The Publishers Weekly review of Worm Loves Worm by J. J. Austrian, illustrated by Mike Curato, begins, "How do you explain a revolution to a young audience?" This is how - with a sweetly simple story (with sweetly simple illustrations) about two worms in love. What amazes and surprises me most about Worm Loves Worm is how subtle message that love is love and how powerful the excitement and joy (along with preconceived ideas) of a wedding is. Austrian and Curato achieve the nearly impossible accomplishment of creating a picture book that teaches, or, more precisely (hopefully) opens minds and shifts perspective, while also being a wonderfully illustrated, engaging story.
Two worms fall in love and decide to get married. The officious Cricket steps in saying, "You need someone to marry you. That's how it's always been done." This is a refrain he will repeat often over the course of Worm Loves Worm as other bugs get involved in the wedding planning. Beetle insists on being the best man and the Bees insist on being the "bride's bees." When Cricket says they must have rings for their fingers and the Worms point out their lack of digits, they decide to wear their rings as belts. With every traditional demand placed on them and every hoop that they jump through, the Worms ask repeatedly, "Now can we be married?"
Finally, one of the Bees asks, "But which one of you is the bride?" The Worms respond, "I can be the bride," and "I can, too," and they both don the traditional attire for brides - and grooms. The wedding party looks a little shocked and surprised by this, and of course Cricket chirps, "That isn't how it's always been done." To this, finally, the Worms reply, "Then we'll just change how it's done." Austrian ends his book, "And so they were married . . . because Worm loves Worm."
There has been a vocal push in the world of kid's books in the last few years for diversity on the page. With Matt de la Peña's picture book Last Stop on Market Street winning the Newbery Medal last week, this slow change seems to be picking up pace. Add to this Alex Gino's book from last year about a transgender fourth grader, George, and now Worm Loves Worm, which probably began its official path to publication almost two years before the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, and it feels like change is really happening.
Source: Review Copy