My Name is Bana (Bana Alabed)

Hello, friends! Our book today is My Name is Bana, written by Bana Alabed and illustrated by Nez Riaz, a powerful tale of resilience, tenacity, and strength.

When Bana asks her mother how she got her name, her mother explains that she was named after a tall, green tree that grew in their native Syria. Bana’s parents gave her the name with that hope that their daughter would be strong like the tree – by showing kindness to others, by standing up against injustice, and by being brave in the face of fear. And in fact, Bana has already shown such strength in many ways: bringing joy to her brothers even amidst bombings and war; starting over in a new country with a new language and new classmates; and speaking on behalf of all Syrian refugee children in front of world leaders. Bana has more than shown that she is “qawia” (strong) like her namesake tree, and stronger still that her strength is rooted in “amal” – in hope.

Stirring. Based on Alabed’s true life story, this inspiring and empowering tale of fortitude manages to finely balance the gravity of its subject matter with language and a tone filled with the concept of hope that it explores. Riaz’s emotional illustrations capture moments of strife, courage, and peace with incredible nuance; Alabed’s text is lyrical yet conversational, and lovely to read aloud. Alabed’s author’s note in the backmatter is not to be skipped, and the closing lines will remind adult readers that strength should not always lie on the shoulders of children. The length is great for a storytime, and JJ and I really enjoyed the heartwarming exchange between mother and daughter. Overall, this is a fantastic book that covers a crucial topic in an accessible and uplifting way, 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.)

Sugar in Milk (Thrity Umrigar)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Sugar in Milk, written by Thrity Umrigar and illustrated by Khoa Le, a gorgeous and timeless tale of kindness and acceptance.

Told from the point of view of a young immigrant to the United States, the narrator recounts her feelings of loneliness and despair when she first arrived. While she was happy to have her Auntie and Uncle, who had done everything they could to make her feel welcome, she still missed her parents, friends, and cats. One day, her Auntie takes her for a walk and tells her an ancient story of a group of Persian refugees, forced to leave their home and cross the sea in search of a new one. Arriving on the shores of India, they are met by the local king who dismisses them, apologizing yet insisting that there is no room in their country for the newcomers. Since they share no common language, the king demonstrates this by filling a cup to the brim with milk. Yet the leader of the Persian refugees, a kind and clever man, begs for a moment more of the king’s attention – how can he convince the monarch to let his people stay?

Gorgeous. Based on an actual Persian parable, Umrigar’s deft storytelling and gentle prose does a wonderful job of showing the reader that acceptance and diversity are truly timeless concepts. Just as the Persian leader wins over the king by stirring sugar into the milk (showing that the addition of the refugees will only make the kingdom more interesting and sweet), the young modern immigrant is convinced by the tale that the diversity and “newness” of her new home is what makes it all the more special, something that she now brings her own unique sweetness to. With the addition of Le’s incredibly intricate and emotive illustrations, this is a tale that will inspire any young reader to understand the beauty and strength to be found in diversity. The length is fine for a storytime, and JJ loved the beautiful artwork. A powerful tale for bookworms of any age, 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.)

Hope And Freckles: Fleeing To A Better Forest (Bill Kiley)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Hope And Freckles: Fleeing To A Better Forest, written by Bill Kiley and illustrated by Mary Manning.

Mother deer Hope and her fawn Freckles have lived in the Olden Forest all their life, but the time has come for them to leave; food is growing scarce and the number of predators are increasing. Fearing for her baby’s future, Hope decides to head to the Big Pine Forest. Together, the two walk for many days, meeting other deer who have also been forced from their homes and traveling beside them. At last, they reach to Big Pine Forest, only to find a big wall and two rangers barring their entrance. Initially combative, the rangers listen to the deers’ pleas for refuge and decide to let them in, but under a few conditions: they will have to be separated from the other deer, fenced in until the higher-ups decide if they can stay. Most frighteningly, they declare the adult deer must be separated from their fawns. Freckles cries at the thought of being separated from his mother, and Hope tries her best to comfort him by promising they’ll see each other again soon. Yet as the days go by with no word or sign of Freckles, Hope begins to wonder: will she ever see her baby again?

Whew, this one is heavy. Essentially a storybook retelling of the current immigration crisis at the United States’ southern border, this animal-fable is striking honest. Hope and Freckles are eventually reunited, but other refugee deer are suddenly loaded into trucks that take them back to their origins – without their fawns (there is a vague promise that the fawns will be brought to them later, but this is never shown and left ambiguous). It’s sad, and could potentially be upsetting for younger readers, yet does a commendable job of making such complicated subject accessible and understandable. The digital art is exceptionally good for an indie, with expressive characters that inspire empathy. The length and subject matter are better for older readers, though JJ was very invested throughout. A challenging tale to be sure, but one that may help little ones find sympathy for those seeking better lives. Baby Bookworm approved.

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

What Is A Refugee? (Elise Gravel)

Hello, friends! Our book today is What Is A Refugee? by Elise Gravel, a look at what it means to be a displaced person for young readers.

Little ones may hear adults throw around the word “refugee” a lot – but what is a refugee? In simple yet powerful images and text, this nonfiction title explains that refugees are people of all ages, races, faiths, and abilities who have been displaced from their homes. Sometimes war has destroyed their homes and made their lives unsafe; sometimes they were standing up for their beliefs and people wanted to hurt them because of it. Oftentimes, they don’t want to leave their homes: they may have to leave family members and loved ones behind, and make dangerous journeys to safer countries. And frequently, the countries they flee to are unwelcoming or unsafe in other ways. But in the end, what a refugee really is… is a person. Someone who wants to work, learn, and live in safety and peace, just like everybody else.

Wonderful. Complex issues like the refugee crisis can often be difficult to explain to children (and even to adults), and Gravel does a wonderful job of taking a complicated issue and making it accessible for little readers. The illustrations are strikingly unambiguous – families are shown fleeing explosions, a cityscape is under fire from rockets, a family tearfully parts ways – yet the cartoonish style keeps the images from being too intense, striking a delicate balance of being deeply affecting without being age-inappropriate. Natural disasters, environmental factors, and gang violence are left off the list of causes for refugees to be displaced, but otherwise this book hits the mark very well, and can help answer difficult question that perceptive youngsters can have both honestly and with empathy. Backmatter features notable refugees through history and, brilliantly, short interviews with refugee children that show how much they share in common with young readers. The length is fine for any age, and JJ was very engaged with the art and text. A straightforward, necessary, and heartfelt guide, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved.