A House That Once Was (Julie Fogliano)

Hello, friends! Our book today is A House That Once Was, written by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Lane Smith, an interesting examination of what makes a house into a home.

Two children are exploring the woods one day when they come upon a derelict house. Its path is overgrown, its paint is cracked and fading, and its windows are broken, the last providing entry for the curious kids. Inside, they find evidence of a life once lived there: faded photos, dusty kitchen contents, even a still-made bed. They speculate as to who might have once inhabited the home: a lady who painted squirrels in the garden? A little boy who made model planes? A girl who loved to dance? And what became of these people? The children return home after their expedition, and reflect on the house that was once a home – for a house is only truly be a home because a person makes it so.

This is definitely an intriguing story, and it has it’s ups and downs for me. As a mom, I think I got hung up on the idea of two children exploring a crumbling house unsupervised, starting by climbing in through a shattered window that still had shards of glass; I realize that it’s a kid’s book, and begs a suspension of disbelief, but it still made me clench. Also, there was something faintly bothersome about the way the story left the speculative former family of the home, wandering the woods because they couldn’t find their keys. Again, it’s a figment of a fictional child’s imagination, but it felt a little unsatisfying. However, past those two trifles, there is a beautifully illustrated meditation on home, things, and how we leave traces of ourselves in both. The text flows like a gentle stream, and JJ seemed very soothed by it. It’s a good length, and overall a very pretty book, so we’re calling this one Baby Bookworm approved!

A Perfect Day (Lane Smith)

Hello, everybody! Today’s book is A Perfect Day by Lane Smith, a warm and funny story about how everyone has their own version of the perfect day.

In a humble backyard, each animal is having the perfect day. Cat loves lounging in the flowers while she soaks up the sun, so she is having a perfect day. Dog likes the cool water of the wading pool, and his human friend Bert has filled it up, so Dog is having a perfect day too! Same goes for Chickadee, happily munching on birdseed from the feeder, and Squirrel, who has been given a corncob. But suddenly, Bear arrives, looking for a perfect day of his own… 

This was a funny, simple little story that had a lot going for it. First, the illustrations are gorgeous, capturing the bright and colorful elements of the sunny backyard scene with both humor and personality. The text is easy to read; repetitive and conceptually basic enough to be a great learning tool for baby bookworms, but with enough of a plot and a great comedic twist that makes it very enjoyable plot-wise. There’s a good amount of colors and animals on display, which makes it great for practicing identification of these elements. The length is perfect, and JJ loved it. This would be a great storytime staple for little readers, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Penguin Problems (Jory John & Lane Smith)

Hello, everyone! Today’s book is Penguin Problems by Jory John and Lane Smith, the story of a rather pessimistic penguin learning to appreciate his blessings.

Penguin problems: this guy has plenty. It’s too cold. The ocean smells too salty. It’s too hard to catch fish and he’s hungry. Everyone looks like him, and he looks like everyone else. It’s all got little Penguin pretty down. A friendly Walrus takes notice, and encourages Penguin to appreciate the things that make him happy, rather than his many frustrations. Will this improve the grumpy little penguin’s mood?

I had some mixed feelings about this one. The art is lovely, managing to take a somewhat barren landscape such as Antarctica and make it feel rich and majestic, and filling it with gorgeously illustrated creatures. Unfortunately, the story is a bit of a slog: Penguin’s whining is incessantly aggravating, and many of his complaints are simple problems that he himself can resolve but refuses to. Many other complaints are self-deprecating, which makes his sadness a bit more sympathetic, but when the pace stops dead during Walrus’ well-intentioned yet pedantic lecture, it’s hard to know who to root for. If the penguin has real self-esteem issues, “just cheer up” is not the right sentiment. And if Walrus is truly encouraging his optimism, well: Penguin immediately complains about Walrus’s interference, then begrudgingly admits that some things in his life are okay, then goes RIGHT BACK to whining. It’s a frustrating ending that leaves the reader feeling as though there has been no progress. There are some cute jokes and, again, the art is just lovely, but the pacing problems made it tough for a baby bookworm like JJ to get into, and I didn’t much like the overall message. If you’d like to peruse some charming Antarctic art, give this one a go. Otherwise, this might be one to skip. 

There Is A Tribe Of Kids (Lane Smith)

Summer Reading Day 78: Happy Monday, everyone! Today, JJ and I are reviewing There Is A Tribe Of Kids by Lane Smith, a gorgeous book that explores collective terms. For instance, while you may be familiar with herd of horses or a pack of dogs, did you know that a group of gorillas is called a “band”? Or a group of ravens is an “unkindness”? A little wild child explores these collectives and many more as they search for a group to belong to.

This is a really cool book for all ages! Older kids will love learning the unusual names for collectives, and Baby Bookworm adored the gorgeous illustrations. The length was perfect for a one-year-old, too, and I could definitely see this being the type of books that kids love to come back to year after year. Definitely Baby Bookworm approved!