Home is Where the Birds Sing (Cynthia Rylant)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Home is Where the Birds Sing, written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Katie Harnett, a sweet meditation on home and family.

What does “home” mean? Well, “home is where you come in from the rain.” It’s a place for food and fun, of security and acceptance. It’s where you are treated with kindness and respect, and where the surroundings reflect yourself and the things you love. It’s where stories are told and made, and where you are always welcome. It is where you hear birdsong, not only with your ears, but with your heart.

Gentle, loving, and sweet. Rylant’s skill with prose is on display here, as she captures impactful moments big and small in short yet flowing and soothing lines of text that are a pleasure to read. It’s a rhythm that pairs well with Harnett’s warm, cozy paint-and-pencil illustrations, which similarly swirl the large and colorful with the small and meaningful to create scenes of love and family. In addition to a lovely visual theme of birds throughout, Harnett also offers a wonderfully diverse representation of families, from race to composition to ability to socioeconomic status. The length is perfect for a storytime, and JJ loved the artwork and comforting themes of family and unconditional love. Overall, this one is an absolute treat, and well worth the read – Baby Bookworm approved!

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

A Home Again (Colleen Rowan Kosinski)

Hello, friends! Our book today is A Home Again, written by Colleen Rowan Kosinski and illustrated by Valeria Docampo, a gorgeous meditation on love, loss, hope, and family.

A brand new house eagerly awaits its new owners, and once the family of six (including kitty and baby-to-be) arrive, the house relishes the sounds and smells that fill its once-empty rooms. It delights in watching the family grow and in being such an integral part of their memories, of being cared for and loved. The house is more than a house, it is a home… until the family must move away. Hurt and confused, the house pushes away prospective new owners by making itself creak or lose shingles in their presence, resulting in its sitting empty and alone for a long time. At last, a couple arrives and sees the house’s potential. It tries to push them away as it did the others, but the couple is determined, and they slowly bring the house back to good condition with work and care. And against all odds, the house begins to hope once more to be part of a family… to be a home.

Gorgeous and moving. The concept of what makes a house versus what makes a home is explored wonderfully through the emotional, earnest text and stunning artwork, and that alone makes this a book worth reading, especially for families in the midst of their own transition between homes. What makes this book truly remarkable, however, are the themes of loss, grief, trauma, and healing hidden within the house’s story. The hurt of being left behind by its first family is palpable, as is it’s desire to push away others. Yet the repetition and quiet persistence of the second couple (who are also a wonderfully subtle example of LGBTQ+ representation) reflect how healing begins with letting in those who would care for you. It’s an absolutely beautiful parallel and makes for an extraordinarily layered narrative. In addition, the length is great for a quick storytime, and JJ loved it. This one has all the elements of a great picture book, and we can’t recommend it enough. 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.)

Hello Lighthouse (Sophie Blackall)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall – a beautiful, understated look at the life of a lighthouse and the family that inhabits it.

On a tiny rock island at the edge of the world, a beautiful lighthouse was built to last forever, the light welcoming seafarers with a “Hello! Hello! Hello!”. The new keeper arrives and throws himself into the simple, repetitive, yet contented daily life of the lighthouse. He maintains the mechanics, spruces up the living areas, writes letters to his wife (sent via message-in-a-bottle), always noting his activities in the lighthouse log. To his joy, a supply ship soon brings his wife to join him on the island, to share love and care of the lighthouse. Some days are different: the keeper and his wife rescue sailors from a wreck, work through illness and harsh weather, and welcome their baby into the world. Years later, the keeper gets a letter: the lighthouse will be retrofitted to automation, and he will be the last keeper. The family packs and sadly leaves, but though the lighthouse now stands empty, its family has not gone far – they now watch over their first home from shore as it once watched over them, lighting a lamp to say hello.

Quiet yet stunning. The story is a heartwarming look into a family and bygone lighthouse life, spanning across years and filled with moments both joyful and exhilarating, then simple and real. You fall in love with the keeper, his wife, and their daughter – and by the end, the lighthouse itself. It becomes a fourth character, so endearing that when the family must leave and the lighthouse stands empty, it’s “Hello?” seems heartbreakingly lonely. It honestly brought a tear to my eye, and I was happy for the uplifting ending. The art is stunningly detailed, using cutaways and unique perspectives to always keep the house feeling open and filled with love. The length was great, and JJ loved it too. Unique, moving, and Baby Bookworm approved!

A House That Once Was (Julie Fogliano)

Hello, friends! Our book today is A House That Once Was, written by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Lane Smith, an interesting examination of what makes a house into a home.

Two children are exploring the woods one day when they come upon a derelict house. Its path is overgrown, its paint is cracked and fading, and its windows are broken, the last providing entry for the curious kids. Inside, they find evidence of a life once lived there: faded photos, dusty kitchen contents, even a still-made bed. They speculate as to who might have once inhabited the home: a lady who painted squirrels in the garden? A little boy who made model planes? A girl who loved to dance? And what became of these people? The children return home after their expedition, and reflect on the house that was once a home – for a house is only truly be a home because a person makes it so.

This is definitely an intriguing story, and it has it’s ups and downs for me. As a mom, I think I got hung up on the idea of two children exploring a crumbling house unsupervised, starting by climbing in through a shattered window that still had shards of glass; I realize that it’s a kid’s book, and begs a suspension of disbelief, but it still made me clench. Also, there was something faintly bothersome about the way the story left the speculative former family of the home, wandering the woods because they couldn’t find their keys. Again, it’s a figment of a fictional child’s imagination, but it felt a little unsatisfying. However, past those two trifles, there is a beautifully illustrated meditation on home, things, and how we leave traces of ourselves in both. The text flows like a gentle stream, and JJ seemed very soothed by it. It’s a good length, and overall a very pretty book, so we’re calling this one Baby Bookworm approved!

The Blue Songbird (Vern Kousky)

Hello, friends! Today’s book is The Blue Songbird by Vern Kousky, a wonderfully touching story about learning how to find yourself.

A little songbird wakes up every morning to the beautiful songs of her sisters. She wishes her song could be as sweet, but she can’t seem to find the right notes. Her mother encourages her, though, telling her that she must find the song that is hers alone, and she must have the courage to seek it out. So the songbird leaves home for the first time, flying across land and oceans to find her song. She asks all the birds along the way for guidance: a helpful crane, a seemingly wise owl, even snowbound penguins. She sees snow-capped mountains and desert plains, flying around the entire world on her quest. At last, a clever crow points her in the direction of a golden island where her song can be found. But when the little songbird arrives, she finds the island is, in fact, her home. Disappointed, she wings toward her family. As she opens her beak to tell them of her adventures, she finds that what comes out aren’t words, but her own special song, singing of the incredible journey she’s taken… and the sweetness of returning home.

I LOVED this one. The metaphor of finding oneself in travel and experience, and the message that home will be there for you when you return, is beautifully woven into a story that stresses the values of courage, self-relience, and family. I loved that the ultimate message was that who we are is made equally of where we come from AND what we choose to be. The art is lovely, using muted colors and simple lines to create a world of possibilities for the little bird. The length is perfect, and JJ adored it. This is a timeless story told in beautiful style, and it’s emphatically Baby Bookworm approved!