Mardi Gras Almost Didn’t Come This Year (Kathy Z. Price)

Hello, friends! Our book today is the stunning Mardi Gras Almost Didn’t Come This Year, written by Kathy Z. Price and illustrated by Carl Joe Williams, a moving tale of trauma, recovery, and the magic of Mardi Gras.

In post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, Lala, her younger brother Babyboy, and her Mamma and Pop-Pop are recovering from the losses of the floods, including the house Lala’s father built. Months later, when Mardi Gras – the family’s favorite time of year – rolls around, Lala and Babyboy are discouraged by their Mamma’s dour mood and the fact that their father hasn’t played his trumpet since the storm. After a failed attempt to get Mamma in the Mardi Gras spirit, the two wander the wreckage of their old neighborhood, feeling forlorn over the many changes in the last year. That night, after a dream of the hurricane and of Mardi Gras past, Lala makes a decision: this year, her family needs Mardi Gras more than ever – and she’s going to make it happen.

Powerful. The many striking elements of Price’s lyrical, rhythmic free verse text and Williams’s electric mixed-media illustrations weave together to tell a grounded story that celebrates a culture, a city, and the power of hope. Reading Price’s words aloud are a feast for the eyes and ears, telling a deeply emotional story with authentic New Orleans vernacular and cadence, immersing the reader in Lala’s world. The incredibly atmospheric artwork deftly captures each moment of sorrow and joy through exquisite use of color, movement, and character design. Backmatter includes an author’s note and glossary that enriches the story even further. The length is probably best for elementary readers and older, as JJ was feeling a little antsy towards the end, but she loved the incredible colors and musical text. This one is a love letter to Mardi Gras and New Orleans, and a beautiful message on finding joy in hard times. Baby Bookworm!

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

Sophie And Little Star (Amber Hendricks)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Sophie And Little Star, written by Amber Hendricks and illustrated by Raissa Figueroa, a gorgeous fairy tale of friendship.

Little Star lives up in the clouds, anxious for the day she will find her shine and be able to bring her own light to the sky. Once night, she is so restless that she tumbles out of her cloud bed and to the earth, taking the form of a little girl in a pale nightgown. Scared and alone, she is comforted by human Sophie, who promises that they will find a way for Little Star to go home. They ask various nature spirits for their assistance, and while some try, no one has the strength or reach to put Little Star back. At last, a kindly cloud agrees to bring her home, and Little Star suddenly glows brightly with happiness – only to immediately dim when she realizes that she must leave her new friend behind. But once again, Sophie assures her: she will look for the brightest star in the sky each night, and know that it is Little Star.

Magical. While the story itself lacks a overt central message, it beautifully explores themes of friendship, empathy, loyalty, and hope. Sophie’s kindness, especially in the face of supernatural forces and a rather daunting task to achieve, is a wonderful example for little ones in how to care for others in need, even if it’s just providing support. The real standout here is the artwork, which was absolutely ASTOUNDING. Figueroa’s sweeping fantasy scenes and creatures are breathtaking in their originality and creativity, and she has an impeccable eye for angles, composition, color, and tone. Readers will easily be swept away by illustrations of towering sentient oak trees, graceful breeze-entities, and sassy talking birds. The length was great, and JJ and I loved it. A strikingly gorgeous fairy tale of sisterhood, and Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Yellow Kayak (Nina Laden & Melissa Castrillon)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Yellow Kayak by Nina Laden and Melissa Castrillon, a lovely fable about having courage through the storm.

A child and a giraffe set out from their small island in a tiny wooden kayak, expecting a day of adventure. As they get further out to sea, however, the adventure soon becomes more than they had bargained for: the sky grows dark, the wind whips up, and the seas become rocky. Their paddle and the child’s hat are swept away, and when the wind dies down, they are left stranded in the open sea. Still, they have each other, and they share the comfort of their company and the wonder of the starry sky through the night. The next day, the helpers begin to arrive – sea creatures bring back the lost items and help to guide them home.

