Alice Nizzy Nazzy (Tony Johnston)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Alice Nizzy Nazzy, written by Tony Johnston and illustrated by Tomie dePaola, a re-release of the 1995 title of the same name by the author-illustrator duo.

Parents near the pueblo of Sante Fe all want their children to steer clear of Alice Nizzy Nazzy, a child-eating witch who lives in a magic house that has roadrunner legs and a fence of prickly pear. One day, a little girl named Manuela comes upon Alice Nizzy Nazzy’s strange home while in search of her missing sheep, and ventures inside. Outsmarting the house’s magical defenses, she comes face-to-face with the frightening figure herself! Can Manuela keep her wits about her?

As much as anyone, I can appreciate the impressive body of work by Johnston and dePaola; however, I don’t think this is a good book. In fact, considering the blatant cultural appropriation in the narrative, text, and artwork, I would be willing to say that this is a pretty bad book. With the intention of taking the Strega Nona fable of Russian folklore – which the pair has previously adapted to great success – “move her to a snazzy new location,” Johnston and dePaola’s work in this title uses Latin-American culture, dress, and art as set-dressing around a Russian fable adapted by two white creators, and it falls flat. With the abundance of authentic Latinx and indigenous folklore picture books available from creators who are members of these these cultures, this feels like a relic from the past by the first page. Beyond that, while some of the folklore elements are intriguing (even as they are blatantly appropriative), the story is trite and unsatisfying, with a protagonist who shows little agency and a villain who escapes punishment. Length was fine, and JJ enjoyed some of the fantastic elements, but also seemed confused by the ending. Overall, take a pass on this one. You’re not missing much.

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

Trees (Tony Johnston)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Trees, written by Tony Johnston and illustrated by Tiffany Bozic, a gorgeous and enchanting ode to, well, trees.

What is more perfect than a tree? Gentle, spare free verse poetry leads readers through various musings on the wonders of trees; their love of the sky, the way they provide the perfect perch for songbirds, the wonder of their leaves and bark and the shade they provide. The way they invite us to climb, to sit under them with a good book, or simply to bask in the calm and peace of their spring blossoms.

A stunning ode to the simple magnificence of trees. The star of the show is Bozic’s absolutely jaw-dropping realist paintings of various trees, their environments, and the fauna that interacts with them. The details, colors, framing, and perspectives are all absolutely astounding, and readers can practically hear the rustle of the leaves in Bozic’s incredibly lifelike trees. Johnston’s sincere and earnest verse fits the tone perfectly, adding just the right amount of lyrical depth but knowing when to step back and let the visuals of trees themselves be the focus. This also makes this the perfect title for any age – the text is simple enough for even very young readers, and the art will astonish bookworms young and old. The length is perfect for a storytime, and JJ absolutely adored the artwork. An awesome way to appreciate the singular beauty of trees, and Baby Bookworm approved!

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