The Very First You (Scott Stuart)

Hello, friends! Our book today is The Very First You by Scott Stuart, a joyful celebration of individuality.

In the history of time, there has never been a you – you are the very first you! That makes everything about you special: your laugh, your look, your ideas, and your heart. And because everything about you is so unique, your value is incalculable; if you were missing, there would be a hole in the very universe shaped like you. So appreciate all the extraordinary, incredible things that have made the very first you, and use them to be the best you that you can be.

Affirming. Positive self-concept, identity, and appreciating individuality is a classic yet always-welcome topic for a picture book, and Stuart executes his version pretty well. The rhyming text is bouncy and enjoyable to read aloud, and includes some nice thoughts on expressing our emotions and ideas. The colorful illustrations feature a racially-diverse cast of willowy children, including two male-coded characters that buck gender conformity (one has purple hair, another wears a skirt). The friend groups also features a giant pink octopus that is just a delightfully absurd yet adorable visual. The length is perfect for a story time, and JJ and I enjoyed the read. My one complaint is the possibly Asian-coded character whose skintone reads uncomfortably yellow; it’s clearly not intentional, but it’s noticeable enough to feel weird. Otherwise, this was a fun read with a timeless lesson, and we liked it. Baby Bookworm approved!

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

How to Be a Real Man (Scott Stuart)

Hello, friends! Our book today is How to Be a Real Man by Scott Stuart, a picture book exploration of toxic masculinity and how to rise above it.

There are lots of examples from history that we use to celebrate “manly” men: Vikings, pirates, Spartans, etc. However, these examples are usually celebrated for being tough, aggressive, and big. Is that really what it means to be a man? Can’t it mean fighting for change? Helping others? Being okay with showing your feelings and saying sorry? Being a man doesn’t always mean being big and strong; instead, maybe being a man just means being the best version of the person you are inside.

Earnest yet uneven. As topics go, a book tackling the complicated issue of toxic masculinity is a joy to see, and there are so many things that this title gets absolutely right. The rhyming text does a good job of redefining manliness as kindness, empathy, caregiving, among other traits; a section on not bottling up emotions is especially effective. The colorful illustrations are visually engaging, and feature a few nice instances of inclusion in diverse skintones and abilities. However, early pages that are extremely critical of historical icons of manliness come off as oddly derogatory, especially for Vikings and Spartans, whose histories have cultural significance to the people of Scandinavia and Greece. In a book about acceptance, it strikes a bad tone to begin by putting others down. Beyond that, the length is fine for a storytime, and JJ did enjoy several of the illustrations and rhymes. Overall, this one has a rocky start, but ultimately a great message for young bookworms, and we liked 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.)