Hopeful and sweet. While the rhyming text is subtle and spare – using only a few words per page to convey plot and set mood – it combines beautifully with the rich, detailed illustrations to tell a compelling story about courage and perseverance. The whole story itself reads as an allegory for surviving disaster, either literal or metaphorical – when the storm becomes frightening, the seafarers stay calm and keep their heads; when they are feeling lost and unsure of what to do next, they take care of each other and find hope in simple blessings; and at last, they use a combination of the help offered to them and their own persistence to find their way. It’s a powerful metaphor told in a gentle, comforting style, and we loved it. The length is just fine, and JJ loved the beautiful art, so this one is definitely Baby Bookworm approved!

Letters To A Prisoner (Jacques Goldstyn)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Letters To A Prisoner by Jacques Goldstyn, a complex picture book with a compelling lesson in humanity.

Without text, we see a father and his young daughter joining in a peaceful protest, holding signs and a balloon. They are a met by soldiers, one of whom injures the man, tearing him from his daughter and throwing him in an ambulance. As the girl cries, the soldier even pops her balloon. The man is brought to a solitary cell, where he is imprisoned unjustly. He shares his meager meals with a bird and a mouse, who begin to bring him letters. The letters bring joy and hope momentarily, before they are taken and torn up by the guard. But more letters begin to arrive, each time giving the man small comfort before they are stolen and burned. But the smoke from their fire sends an SOS across the world, and a diverse cast of characters all join in to write to the man, using their words to give him hope and, eventually, wings with which to return home.

As you may have guessed, this is not your average picture book; it was inspired by Amnesty International’s letter-writing campaigns, and perhaps not for very young readers who may be disturbed by the themes. However, for older children – especially those that may just be starting to ask questions about global issues, this is an absolutely incredible book. Using political cartoon-inspired art, symbolic imagery elicits a sense of empathy and connection to the reader, putting them in both the family’s shoes. I especially loved the scene of the letter-writers, showing there are no restrictions on who you have to be to get involved: young and old, rich and poor, race, gender, disability – there’s no rules about doing what’s right. And while JJ may not have understood the larger issues, she did enjoy the art very much. A moving tale about what can happen when people band together and use the power of words, and we loved it. Baby Bookworm approved!

Snook Alone (Marilyn Nelson)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Snook Alone, written by Marilyn Nelson and illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering, a tale of a clever pup’s survival when he is marooned on an island.

Snook is a happy, hardworking rat terrier who lives with his master and best friend, Abba Jacob. Abba Jacob is a monk, a caretaker for a small hermitage on an unnamed island. His days are filled with quiet, repetitive tasks, which he undertakes in quiet contentment, Snook a constant companion by his side. One day, Abba Jacob travels to help some naturalists catalog species on a small outer island, taking Snook with him. When a storm unexpectedly descends and forces the party to leave, poor Snook is left behind in the rush. Now Snook must survive on his own, finding food, water, and shelter in an unfamiliar place filled with wonders and dangers alike. As he grows more capable, he continues to look out over the sea, missing his friend and wondering – will Abba Jacob ever return to him?

Right off the bat, let me say: this book is not meant for readers JJ’s age. It was recommended to us by a friend, and it quickly became apparent during our read-through that Snook’s story is intended for older children, early middle-grade at least. However, for the appropriate age-range, this one has tons of appeal. It’s a classic tale of survival, of hope, and of the unending loyalty of dogs. The language is beautiful, painting rich, wild environment while evoking Snook’s confusion, yearning, fear, and devotion; it puts the reader right there with the little dog as his tale unfolds. The art is a good counterpoint to this, using color and tone to immerse the reader in the story. My only complaint is the rather cartoonish appearance of the human characters, which seem odd juxtaposed against the realistic scenery and animal characters. The length is not for little ones (JJ was very squirmy by the end), but fine for older kids. A lovely tale of a dog’s love, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!