Cara Broel is mum to JJ, a 6 year old book reviewer who reads a new book everyday. Cara documents the books her child is reading over on Instagram here and shares beautifully written and super helpful reviews of the books on thebabybookworm.com. As big fans of reading to our kids, we wanted to speak to Cara about why they started journalling the books JJ was reading, what makes a great kids book and some unmissable book recommendations.
GRASP: Tell us about you and your family how you came to start sharing your journal of kids books @thebabybookworm?
Cara: The Baby Bookworm came about when I started visiting the children's section at our local library for storytimes when JJ was a baby.
JJ had an early interest in books, and she was never happier than when someone was reading to her, or she could flip through the pages of a book to look at the pictures. I wanted to foster this, but our home library was pretty quickly exhausted, and I was a little overwhelmed by the options in the children's section at the library.
There had been a pretty sizeable twenty-year gap between being a reader of picture books as a child, and a reader of picture books as a parent, and there were so many books that had come out during that time that I was completely unfamiliar with. So when we started a summer reading program through the library, I started to document our picture book explorations on my personal Instagram with a photo of JJ holding the book and a quick one- or two-line review.
On the basis of these posts, we actually started gaining followers and interest in our little reviews for caregivers and educators who were looking for their own new books to read. So, we started The Baby Bookworm instagram page and website and Twitter, and six years later, we are now providing five reviews a week and working with publishers and creators to give honest reviews that help our audience decide which books are best for them.
GRASP: Why does reading to your kids matter? What would you like more parents to know about the power of reading to / with your kids?
Cara: Reading is essential. I could get into the scientific evidence of the benefits of early childhood literacy, but I'm not an expert in that, so I'll just state my own observations.
For our family, the emotional, intellectual, and interpersonal benefits of reading with JJ every day have been immeasurable. At six years old, JJ is at the top of her class for reading skills, even with a developmental disability. And while that disability can make it difficult for her to relate to other people, she has no problem understanding and relating to characters and situations in her books.
Books have become a place of comfort and affirmation, and they teach her things about the world and herself that she has had trouble learning otherwise. Lastly, it's brought the two of us together so much. When it's time to read our book for the blog every day, she excitedly crawls up into our reading chair and sits on my lap, after which we discuss what we liked about the book and what we learned from it.
It gives us a special time of day to connect, discuss, and learn, and an activity that we have fun doing together.
GRASP: What makes a great bedtime story that is enjoyable for children and fun for you to read as a parent?
Cara: Picking a favourite picture book is like picking a favourite song! We always read a book from our personal library before bedtime, and we have a few favourites:
- Dream Animals by Emily Winfield Martin is a perennial favourite, it's soothing and beautifully illustrated, and gives little ones a unique way of looking at beloved stuffed animals. Arlo,
- Arlo, The Lion Who Couldn’t Sleep by Catherine Rayner is another stunningly illustrated one with a gentle tone
- Hibernate With Me, written by Benjamin Scheuer and illustrated by Jemima Williams, is a warm and cozy parent-child story made all the better by the fact that you can sing it, lullaby-style
- One of our all-time favourites, though, is The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton - it's quick and easy to read, perfectly paced, and has been one of JJ's bedtime staples since infancy
GRASP: What are your child's top 5 book recommendations at the moment?
Cara: ARGH it's so hard to pick favourite books. But five from the past few months that JJ and I have both really enjoyed were, in no particular order:
- I Am Golden, written by Eva Chen and illustrated by Sophie Diao
- The Katha Chest, written by Radhiah Chowdhury and illustrated by Lavanya Naidu
- Lizzy and the Cloud by The Fan Brothers
- Bright Star by Yuyi Morales
GRASP: How do you go about choosing different books for your child so you don't get caught up in the same authors or bestsellers again and again?
Cara: We've been fortunate in the last few years to be able to work with publishers, agents, and creators as part of their marketing campaigns for new titles, who provide us with review copies with the understanding that our reviews are our honest impressions and not guaranteed to be positive.
And what's nice is that we see a pretty good mix of larger and smaller publishing houses who are trying to diversify the types of content they produce, especially exploring ways to be more authentically representative of historically marginalised
communities. As part of our blog's mission is to encourage and promote inclusion and diverse representation in children's books, we're pretty hopeful about the progress we've been seeing, especially in the last few years. For instance, it took fifty years for a picture book about the Stonewall Uprising to be published, and now there are several, as well as many more books every year about LGBTQ+ culture.
We also try to remain as open as we can to small, indie creators and publishers to submit their work for review - oftentimes, there are some real diamonds out there by indie creators that don't get widespread acclaim, like My Dad, My Rock, written by Victor D.O. Santos and illustrated by Anna Forlati, which was a near-perfect book.
For the average reader, I would recommend following children's book review blogs (insert shameless self-promotion here), especially by creators who share what you value in kidlit (kids literature). There's a pretty stellar community out there that is passionate about getting the books that we think kids will love into their hands, in order to foster that lifelong love of reading.
GRASP: What books really capture a child's imagination? Have you ever been surprised by your child's reaction to a book that you didn't think would interest them?
Cara: I think the best thing to capture a child's imagination and interest is to find a book that they feel represents them.
We read a book a while back called Rosie the Dragon and Charlie Say Good Night, written by Lauren H. Kerstein and illustrated by Nate Wragg, and while I found it entertaining, JJ was positively obsessed with it. I realised that it was because the character of Rosie the Dragon shared the characteristics of someone who is neurodivergent like JJ.
A few years later, there was another book called Clover Kitty Goes To Kittygarten, written by Laura Purdie Salas and illustrated by Hiroe Nakata, that similarly captured her imagination because the main character had sensitivities to auditory and visual stimuli, just like JJ.
While JJ loves almost all books, the ones that often stick with her are the ones where she can see herself represented in the characters. For kids who often lie outside the mainstream like JJ, this kind of representation can make them feel like their stories matter too, and it gives them validation to dream bigger for themselves.
But in the end, the most important thing is to encourage kids to read about whatever interests them personally, because that will often lead them to more literature that expands their horizons.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. All the big and small inputs different grown ups have in a child’s life - from grandparents to playgroup leaders to the lady at the checkout - shape how kids grow up to see the world. Who makes up this village is different from family to family, and even child to child. What the people in this ‘village’ offer and model to the kids in their lives is more diverse still. This series shines a light on the different kinds of people that make up the villages around us!