Book List

Best Indie Kids' Books of 2014

A touching, terrifying book about family, growing up and an event that shook the United States.

ELEVEN

A young boy’s birthday falls on Sept. 11, 2001, in Rogers’ riveting debut middle-grade novel.

There are two things that Alex Douglas loves more than anything else: dogs and airplanes. He’s convinced that his 11th birthday will be the best ever because his parents have promised to get him a dog—if he proves he’s responsible enough by getting better grades. But the day before his birthday, he realizes that he didn’t hold up his end of the bargain. Worse, he has an awful fight about it with his father, ending it with three regrettable words: “I hate you.” Alex’s birthday seems back on track the next morning after he has a pancake breakfast. But then school bully Jordan smashes his cupcakes on the bus, and later, school lets out early without explanation before Alex’s birthday celebration. He must take care of his little sister until their mother, a nurse, gets home, but it gives him a chance to track down a stray dog, with whom he connects immediately. Then he finally hears the news that terrorists have crashed planes into the World Trade Center. All Alex can think about is his dad, who drives the PATH commuter train to the twin towers, and what he can do to bring him home safely. Rogers displays deft insight into the 11-year-old mind, and by alternating chapters among Alex, an older man named Mac and a mysterious “Man in the White Shirt” at the World Trade Center, he makes Alex’s legitimate worries, and the story as a whole, much more intense. Young readers will easily sympathize with Alex as they’re drawn into the terror of an event that, most likely, happened before they were born. As a result, the book may help them understand that tragedy’s personal side. Overall, it’s perfect for young readers who enjoy survival or disaster novels or for classrooms hoping to explore this event in recent history.

A touching, terrifying book about family, growing up and an event that shook the United States.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-0991181001

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Alto Nido Press, LLC

Review Posted Online: Sept. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

A charming, wildly imaginative introduction to a brave new girl.

Lucy Lick-Me-Not and the Day Eaters

In this fanciful picture book, a birthday disappears and a little girl must get it back.

What if your favorite day just up and disappeared? What if that day was your birthday, never to be celebrated again? Such is Lucy’s dilemma. When she was younger, a frog shot her with a venom dart; thankfully, she was immune to the frog’s poison, but it turned her skin, well, poisonous. This proves to be perilous when the little girl begins to make friends. Soon, she becomes known as Lucy Lick-Me-Not (she’s lost a few kittens along the way). Like any child, Lucy loves her birthday—March 32nd—and she dreams of cake and presents. But it’s not to be: Lucy wakes up on her birthday to find not presents and balloons, but just any other day—her birthday has vanished. When she comes upon the Day Eaters—the grumpy, colorful monsters responsible for this calendar change—Lucy must think fast in order to get her birthday back. A little dark and plenty humorous, this gem of a picture book will appeal to both kids and grown-ups. Children will appreciate the vibrant illustrations and the heroine’s happy-go-lucky attitude, while adults reading along will chuckle at Lucy Lick-Me-Not’s weirder, darker origin. Carmel’s rhyming prose is frothy and funny—a feat, considering that Carmel is telling the absurd tale of a girl whose skin is poisonous. The rhyming couplets work well, driving the story along while still keeping things lighthearted. Illustrator Burkmar’s drawings are vivacious and alluring, perfectly aligning with the work’s irreverent vibe; the monsters etched on the page are indeed absurd but certainly not scary enough to frighten away younger readers. This work is the first in a planned Lucy Lick-Me-Not series, and future installments of Lucy’s story will assuredly be welcomed with open arms. Bad news for kittens.

A charming, wildly imaginative introduction to a brave new girl.

Pub Date: July 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9906248-1-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

A delightfully fun summer vacation book for young readers.

IT ALL STARTED WITH A BICYCLE

In this fast-moving middle-grade novel, a tomboy spends her summer working for a witchy woman, searching for treasure in an old house and trying to track down her missing bicycle, all while making new friends and learning valuable lessons.

Eleven-year-old Pam lives in the seaside town of Cape May, New Jersey, in her parents’ restored Victorian inn. Never one to sit still or stay indoors, she prefers bikes and the beach to books, and she’s less than enthusiastic about the company of other girls. As the summer begins, Pam is excited to start working at a boardwalk chocolate shop and to use her earnings to replace her stolen green bicycle. Unfortunately, the nasty old woman who works in the shop won’t stop berating Pam for everything she does, making her miserable; seeing her stolen bike being boldly ridden around town by a strange girl doesn’t help matters. Pam ends up finding fun in the most unlikely of places: the sprawling mansion next door, where a sweet but slightly batty old lady insists her mother once hid treasure. However, the house was long ago split in two and moved; no one knows where the other half is, let alone which half might contain the treasure or what the treasure could be. Pam teams up with friendly new girl Maddy and Maddy’s uptight best friend, Zara, to unravel the mystery; she rides a four-person bicycle, explores a garage’s junkyard and even reads a book or two. The sunny Cape May setting—a perfect backdrop for this quick, summery read—will have readers counting the days until they too can escape to the beach. In Pam, debut author McCauley has created a bright young heroine who’s energetic, impulsive and occasionally annoying—in other words, typical and relatable for young readers. Pam naturally makes mistakes, but she learns from them, too; important lessons, such as why you shouldn’t rush to judge someone, help make this story more substantial than most adventures.

A delightfully fun summer vacation book for young readers.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4327-7412-7

Page Count: 220

Publisher: Outskirts Press Inc.

