Friends Are Friends, Forever (Dane Liu)

Hello friends, and Happy New Year! Our first book of 2022 is Friends Are Friends, Forever, written by Dane Liu and illustrated by Lynn Scurfield, a touching tale of tradition, immigration, and friendship.

Best friends Dandan and Yueyue are excited to spend another Lunar New Year celebrating their traditions: dumplings, making red paper-cut ice ornaments, and watching the fireworks. However, this year’s festivities are bittersweet – Dandan and her parents are moving to the United States the next day, and the girls must say goodbye. Yueyue gives Dandan a stack of red paper and a spool of string to make cutouts with new friends in America, and the girls tearfully hug one last time. Dandan struggles in her new country, feeling alienated by the unfamiliar surroundings, new language, and unfriendly classmates. Will she ever find a new friend to continue her traditions with?

Heartwarming and real. Dandan’s story, based on Liu’s own immigration experience, is told with raw authenticity and honestly, in a way that young readers can connect with. One can feel the pressure and isolation of adapting to a new culture and struggling with a new language while missing everything that once felt familiar and comforting, both through Liu’s frank, sincere text and Scurfield’s expressive and atmospheric illustrations. Fortunately, Dandan does find a new friend, and with some adjustments, is able to practice her Lunar New Year traditions, a resolution that encourages openness to other cultures and provides the promise of better days during transitional times. The length is great for a storytime, and JJ loved the story and instructions on paper cutting in the backmatter. Overall, this one is a treasure, and a great way to start the year – Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Light For All (Margarita Engle)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Light For All, written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Raúl Colón, look at the complicated ongoing history of US immigration.

For generations, United States immigrants have followed the beacon of Lady Liberty, coming from their homelands to seek their future here. Some came to join family who had come before, some fled war and poverty, and all were drawn to promise of the American dream. They and their descendants make up so much of our country, our society, our daily lives, even as so many are rejected for their language or the way they look. Many still love and take pride in their homelands, but they love their new homeland too, as they join the “nation of immigrants” and follow the promise of Lady Liberty’s light.

A refreshing mix of honesty and hope. While there are many picture books that talk about the United States’s complicated history with immigration, most like to focus solely on the positives of this national tradition. Engle’s free-form text takes a more balanced approach, both celebrating the promise of the immigrant experience while acknowledging the country’s history of slavery, occupation, land seizure, and prejudice towards immigrants. It’s a delicate line to walk, but Engle does it very well, leaving the reader with both a batter understanding of the struggles immigrants face and a belief that these issues can change for the better. Colòn’s rich and textured illustrations are filled with warm light and a beautifully diverse cast of children. The length is perfect for a storytime, and the content makes this best for elementary-aged readers; JJ especially enjoyed the engaging artwork. A look at a complicated US tradition that will educate and inspire, 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.)

The Welcome Chair (Rosemary Wells)

Hello, friends! Our book today is The Welcome Chair, written by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, a moving story of the immigrant experience in the United States.

Partially based on Wells’s family history, the story begins with a young woodcarver from Bavaria leaving home to strike out on his own, traveling across the sea to the United States. He finds work as a bookkeeper and apprentice, creating a rocking chair with the word “Willkommen” (German for “Welcome”) carved into the backrest as a gift for his employers. As the chair is passed down through his family, then eventually on to other immigrant families, the Welcome Chair has a new word for “welcome” added to it: “Baruch Haba” in Hebrew, “Welcome” in English, “Fáilte” in Irish, and more. With each new culture that makes the chair a part of their home, they add to its beauty and legacy, until it becomes a gift to a newly arrived refugee family, a gesture of friendship and, of course, welcome.

