Pokko And The Drum (Matthew Forsythe)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Pokko And The Drum by Matthew Forsythe, a cheeky tale of a blooming percussionist.

Pokko the frog receives a gift from her parents: a drum (it is a terrible mistake on their part). She proves to be quite the prodigy, though her father requests that she move her rehearsals outside. He also requests that she not make too much noise; they are a simple frog family living in a little mushroom, and don’t want to attract too much attention. Drumming quietly to keep herself company, Pokko is surprised when a banjo-playing raccoon joins her tune. Playing a bit louder, she attracts more company, in the form of of a trumpeter rabbit and a music-enthusiast wolf (though the wolf earns a stern warning from Pokko when he eats the rabbit: “No more eating band members or you’re out of the band”). Pokko’s talent attracts more and more musicians and fans, until she is leading a massive parade… right toward her quiet little mushroom home.

What a marvelously bizarre and uplifting tale. With the exception of one slightly dark joke – the wolf’s consumption of the rabbit is not graphic, but certainly jarring in an otherwise innocuous tale – Pokko’s story is one that expertly blends deadpan comedy with a sweet message about supporting talent and the power of music. The beautifully colorful and retro-inspired illustrations are equally appealing, and the well-designed characters and visual gags add to the absurdity. The length was perfect, and JJ absolutely adored the artwork. This is a strange one, to be sure, but it leaves readers with a smile and a warm heart – 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.)

Because (Mo Willems)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Because, written by Mo Willems and illustrated by Amber Ren, a lovely ode to the community of people that are behind a single work of art.

It begins with Beethoven: “Because a man named Ludwig wrote beautiful music, a man named Franz was inspired to create his own.” Each page follows in this way, looking at how Franz’s music inspired an orchestra to form to perform his music; musicians to practice, craftsmen to prepare the music hall, artists to design the posters, and patrons to buy tickets. And because one little girl’s uncle came down with a cold, she got her aunt’s spare ticket, and was there to hear Franz’s music – and was transformed, inspired to create her own art and share it with the next young artist.

Beautiful. At once a celebration of the importance of art and the army of people that band together to create it, Willems’s cause-and-effect story structure puts a spotlight on both splendidly while creating a compelling and exciting narrative. I especially loved the focus on how art is most often a community effort, with people working together both onstage and off to make something beautiful for their audience; I’ve only seen it once before in a picture book, and it made me smile to see it here. After all, art is best when it’s shared, and able to inspire the next great artist to take up the torch. Ren’s illustrations are lovely, creating a rich and diverse cast of characters and some wonderfully heartwarming visuals (such as when a flowing stanza of musical notes literally sweeps the young protagonist off her feet and carries her along). The length is great, and JJ and I adored it. Baby Bookworm approved!

The Roots Of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip-Hop (Carole Boston Weatherford)

Hello, friends! Our book today is The Roots Of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip-Hop, written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Frank Morrison, a lush and beautiful ode to the art form.

It started with poetry, folktales, spirituals, and rhymes. Then came funk, providing the basslines and rhythm, then the Jamaican MCs and dub. Finally, it was all pulled together in the Bronx by DJ Kool Herc – and hip-hop was born. It spread across the country, then across the world, giving rise to street fashion, culture, dance, and – most critically – the music and verse. Now it is a worldwide nation of the faithful, those who feel the beat, hear the words, and are moved – ya heard?

Phenomenal. Using a flowing rhyme interspersed with onomatopoeic syncopated rhythms and drop-dead gorgeous urban-inspired art, this book takes both fans and newcomers through both the history and musical elements of hip-hop. Not only the music itself is explored; B-boy and B-girl dancing, street art, and other cultural elements both influential and influenced by the genre are showcased. Kid-unfriendly elements are skipped over (the East Coast/West Cost feud, the censorship wars, etc.), and the focus is primarily on East Coast and male rappers, though two spreads gloriously celebrate the original holy trinity of female rap: Salt n’ Peppa, TLC, and Queen Latifah. A wealth of backmatter and a foreword by Swizz Beatz are the cherry on top. The length was great, and JJ especially loved trying out the beats. Stylish, beautiful, informative, and fun – a must for music lovers of all ages. Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Wendell The Narwhal (Emily Dove)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Wendell The Narwhal by Emily Dove, a story about finding your talents and working together.

Wendell the narwhal has only one wish: to make beautiful music. His only problem is that the most melodious sound he can manage with his tusk is a flat “tap-tap” noise when he hits it against a rock. It’s a bummer, because all his friends can make beautiful noises: the whale sings, the jellyfish go “wubba-wub”, the octopus can pop his tentacles, etc. However, when all those sounds are going at once, they all drown each other out, and it becomes one loud cacophony! Wendell taps his tusk on the rock, calling them to order and silencing the lot. Then it’s TOO quiet. Wendell begins to take off, sorry to have interrupted his friends’ fun, but they quickly stop him. In fact, they might have the perfect position in their undersea orchestra for Wendell, one that could help his musical dreams come true.

Very sweet. There a few great lessons to be learned here, all of them wonderful for little readers: we all have our own special talents to share, that finding them may take a little practice and luck, and that working together and supporting each other is how we make beautiful music. The art is absolutely adorable, and the use of onomatopoeia as visual elements in the illustrations works well to infuse tension – plus, they’re mighty fun to sound out. The length was good, and JJ particularly liked this one. A sweet story with a lovely message, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Miguel And The Grand Harmony (Matt de la Peña)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Miguel And The Grand Harmony, written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Ana Ramírez, a gorgeous tie-in to the Oscar-nominated film Coco.

Told from the point of view La Música (presented in the form of a delicate golden sprite), the reader follows the spirit of music through the streets of a Mexican town. Music is everywhere: weddings, quinceañeras, funerals, or simply singing through a radio or a local’s guitar. The music is stopped abruptly, however, when it reaches the home of Miguel and his shoemaker family; his abuelita chases the musicians off, claiming they will upset the elderly Mamá Coco. But Miguel clearly yearns to hear the music, even make it, despite his family’s wishes. So La Música enlists the help of a mischievous stray dog named Danté, a broken guitar, and a kindly músico to help Miguel join in the grand harmony.

Full disclosure: Coco was the first movie JJ saw in a theater, so it will always have a special place in my heart (it was phenomenal). And in keeping with Disney’s recent fabulous tradition of high-quality “inspired by” tie-ins, this story is astoundingly good. While knowledge of the themes of Coco and its characters are helpful for context, they are not required – the story works just fine as a standalone, celebrating the power of music and the passion of those who live and breathe it. The watercolor art is gorgeous, evoking a classic picture-book style while infusing it with life and color that makes every page a stunner. The use of Spanish phrases and the inclusion of elements of Mexican culture are perfection, providing contextual clues instead of overt explanations, creating a sense of immersion that both Latinx and non-Latinx readers can appreciate. The length is fine, if a little on the long side for the youngest bookworms, but JJ and I both adored it. A must-read for lovers and makers of mūsica, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!