Sulwe (Lupita Nyong’o)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Sulwe, written by Lupita Nyong’o and illustrated by Vashti Harrison, a lovely fable that tackles the difficult issue of colorism.

All the members of Sulwe’s family are a different shade of brown; her Mama is the color of dawn, her Baba the color of dusk, and her popular, much-praised sister Mich is the color of the noontime sky. Sulwe’s skin is much darker, even darker than most of the other kids at school, and her classmates often saddle her with hurtful and offensive names. SULWE does everything she can think of to lighten her skin: an eraser, eating only light-colored foods, covering herself with her Mama’s makeup – nothing works. After tearfully confessing her troubles, Sulwe’s mama reminds her that her name means “star”, and that she is beautiful just as she is. That night, Sulwe is visited by a shooting star, who tells her the story of Night and Day: two sisters who loved each other and were equally magnificent, but the world treated Night as less-than. Hurt, the Night left the world, and the world found that in endless day, there was no soothing cool, no peaceful rest, and no stars to be seen. Sulwe realizes that there is beauty to be found in darkness, just as there is in light – and that she is perfect in the skin she’s in.

I will not, for a moment, pretend to understand the complexities of colorism, especially from the perspective of a young child. What I do know is that skin color is an issue that affects the self-esteem and self-worth of little ones, both within their own ethnic/race communities and in the world at large. So to have this gentle, comforting, and empowering story for little ones who struggle with this issue, especially since it is one not often tackled in kidlit, is worth its weight in gold. The text is rich with detail and realism, and is clearly one from Nyong’o’s heart and experience, and this deeply personal perspective gives the story weight. Harrison’s illustrations are magical and majestic, particularly during the fable portion, and sing with emotional depth. The length is best for patient bookworms, but the spellbinding art and story are well worth it. Beautiful, 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.)

Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around The World (Vashti Harrison)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around The World by Vashti Harrison, the dynamite sequel to Little Leaders.

Taking the same format as Leaders, Harrison introduces us to 35 more incredible women from history, this time broadening the focus to subjects from countries around the world, and from a myriad of ethnic backgrounds. Familiar feminist icons like Ada Lovelace, Hedy Lamarr, and Marie Curie join lesser known – yet no less impressive – trailblazers like Fatima Al-Firhi, founder of the oldest active university, and Esther Afua Ocloo, pioneer of the microlending movement to empower female entrepreneurs. Each woman was ahead of her time, courageous in her pursuits, and changed the world for the better, simply by being themselves and refusing to give up on their dreams.

Simply wonderful. Harrison has returned with a new crop of heroes for young girls (and boys), and we are glad for it. Where many of these anthologies can stumble with diversity, Dreamers has no such problem: the women presented are of a dizzying array of backgrounds, skintones, cultures, religions, and pursuits. Women of art, science, economics, politics, activism, philanthropy, and humanitarianism are each given brief yet thorough bios that do a great job of detailing their achievements while still giving a sense of their motivations and who they were/are as people. Harrison’s adorable figures, featuring open, serene faces and enigmatic smiles, are the perfect cherry on top. This is not a book for a single sitting, but can be broken into whatever-sized bites are right for your little bookworm. A wealth of mini-bios, glossary, and resource list complete the backmatter. JJ and I both learned from it, and loved it. An essential volume for every bookshelf, and Baby Bookworm approved!

Cece Loves Science (Kimberly Derting & Shelli R. Johannes)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Cece Loves Science, written by Kimberly Derting and Shelli R. Johannes and illustrated by Vashti Harrison, a wonderful introduction to the scientific method.

Ever since Cece was a baby, she has loved asking questions, especially “why?”, “how?”, and “what if?”. Her parents and science teacher, Ms. Curie, all encourage her curiosity and creative mind. One day, Ms. Curie assigns the class a project: with a partner, choose a branch of science and conduct an experiment, starting with a question. Cece and her best friend Isaac, along with Cece’s trusty dog Einstein, decide to ask the question, “Do dogs eat vegetables?”. The trio then conduct observations and experiments, recording their results and adjusting their hypothesis. After several attempts to feed the picky Einstein his veggies, they seem to have a boring result – until Cece takes Ms. Curie’s advice to think outside the box.