Gorgeous. Wells takes a deeply personal story and expands upon it to highlight the fact that, to this day, the United States is a nation built on immigration and diversity. The welcome chair is both a unique and memorable artifact as well as a poignant symbol of how a diversity of cultures can add to the beauty of the whole, and its story is compelling to read. Pinkney’s realistic illustrations give a grounded view of the chair and its long life, giving the necessary gravity to the characters that surround it and their often-serious circumstances and experiences. These experiences (which include brief descriptions of deaths, war, and other weighty subjects), as well as the tone and length, make this a story best suited to older elementary to middle grade readers; JJ enjoyed the illustrations but struggled with the more advanced text and tone. Overall, however, this is a beautiful story about the immigrant experience, and it’s absolutely worth the read. Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Hope And Freckles: Fleeing To A Better Forest (Bill Kiley)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Hope And Freckles: Fleeing To A Better Forest, written by Bill Kiley and illustrated by Mary Manning.

Mother deer Hope and her fawn Freckles have lived in the Olden Forest all their life, but the time has come for them to leave; food is growing scarce and the number of predators are increasing. Fearing for her baby’s future, Hope decides to head to the Big Pine Forest. Together, the two walk for many days, meeting other deer who have also been forced from their homes and traveling beside them. At last, they reach to Big Pine Forest, only to find a big wall and two rangers barring their entrance. Initially combative, the rangers listen to the deers’ pleas for refuge and decide to let them in, but under a few conditions: they will have to be separated from the other deer, fenced in until the higher-ups decide if they can stay. Most frighteningly, they declare the adult deer must be separated from their fawns. Freckles cries at the thought of being separated from his mother, and Hope tries her best to comfort him by promising they’ll see each other again soon. Yet as the days go by with no word or sign of Freckles, Hope begins to wonder: will she ever see her baby again?

Whew, this one is heavy. Essentially a storybook retelling of the current immigration crisis at the United States’ southern border, this animal-fable is striking honest. Hope and Freckles are eventually reunited, but other refugee deer are suddenly loaded into trucks that take them back to their origins – without their fawns (there is a vague promise that the fawns will be brought to them later, but this is never shown and left ambiguous). It’s sad, and could potentially be upsetting for younger readers, yet does a commendable job of making such complicated subject accessible and understandable. The digital art is exceptionally good for an indie, with expressive characters that inspire empathy. The length and subject matter are better for older readers, though JJ was very invested throughout. A challenging tale to be sure, but one that may help little ones find sympathy for those seeking better lives. Baby Bookworm approved.

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

Carmela Full Of Wishes (Matt de la Peña)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Carmela Full Of Wishes, written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson, a subtle and moving story of a little girl’s birthday wish.

It’s Carmela’s birthday, which means she gets to go with her brother into town today. After a breakfast of pancakes adorned with birthday candles, the children set off, she following on her scooter as he goes about running errands. The unnamed brother, only older by a few years, is annoyed by his sister’s presence, often snippish as she plays or intentionally rattles her bracelets to annoy him. During the course of their day, Carmela finds a dandelion puff and is testily informed by her sibling that she must make a wish when she blows on it. Mystified by the concept, Carmela thinks of several wishes: a machine that dispenses treats, a soft bed for her mother like the ones she makes in the hotel all day, that her father’s papers will be fixed so he can finally come home. As she ponders over which one to choose, she trips and falls, destroying her “wish”. Her brother’s irritation falls away, and he set about lifting her spirits, showing her a place where wishes know no limits.

Touching and beautiful. A careful and delicate tale that follows a day-in-the-life narrative, its the perspective of the characters that is pitch perfect and unique. Carmela acts, thinks, and speaks as a 7-year-old would, and while larger themes such as immigration, Mexican culture, farm labor, and poverty are seen, to Carmela, they are not nearly as interesting as a dandelion puff or accompanying her brother into town – indeed, something she views as an adventure while he views it as a chore (laundry, quite literally). It’s authentically representative in a way that few books are, and encourage discussion yet maintain a childlike innocence that reminds the reader that children, no matter their circumstances or surroundings, are always still children. The art is lovely, especially the innocently heartbreaking wishes depicted on papel picado. The length is great, and JJ and I loved it. Baby Bookworm approved.