When I’m Not Looking (Farren Phillips)

Hello, friends! Our book today is When I’m Not Looking by Farren Phillips, a ridiculous and hilarious interactive picture book that asks a question for the ages: what do our pets do when we’re not looking?

Young philosopher Legs has big questions – questions so big that even her Moms can’t answer them! But the one that truly troubles her? What does her pet duck do when she’s not looking? While the mild-mannered duck may seem like your average feather-brain, Legs cannot help but wonder if it’s all an act, and if her pet duck is in fact doing dastardly, dangerous, or disgusting things! Is she growing ten legs? Wearing Legs’s best pants? Gathering an army of ducks to take over the world? There are more outrageous things that even Legs cannot predict… and that’s where the reader comes in.

Innovative and delightful. While all of Legs’s hilarious hypotheses on her pet duck’s unobserved activities are wonderfully wacky, what makes this book unique are the interactive elements. While some traditional interactions are included – such as seek and finds throughout the quite cluttered house that Legs shares with her Moms – readers are also invited to draw, sketch, and invent their own crazy predictions of what the pet duck will do, including fill-in-the-blanks and prompts to provide drawings, fingerprints, coins, and a stamp. This allows each reader to truly make the story their own, while preserving their own silly ideas for future readings. It’s a clever concept that Phillips employs wonderfully though both art and text, and we were excited to imagine and create along with the story we were enjoying. But beware: potty humor again. Never my favorite, but comedic gold for the six-year-old. The length is great for a storytime, and JJ really loved this one. So as much as potty humor will always make me cringe, I can’t deny that this one is incredible unique and a whole lot of fun. Overall, 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 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.)

Spencer’s New Pet (Jessie Sima)

Hello, friends! We’re back from our vacation with a new review: Spencer’s New Pet by Jessie Sima, a deliciously odd and unexpected tale.

Borrowing elements of a silent movie (such as title cards to indicate the story’s three “parts”, film grain over select spreads, and even a leader countdown), this textless story introduces us to a boy, Spencer, and his new pet… a balloon animal. Besotted with the balloon beastie, Spencer takes him home from the carnival and dutifully cares for him, getting pet supplies, going for walks, playing, attending parties, and sharing plenty of (gentle) hugs. It’s at a visit to the veterinarian that a complication of having a balloon animal for a pet presents itself: when the pet drifts a bit to close to a prickly hedgehog, Spencer clutches his pet to his chest and backs away in fear. And it’s in Part II of the story (“The Park”) that this foreshadowing is expanded upon; breaking loose from Spencer’s grip, the balloon begins to careen toward a gauntlet of sharp, pointy, or hot things that threaten its well-being. Spencer tears after his friend, desperate to save it from a grisly fate – can he protect his pal in time?

Delightfully strange. Sima has a talent for telling unusual yet heartwarming stories, and this may be her most original yet. To discuss the last third of the book any further would do any prospective reader a disservice; the ending was so unexpected (yet so BRILLIANTLY foreshadowed) that I laughed out loud once I realized what was going on. And while the more subtle winks may fly over the heads of younger readers, it’s an ending that’s both silly and sweet enough to charm any age. The wonderful “silent movie” patische introduces elements of a genre that few other pictures books (if any) do, and gives a book a wonderful and unique visual style. Sima’s illustrations are charming as always, and fans of her previous works will enjoy the Easter eggs hidden in backgrounds and crowd scenes. The length is fine, and JJ and I loved it. A thoroughly entertaining tale, 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.)

Stay: A Girl, A Dog, A Bucket List (Kate Klise)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Stay: A Girl, A Dog, A Bucket List, written by Kate Klise and illustrated by M. Sarah Klise, a heartwarming story of the bond between a little girl and her aging dog.

Eli has been with Astrid since the day she came home from the hospital as a baby. He’s been her first friend, her bodyguard, a warm cuddle buddy, and a safe place to hide. And they have so much in common: they live in the same house, eat at the same table, and sleep in the same bed. The only difference is that Astrid is a girl and Eli is a boy… and a dog. But as Astrid grows, so does Eli (six or seven times as fast, in dog years). Now Astrid is a little girl, and Eli is slowing down in his later life. So Astrid decides that she will make a list of fun things to do together before Eli is too old to do them: going down a slide, taking a bike ride, reading together, seeing a movie, and having a very special meal. At last, when Eli is too old to leave home, Astrid keeps him company and wonders if there’s anything left that Eli wants to do. But Eli is content simply to spend time with his Astrid – it was the only thing on his list all along.

Deeply moving and tender. Losing a pet to old age is a common issue for families with little bookworms, and this is a really nice look at how we can make our furry friends comfortable and show them our appreciation and love in their final weeks or days. And while the story is very much based around the bond between child and dog, it’s a lesson that can be carried to the loss of human family or companions as well. The text and darling illustrations evoke innocence and kindness, and while it is implied that Eli will pass soon, he does make it to the end of the book (though the final line of text still got me choked up). JJ loved the art, and we both enjoyed the story. A touching story of girl’s best friend, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Caring For Your Lion (Tammi Sauer)

Hello, friends! Today’s book is Caring For Your Lion, written by Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Troy Cummings, a hilarious and sweet instructional picture book on the care and feeding of an unexpected pet lion.

When the Pet Delivery service arrives, a young boy is surprised to find that, instead of the kitten he ordered, he has been shipped a pet lion instead. Thankfully, a very helpful instruction manual has been included with the unexpected (and enormous) pet, filled with tips (such as, try not to look like a zebra. Or a gazelle. Or a bunny) and diagrams (such as how to make the lion sneeze you out in case you are accidentally eaten). And though having a lion for a pet comes with plenty of frustrations, the boy finds that once they get to know each other, the lion just may be the perfect pet for him.

This was a wonderfully silly book with a great narrative style and some fantastically funny art. The instruction-book-style text makes for amusingly droll comedy, playing the enthusiastic step-by-step instructions off the sharp and witty visual gags of the 60’s cartoon-inspired art. The illustrations themselves are colorful and clever, making the kind of expressive and absurd jokes that kids of all ages can enjoy. The length is great, and JJ and I really enjoyed this one. A funny, wacky story to chuckle over together, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!