Big Wig (Jonathan Hillman)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Big Wig, written by Jonathan Hillman and illustrated by Levi Hastings, a story of finding one’s inner fabulousity.

Meet Wig, a vibrant magenta Dolly Parton-inspired bouffant. Wig belongs to young drag performer B. B. Bedazzle, and is excited to help her queen compete in the Big Wig Ball drag contest. Initially, she grows with pride, but when she sees the other wigs that she’s up against, she begins to feel anxious and “wigs out”, fleeing B. B.’s head and the stage to take cover in the crowd. Can Wig find her inner confidence in time for the big competition?

An ambitious tale with an unfortunately mixed message. I’m delighted to see drag culture making its way into another picture book, and the core theme, finding confidence by being your authentic self, is always one worth exploring, especially for audiences that may include young LGBTQ+ readers. However, other aspects of the story feel lost in translation. For instance, whenever Wig finds sanctuary on the head of another child in the audience, that child transforms into the fabulous drag performer of their dreams. It’s a nice notion, but since nearly all of these expressions are feminine, it also sends the message that wearing a wig feminizes the wearer. And while it’s nice that Wig is helping others find their inner self, she’s also regaining her self-confidence based on the approval of strangers (and notably, not her friend B. B.), suggesting that validation should come from outside sources rather than from within, or even from trusted loved ones. There are some nice moments, especially in the vividly colorful illustrations, such as B. B.’s parents enthusiastic support of her drag persona, hints that B. B. has a wide range of interests both traditionally-masculine and -feminine, and some considerations towards diverse characters in crowd scenes. The length was good for a storytime, and JJ liked the energetic story and artwork. Overall, this one a mixed bag. As a story that highlights and affirms drag, it’s a treat, but as a tale of self-acceptance, it misses the mark. Still, with some follow-up discussion, this one is worth a look – Baby Bookworm approved!

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

A Walk in the Woods (Caroline L. Thornton)

Hello, friends! Our book today is A Walk in the Woods, written by Caroline L. Thornton and illustrated by María Finchenko, a sweet indie title about recognizing and celebrating one’s talents.

Bunny’s day begins with a sunny sky and a playful attitude. Yet as she observes her friends, the birds, fluttering around the sky, she feels a twinge of sadness – bunnies can’t fly. She feels this same lament when she views her friend the toad swimming, and again when her bird friends begin to sing. And for all the fine adventures that Bunny has that day, it seems that there are still so many things that bunnies cannot do. It will take a wise old owl console the young bunny and get her to see that her talents are worthy of their own salute.

Lovely. Thornton’s easy, well-flowing rhymes and Finchenko’s gorgeous pastoral illustrations combine to create a story with warmth and purpose. The theme is a classic, and Bunny realizing her self-worth in the final pages is immensely satisfying, especially as the groundwork for it had been subtly laid throughout the story. The soft, dynamic, and passionate artwork has a distinct style that sets it apart from many indie titles, where the illustration is often treated as an afterthought. A vocabulary guide and fun bunny facts are suitable and edifying backmatter. The length is good for an elementary storytime, bordering on long; JJ greatly enjoyed the story, but started getting squirmy near the end. Overall, this is a well-crafted story that is definitely worth a look; Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Beautifully Me (Nabela Noor)

Hello, friends! Our book today is the Beautifully Me, written by Nabela Noor and illustrated by Nabi H. Ali, a fantastic story about body positivity and what it means to be beautiful.

As young Zubi prepares for her first day of school, she greets the audience with confidence and exuberance. She dons a fabulous outfit that expresses her Bangladeshi culture and makes her feel unique and beautiful. But when she runs to her parents to show them her stylish look, Zubi overhears her mother complaining about her waistline. Then she finds that her slim sister Naya is dieting to “look pretty” for a school dance. Her father also bemoans his weight gain, and despite making new friends at school, she overhears one classmate bullying another by calling them fat. Full-figured Zubi is confused and distraught – does she have to be skinny to be beautiful? Announcing at dinner that she is now on a diet, her family is shocked. And when they realize that their offhand comments have damaged Zubi’s self-worth, they set about fixing things, for Zubi and for themselves.

