I’m Not A Girl (Maddox Lyons & Jessica Verdi)

Hello, friends! Our book today is I’m Not A Girl, written by Maddox Lyons and Jessica Verdi, and illustrated by Dana Simpson, a touching and empowering story about a young child’s journey of self-discovery and self-actualization.

The red-headed narrator opens our story by explaining that today is picture day – he HATES picture day, because he always has to wear a dress. Just like at Halloween, when the salesperson and Mom only let him pick costumes from the girl’s side. He tries to communicate the things he wants – like cutting his hair short – but people just don’t seem to listen. The little boy isn’t a tomboy, and he acknowledges that there’s nothing wrong with being a girl – but he is NOT a girl, and nobody seems to understand that. That is, until the day he meets a pair of new friends at the pool who teach him a new word: transgender. Suddenly, our young hero has the words to explain how he feels, and he might just be ready to show his parents, and the world, who he really is.

Wonderful. Written from the perspective of a transgender child, this story of gender discovery and transition does a fantastic job of walking readers through the emotional frustrations and triumphs that accompany that journey. Co-authors Lyons (who is himself transgender) and Verdi do an incredible job of explaining the feelings of living with gender dysphoria in a way that audiences young and old can empathize with. Simpson, also transgender, puts a great deal of heart into the artwork, and while the composition can occasionally feel flat, the emotions of the characters are beautifully portrayed through facial expressions; the final illustration and Easter egg in the backmatter tug the heartstrings. The length is great, and JJ and I both loved this one – it was a great way to celebrate the anniversary of the Stonewall uprisings and have our own conversation on gender identity. Overall, this is a great book to introduce the concept of being transgender, for kids who may be struggling with their own dysphoria and for allies who want to better understand their perspective. We highly recommend this one, 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.)

If You’re a Drag Queen and You Know It (Lil Miss Hot Mess)

Hello, friends! Sorry we missed our review yesterday, but we’re making it up with a special Saturday review! And in honor of the season, our book today is If You’re a Drag Queen and You Know It, written by Lil Miss Hot Mess and illustrated by Olga de Dios, the sequel to last year’s wonderful The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish.

The queens of The Hips on the Drag Queen are back with a whole new house of glamorous, fabulous performers. With text based off of the rhythm to “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” readers young and old are invited to strike a pose, blow a kiss, and laugh real big with fierce (fictional) queens like Retta Booke, Kitty Caboodle, and Mini Queenie Miney Mo.

Colorful, inclusive fun. Much like its predecessor, this title takes a well-known action song and puts a drag-themed twist on it, encouraging young audiences to dance and move, or (to JJ’s delight) laugh and shout. The actions in the book are fun and creative, and are sure to engage little ones. The rhythm does occasionally stumble over that extra syllable when reading aloud (especially during the last line of each refrain), but it’s easy to adjust for after a few repetitions. There’s less of a visual “story” here than the previous book, which I was a little disappointed by, but the diverse representation of the queens themselves is another treasure trove that makes up for this, not only of LGBTQ+ culture, but of things like skin color, body type, and ability. The length is perfect for a storytime, and JJ had a fantastic time shaking, winking, and shouting “yes, QUEEN” along with the characters. Overall, a worthy follow-up to one of our favorite books from last year, 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.)

Big Wig (Jonathan Hillman)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Big Wig, written by Jonathan Hillman and illustrated by Levi Hastings, a story of finding one’s inner fabulousity.

Meet Wig, a vibrant magenta Dolly Parton-inspired bouffant. Wig belongs to young drag performer B. B. Bedazzle, and is excited to help her queen compete in the Big Wig Ball drag contest. Initially, she grows with pride, but when she sees the other wigs that she’s up against, she begins to feel anxious and “wigs out”, fleeing B. B.’s head and the stage to take cover in the crowd. Can Wig find her inner confidence in time for the big competition?

