Leaf (Sandra Dieckmann)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Leaf by Sandra Dieckmann, a clever yet poignant tale about fear of the unfamiliar.

The crows saw him first, drifting toward the shore one moonlit night on a raft of rapidly melting ice. He took shelter in the old empty cave that the other animals steered clear of, and the whispers started soon after. He looked so different from the other animals, and even from the lush and colorful land around them, this great white bear. And he acted so strangely, wandering the forest every day and collecting leaves. The other animals called him Leaf, not because of his odd habit, because they wanted him to LEAVE. Too loud, too different – the other animals were so sure he didn’t belong, and felt threatened by his presence. But as the crows argue for compassion, Leaf does something entirely unexpected that just may encourage the animals to consider changing their point of view.

Simply lovely. While the story seems rather straightforward, there’s a lot going on here – through Leaf’s plight and the reactions of his new neighbors, readers learn lessons in empathy, consideration, helping others, and – most notably – caution against fear of otherness (even the choice of the polar bear, a species rapidly losing its habitat, is not an accident). It encourages us not to judge someone simply because they look, sound, or act differently from us, especially as they may have very good reasons, and may even need our help but don’t know how to ask. The art is simply stunning, an intricate symphony of color around the stark white polar bear, both engaging young eyes and providing a visual example of how Leaf differs from the new world he finds himself in. The length is great, and JJ loved all the animals and vibrant colors. A sweet story with some wonderful lessons, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Please Bring Balloons (Lindsay Ward)

Hello, friends! Today, we read Please Bring Balloons by Lindsay Ward, an absolutely lovely story of a girl, a polar bear, and a wonderful adventure.

One day at the carousel, Emma notices a folded note peeking out of the saddle of the polar bear:. “Please bring balloons” it reads, in text and doodle. While Emma wonders why the carousel polar bear needs a balloon, she’s happy to help, leaving a polka dot balloon tied to the bear’s saddle. She even thinks she sees the polar bear give her a tiny smile. When she returns the next day, another note: “Bring more balloons!” Emma happily complies, and when she does, she and the polar bear lift off into the air, buoyed by their magic balloons, and head off on an adventure together. Where are they going? What will they see? It all depends where the balloons take them.

This was a very sweet book. The story is very simple, but it’s charming nonetheless, and is a great celebration of the magic to be found in everyday things; it inspires the sort of imagination that makes one look at a carousel animal and wonder what enchantment it holds, and I love that. The art is the star of the show here, with gorgeous mixed-media illustrations that are equal parts realistic and fantastic, and fit the theme and atmosphere of the story perfectly. The length is just right, and there’s a stellar fold-out page that lit JJ’s eyes up. Overall, we both really liked it. This is a perfect story for the curious, the adventurous, and the dreamers, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Simon And The Bear (Eric A. Kimmel)

Happy Holidays Week, Day 4: Hello, friends! Today’s book is Simon And The Bear, written by Eric A. Kimmel and illustrated by Matthew Trueman, a Hanukkah story about faith and hope.

Simon is just a boy, but he must leave home. He is immigrating to America to find work and send for his mother and siblings. Simon’s mother tearfully bids him farewell, but not before packing plenty of Hanukkah supplies so he can celebrate properly on his journey: a menorah, candles, latkes, even a dreidel. But as his ship heads toward his new home, it strikes an iceberg and begins to sink! Simon bravely offers his place on the lifeboat to a father, jumping on the iceberg to try to survive. Here, he makes friends with a polar bear who shares his latkes and listens to his Hanukkah tales. His fate seems sealed as the days pass, but Simon has his faith, and is praying for one more Hanukkah miracle.

So, I’m a bit conflicted on this book. Positives: gorgeously enchanting art, a lovely message about having hope in bleak times, a lovely cultural tale; all these elements were lovely. However, the second act of this story is DARK. Simon, a child character, is forced to contemplate his own mortality no less than three times during the course of the story, at one point even speaking the words, “This is where I will die.” That is some heavy stuff for a children’s book, even if there is a happy ending. But still, a beautiful book. This is definitely one of those books you will want to read through first to decide if it’s appropriate for your baby bookworm (the length, which was pushing it even for a book lover like JJ, could also be problematic for the very young). Still, this is a beautiful book at Hanukkah, visually and in tone, and JJ enjoyed it overall. So in the end, it’s still Baby Bookworm approved!

Magic Box (Katie Cleminson)

Hello, friends! And at last, we are caught up with our reviews! Our book today is Magic Box by Katie Cleminson, a joyful tale of a young master magician named Eva.

Eva find a magic box one day and jumps in, and becomes a master magician. Suddenly, whatever she wishes for appears in a snap. She wishes for a pet named Monty and poof! He appears, though he’s a bit larger than she had expected, being a polar bear and all. Readers then follow Eva through a day of magic that brings whatever her imagination can dream up: rabbits from hats, a party with the best animal musicians and the yummiest food, and once everyone is danced out, everything cleaned up in a snap! Well, except for Monty… 

This was a fun little book! The story is simple and fun, and the text is easy and fun to read aloud. The illustrations are adorable and colorful, with outlined characters but bright splashes of colors on each page to bright them to life. The length is great, and JJ really enjoyed this one, especially all of Eva’s animal friends. This one is Baby Bookworm approved!

Splashdance (Liz Starin)

Summer Reading Day 81: Hi, everyone! Ms. J was having a tough time today with toothaches, but she was still excited to read her story, Splashdance by Liz Starin. In Splashdance, a polar bear named Ursula is practicing diligently for a water ballet with her partner, until one day she arrives to find that the pool has hung up a sign: “NO BEARS.” Her swimming partner subsequently abandons her for someone he can swim with, leaving Ursula feeling alone and abandoned, disheartened by being banned from doing what she loves. Eventually, Ursula finds that she is not alone in being banned, and she and her fellow outsiders concoct a plan to live their dream of competing in the water ballet event.

This book dealt pretty heavily with the concepts of segregation and discrimination, and it did so very well. Certain plot points relating to Ursula being banned from the pool will certainly resonate with adults, such as when the pool manager insists that he will no longer allow bears because they are too hairy while letting other, hairier animals continue to swim there. Ursula’s plight is dealt with in a way that feels realistic and organic to adults, but is simple enough conceptually for kids to understand and identify with. Furthermore, her eventual triumph with her friends shows that while you may not always be able to change the minds of hateful people, good people will always have your back.

Otherwise, the length of the book was fine for Baby Bookworm, and the illustrations were cute and simple. But to us, it was the story that really shone, particularly after the incidences of racial and gender discrimination at the 2016 Rio Olympics. And ultimately, the message is a great one for all little (and big) readers: people may try to hold you back, but never let them destroy what you love to do; just do your best and you will always win.