Review Posted Online: May 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

A well-observed, colorfully illustrated book about a close-knit family’s day-to-day life.

SUMMER AT THE Z HOUSE

A little boy, his mom and assorted pets enjoy a summertime visit from Grandma in this warm chronicle of everyday family life, enlivened with vocabulary-rich text and quirky illustrations.

When Grandma arrives for a visit, her engaged, caring presence makes the summer days more fun for Noah, his mom, and their animals, which include a dog named Pepper and three cats. Grandma turns dinner into a special occasion by writing descriptions of her feast (salad, roast beef, chocolate pudding) on a menu that Noah happily reads aloud before each course—a subtle underscoring of the author’s mission to encourage reading among her target audience. Grandma enjoys hearing about Noah’s creative day camp endeavors, which include crafting masks, making a totem pole and creating cartoons with clay figures (all beguilingly and colorfully imagined by illustrators Stommel and Czekalski). She also shares the family’s love for animals. The book is the third in a series of books centered on Noah, his mom and their growing collection of pets, each with its own distinct personality. Zanville (How the Dog Came to Live at the Z House, 2013, etc.), a veteran educator and a regular blogger about reading and literacy at zhousestories.com,offers vivid images throughout; for example, during the family’s trip to an aquarium, Noah observes “miniature jellyfish that looked like white parachutes with dangly tentacles” and “glowed in the lights of their dark tanks so brightly—it was like looking at little stars in the sky.” There are no wacky plot twists here—just refreshingly genuine warmth and quiet observations of real-life moments among family members, be they human, canine or feline.

A well-observed, colorfully illustrated book about a close-knit family’s day-to-day life.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4819-5234-7

Page Count: 40

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

A vividly illustrated picture book about one of Mother Nature’s mysteries, with plenty of kid appeal.

Ranger Baldy and the Disappearing Waterfall

A YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK ADVENTURE

An eagle named Ranger Baldy, who’s also an animal rescuer and conservationist, joins a cast of friendly, Disney-esque animals in his first adventure.

Baldy, a Ranger First Class in the Animal Ranger Corps, is new to Yosemite Valley. He was born in a zoo and raised in captivity, so he’s suspicious of human “two-leggers,” as they harm nature, which he’s sworn to protect. In beautifully painted panoramas, the cartoon eagle begins the story by flying to the rescue of mischievous Bobby Cat. The feline’s fall from a teetering tree causes a number of other trees to topple and block a waterfall. Gruff Baldy scolds Bobby and his friend Mules Deer and enlists them to help clear the waterfall’s path—but then the water mysteriously vanishes. Baldy follows some two-legger tracks, thinking that humans may be to blame for the disappearing water, but Graycee Fox assures Baldy, as they converse among bright redwoods, that the humans were actually planting trees. Still looking for a lead, Baldy helps a kingsnake mother move her eggs to a safer location, knowing that, like the baby trees, those baby snakes will need to have water—but that won’t happen unless he can solve the mystery. Flying high, he sees that snow is also missing from the mountaintops, so he decides to visit his old Ranger Chief, J.M. Bear, for advice. The old grizzly bear explains that the dried-out falls are just a part of Yosemite’s natural cycle. Although Baldy is ashamed of his lack of knowledge, Bear praises him for his attention during his investigation: “ ‘It’s those little things that matter most,’ said J.M. ‘They make the big difference.’ ” The book’s combination of gorgeously painted backgrounds and cartoon animals works brilliantly and may encourage young readers to take an interest in Yosemite and other national parks. Baldy is exactly the type of hero that young animal lovers and conservationists will eagerly follow: brave, kind and willing to learn from his mistakes. Early elementary schoolers, whether independent readers or lap-readers, will be eager for more of Baldy’s adventures.

A vividly illustrated picture book about one of Mother Nature’s mysteries, with plenty of kid appeal.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-938155-00-0

Page Count: 34

Publisher: The Magic Factory

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

Education and entertainment in a well-drawn, appealing first look into a major world religion.

RADHIKA AND THE SEEDS

A PARABLE OF HINDU GODS

A young girl walks through a vivid, vibrant world of Hindu gods in this illustrated debut children’s book.

As Radhika sits underneath her favorite tree, she starts to gaze upward, admiring the winged seeds of the tree that flutter down and through the wind. As she watches each seed get carried away or simply fall to the ground, she is struck with a question: Why doesn’t every single seed produced by a tree become a tree itself? This line of questioning begins her journey through a rich parable featuring Hindu gods. On the journey, Radhika learns of the elements of the world—space, air, fire, water and earth—and of the gods that represent these elements. Visiting Ganesha, Agni, Proothvi, Durga and many more, Radhika begins to understand the act of being grateful, the dichotomy and necessity of being both happy and sad, and how life is shaped by awe, grace, respect and love. Annan’s charming debut features colorful illustrations that are bright and inviting, as well as engaging, informational prose that should be easy for children to understand—a difficult line to walk with such a complicated subject. At the end of the work, Radhika is bursting with knowledge and ready to go forth and apply all that she’s learned, which should carry over into the lives of interested readers. All in all, the work offers a commendable introduction to the world of Hindu gods and the religion’s main tenets, especially for children who practice other doctrines.

Education and entertainment in a well-drawn, appealing first look into a major world religion.

Pub Date: May 7, 2013

ISBN: 978-1490424330

Page Count: 44

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2014

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