A Home For Leo (Vin Vogel)

Hello, friends! Our book today is A Home For Leo by Vin Vogel, a lovely story about family, identity, and home.

Leo doesn’t look like the other sea creatures, but he definitely is one just the same. Lost at sea as a baby, Leo was raised by a family of sea lions. And while he loves his home in the sea – playing with his marine-life friends, diving and swimming through the water, sleeping under the stars – he can’t quite shake the feel that he doesn’t quite belong. One day, he discovers a creature who does look like him, and it causes quite a tizzy. He’s taken inland and his face splashed across the papers, but now Leo feels even more out of place. When his birth parents arrive, he is delighted to finally see familiar faces, and begins to feel a bit more at home and loved. But even as his family does everything they can to make him comfortable, Leo has trouble adjusting. He misses the sea, and the family that raised him. So he sets out to find a way to make everyone happy, and bring his two worlds together as one.

LOVED this. As the definition of family becomes more complex and inclusive, children in non-traditional families can often struggle with identity, and this is a story that gently introduces these themes through a modern fable version. Bright, cartoonish illustrations are hilarious and heartbreaking in turns, and create real empathy for not only Leo but his two families as well. They also work perfectly with the text, which knows precisely when to keep things simple and let the art do the talking. It reminded me a lot of Jessie Sima’s fabulous Not Quite Narwhal, but in all the best ways – showing little ones that family is love, and that finding who you are starts with people who makes you feel comfortable being you. The length was great, and JJ loved it – Baby Bookworm approved!

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

The Name Jar (Yangsook Choi)

Hello, friends! Happy MLK Day! In honor of Dr. King, we took the Read Your World pledge to read a children’s book about diversity today, and we chose The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi. This is a lovely story about a little girl who, after emigrating from Korea, considers taking an “American” name.

When Unhei moves from Korea to New York City, she is nervous for many reasons. Everything in America is different, even the names. When some older children on the bus tease her over her name, she decides that she might like a different one, and tells her new class that she will decide her name by the week’s end. To her surprise, her new classmates support her and provide her with a jar full of suggestions. Unhei begins to feel more welcome, and enjoys going through the names, but none of them feel quite right. Will Unhei decide to take an American name, or will she have the courage to keep the name she feels is hers?

This was a great book about cultural identity and how many kids can feel peer pressure to abandon theirs for the comfort of “fitting in.” I LOVED that Unhei’s classmates immediately supported her decision both ways: when she wanted to change her name AND when she decided to keep it. Plus, it was a great way to subtly introduce the real practice of immigrants adopting anglophone names, and the emotional conflict it can bring (I went to a high school that was around 50% Asian & Pacific Islander, and many of my friends had two names). It’s a complex subject that can spur thoughtful conversations about how our names, our cultures, and our personal identities can often be interconnected.

In addition, the illustrations are great and suit the story very well. This book is a bit long for baby bookworms (JJ was starting to get antsy), but it’s a great one for older kids and we recommend it. Baby Bookworm approved!