Brave (Stacy McAnulty)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Brave, written by Stacy McAnulty and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, the second book of the pair’s trio of affirming kidlit.

Being brave is many things: having a courageous heart, leading the way, fighting the toughest battles. Brave kids have super-strength, they stand for justice, and they can save the world. But while these terms may sound lofty, they can be found in everyday actions, and in the challenges everyday kids overcome. Being brave doesn’t need to be big or loud – it can simply be when we take the time to steel ourselves and do the right thing.

Lovely. Fans of McAnulty’s and Lew-Vriethoff’s series – which also includes Beautiful and Love – will be familiar with the book’s formula: while the language is grandiose, the actions and situations depicted in the illustrations are simple, everyday acts of courage. “Super-strength” becomes a little girl facing off against a chess master in front of a rapt audience; “fighting the toughest battles” shows a young friend supporting another as they undergo cancer treatment; “stand for justice” features a boy with a crutch standing up for a bullied classmate, and so on. The art is also an opportunity to feature a welcome diversity of characters in a rainbow of skintones, builds, religious garb, and ability, showing that heroes come in every shape and size. It’s a great message for little ones, and told in a way that both reassures and encourages. The length is great, and JJ enjoyed the art immensely. An empowering book in a wonderful series, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

I Used To Be Famous (Becky Cattie & Tara Luebbe)

Hello, friends! Our book today is I Used To Be Famous, written by Becky Cattie and Tara Luebbe and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, a follow-up to last year’s I Am Famous.

Kiely – the precocious, performing girl of the first book – is back, and still the center of attention. She has practically everything one might expect from a triple-threat celebrity in the spotlight: a personal shopper (her mom), a dazzling biography (her baby book), and paparazzi following her every move… well, she used to! Suddenly there’s a new star in town: new baby sister Abby, who despite not being able to sing or dance or act (and sort of smelling like poop), effortlessly commands the room. Kiely tries to wrestle the spotlight back to herself, but to no avail. She finally admits to defeat to Abby, but finds that her little sister may just be the loyal fan, performing partner, and perhaps even best friend she’s been looking for.

Very cute! Beginning by reestablishing the tongue-in-cheek humor of the first book, the author pair does a great job of continuing the story of Kiely while also allowing new readers to immediately engage with this boisterous and confident young girl. From there, we get a solid tale of becoming a big sibling through her eyes. It hits the familiar beats of a “new baby” book, but in a uniquely “Kiely” way, moving from jealousy to acceptance, to a growing bond of sisterhood, all with a focus on performing and their humorous “diva” status. Lee-Vriethoff’s art is as charming and endearing as ever, filling Kiely and Abby with loads of personality and emotion. The length is perfect, and JJ has a lot of fun with it. A great new baby book for the household diva, and 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.)

Love (Stacy McAnulty)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Love, written by Stacy McAnulty and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, an ode to ways of feeling and expressing love.

What is love? What does it look like? Like a fancy meal or a designer card? Is it expensive gifts or fancy dinners? What do we mean when we say it happens at first sight? And how can we express it to the people who matter to us? A gloriously diverse cast of characters show the reader that love comes in many forms, and that there is no way too big or too small to show someone we love them.

Fabulous. As with their previous books Beautiful and Brave, McAnulty and Lew-Vriethoff expertly utilize the convention of making broad statements in the text then subverting them with the illustrations: “fancy dinner” is a lovingly-prepared bowl of food for an injured pet dog; a “designer greeting card” is a child’s joyously expressive crayon drawing; “first sight” is an adoptee being greeted with signs and grins by their new blended family. Especially striking is the tremendous diversity of these characters: adults, children, elderly, differently-abled, hearing-impaired, different faiths, different versions of non-traditional families, all in a rainbow of skintones that create a story world as vibrant as our own. The love is equally as diverse, showing the love we have for family, friends, pets, neighbors, or even total strangers. It’s an uplifting and affirming reminder that love colors our lives in every way imaginable, and is something we all share, and has infinite means of expression. The length is great, JJ loved it, and we can’t recommend it enough. 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 Magician’s Hat (Malcolm Mitchell)

Hello, friends! Our book today is The Magician’s Hat, written by Malcolm Mitchell and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, a magical ode to the power of reading.

Family Fun Day has come to the library, and families of all shapes and sizes have gathered for the stories, activities, and of course, the books. For the first time, there’s also a magician, a tall and lanky man with a very mysterious hat. After performing a few mystifying tricks, the magician tells a story: when he himself was a young boy, he came to Family Fun Day at the library as well. It was there that he picked up his first book on magic, and learned that reading books has a magical power all its own. Then, he encourages his young audience to think about what they want to be when they grow up, then reach into his hat. Incredibly, the children who do so – even the skeptic – find just the right book to encourage their aspirations and help them envision their goals. The magician invites everyone to look for magic in books, because reading can help them make their dreams come true.

Very sweet. With an emphasis on the importance of reading as a self-driven hobby, the story focuses on how books can help us achieve dreams, both in the fantastical sense as well as the realistic. There’s not too much rising or falling action, but the message is strong enough that it holds its own without a more involved plot. Lee-Vriethoff’s illustrations are as charming as always, with spreads featuring the lanky-limbed magician and the children’s dreams and aspirations being gorgeous standouts. The length is fine, and JJ enjoyed it. A wonderful story about the power of reading, and we liked it a lot. Baby Bookworm approved!

I Am Famous (Tara Luebbe & Becky Cattie)

Hello, friends! Our book today is I Am Famous, written by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, a tale of a precocious young starlet and her life of glitz and glamour.

Kiely has been famous all her life. She’s a singer, and actress AND a dancer, plus a style icon and social media star. The paparazzi – also known as her parents – follow her everywhere, always there to capture her latest forays into fabulousity. But when a performance at her grandparents’ party has a few hiccups, will Kiely ever be able to recover her iconic reputation? Or do her fans/family simply love her for being who she is?

There were things about this that I really liked: I enjoyed most of Kiely’s narrative, mostly her unapologetically flaunting what makes her feel special – especially since she is a young black girl with confidence and self-esteem. The art is great as well, using bright colors and dramatic gestures and expressions to play up Kiely’s diva side. However, there were a few cringeworthy moments: her father cowering before her with an offering as she frowns in disapproval, a drawing of her shoving her mother in the face during a tantrum, depictions of her parents filming her with cell phones both in the bathtub and on a training potty, the letter being shared on social media. All three are played for comedy, but the implications are odd. We’re in an age in which children do become “stars” of social media, even to the public at large, but this raises the question of what impact this has on them, and what is and isn’t suitable to share. And while I’m obviously not against sharing my child on social media, there were a few moments in the story that gave me pause on whether Kiely or her parents were behaving appropriately. It’s a judgement call, so I’m calling this one Baby Bookworm approved – with an asterisk.

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