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.)

My Hair Is A Garden (Cozbi A. Cabrera)

Hello, friends! Our book today is My Hair Is A Garden by Cozbi A. Cabrera, a lovely and empowering ode to black hair.

Mackenzie has always loved Miss Tillie’s home – a sanctuary as warm and inviting as the woman who inhabits it. So when Mack is humiliated once again for her short, unruly hair, she runs to Miss Tillie for a cry. Mack’s hair has always been especially hard to style – even her own mother doesn’t know what to do with it. Miss Tillie listens sagely, then agrees to teach Mack how to care for her hair. Excited, Mack asks if her hair will one day look like Miss Tillie’s smooth, elaborate style. But using her lush and lovingly-maintained garden as a metaphor, Tillie shows Mack that the style of the hair is not what matters, but that her hair is healthy, well cared-for and, most importantly, loved.

Absolutely. Fantastic. As many women of color can attest, the struggle of having “good hair” – and the social and body-image connotations therewith – starts early on. It’s what makes a book like this so vital: not only does Cabrera give practical tips on caring for black hair (including instructions and recipes in the backmatter), but also provides a affirming encouragement for young girls of color to love and take pride in their hair. This tone is further explored in the gorgeous illustrations that give rich, emotional connections to the text: a vignette of a boy dumping sand in Mack’s hair is heartbreaking, inside covers depicting girls of various skintones and hairstyles are heartwarming, and the cover/inner illustration of Mack’s hair growing healthy, natural, and strong is spellbinding. The length is great and JJ really enjoyed it. A beautiful read for any little bookworm, but a must-read for young girls of color, who will feel seen and celebrated. Baby Bookworm approved!

Bloom: A Story Of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli (Kyo Maclear)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Bloom: A Story Of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli, written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Julie Morstad, a moving story of the fashion innovator and her passion for color and redefining beauty.

When Elsa was born in 1890 in Rome, her parents were disappointed – they had wanted a boy. Her mother heavily favored her older sister, giving her the nickname “Bella”. She gave a nickname to Elsa as well: “Brutta”, Italian for “Ugly.” Elsa so wished to be beautiful that she tried to plant flower seeds in her ears and mouth so she could grow a face full of the beautiful flowers of Rome, but she only made herself sick. But from these heartbreaking beginnings, an artist grew; Elsa went on to travel the world, to learn how to design and construct clothes, to become friends with prominent artists such as Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. She became a massive success – people adored her colorful, playful fashions that let women express themselves. She even invented her own color with Jean Clemént: “Shocking Pink”! All because Elsa decided that she would let no one else define her beauty – she was beautiful just the way she was.

Wow! I was not expecting this at all. I confess to having never heard of Elsa before reading the book, and the experience of learning her story was a moving one. I adored that the story was told from the first person – it allowed a real connection with Elsa, and insight into her feelings and motivations. Morstad’s illustrations are as stunning and energetic as always, and she uses color and detail to make each illustration not only tell a story, but be an emotional experience. The length isn’t bad, perhaps a bit long for very young bookworms, but JJ loved the vibrant colors. An inspiring story of a great artist, and the empowering lesson against letting others define your beauty or worth. Baby Bookworm approved!

Picture Day (Frances F. Jones)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Picture Day by Frances F. Jones, a wonderful story about self-image and being proud of what makes you unique.

Cricket is a little girl with a big head of hair, lovely curls that she enjoys wearing in different ways. She likes when her curls are in big pigtails, or tightly braided with beads at the end, under a stylish hat, or just flowing free. As Cricket prepares for her school’s picture day, she takes time to pick out the perfect outfit – but what is the perfect way to wear her curls? Fortunately, her mom comes to the rescue, fixing Cricket’s curls into a fierce hairdo that will look perfect in her school photo.

This one is self-published, so it’s expectedly a little rough around the edges, especially where design is concerned. The illustrations are well-drawn in a cute style, but poorly colored in a way that is often distracting. The curlicue font, though a clever nod to the curl-positive theme of the story, makes reading the text difficult at times. However, the story is absolutely lovely – it’s a tale of a girl who loves the way she looks without question and takes pride in her ethnic hair, an important message for little ones of color who are bombarded with messages that encourage the opposite. The length is fine, and overall JJ enjoyed it, so it’s very easy to overlook its shortcomings. A rough aesthetic, but a great story about body/ethnic positivity that sticks the landing, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

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

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!