In a word, BEAUTIFUL. This utterly unique take on body positivity not only emphasizes to kids the timeless message that beauty comes in more than one size and shape, but also deftly manages to tackle the internalized fatphobia that permeates most young adult and adult cultures. The fact that it shows how seemingly “harmless” comments by adults can reinforce these toxic ideas about body types to children is incredible, and makes this a teaching opportunity for readers of all ages. Combine these much-needed messages with gorgeous art that celebrates Zubi’s family’s Asian and Muslim culture and diversity at her school (one character uses they/them pronouns, another uses a wheelchair, a third wears a patka), all with warmth, energy, and yes, beauty. The length is great for elementary and older kids, and JJ and I absolutely loved it. A stunning reminder to embrace all that makes us beautiful, and emphatically Baby Bookworm approved!

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

You Are A Beautiful Beginning (Nina Laden)

Hello, friends! Our book today is You Are A Beautiful Beginning, written by Nina Laden and illustrated by Kelsey Garrett-Riley, a colorful and self-affirming fantasy tale.

A group of three friends venture out into their neighboring forest one day, intent on building a very special project together. As the children gather supplies, consult plans, and enjoy each other’s company, the very forest comes to life around them; from flowers to acorns to hedgehogs to gnomes and fairies, new little companions seem to be around every corner and under every leaf. The friends complete their masterpiece – a clubhouse under a fairy tree – and enjoy the fruits of their labor until the sun sets, at which point they head to their homes… and the creatures of the forest keep the clubhouse in their absence.

Delightful. As the soft and endearing artwork – filled with comforting colors and warmth – tells the story of the friends and their enterprise, the gentle rhyming text offers affirmations of self, friendship, and feelings to the reader. These reminders are simple, yet arranged into soothing rhythm and lovely words to accompany the illustrations; it allows both to compliment each other, building a rich narrative that anyone can relate to and take something from. The length is perfect for a storytime, and the soothing tone ideal for the bedtime book; JJ enjoyed the playful illustrations especially. A magical tale that’s sure to please, 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.)

Paper Dolls Don’t Have Hearts (Shannon Woodworth)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Paper Dolls Don’t Have Hearts by Shannon Woodworth, a middle-grade poem that tackles issues of self-image and body dysmorphia.

Annie Jones has just started at a new (high?) school, and feels intimidated by the growing and changing of her fellow classmates. Whenever Annie compares herself to older girls, or even her own friends, she feels inadequate: hair too short, body too curvy, eyes too big, etc. She begins to change her diet, eating less and less and even skipping a piece of her own birthday cake. Sensing that something is wrong, her mother sits her down and encourages her daughter to open up. Annie explains that she wishes she could draw herself as a paper doll, making all the changes to her appearance that would help her feel confident. Her mother understands, but points out that a paper doll wouldn’t have Annie’s spirit or her talents or all the qualities that make her truly unique and special; after all, paper dolls don’t have hearts.

Heartfelt. Inspired by her own experiences with ED, Woodworth infuses this middle-grade tale with gentle, empowering poetry that feels genuine. However, while the language is sincere, the rhymes themselves are often clunky and uneven, losing the rhythm and meter with too many or too few syllables per line. The illustrations are similarly pedestrian: line and shade drawings that give a visual basis for Annie’s journey yet lack texture and depth throughout. Lastly, the length and subject matter are best for middle-graders, not baby bookworms; JJ lost interest very quickly. I also would have loved to see some resources provided in the backmatter for readers struggling with ED who may not have an immediate support system like Annie did. An earnest and meaningful effort from a freshman indie creator with a worthy message, yet it simply lacks finesse. Perhaps not Baby Bookworm approved, but worth a read for those who might be struggling.

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