Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment (Parker Curry & Jessica Curry)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment, written by Parker Curry and Jessica Curry, and illustrated by Brittany Jackson.

One rainy day, Parker’s mom suggests that they take a trip to the museum. Along with her little sister Ava, her best friend Gia, and Gia’s mom, the group spends a few hours looking at the beautiful art. The imaginations of the three young girls allows the art to come alive, leaping from the canvas in games of make-believe. Just as they are about to leave, Parker notices a portrait she’s never seen before: a beautiful black woman in a vibrant gown. She has warm eyes that remind Parker of all the precious women in her life, and even of herself. Parker is mesmerized by the painting – who is this woman? A queen? Her mom explains that the woman is Michelle Obama, an accomplished lawyer, activist, writer, leader, mother, First Lady and more. Parker marvels at this, and just as the other portraits had came alive, so does this one – with the endless possibilities open to her, and all that she can achieve… all with a little inspiration.

Fantastic. Based on the viral photos of the real-life Parker’s reaction to Amy Sherald’s portrait of Michelle Obama, the coauthors do a phenomenal job of not only capturing this adorable moment, but illustrating exactly why it was so much more than only that. More than a cute anecdote, the story explores the importance of representation and how it can inspire and motivate young people in incomparable ways. The buildup of the girls imagining paintings to life is charming and fun, and dovetails perfectly when Parker, seeing Obama and hearing of all her achievements (perfectly illustrated on a spread that literally surrounds Parker in titles and adjectives the former First Lady has embodied), is inspired to view herself capable of achieving all of her own goals. Jackson’s artwork has the magic of a modern fairy tale, featuring wide-eyed, playful characters and stunning interpretations of the National Portrait gallery and the works housed within. The length is perfect, and JJ and I loved it. A lovely tale that captures a moment, cementing it for future dreamers. Baby Bookworm approved!

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

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.)

Mae Among The Stars (Roda Ahmed)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Mae Among The Stars, written by Roda Ahmed and illustrated by Stasia Burrington, a story inspired by real-life astronaut Mae Jemison’s early years.

When her parents ask her what she wants to do when she grows up, Mae says something odd: “I want to see the Earth”. When they point out that Earth is all around her, Mae clarifies that she wants to see the Earth from space. Her parents stress that such a goal will require hard work and dedication, but if she dreams it and believes it, anything is possible. Mae begins to research astronautics on her own time, and even constructs an astronaut costume. But when she goes to school and shares her dream in class, her fellow students and even her teacher laugh at her, with the woman even suggesting she look into being a nurse instead – something more suited to “someone like” Mae. Devastated, Mae returns home and tells her mother about what happened, but her parents encourage her not to let others define her destiny. Reinvigorated, Mae promises to wave to her parents from space one day – a promise she keeps.

Fabulous! Mae’s early interest in space travel is winningly adapted into a storybook-style narrative, and it works so well here. It both simplifies Mae’s aspirations and struggles for the youngest readers while still allowing them to connect to and be inspired by Mae. The climactic scene at school is heartbreaking – while some children may not, adults will immediately understand that the others’ humiliation of Mae is entirely race- and gender-motivated, and a stark reminder of how hard women of color had to struggle to break barriers – and still do. It creates a subtle yet deeply inspiring lesson for children of color: don’t let the prejudices of others limit your dreams. The art is beautiful, using color and a running celestial theme that ties in with Mae and her passion for space. The length is good, and JJ and I both loved it. Baby Bookworm approved!

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!

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!