Sugar in Milk (Thrity Umrigar)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Sugar in Milk, written by Thrity Umrigar and illustrated by Khoa Le, a gorgeous and timeless tale of kindness and acceptance.

Told from the point of view of a young immigrant to the United States, the narrator recounts her feelings of loneliness and despair when she first arrived. While she was happy to have her Auntie and Uncle, who had done everything they could to make her feel welcome, she still missed her parents, friends, and cats. One day, her Auntie takes her for a walk and tells her an ancient story of a group of Persian refugees, forced to leave their home and cross the sea in search of a new one. Arriving on the shores of India, they are met by the local king who dismisses them, apologizing yet insisting that there is no room in their country for the newcomers. Since they share no common language, the king demonstrates this by filling a cup to the brim with milk. Yet the leader of the Persian refugees, a kind and clever man, begs for a moment more of the king’s attention – how can he convince the monarch to let his people stay?

Gorgeous. Based on an actual Persian parable, Umrigar’s deft storytelling and gentle prose does a wonderful job of showing the reader that acceptance and diversity are truly timeless concepts. Just as the Persian leader wins over the king by stirring sugar into the milk (showing that the addition of the refugees will only make the kingdom more interesting and sweet), the young modern immigrant is convinced by the tale that the diversity and “newness” of her new home is what makes it all the more special, something that she now brings her own unique sweetness to. With the addition of Le’s incredibly intricate and emotive illustrations, this is a tale that will inspire any young reader to understand the beauty and strength to be found in diversity. The length is fine for a storytime, and JJ loved the beautiful artwork. A powerful tale for bookworms of any age, 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.)

Dreamers (Yuyi Morales)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Dreamers by Yuyi Morales, a breathtakingly beautiful love letter to a Dreamer.

“I dreamed of you, then you appeared. Together we became Amor – Love – Amor.” So begins a love letter from a mother to her baby, and the story of their journey together. Bundling their only belongings on her back, the mother takes her infant across a bridge to a new land. Leaving all she knows behind and unable to go back, she places her faith in the promise their new home holds, of education and opportunity. The language spoken is unlike her own, but she tries, until the day when she stumbles upon another place of education and promise: a public library. She marvels that the library opens their arms, sharing books and language and trust and safety. As her son grows, she and he both use the books and resources to learn, to adapt, and to stretch their dreams ever higher. “We are stories. We are two languages. […] We are dreamers, soñadores of the world.”

Stunning. A deeply personal tale told in an ecstatically beautiful way, Morales channels her immigration experience into a factual story with a fantastical look. Every word of the quietly powerful text has intent, each element of the mixed media art a nod to the author’s past, present, and future (Morales details the story and items that inspired the book and its visuals in the backmatter). It’s not just one love letter, but many – from mother to son, from patron to library, from reader to book, from immigrant to both home countries – all folded into a story that inspires, relates, and deeply moves. The length was great, JJ and I adored it, and I can’t recommend it enough. Baby Bookworm approved.

Islandborn (Junot Díaz)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Islandborn, written by Junot Díaz and illustrated by Leo Espinosa, a stunning story about cultural identity and the immigrant experience.

All the children in Lola’s school come from somewhere else; she has classmates from Egypt, Panama, India, and many more “first countries”. One day, her teacher assigns a project: draw a picture of their country of origin. But Lola left the Island when she was a baby, and while she feels it sometimes in her heart, she has no memories of it. But since many people from her neighborhood are from the Island as well, she and her cousin Leticia spend the afternoon talking to them. They tell of blanket-sized bats and more music than air. Her mom tells of a hurricane like an angry wolf, her abuela tells of beautiful sunset beaches. At last, her superintendent tells her of a terrible monster who held the Island in fear for decades, but was defeated when brave people stood up and fought back. Lola draws all of these memories in a picture, then another, until she has an entire book. And when she opens the book to share with her class the next day, the Island bursts out.

Magnificent. Lola’s story is one of many immigrants and their descendants: how do you connect to a country’s national identity if you don’t remember being there? And while both the text and the vibrant, drop-dead gorgeous art is a love letter to the Dominican Republic, the Island is never mentioned by name, giving readers from all origins a chance to see themselves in the story. And so many beautiful, moving details: the older characters remembering “the monster” with quiet grief, as the generation that fled its oppression. The celebration of what makes a culture great (art, food, music, people), and how we pass these things on as family and community. The length might be stretching it for littler bookworms, but the art was more than enough to keep JJ invested. Absolutely phenomenal, and Baby Bookworm approved!