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Best Indie Children's Books of 2018

Adams’ vocabulary is just right for lap reading, and the happy ending to the silly mistake—and Tansy’s subsequent bedtime...


A wide-awake sheep echoes the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” in this humorous British import from debut author Adams and veteran illustrator Wills (Annie’s Grannies in Decorating Disaster, 2017, etc.).

Tansy lamb can’t get to sleep. She asks her mum if it’s time to get up—but, of course, it’s not even close. Tansy asks first her mother, then her sister, Teasel, for sleeping advice, but nothing works. Finally, the barn owl tells Tansy she should count sheep, so Tansy does, but she finds only 19 sheep in her flock instead of the 20 that should be there. After a charming interlude of worried imaginings worthy of Frog and Toad or Elephant and Piggie, she wakes everyone to find the missing sheep. The sheep are in a tizzy until the sheepdog arrives to reveal that Tansy forgot to count herself. Now all the sheep are wide-awake—except Tansy, who finally falls asleep. Wills’ sheep are wonderfully fluffy, and the green moors and blue sky are cozy for bedtime storytelling. Tansy’s expressions, and her endearing attempts at falling asleep, will resonate with young readers who have had the problem themselves. Elementary readers are likely to realize Tansy’s mistake before the sheepdog and chuckle at being right.

Adams’ vocabulary is just right for lap reading, and the happy ending to the silly mistake—and Tansy’s subsequent bedtime success—will make this a nighttime favorite.

Pub Date: April 27, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9930794-7-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Full Media Ltd

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

An absolutely wonderful fantasy tale.


Two friends help a giant panda challenge Chinese zodiac animals for a spot on the calendar in this latest picture book in a series.

Dinosaurs Gusto and Gecko are best friends who have a time machine. Their random destination: China, where they meet a giant panda who tells them of an upcoming contest featuring the 12 creatures of the Chinese zodiac and newcomers who want to take their spots. Panda decides to try after encouragement from Gusto and Gecko. The challenge takes them around China, where they compete by making Shanghai dumplings and performing Chinese opera, among other things. The final task: climbing a tower to light up the ice sculpture park in Harbin. No single animal can do it, but Panda decides they should cooperate. In the end, Panda gets a prize for “exceptional courage, friendship, and teamwork.” Han (Gusto & Gecko Travel to New Orleans, 2016, etc.) encourages cooperation in a way that’s fun but never preachy, and children may also learn about Chinese culture at the same time. The cast is sweet and amusing and shows real character; although Panda is no warrior, he still bravely protects everyone. Returning artist Hägg’s double-page illustration of a lighthouse is printed on coated paper that sparkles, and the effect is magic.

An absolutely wonderful fantasy tale.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9943413-2-7

Page Count: 34

Publisher: Pandasaur Pty. Ltd.

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

An approachable vocabulary, strong theme, and adorable, almost huggable illustrations make this soothing animal tale a...


A restless bear cub determines that he can return to his own bed in this debut picture book.

When Sleepy Bear wakes in the middle of the night, he notices that all his toys are still snoozing. Curious to see if his parents are asleep, he pads down the hallway. In a humorous, wordless two-page spread that should delight young readers, the cub sees one of his parents facedown on the bed, arm drooped over the side, quilt tucked up over the shoulders. Glimpsing his other slumbering parent, Sleepy Bear wishes he could join the peaceful pair. But with two huge, furry animals taking up all the space in their own bed, there’s nowhere for him to fit. Back in his room, the sad-looking cub scans his surroundings: All the toys and the sun continue to rest. He reluctantly climbs back into bed but discovers, “Oh, it’s warm and cozy.” A winking toy train watches the cub fall asleep. During daytime, Sleepy Bear has plenty of energy and feels proud he slept through the night on his own. With such comforting, snuggly images by debut illustrator Wohlrab in a nighttime palette, the engaging book evokes a sleepy atmosphere sure to inspire toddlers to cuddle into their blankets. And the tone of this captivating story with a potent theme by the mother-daughter team Yacobi and Safrani should assure parents that sleepless nights shall pass.

An approachable vocabulary, strong theme, and adorable, almost huggable illustrations make this soothing animal tale a bedtime winner.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-64151-246-6

Page Count: 24

Publisher: LitFire Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

Readers should be touched by this bittersweet family tale and captivated by the frameworthy art.


In this picture book about losing a loved one, an author provides a look at his childhood relationship with his Italian grandmother.

Jimmy and Nonna are kindred spirits. In summer, they feed the birds and share Italian ice. In autumn, he tries to catch falling leaves while Nonna watches. On holidays, they make Nonna’s special biscotti di cannella. But one year, she isn’t well enough to cook her special Italian sausage stuffing on Thanksgiving; she’s so sick, she can’t get out of bed. After Nonna dies, Jimmy’s father declares that, honoring family tradition, they will not celebrate Christmas. But then Jimmy finds a vendor’s last Christmas tree and persuades his father to take it home. Placing Nonna’s angel on the tree brings the whole family peace. Doti’s (Jimmy Finds His Voice, 2013) gentle sequel is about struggling with the death of a grandparent but coming to realize that memories of the relative live on. The text is accessible and moving, and Ibatoulline’s (The Hawk of the Castle, 2017) Norman Rockwell–esque paintings beautifully capture the bygone era in which the vivid tale is set, revealing both the love and humor in Jimmy’s family. Though the book centers on an Italian-American clan, Ibatoulline offers a diverse neighborhood, where residents of many skin colors share the park and school. A recipe for Nonna’s biscotti di cannella follows the story. This is sure to have children playing the “I love you this much” game of the title.

