The New Rooster (Rilla Alexander)

Hello, friends! Our book today is The New Rooster by Rilla Alexander, a sweet and silly tale of language diversity.

Arriving for his first early-morning shift, the new wake-up call rooster at the ZZZ Hotel is excited to begin his job in a new country. Getting there just in time, the rooster takes a deep breath and lets out his tried-and-true wake-up call: “OCKCAY AWAY OODLEDAY OODAY!” Unfortunately, this fails to stir any of the hotel’s inhabitants! He tries again, but the critters simply grouse at him in various languages, then head back to sleep. Feeling anxious about this failure (on his first day!), the rooster tries other methods to wake the sleeping guests, but to no avail. Will this plucky rooster figure out how to make his voice heard?

A lovely story of multilingual communication. Alexander blends a cheerful, humorous story with colorful and unique artwork to create a thoroughly enjoyable tale of finding community across language barriers. Alexander utilizes the linguistic quirk of animal sounds being spelled and pronounced differently to create a lost-in-translation conundrum, resolved with three universal languages: food, kindness, and friendship. The gorgeous color-block illustrations are delightful, the length is perfect for a storytime, and JJ enjoyed it immensely, especially attempting the different versions on the rooster’s crow. Overall, this was a fun read with a warm message, and we loved 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.)

Luli and the Language of Tea (Andrea Wang)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Luli and the Language of Tea, written by Andrea Wang and illustrated by Hyewon Yum, a sweet tale of cross-cultural connection.

In her ESL daycare, young Luli notices that none of the children are playing together; despite being full of young ones, the room is quiet, as none of the children share a language. Luli, wanting to find a way to bring her playroom together, comes up with a plan. She brings in a teapot, a thermos of hot water, and a ball of tea leaves, as well as enough teacups for everyone. When the tea is steeped, she calls out: “茶!” (Chá!), inviting her friends to the table. While the children do not share a language, the language of tea is universal, and each one responds with the word for “tea” in Russian, Swahili, Persian, Turkish, etc. But when they gather at the table and Luli is finished pouring, they find that there is not enough for everyone to have a full cup! What can they do?

Wonderful! Finding cross-cultural connections, especially in cuisine, is always a great subject for a picture book, and this one cleverly incorporated a beverage that is a dietary and cultural staple to so many: tea. Wang’s text is simple and sweet, and cleverly structures the multilingual sections to represent both the written version of the language and the phonetic pronunciation, the latter of which can often feel intrusive or extraneous in multi-language books but works perfectly here due to the breadth of languages and the similarity between the the different pronunciations of “tea.” Yum’s illustrations of a diverse group of characters and their caregivers are adorable, immensely playful and bright. Endpapers featuring traditional teacups from around the world are especially delightful. Informative backmatter gives a brief overview on the history of tea, tea traditions in each character’s native country, and a few notes on immigrants living in the United States. The length is great for a storytime, and JJ and I both really liked this one. This is a great way to introduce the idea of language and cultural diversity – both what makes us different and what we share – and we absolutely 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.)

Amy Wu and the Warm Welcome (Kat Zhang)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Amy Wu and the Warm Welcome, written by Kat Zhang and illustrated by Charlene Chua, a charming story of cross-language communication and the spirit of inclusivity.

Third in Zhang and Chua’s Amy Wu series, we, along with Amy and the rest of her elementary class, meet new classmate Lin. Lin and his family have recently moved from China, and their teacher bids the class give Lin a warm welcome. Amy takes this to heart, and makes gestures of friendship to Lin throughout the day, yet Lin remains distant and silent. However, after school, Amy observes Lin animatedly speaking with his little sister in Chinese, and sees a different side of her new friend. Amy relies on her talent for pondering, and tries to come up with a way to reach out to Lin. But just when she’s thought of the perfect thing, she develops her own fears of speaking in front of a crowd. Can Amy overcome her fears to offer Lin a warm welcome?

Wonderful. This is our first time reviewing an entry in the Amy Wu series, and we were so pleased to see that this one is just as delightful as the previous installments. While telling a sweet story of hospitality and being inclusive, Zhang also deftly explores the challenges of communicating across languages, especially for those learning a new language in a predominantly-monolingual environment (been there). A nice touch was having Lin’s dialogue with his sister being written in pinyin characters, allowing the reader to feel the sense of being in Lin’s shoes, while also providing translations in the back of the book. Chua’s illustrations are cheerful and colorful, and feature a nicely diverse cast of characters. The length is perfect for an elementary storytime, and JJ really liked it, especially the dumpling-making scenes (side note: this is the second time this week we’ve reviewed a book where the art has made me crave dumplings, and I’m not mad about it). Overall, a great story with a fantastic message, 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 Word Collector (Peter H. Reynolds)

Hello, friends! Our book today is The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds, a love letter to the power and passion of words.

Jerome, like many kids his age, loves to collect. But while others may collect comic books or stamps, Jerome collects words. Words he hears, words he reads, words that sound funny or appealing, words he doesn’t know the meaning of yet, short words, long words, descriptive words, powerful words. Jerome collects them all into scrapbooks, which grow more categorized and extensive as his collection grows. One day, while moving the scrapbooks, he stumbles and drops them, scattering the words about in disarray. But looking at how the words have landed – out of order and in fascinating new combinations – Jerome is inspired. He begins stringing the words together in new ways to express himself, write poems and songs, or to provide comfort and support to his friends. At last, he decides to share his collection with others, releasing the words into the wind as children gather them to start their own collections – something that makes Jerome indescribably happy.

Lovely. I’ve been a logophile most of my life, so this was such a treat – I loved Jerome’s relationship with words and their remarkable ability to express almost anything in the human experience. Even for those not word-obsessed, this is a great way of exploring the power that words have in both great and humble ways – how less is often more, how innovation drives language, and ultimately how a wider vocabulary can benefit its owner and user. The illustrations are delightful, using small vignettes and full page spreads to convey moments and concepts both big and small. Another review did point out that the story serves almost exclusively the English language – not necessarily a detraction, but something to note. Otherwise, the length was great, JJ enjoyed it, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Drawn Together (Minh Lê & Dan Santat)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Drawn Together, written by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat, a heartwarming family tale of language, culture, and love.

The story opens in largely silent comic book-style panels, as we see a boy being dropped off for a visit with his grandfather. Lacking a common language, the two have difficulty connecting, creating a quiet distance… until the boy takes out his art set and begins to draw. Finally finding a commonality, the grandfather produces a paint-and-ink set, and begins to draw as well – and just like that, the conversation can begin. The two have different art styles (the boy’s is modern, brash, and colorful; the grandfathers is more mature, intricately detailed, and traditional), but their respective heroes still find a way to come together and defeat the dragon that separates them, leaving a connection stronger than words can describe.

This was a widely loved book this years and it’s easy to see why: Lê and Santat have crafted a heartwarming, relatable, exciting, and visually stunning tale. Each detail works perfectly, from the visual indications of how different the two characters are (down to the meals they eat), the intentionally spare text until their art begins a deeper story, and the jaw-dropping way that the illustrations beautifully explore two very different styles of art, then seamlessly merge them. It’s a beautiful message about finding connection, the value of elders and cultural tradition, and a lesson in the idea that love can be expressed in many ways. The length was great, JJ loved the art, and this one is Baby Bookworm approved!