baby Bookworm approved!

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