Awesome! First of all, yes yes YES to books that celebrate female scientists, especially girls of color – seeing Cece’s passion for research and natural inquisitiveness was a treat, especially since she was supported by family and teachers throughout. From there, this is a good basic rundown of the scientific method: observation, asking a question, gathering information, forming a hypothesis, testing, concluding, reporting, and evaluation. The experiment itself is well-designed for its audience (dogs and not wanting to eat veggies are stakes most kids can relate to), and the insets of Cece and Isaac’s notes help keep track of the structure. My only complaint is the inference that a boring result is a bad one – any scientist will tell you that an experiment that produces data is a successful experiment! But with the story’s zest for science, adorable and engaging illustrations, and a comfortable length for young readers, it’s an easily forgivable trifle. JJ loved this one and so did I – Baby Bookworm approved!

Festival Of Colors (Kabir Sehgal & Surishtha Sehgal)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Festival Of Colors, written by Kabir Sehgal and Surishtha Sehgal and illustrated by Vashti Harrison, a gorgeous look at the Hindu spring festival of Holi.

Chintoo and Mintoo are in their garden, preparing for Holi – a holiday most often celebrated through color. The children carefully pick the flowers they will need: hibiscus will make a bright red, marigolds a golden orange, and irises are just the thing for a vibrant blue. They bring the flowers home, lay them out to dry, collecting the petals when they have lost their moisture. Then the petals are crushed into fine powder, and bagged for the big day. Mintoo and Chintoo, along with their family, dress in white and collect their colors, gathering with their friends, family and neighbors. Then, at the right moment, POOF! An explosion of color as everyone throws their crushed petals in the air and at each other. At the end of the day, their white outfits now dusted with rainbow colors, the families enjoy all the things Holi celebrates: new starts, forgiveness, friendship, and color.

Lovely! What a fascinating and fun way to introduce Holi to those who are unfamiliar, and celebrate it for those who are. I had seen Holi celebrations before, and enjoyed learning about the origin of the colorful powders used, as well as the meaning of the festival. JJ adored the colors, flowers, and fantastic use of onomatopoeia. The illustrations are everything you could hope, featuring a Hindi cast in a wide range of skin tones, ages, and sizes and of course, plenty of bright, eye-catching color. The length was perfect, and JJ loved it. A wonderful way to learn about a beautiful holiday, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Little Leaders: Bold Women In Black History (Vashti Harrison)

Hello, friends! We’re wrapping up Women’s History Month with today’s review, Little Leaders: Bold Women In Black History by Vashti Harrison, a fantastic encyclopedia of inspirational black women for young bookworms.

They were pilots, writers, scientists, dancers. They were astronauts, actresses, abolitionists, and spies. And each of the forty remarkable women featured in this tome of black girl magic was a revolutionary in her time, paving the way for those who would follow. With each spread – featuring a three- to four-paragraph biography of the woman’s achievements coupled with an illustration of the pioneer herself – readers will learn about icons like Mae Jemison, Wilma Rudolph, Ruby Bridges, Nina Simone and many, many more.

Absolutely phenomenal. Everything about this book makes it an instant must-have for little readers’ shelves, especially for young girls of color. The storybook-style layout of each woman is perfect for either sharing with an adult or exploring on one’s own, and makes for a reading experience as long or short as the reader wishes; while JJ and I would never be able to read this together in one sitting, we made it through five biographies comfortably. The illustrations are lovely, featuring each subject against a background representative of their time and accomplishments (often including a quote by the woman), but sharing the same round face and proud smile that allows young readers to project themselves into the subject’s shoes. It’s an inspired choice, and we loved it. This is a gorgeous nonfiction storybook that entertains and informs as it inspires, and we recommend it for any little trailblazer-in-the-making. Baby Bookworm approved!