Life (Cynthia Rylant & Brendan Wenzel)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Life by Cynthia Rylant and Brendan Wenzel, a vivid and stunning meditation on life and what makes it so magnificent.

Life begins small: a sprouting plant, a baby elephant. Everything begins as something smaller, and then? It grows. As days and nights pass, it becomes larger, and different, and more incredible than the day before. Life comes in many forms, from the smallest insect to the biggest whale. And if you ask each animal what they love about life, they will answer differently: a hawk loves the wind, a snake loves the grass, the ancient turtle loves the rain on its shell. But life is hard sometimes, and there can even be times when it’s hard to find the beauty in it. But we must push through, because the morning will bring something new, something unique, something incredible – because life is beautiful, and so are you.

Simply phenomenal. Rylant and Wenzel have crafted something absolutely astonishing in its simple grace and powerful message. At the start, the story is a look at the animal kingdom through a different angle, and the detailed and eye-catching mixed media art sweeps the reader on this journey in a striking style. Then halfway through, the tone shifts, becoming a story about overcoming hardships and finding hope in troubling times. It encourages the reader that the dark and scary times will end, and that life is worth seeing and loving and experiencing. It’s an unexpected and deeply moving sentiment, especially for anyone who is experiencing or has experienced grief or depression. And with suicides and self-harm among young children on the rise, it’s a message that all young readers should hear as much as possible. The length is great, JJ loved the animals, and just… wow. This is a must-read, and we strongly recommend it to anyone who needs a reminder to find hope in the storm. Baby Bookworm approved!

Love (Matt de la Peña)

Hello, friends! Our book today is the stunning and profound Love, written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Loren Long, a moving meditation on love in all its forms.

The first voices we hear, and the first faces we see, wide-eyed and smiling down at us in wonder: these are love. So, too, is the sunset sky over a happy home, no matter how modest. It’s in music, in words, in gestures of kindness. Love guides us when we are lost, comforts us when we are scared, supports us as we grow. And when the world is cold or cruel or darkened by hate, don’t despair – love will still be there to chase away the darkness once again. Even the face that stares back at you from the mirror – that’s love too. And when you go out into the world, love will be there to send you on your way, as you spread love wherever you go, with every step you take.

It’s really, really hard to describe what makes this book so special. It sounds like a pretty simple concept, and could have made for a very generic book in less-skilled hands. But this is a wonder, and I have teared up at least ten times just thinking of it. The text is simple to read yet filled with quiet depth. The illustrations are earnest and grounded in reality yet carry an overall sense of hope: a spread depicting a nightmare shows a bright light leading the dreamer away from fear, a boy hiding under a piano during an argument between his parents is comforted by his dog. It’s… real, but a reality that encourages hope and understanding and inclusion and connection in terrifying times, with the belief that these things MATTER, and will lead us into the light as well. It’s breathtaking. Please read it. We loved it. You will too. Baby Bookworm approved.

Shooting Star Rider (Nayoung Jin)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Shooting Star Rider, written by Nayoung Jin and illustrated by Geneviève Côté, the story of a little girl’s quest to convince the stars of the importance of dreams.

One summer evening, a little girl named Elinor sees a shooting star, and makes a wish: “Make grandpa well.” But the next night, she receives a most confusing postcard FROM a shooting star in reply. It rudely dismisses her dreams, and tell her not to rely on shooting stars to solve her problems anymore. Irked, Elinor blasts off into space, tracking down the star who rebuffed her so rudely, scolding it for being so dismissive of the importance of dreaming and hope. The star is fed up, though: shooting stars are very busy, and do not have time help everybody. Can’t people just help themselves? Elinor disagrees, and takes the star to earth so it can have a firsthand lesson in the importance of hoping.

I had mixed feelings on this one, the story is fine, but unevenly paced – some sequences seem to fly by too fast, others drag a bit. Still, there’s a lot of charm to be found in Elinor stubbornly defending the right to hope and wish, also encouraging empathy as she does. The art is also a bit mixed-bag: many of the illustrations are simply gorgeous, creating the dual worlds of Elinor’s hometown and the spacescape filled with celestial bodies and craft, but some of the lines in them seemed harsh and almost pixelated – as though their resolution was not high enough. Overall, the length was fine, JJ enjoyed it, and for any faults it may have, it’s still a sweet book with a lovely message. Baby Bookworm approved!

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

The Best Tailor In Pinbauê (Eymard Toledo)

Hello, friends! Our book today is The Best Tailor In Pinbauê by Eymard Toledo, a story of community, family, and the importance of bringing color into life.

In the small Brazilian village of Pinbauê, Uncle Flores was once a great tailor. He sewed beautiful, colorful suits and dresses for the men and ladies of town, and would even sew elaborate costumes for Carnival. Since the factory came to town, however, his only work is to mend the dull gray uniforms of the factory workers. Still, his young nephew Edinho loves to help him with his work. One day, Uncle Flores receives word that the factory has begun importing cheaper uniforms, and that his services are no longer needed. Concerned for his livelihood, he is unsure of what to do – until Edinho makes a colorful suggestion.

This is sort of a heavy story, but it had a lot of depth and emotional impact. The very realistic scenario of a big business changing an entire town’s economy (and by extension, general outlook) is presented in a way that is easy for little readers to comprehend. Flores’s struggles are very realistic, and strike a bit of a somber tone, but this is turned handily by the eventual outcome: Edinho suggests using leftover fabric from the pre-factory work to make colorful curtains for the people of the town, and by the end, there is hope in Pinbauê and its people. It teaches the lessons of ingenuity, resourcefulness, but mostly community – that by helping our loved ones and neighbors, we are helping ourselves as well. The mixed-media art is perfect, obviously constructed love. The length is good, though the pace may be a bit slow for younger bookworms – JJ began to wiggle in places. But for older readers, this is a wonderful lesson in the power of hope and community, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Pandora (Victoria Turnbull)

Hello, friends! Moving update: we’re out of our old house and into our new one soon, so hopefully we shouldn’t be missing too many reviews in the near future. For today, we’re back! And we’re reviewing a new favorite: Pandora by Victoria Turnbull, a gorgeously illustrated fairytale about the power of kindness and friendship.

Pandora lives all alone in a land of broken things. She uses her cleverness and ingenuity to build a cozy home and fix lost treasures, but she is still lonely. One day, a small bluebird injures itself nearby, and Pandora takes the little bird in. Pandora does her best to mend the broken bird as she does her treasures, giving it lots of love and gentleness to recuperate. In that time, the two grow close, and when the bird is healthy enough to fly away, it always returns with treasures from far-off lands, fixing them into a nest as a gift for Pandora. One day, the bird doesn’t return, and Pandora is broken-hearted. Having lost her only friend, she retreats to her bed and despairs. But when she wakes one sunny morning, she finds that once the seeds of friendship are planted and nourished, they will grow – and that it may take a while, but true friends always find their way back home.

This is a stunning story that uses lovely, soothing art and simple text to cover some surprisingly advanced ideas. It’s a beautiful fable for young ones, but older readers will recognize subtle themes like depression, hope, and healing within the story’s message of friendship and kindness being returned to those who give it. It’s surprisingly powerful, especially with art that conveys these emotions as much as it does the story being told. The length is perfect, and JJ always enjoys her “foxsh and bird.” A moving tale for all ages, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!