I Am Famous (Tara Luebbe & Becky Cattie)

Hello, friends! Our book today is I Am Famous, written by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, a tale of a precocious young starlet and her life of glitz and glamour.

Kiely has been famous all her life. She’s a singer, and actress AND a dancer, plus a style icon and social media star. The paparazzi – also known as her parents – follow her everywhere, always there to capture her latest forays into fabulousity. But when a performance at her grandparents’ party has a few hiccups, will Kiely ever be able to recover her iconic reputation? Or do her fans/family simply love her for being who she is?

There were things about this that I really liked: I enjoyed most of Kiely’s narrative, mostly her unapologetically flaunting what makes her feel special – especially since she is a young black girl with confidence and self-esteem. The art is great as well, using bright colors and dramatic gestures and expressions to play up Kiely’s diva side. However, there were a few cringeworthy moments: her father cowering before her with an offering as she frowns in disapproval, a drawing of her shoving her mother in the face during a tantrum, depictions of her parents filming her with cell phones both in the bathtub and on a training potty, the letter being shared on social media. All three are played for comedy, but the implications are odd. We’re in an age in which children do become “stars” of social media, even to the public at large, but this raises the question of what impact this has on them, and what is and isn’t suitable to share. And while I’m obviously not against sharing my child on social media, there were a few moments in the story that gave me pause on whether Kiely or her parents were behaving appropriately. It’s a judgement call, so I’m calling this one Baby Bookworm approved – with an asterisk.

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

Not So Small At All (Sandra Magsamen)

Hello, friends! Our book today is the board book version of Not So Small At All by Sandra Magsamen, an adorable lesson to the smallest of readers to not let themselves be judged by their size.

Sometimes it can be frustrating being small; it can sometimes seem that when you’re small, you can’t do much of anything at all. But seeds are small, and given time, they can grow into beautiful flowers. Bees are small, but they can fly long distances to gather nectar. And ants are small, but they can lift enormous objects with their strength. In fact, being small isn’t so bad, and with the right attitude, the smallest creature can make big things happen.

Very sweet. Magsamen is always reliable for a classically cute board book, filled with energetic hand-lettering and simple, cheery illustrations. Both elements are found here, in addition to a timeless lesson in self-confidence and perseverance. For us, there was one issue: occasionally, the layout of the text made the rhythm hard to decipher, resulting in us having to re-read passages to get the rhyme to land correctly. But otherwise, the message is a good one, the length is fine for even the littlest bookworms, the art is full of color and joy, and JJ and I thoroughly enjoyed sharing it. Overall, a lovely board book to share with your small one, 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.)

The Paper Bag Princess (Robert Munsch)

Hello, friends! Today, we’re reading The Paper Bag Princess, written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko, a phenomenal tale of a fearsome dragon and a brave princess.

Elizabeth is a beautiful princess who lives in a stately palace and dresses in fine clothes. She is betrothed to a handsome prince named Ronald, who seems to be her match in every way. One day, a terrible dragon comes and attacks the palace, burning it and everything inside to the ground and kidnapping Prince Ronald. Elizabeth knows what she must do: she sets off to defeat the dragon and retrieve Ronald, clad in the only thing she can find that hasn’t been burnt up, a paper bag. Using her wits, she manipulates the dragon into leaving his lair unattended, then sneaks inside to rescue Ronald. But upon seeing her singed and ragged appearance, Ronald criticizes and insults her, telling her to come back when she looks more like a princess. Without missing a beat, Elizabeth dumps the shallow Prince, and skips off to live happily ever after without him.

This book is a must for any little girl’s library, and it’s a favorite of ours. Elizabeth’s strong will, quick mind and unshakeable self-esteem make her a fantastic princess for little ones to look up to. This is a book that celebrates a girl’s worth beyond her appearance, and shows girls that they should always know their value – and not waste their time on people who do not appreciate it. The art is classic, fun storybook fare that supports the major plot points well. The length is fine, and JJ loves it. A feminist gem for little readers to enjoy, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Nightlights (Lorena Alvarez)

Hello, everyone! Today’s book is Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez, an exciting, scary, yet very empowering tale of creativity and self-confidence.

Sandy is a little girl who loves to draw. For her, drawing is like watching the air fill with the spark of her ideas and dreams (she calls them “nightlights”), then putting pen to paper to recreate what she sees. One day, she meets a new girl at school, Morfie, who loves her drawings. But there’s something very strange about Morfie… sinister, even. And when Morfie tries to take control of Sandy’s imagination, the young artist must think of a way to escape from the nightmare that her new companion has dragged her into.

Okay, so I sort of messed up here, because this book is DEFINITELY too advanced for baby bookworms. However, for older children, this may be one of the most beautiful and gripping graphic novels I’ve ever seen. Within the story, a very gothic and creepy tale with some truly nightmarish visuals, there is a powerful metaphor for self-doubt and how it can make us question ourselves and our talents. Sandy’s courage and cleverness, as well as her creativity, make her a phenomenal heroine for young readers, and Alvarez’s jaw-dropping anime-inspired art sets an epic atmosphere. And while the story was a bit advanced, JJ was spellbound by the art. So, while you might want to wait a few years to share this story with your little readers, I would definitely recommend it. Baby Bookworm approved!

Dancing In The Wings (Debbie Allen)

Hello, friends! Today’s book is Dancing In The Wings, written by Debbie Allen and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, a story about a young girl finding the self-confidence to achieve her dreams.

Since she was very little, Sassy has always longed to dance. She works hard in her ballet class, but there is one problem: Sassy is a head taller than all the other pupils, with long legs and large feet. Because of her size, she rarely gets to perform, having to dance in the wings offstage instead. When an opportunity to audition for a special ballet program comes up, Sassy is eager to try out. That is, until she overhears two girls making fun of her size. Crestfallen, she begins to lose her nerve, until her Uncle Red convinces her that standing out is nothing to be ashamed of. Determined, Sassy decides to embrace her uniqueness: rather than try to blend in, she finds the confidence to stand out.

We had a mostly positive experience with this one. First, as a tall woman with a daughter who may grow be tall herself, I’m happy to find a book that celebrates tall girls. Sassy’s revelation that being different or being noticed can often help us toward our goals is a fantastic lesson for girls, inside and out. Being confident, self-assured and having positive body-image is always something that young girls should be encouraged to do. Two sticking points for me, though: a lot of premium was placed on Sassy’s looks, but far less on her non-physical attributes. I was also slightly disappointed that when another character would insult Sassy’s appearance, she would often retort by insulting the other person’s appearance in turn. Sinking to a bully’s level of being petty or cruel isn’t the best lesson. Still, this was a mostly positive story, with some lovely art to boot. The length was a bit long for babies, but JJ enjoyed it. So we’re calling this one Baby Bookworm approved!