The Katha Chest (Radhiah Chowdhury)

Hello, friends! Our book today is The Katha Chest, written by Radhiah Chowdhury and illustrated by Lavanya Naidu, a powerful look at family, history and courage.

Exploring her Nanu’s home is always a treasure trove of wonders for Asiya, but no treasure is more exciting than the katha chest. Made from the fabric of saris that Asiya’s mother (Maa) and aunts (khalas) no longer wear, each katha quilt is soft with time and rich with history, especially with the precious – and sometimes painful – memories of the original wearer of the saris. Asiya likes it best when the whole family gathers, pulls out the kathas, and tells stories of Nanu, the grandmother who crafted each family katha with love and care.

Simply stunning. Chowdhury’s guileless, child-like prose weaves together with Naidu’s colorful, impactful art to create a story filled with tradition and love. Exploring six stories of Bengali-Bangladeshi women through Asiya’s mother, grandmother, and aunts, Naidu and Chowdhury touch on some serious subjects – war, protest, leaving home, grief, the loss of a child – in ways that are honest, sensitive, and appropriate for child audiences. Telling the five sisters’ stories through textless spreads of Bengali folk art is inspired, and all the more powerful for their silent yet emotional visuals. In a bold move, Bengali-language words are not italicized or translated, and offer only context clues as to their meanings. It’s a choice that may throw some readers off, but is easily understood by the end of the first readthrough. Length is perfect for a storytime, and JJ and I both really loved this one. An incredible story of family tradition and the strength of women, sisterhood, and culture. Absolutely gorgeous, and a must-read. Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Drawn Together (Minh Lê & Dan Santat)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Drawn Together, written by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat, a heartwarming family tale of language, culture, and love.

The story opens in largely silent comic book-style panels, as we see a boy being dropped off for a visit with his grandfather. Lacking a common language, the two have difficulty connecting, creating a quiet distance… until the boy takes out his art set and begins to draw. Finally finding a commonality, the grandfather produces a paint-and-ink set, and begins to draw as well – and just like that, the conversation can begin. The two have different art styles (the boy’s is modern, brash, and colorful; the grandfathers is more mature, intricately detailed, and traditional), but their respective heroes still find a way to come together and defeat the dragon that separates them, leaving a connection stronger than words can describe.

This was a widely loved book this years and it’s easy to see why: Lê and Santat have crafted a heartwarming, relatable, exciting, and visually stunning tale. Each detail works perfectly, from the visual indications of how different the two characters are (down to the meals they eat), the intentionally spare text until their art begins a deeper story, and the jaw-dropping way that the illustrations beautifully explore two very different styles of art, then seamlessly merge them. It’s a beautiful message about finding connection, the value of elders and cultural tradition, and a lesson in the idea that love can be expressed in many ways. The length was great, JJ loved the art, and this one is Baby Bookworm approved!