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.)

Pigeon & Cat (Edward Hemingway)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Pigeon & Cat by Edward Hemingway, a heartwarming tale of emotional connection.

Cat lives alone in an empty lot in the big city, inside a cardboard box. He has a few essentials, and regularly scavenges for food in the trash bins when he’s hungry. He keeps one eye open when he sleeps, so that he can keep other strays from nosing around his empty lot. It isn’t much, but it’s Cat’s home, and he is fairly content with it. Until the day he finds an unbroken egg in a downed bird’s nest, out from which pecks a baby pigeon. Cat is immediately taken with the tiny bird, and expands his small existence to care for her. In turn, Pigeon cares for him by bringing treasures from around the city every day once she is strong enough to fly. That is, until the day that Pigeon fails to make it home before dark. Dreadfully worried, Cat doesn’t hesitate to leave the lot he’s always known to search for his missing friend… but will he find her in a city so big, and filled with so many strangers?

Touching. Hemingway uses approachable text, evocative art, and a unique gimmick (Pigeon speaks only in emoji “tweets”, something that young readers will undoubtably enjoy) to tackle a surprisingly layered story on emotional connection. Using the classic framework of a character separation narrative, Hemingway tackles surface themes of opening oneself up to others and making connections across languages and other barriers. Yet dig a little deeper, and more complex themes also come into play, including homelessness, poverty, community support, and even art as communication and therapy. It’s deft, engaging, and honestly quite beautiful. Hemingway populates his world with charming animal characters, and while the realities of being unhoused are certainly sanitized here, what’s striking is that the “strays” are never portrayed as pitiable or “less than” for their situation; they are, in fact, humanized (for lack of a better term), something rarely done in portrayals of the homeless in media. Otherwise, the length was great, and JJ and both really enjoyed this story of kindness and friendship. A sweet and affecting tale, 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.)

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.)

Perfectly Pegasus (Jessie Sima)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Perfectly Pegasus by Jessie Sima, a wonderfully heartwarming follow-up to the much-beloved Not Quite Narwhal.

Nimbus, born high in the sky amongst fluffy clouds and colorful rainbows, is undeniably one-of-a-kind. Being so singular means that she has the entire sky to herself, and can use her powerful wings to soar and play. However, it can also get pretty lonely, and Nimbus often finds herself tracing the stars and dreaming of having other pegasi to keep her company. One night, spying the perfect wishing star falling to the land, Nimbus decides to venture out of her solitary sky and search for the celestial object, hoping to make her wish for companionship. Along the way, she’ll meet some new friends – and one familiar face – that will show her that her wish may have already come true…

Marvelous. While the brilliant Not Quite Narwhal dealt with the concept of feeling pulled between two communities based on one’s identities, Perfectly Pegasus deftly explores another aspect of “found families”: being in a place where one’s identity is entirely unique, and finding connection in communities that are unrelated to that identity. At the end of the day, Nimbus is truly unique (no other pegasi make an appearance), yet she finds acceptance and companionship within the narwhal-and-unicorn community that sprang up around adopted unicorn protagonist Kelp from the previous book. It’s a lovely lesson in finding family in those who love and support you, even if they are not EXACTLY like you, and it’s expressed perfectly in Sima’s entertaining, heartfelt text and delightfully sweet artwork. The length is perfect for a storytime, and JJ and I both loved this – I can honestly say that I was filled with glee when Kelp and his blended family made their return halfway through the book. Overall, a lovely story about identity and community, and we highly 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.)