Sparkle Boy (Lesléa Newman)

Hello, friends! Our review today is Sparkle Boy, written by Lesléa Newman and illustrated by Maria Mola, the story of a little girl learning to accept her brother for who he is.

The day Jessie puts on her shimmery skirt, her little brother Casey asks for one too. Their mother sees no harm, and lets Casey have one of Jessie’s old skirts. Later, Casey also wants to emulate his big sister’s glittery nail polish, which his father gladly applies. Their abuelita loans Jessie one of her sparkly bracelets – and one to Casey too! Jessie is upset, insisting that these things aren’t for boys, and is outraged when her mom allows Casey to wear his outfit to the library. But when Jessie sees older children bullying Casey, she begins to understand how hurtful her attitude has been, and decides to take a stand.

As a metaphor for how friends and family, even well-meaning, often ask their LGBTQ+ loved ones to dim their shine for the sake of appearances, it’s spot on; especially when Jessie asks if they can just paint Casey’s toes and hide them under socks (Casey exclaims “no!”, wanting nails just like his sister’s). Jessie seeing the negative attitudes of strangers – and their effect on Casey – show her that she is no different than the bullies shaming him for expressing himself. However, from a child’s point of view, this metaphor may be a little vague. It might have helped if Jessie’s initial anger had been explained better (such as the common big-sibling irritation of younger siblings “copying” them), but her displeasure seems to stem from prejudice, which makes her sudden change of heart harder to understand for little readers. Still, there is a happy ending here, and it can help show children why these sorts of views are hurtful. Otherwise, the art is darling and detailed, the length is fine and JJ enjoyed it. This one might warrant a post-story discussion, but overall it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Julián Is A Mermaid (Jessica Love)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Julián Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love, a gorgeous tale of pride and acceptance for a gender nonconforming boy.

Riding the train with his abuela, Julián is delighted when three beautiful women dressed as mermaids get on board. Julián imagines himself as a mermaid, growing a tail of his own and long, beautiful hair that waves gently through the ocean, making friends with the sea creatures who love and accept him. When he and Abuela arrive home, Julián tell her that he wants to be a mermaid too, but Abuela simply instructs him to be good as she takes a bath. As she bathes, Julián is struck with inspiration: he sheds his normal clothes and crafts a mermaid outfit for himself, with a headdress of flowers and palm fronds, a long flowing tail made from a curtain, and a pop of lipstick to complete the look. Enjoying his new ensemble, he doesn’t hear his abuela exit her bath, and finds her staring at him in silence. At first, the reader and Julián think he must be in trouble… until he finds that acceptance is not only found in the sea.

Absolutely gorgeous. We’ve read a few lovely books this month about trans and gender nonconforming little ones, but this is definitely my favorite so far. The story is simple, subtle, but incredibly moving. The rich, earthy-colored illustrations need only minimal text to assist in getting the message across, but what is there is equally, perfectly understated. And the visual symbolism strikes a perfect tone, using texture, motion, color, and pattern to explore Julián’s hidden world of imagination and connect it to the reality of his quietly supportive abuela. The length is perfect, and JJ adored the art. A beautiful story for little mermaids of all genders, and it’s emphatically Baby Bookworm approved.

Jacob’s New Dress (Sarah & Ian Hoffman)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Jacob’s New Dress, written by Sarah and Ian Hoffman and illustrated by Chris Case, the story of a boy and his parents making an important wardrobe decision.

When it’s dress-up time at Jacob’s school, he and his friend Emily always go straight for the dresses. His classmate Christopher is irritated, and demands to know why Jacob won’t wear any of the “boy costumes”. Later, Jacob tells his mother what happened and she is sympathetic, assuring him that boys ARE allowed to wear dresses. She happily helps him put on his Halloween dress, but when Jacob asks to wear it to school, she hesitates – dresses have been an at-home activity so far. But Jacob is determined, and he uses a towel to create a “dress-thing” to wear. His parents reluctantly allow it, and Jacob is delighted to show off his creation… until Christopher steals the outfit and mocks it. Jacob heads home crying, and asks his mother once more for a real dress; this time, she agrees. She and Jacob make a dress together, and while Jacob’s dad is concerned, he supports his son’s garment. And when Christopher inevitably teases him again, Jacob decides to ignore the bully’s taunts – his dress is his armor and his wings, and he’s happy to finally be comfortable in his own clothes.

Wonderful. Young bookworms are given a lesson in why little boys may like to wear “feminine” clothes, and that this is both allowed and okay; the given explanations of comfort and ever-changing attitudes towards clothing and gender are good starting points. Adult readers will identify with Jacob’s parents, who want their son to have the freedom to express himself but also worry about how the world will treat him – it’s beautifully nuanced and really hits home. The sunny illustrations keep things mostly light, and the length is just fine. JJ and I both enjoyed it – a wonderful lesson for both kids and parents about gender nonconformity, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!