Readers should be touched by this bittersweet family tale and captivated by the frameworthy art.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2018


Page Count: 44

Publisher: Fern Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 10, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

A clever, silly, and giggle-out-loud funny adventure.


When tiny creatures commandeer Sebastian’s room, everything goes haywire in this incredibly clever, beautifully designed picture book from debut author/illustrator Forbes.

“Some-Things are tiny, but you can see them if you look closely,” the story begins, filling the entire page with this single sentence in bubble letters of varying sizes. Several Some-Things live inside Sebastian’s house (only just visible in their bright colors, hiding inside the vent), and they invite every Some-Thing they know to come to a party. The multihued, multitextured creatures soon fill Sebastian’s room, much to Sebastian’s dismay. After two clever, almost-rhyming two-page spreads of the different types and shapes of Some-Things Sebastian encounters, the boy demands they leave his room. But—they protest—not without cake! Although there seems to be a Some-Thing for everything, not a one of them knows how to bake a cake, so they turn to their resident magician, who turns the entire house into a cake. After the Some-Things and all the human neighbors help to eat the house, the Some-Things helpfully build a new, grows-with-water home for Sebastian’s family, leading to one last visual joke in the endpapers. Forbes has designed the book so that the words themselves become part of the pictures, and the collage-textured illustrations, reminiscent of the Pinkalicious series, will have readers giggling. Sebastian’s misadventures are sure to tickle funny bones, and young readers will be looking at their bedroom vents for their own Some-Things.

A clever, silly, and giggle-out-loud funny adventure.

Pub Date: Dec. 20, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5255-1894-2

Page Count: 36

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

Sweet characters, skillful storytelling, and knockout illustrations.


A monarch and his husband long for a baby girl of their own—sparking an arduous search—in this picture book.

In their tiny castle, King Phillip the Good and his “elegant husband, The Most Excellent Don Carlos Emiliano Felipe de Compañero y Campañero,” live happily together. At 8 o’clock every night, Don Carlos can toll the bell and report: “All is assuredly well. / Most assuredly well.” But one day, Phillip realizes that “we need a little princess, a tiny baby girl!” For many nights, the king wishes on the Blue Star for a princess to appear, but without result. But one day, Phillip sees the star beckoning him to follow it through the woods. Understanding he must earn his daughter, the monarch embarks on a dangerous journey. At last the star leads him to a fairy circle where a perfect baby girl sleeps. He and Don Carlos are overjoyed, and again all is well in the kingdom. Gore (Inclusion Strategies for Secondary Classrooms, 2010, etc.) and debut author Wilson offer a charming fable with an effective fairy-tale cadence; the king’s struggles in the forest (he even wrestles a bear) echo the real-life difficulties of adoption, surrogacy, and similar steps toward creating a family. Adoptees should appreciate how desired the baby is, and Phillip’s and Don Carlos’ mutual affection remains touching. The Arthur Rackham–like images in lavender-blue tones by debut illustrator Trotter are a gorgeous, striking plus, beautifully detailed with flower, bird, vine, and fruit motifs.

Sweet characters, skillful storytelling, and knockout illustrations.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-0-9998880-0-1

Page Count: 28

Publisher: Camille Lancaster Literary Children's Books

Review Posted Online: April 24, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

Fosters familial connection and resilience; told in luxurious prose with illustrations worth framing.


In this stunning picture book debut from Dalton, strikingly painted by veteran illustrator Sikorskaia (Big Cat, Little Fox, 2018, etc.), a girl sees the wisdom in her grandmother’s words across a multitude of beautiful skyscapes.

A little girl and her grandmother, both dark-skinned, look into the sky together. The grandmother tells the child that if she’s feeling lost but can see the moon through the clouds, she will “know you’re in the place you are meant to be.” If there is no moon, that is a moment to learn patience. If there are stars, they glow with the child’s accomplishments. Each skyscape represents something: A shooting star is the girl’s uniqueness; a storm shows that even bad moments can be exciting—and will pass; clouds are dreams waiting to be dreamed; and a cloudless sky shows anything is possible. Sikorskaia’s vibrant color choices stretch across double-page spreads, each with the girl showing a different aspect of her own personality that reflects the grandmother’s wisdom: She is in turn a ballet dancer, a hiker, a canoe paddler, a dreamer, and—at the end—a mother with a son of her own, sharing what her grandmother told her. The rhythm and cadence of Dalton’s prose are beautifully lyrical, and the tone is at once forward-looking and nostalgic: The world is full of possibility, and those we love are with us always.

Fosters familial connection and resilience; told in luxurious prose with illustrations worth framing.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-59298-828-0

Page Count: 24

Publisher: Beaver's Pond Press

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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