Julia, Child (Kyo Maclear)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Julia, Child, written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Julie Morstad, an ode to cooking and childhood.

From the first time young Julia tastes sole meunière, she is enchanted by cooking and cuisine. She and her friend Simca spend days together, at the market shopping for ingredients, learning the craft of creating fine food, testing new recipes together in the kitchen. Their pursuits bring them such joy that when they notice the dreary and uninspired adults around them, they wonder if their culinary creations can help. Gathering a diverse group of busy, serious people for a meal, Julia and Simca serve them a plentiful gourmet table that contains all the delights and joys of childhood. Their guests are exuberant at first, yet quickly turn selfish, hoarding the food from the others when they fear it will run out. Frustrated and disappointed, Julia and Simca return to their comfort zone, the kitchen, to figure out how to tweak their recipe and achieve just the right flavor of happiness.

Deliciously inventive. Obviously, this reimagining of the friendship between Julia Child and Simone Beck isn’t historical; the women met and discovered a shared love of French cuisine in adulthood. But this is no matter: Julia and Simca are sweet nods to their real-life adult counterparts in a story that is not about them, but about finding a passion and using it to create, and to inspire others. And while it felt like parts of the metaphor flew over my head – particularly the sequence in which the adults aggressively reserve the food – the overarching message is one of appreciating the little things, especially things like a meal made with love, or the bond between two best friends. Morstad’s illustrations are as lovely as ever, using soft colors and fine details to create unique, engaging characters and food that looks good enough to eat. The length is perfect, and JJ enjoyed this one a lot. A scrumptious read, especially for fans of the real life chef, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Bloom: A Story Of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli (Kyo Maclear)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Bloom: A Story Of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli, written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Julie Morstad, a moving story of the fashion innovator and her passion for color and redefining beauty.

When Elsa was born in 1890 in Rome, her parents were disappointed – they had wanted a boy. Her mother heavily favored her older sister, giving her the nickname “Bella”. She gave a nickname to Elsa as well: “Brutta”, Italian for “Ugly.” Elsa so wished to be beautiful that she tried to plant flower seeds in her ears and mouth so she could grow a face full of the beautiful flowers of Rome, but she only made herself sick. But from these heartbreaking beginnings, an artist grew; Elsa went on to travel the world, to learn how to design and construct clothes, to become friends with prominent artists such as Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. She became a massive success – people adored her colorful, playful fashions that let women express themselves. She even invented her own color with Jean Clemént: “Shocking Pink”! All because Elsa decided that she would let no one else define her beauty – she was beautiful just the way she was.

Wow! I was not expecting this at all. I confess to having never heard of Elsa before reading the book, and the experience of learning her story was a moving one. I adored that the story was told from the first person – it allowed a real connection with Elsa, and insight into her feelings and motivations. Morstad’s illustrations are as stunning and energetic as always, and she uses color and detail to make each illustration not only tell a story, but be an emotional experience. The length isn’t bad, perhaps a bit long for very young bookworms, but JJ loved the vibrant colors. An inspiring story of a great artist, and the empowering lesson against letting others define your beauty or worth. Baby Bookworm approved!

Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed The World (Susan Hood)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed The World, written by Susan Hood and illustrated by 13 female artists, a collection of poetry that celebrates fourteen trailblazing women.

Each poem introduces us to the life and work of a remarkable young woman: Molly Williams, the first known female firefighter in the US; Maya Lin, the architect who, at only 21 years old, designed the Vietnam War Memorial amid great controversy; Pura Belpré, the NY public librarian who broke the race barrier for children in libraries; and many more. Familiar heroes like Frida Kahlo, Malala Yousafzai, and Nellie Bly share the spotlight with lesser-known heroines like Angela Zhang, Annette Kellerman, and the Nearne sisters, and leave readers with an inspiring truth: courage and brilliance know no race, age, or gender.

FAN. TASTIC. The poems are brief, use clear language for little readers, but do a phenomenal job of encapsulating each woman’s obstacles, her accomplishments, and her spirit (the Ruby Bridges entry caused me to openly weep). The art is a treasure trove, with each artist bringing their own style to their individual subject, their passion for which explodes from the page. And while these collections often neglect feminist icons of color, this one does not, including role models of Asian, Middle-Eastern, Latina, and African-American descent. It might be a little long to cover in one sitting with smaller bookworms, but could easily be put down and continued another time. And needless to say, JJ and I loved it. This is a powerful book that would be welcome on any little one’s bookshelf. Baby Bookworm approved!

When You Were Small (Sara O’Leary)

Hello, friends! Our book today is When You Were Small, written by Sara O’Leary and illustrated by Julie Morstad, a whimsical tale of Henry, and what life was like when he was very, very small.

Each night, Henry and his father play a sort of game, and it always begins with Henry’s request: “Tell me about when I was small.” His father then relates (possibly made-up) stories of when Henry was small. Very small. About six inches tall or so. He would sleep in a slipper with a washcloth for a blanket and a teabag for a pillow. He used a ruler as a toboggan. His parents would take the toy castle out of the aquarium, and Henry would be king of it. When Henry questions if all these stories are true, his father simply smiles and replies, “Don’t you remember?”

Simple and sweet. The story explores a popular children’s book theme, miniaturized life, with fun, playful scenarios and examples of little Henry in the big world. The illustrations are key here, and Morstad’s timeless pen-and-ink art style creates Henry’s tiny world with delicate detail that makes everything feel as small as described by the text. It’s earnest, slightly silly, and inspires the imagination of little readers to look at things from a different perspective. The length is fine, and JJ enjoyed it, so we can definitely recommend this one. Baby Bookworm approved!

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

How To (Julie Morstad)

Hello, friends! Our book today is How To by Julie Morstad, a charmingly understated celebration of the simple pleasures of childhood.

Childhood doesn’t come with an instruction manual, but that’s okay – half the fun is discovering the “how to’s” along the way. For instance, how to see the wind? Paper kites and balloons. How to wash your face? Enjoy the warm summer rain without an umbrella. How to go fast? A variety of options: a scooter, dress-up wings, stilts and, of course, simply running free. And so each illustration provides the reader with helpful suggestions on how to feel the breeze, how to stay close, how to be invisible. After all, that’s the fun and wonder of childhood: finding out for yourself how to be happy.

LOVED this. With succinct text, Morstad’s delicate pencil illustrations that utilize detail and negative space masterfully, and a lovely sense of whimsy and wonder, this book perfectly captures the quietly carefree moments of childhood. Each illustration and spread was just gorgeous, employing a multi-ethnic cast of children engaging in play in such a genuine way that young readers will be able to easily identify, and adults will feel nostalgic for their own days of play. There’s a quiet elegance to the entire book, and it was lovely to read. The length is perfect for little ones of any age, and JJ and I both enjoyed it. A delightful look at the joys of being small, 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.)