An ambitious tale with an unfortunately mixed message. I’m delighted to see drag culture making its way into another picture book, and the core theme, finding confidence by being your authentic self, is always one worth exploring, especially for audiences that may include young LGBTQ+ readers. However, other aspects of the story feel lost in translation. For instance, whenever Wig finds sanctuary on the head of another child in the audience, that child transforms into the fabulous drag performer of their dreams. It’s a nice notion, but since nearly all of these expressions are feminine, it also sends the message that wearing a wig feminizes the wearer. And while it’s nice that Wig is helping others find their inner self, she’s also regaining her self-confidence based on the approval of strangers (and notably, not her friend B. B.), suggesting that validation should come from outside sources rather than from within, or even from trusted loved ones. There are some nice moments, especially in the vividly colorful illustrations, such as B. B.’s parents enthusiastic support of her drag persona, hints that B. B. has a wide range of interests both traditionally-masculine and -feminine, and some considerations towards diverse characters in crowd scenes. The length was good for a storytime, and JJ liked the energetic story and artwork. Overall, this one a mixed bag. As a story that highlights and affirms drag, it’s a treat, but as a tale of self-acceptance, it misses the mark. Still, with some follow-up discussion, this one is worth a look – Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Aalfred And Aalbert (Morag Hood)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Aalfred And Aalbert by Morag Hood, a charming love story.

Aalfred and Aalbert are aardvarks, their burrows dug mere feet from each other. Yet despite this, the two have never met; Aalfred is nocturnal and Aalbert only comes out in the day. Not realizing the other’s proximity, the two aardvarks go about their routines and explore their interests: Aalfred loves stars, broccoli, and picnics, while Aalbert is passionate about flowers, sunshine, and cheese (same). They’re happy in their day-to-days, but occasionally wish for a companion to share it with – and with the assistance of a matchmaking bluebird, they may find that love is closer than they ever imagined.

What a lovely book! Every element – from the simple, funny story, to the sweet and kind characters, to the charmingly adorable illustrations – comes together to form a short and sweet tale that will warm any romantic’s heart. The bluebird’s numerous failed attempts at matchmaking are hilarious visual gags, and the utter sweetness of Aalfred and Aalbert makes them so deeply endearing that you could find yourself a little misty-eyed at their happily-ever-after. Yet perhaps best of all are the subtle messages about love that the story tells: while the titular aardvarks hope for companionship, this is not the focus of their lives. Aalfred and Aalbert are happy, fulfilled, and well-rounded creatures all on their own, and are not depicted as “incomplete” without mates; what a fantastic message to send kids about the role of romantic relationships in one’s life. Furthermore, the fact that Aalfred and Aalbert are presented as a same-sex couple without fanfare or it being central to the plot is remarkably refreshing. JJ adored the little aardvarks and their bird friend, and I am happy to have a book for her that illustrates such an inclusive and positive model of love. A quiet and romantic gem of a book, 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.)

When Aidan Became A Brother (Kyle Lukoff)

Hello, friends! Our book today is When Aidan Became A Brother, written by Kyle Lukoff and illustrated by Kaylani Juanita, a very unique story of a little boy becoming a big brother.

When Aidan was born, everyone thought he was a girl. So they decorated his room in “girly” colors and gave him a girl’s name and put him in pretty dresses. But when he grew bigger, Aidan realized that he hated all those girly things; of course, so did some of the other girls too, but Aidan didn’t feel like those types of girls – he felt like another type of boy. When he told his parents, they supported him and helped him transition, and now he’s happy being a boy, and most excited to be a big brother to his little sibling-to-be. He wants to make sure that the new baby will feel welcome and loved no matter who they are. But how can he do that, especially when the world can still be such a confusing place for him? Aidan’s willing to try – he’s determined to be the best big brother he can.

What an lovely and unexpected book. While the story centers around a transgender child, the main theme is not solely about being trans, but how we view gender. Telling it from the point of view of Aidan – a young child who has already spent his childhood examining gender roles by necessity – allows readers both young and old to question along with him as he ponders why it should matter if the new baby is a boy or girl, or how it should affect how they are dressed or treated. It allows the book to have a great range of themes: it’s a new baby book, and a book about growing up trans, and a book about societal views on gender, and a book about love and family, and a book about how there are lots of ways to be a boy or a girl, and more. It’s fresh and striking and can open up opportunities for many discussions. The artwork is the cherry on top, using bright patterns and expressive faces to create emotion and warmth. Even the author’s note is a touching reminder that by being true to ourselves, we make the world brighter and more wonderful. The length was great, and JJ loved it too. Absolutely superb, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!