The Caiman (María Eugenia Manrique)

Hello, friends! Our book today is The Caiman, written by María Eugenia Manrique, illustrated by Ramón París and translated by Amy Brill, a touching true story of a unique friendship.

Next to the town of San Fernando de Apure, there winds a wide river, filled with alligators and the men who hunt them for their skins. When children playing beside the river find an abandoned baby alligator (a caiman), the local jeweler and watchmaker – Faoro – offers to adopt the creature. Small enough to curl into the palm of his hand and dark-scaled, he names her “Night”, and the two develop deep devotion as Night grows… and grows… and GROWS. As Faoro works, fills his home with more animals, and even falls in love and marries, Night is by his side as his loyal companion. Years later, when Faoro grows sick and passes away, his dear caiman is left behind to mourn. But she is not alone in her grief, for she was never alone in her love for her friend.

Beautiful. Based on the true story of Faoro and his caiman, this tale of the bond between man and animal is filled with amusement, sweetness, and surprisingly poignant emotion. While the wisdom of keeping a pet caiman is HIGHLY debatable (Night eventually grows to be 10 feet long), one cannot deny the heartwarming bond between Night and Faoro, aided greatly by París’s gorgeously lush and engaging artwork; even the unique size of the book helps tell the story, framing most of the illustrations from the low and wide viewpoint of an alligator. The length is perfect for a storytime, JJ loved this one, and even I was wiping away a tear by the end. A truly novel tale, uncomplicated and uplifting, just as unconditional love should be. Emphatically Baby Bookworm approved.

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

Alphaprints: Puppy Love (Priddy Books)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Alphaprints: Puppy Love by Priddy Books, the latest addition to the series of simple, colorful board books.

In keeping with the theme of the popular series, five animal families – their heads made of a textured fingerprint pattern and their bodies a cute mix of photos and shapes – are introduced. In each, a short couplet celebrates their love, be it romantic, familial, or love between friends.

Colorful, inoffensive fun. The mixed-media animals are all quite cute, and JJ and I had a great time identifying what their bodies were made of (such as bananas for a puppy’s ears or buttons for a bunny’s nose). The textured “fingerprint” for the characters’ faces were nice too, though it made me wish for more textures to be introduced. It’s a rather brief book, and is probably best for the very youngest of bookworms, yet the book is sturdy and delightfully cheerful; it even features photo tabs to help little fingers open to the exact page they want. It’s not going to break the mold of board books, but it’s enjoyable fare for little readers that celebrates love with adorable animals, and it’s hard to get that wrong. Overall, a short but sweet treat, and Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Remarkables (Lisa Mantchev)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Remarkables, written by Lisa Mantchev and illustrated by David Litchfield, a magical tale of the families we make.

Going for a dive in the sea, a child happens upon a mermaid. The two become fast friends, sharing laughs and stories, and the mermaid shows the child the underwater kingdom that was once her home, now wrecked and abandoned. The child sees that the mermaid is alone, and invites her to come live with his immediate family, and their extended “family”: a traveling circus. The circus folk and mermaid are shy around each other at first, but quickly grow friendly, and then eventually as close as family. The mermaid makes her debut as an attraction at the circus, amazing crowds and finding joy in entertaining. But still, looking out from her tank, she misses the sea… and once more, sensing her sadness, her young friend and new family helps her to feeling complete.

Charming. To get it out of the way, this is certainly a glamorized version of circus life: the performers appear to have an egalitarian way of life, where the circus folk are treated with respect and reverence by each other and their audiences, and even the animals roam about freely and comfortably. It’s idealized, yet with purpose: the mermaid, left orphaned and alone by seeming tragedy, finds a place within the group of “others”, which include families of diverse skintones and physicalities, a tattooed couple, a pair of clowns, and even the sly inclusion of a mixed-race gay couple. It’s a deeply sweet metaphor for found family, even if a slightly unrealistic one (however, this is a story about a MERMAID, so some creative license seems fair). The rich, gorgeous illustrations and sparse text work together nicely to form an uplifting narrative, and the length is great for a quick read or even a longer perusal of the art. JJ really liked this, and so did I. A fantasy with a message of love, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved.

(Note: This review was featured on Twinkl in their article “Fantasy Books for Kids,” which can be read here.)

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.)

If I Was The Sunshine (Julie Fogliano & Loren Long)

Hello, friends! Our book today is If I Was The Sunshine by Julie Fogliano and Loren Long, a uniquely beautiful meditation on how love connects us.

“If I was the sunshine, and you were the day / I’d call you hello, and you’d call me to stay”, begins the beguiling rhyming text, the first of many comparisons between elements of earth or nature and the relationship between the reader and narrator (a parent-child relationship seems most obvious, but is never strictly defined). As the illustrations explore scenes of nature both tiny and vast, the rhymes explore how these natural relationships reflect that of the readers’, perhaps suggesting that true bonds between those who love each other are as complex and intricate as the glory of the living world around us.

I’m going to be honest, this one left me a little confused, but in the very best way. Most picture books are not particularly looking to challenge their adult readers as well as their young ones, but Fogliano and Long did an amazing job of creating a book that is both immediately accessible yet layered with complexity. While many comparisons the text draws are of the expected warm and fuzzy variety, many explore the more bittersweet aspects of love, such as watching one’s child grow; lines like “If you were a bird, and I was a tree / You’d call me home, and I’d call you free” have both a heartwarming and haunting quality that stays with you. Wrapped in the gorgeous earthy illustrations of nature, it casts a fascinating spell that commands a second read. The length is perfect for any age, and JJ was as engrossed by the art as I was by the text. A unique book worthy of consideration, 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.)