What Are You? (Christian Trimmer)

Hello, friends! Our book today is What Are You?, written by Christian Trimmer and illustrated by Mike Curato, a gentle story about appearance, identity, and stereotypes.

Two colorful poodle siblings are at the park when they meet a new dog, a puggle, and ask, “What are you?”. The puggle responds that they are a dog, but the siblings push on, wanting to know what KIND of dog, presumably because their new pal looks distinctly different from them. Upon learning that the puggle’s parents are a beagle and a pug, they begin to apply stereotypes to the other dog, insisting that they are good at hula hoop because ALL pugs are, and good at pogo stick because ALL beagles are. The puggle points out the inaccuracy of their assumptions, and asks if they are good at the things they practice and enjoy because they are poodles. This gives the poodles a eureka moment, and after apologizing to their new friend, they offer to disrupt a similar conversation that some children are having nearby.

A valuable conversation starter. While this title isn’t necessarily perfect in its overview of identity, there are some elements here that work extremely well in a format geared toward very small bookworms who are only beginning to approach the concept of differing cultural identities amongst their peers. While the title may be snappy and the question works for dog breeds, “WHAT are you?” – without a later emphasis on “who” instead – is a cringey question that people of non-white cultures will be all too familiar with. However, the way that the book breaks down stereotyping for young audiences, especially as it pertains to talent or interests, is very well done, as are the backmatter questions for caregivers and children. Curato’s soft and colorful illustrations help the story pop and give the characters great charm. The length is perfect for a storytime, and JJ enjoyed it. Overall, definitely worth a look, especially when trying to begin conversations on this tricky topic, and Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by 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.)

I Want to Be a Vase (Julio Torres)

Hello, friends! Our book today is I Want to Be a Vase, written by Julio Torres and illustrated by Julian Glander, a hilariously irreverent and thought-provoking look at identity.

It’s a quiet day in the bathroom of the apartment when the plunger makes an unexpected announcement: “I want to be a vase.” Its bathroom compatriots react with various levels of surprise and disapproval, none more so than the vacuum cleaner. Yet the plunger is undeterred; it ventures through the living room and into the kitchen procuring some fresh-cut flowers and tape, and reinvents itself. Many of the kitchen’s objects are confused at first, but the pot readily accepts the plunger’s new identity; after all, the pot has always dreamed of being a trash can. Suddenly, objects all over the apartment are happily finding new uses and identities, much to the vacuum cleaner’s dismay! Will the objects be set straight – or were they right to chase their dreams all along?

Hysterical and insightful. Torres’s incredibly amusing conversational text (differing fonts and outline colors deftly signal each speaker) pairs beautifully with Glander’s spectacularly stylized 3D digital illustrations to tell a bizarre yet oddly universal story about self-actualization. While some of the objects’ chosen identities are played for laughs (“I want to be a pillow too!” cries a mirror, “A sharp, breakable, dangerous pillow!”), the arguments for rejecting an assigned identity that is uncomfortable or unfulfilling, as well as the final understanding that accepting those identities makes everyone happier in the long run, are very much drawn from real-life. Young readers, who have no problem seeing the possibilities of what objects can be beyond their intended uses, will easily grasp the concept, as well as the comedy of the sharp dialogue and colorful artwork. The length is perfect for a storytime, and JJ absolutely LOVED this one; she was screaming with laughter by the fourth page, and joyfully helped the book itself realize its own dream of exploring new opportunities. This is a strange book, but an utterly delightful one. Overall, a whip-smart and wonderfully silly read, 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.)

Chameleon Can Be (Carolina Farías)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Chameleon Can Be by Carolina Farías, a charming tale celebrating self-identity and uniqueness.

One day, Chameleon decides that they want to look at the world from a different perspective. Enlisting the help of a friendly trio of a friends – a frog, a bumblebee, and a beetle – the chameleon uses their special camouflage skills to assume the identities of other animals they admire – a lion, a peacock, a shark, a monkey, and more. Still, after trying out all these new looks, the chameleon feels dissatisfied. But perhaps the reptile’s answer is not in pretending to be someone else, but in accepting the remarkable animal that they already are.

Wild fun with a great message. Farís does a wonderful job combining colorful, humorous art with bouncy rhyming text to explore a classic theme – the search for identity – in an entertaining way. By framing Chameleon‘s numerous transformations into an interactive guessing game, and the reveals into a sort of seek-and-find, Farías engages young audiences before imparting the affirming final lesson, that being yourself is always the best way to be. It’s a very fun setup to a very satisfying payoff, made all the more enjoyable through the eye-catching art. The length is great for a storytime, and JJ had tons of laughs with this one; she especially loved trying to find Chameleon on each new page. Overall, a delightfully fresh take on a timeless theme, and we loved 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.)

Lulu Is A Rhinoceros (Jason Flom with Allison Flom)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Lulu Is A Rhinoceros, written by Jason Flom with Allison Flom and illustrated by Sophie Corrigan, a delightful story about being yourself.

Meet Lulu: on the outside, she looks like a bulldog, but when Lulu looks in the mirror, she sees… a rhinoceros. And sure, her skin may be furry and soft instead of tough and plated, and her tail may be short and nubby instead of tufted and whippy, but none of that matters – in her heart, she knows that she is a rhinoceros. Lulu decides that the thing she needs to make others see her as she sees herself is a horn. She tries several possibilities – a stinky sock, an ice cream cone, a banana peel – but nothing works out. She even gets laughed at or stared at, and has her banana peel stolen by birds. Will Lulu ever find a way to make others see her as she is? Or perhaps, the right friends will find her instead…

Lovely. Lulu’s story serves as a metaphor for identity, and helps convey to children that who we are on the outside, or who the world perceives is to be, can often be at odds with the person we truly are. The world may insist that Lulu is a very confused bulldog – until she meets a tickbird who recognizes her for who she is (Lulu is in a rhino exhibit at a zoo – why wouldn’t she be a rhino?). The message is an honest yet hopeful one: sometimes the world will refuse to see you for yourself, so find the friends and places that do, and they will help you be who you are. The illustrations are delightful, particularly Lulu’s incredibly expressive face and body language. And the length was fine, and JJ loved it. A great way to discuss identity with little ones, and we liked it a lot. Baby Bookworm approved!