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Best Indie Picture Books of 2019

A fun and silly addition to titles about mechanics, helping others, and animal adventures.

HANDY HOWIE

A debut picture book from author/illustrator Howe about a bright blue lobster that would give Wreck-It Ralph’s Fix-It Felix Jr. a run for his money.

Handy Howie is a lobster mechanic who affixes tools to his tail in order to fix the cars of other animals in the area. His first job of the day comes when Grandma Pig Laura’s vehicle springs an oil leak; Howie fixes it, and she pays him in muffins. Later, two turkey construction workers have trouble with their dump truck when the back of it comes loose, an artist iguana has a flat tire, and vacationing Mr. Deer’s headlight goes out. Howie fixes everything in time to snuggle with his lobster children at bedtime. Howe’s rhymes are packed with humor, and the book should have lap readers and newly independent readers alike giggling about the crustacean mechanic’s antics. The author doesn’t seem to have rules about which of her fictional animals wear clothing, as some are fully dressed, and Howie only wears eight yellow boots—but the kid-friendly cartoon style will likely keep young readers from questioning this stylistic choice. They may also appreciate the realistic drawings of Howie’s tools and how his tail looks like it’s on fire when he’s welding.

A fun and silly addition to titles about mechanics, helping others, and animal adventures.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-388-08065-5

Page Count: 24

Publisher: Blurb

Review Posted Online: Feb. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

A charming, beautifully illustrated guide to the English capital for kids.

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KEEKEE'S BIG ADVENTURES IN LONDON, ENGLAND

From the KeeKee's Big Adventures series

A peripatetic calico cat visits London in this fifth picture book in a series.

KeeKee is a feline who travels the world by balloon, seeing such famous cities as Paris, Rome, and, now, London. The cat starts out with Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, where Will, a ram, makes her feel welcome. He offers to show her around, and they travel by double-decker bus and the Underground, visiting such tourist landmarks as Piccadilly Circus and the ravens at the Tower of London. After a pub lunch, they watch the changing of the Queen’s Horse Guard and are invited to tea by the corgi queen. KeeKee and Will look around the palace, then have a delicious tea. A London guide, glossary, and maps are included, plus links for KeeKee fans. Jones (KeeKee’s Big Adventures in Athens, Greece, 2014, etc.) provides a good beginner’s introduction to London that will be especially helpful for children visiting for the first time and needing orientation regarding lingo, food, and popular sights. Adults will enjoy in-jokes, such as the queen's being represented by a corgi, the real-life queen’s favorite canine. Returning illustrator Uhelski’s illustrations are a huge plus, doing much to set the stage by depicting detailed landmarks and capturing KeeKee’s friendly personality.

A charming, beautifully illustrated guide to the English capital for kids.

Pub Date: Nov. 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9990661-6-4

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Calithumpian Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

The message that real friends value their pals most for being themselves couldn’t be delivered by a cuter button.

NORMAN'S GIFT

The most charming button in picture books returns for a “Gift of the Magi”–style Christmas tale in this sequel.

Norman the Button is happy with his new life as a nose for Freddy Teddy. The two are inseparable—that is, until bedtime. The stuffed bear’s awful snoring keeps Norman up at night, so he sleeps on his own in a dollhouse. One night, Norman overhears Freddy telling the rest of the toys that he has the perfect Christmas present for his close friend. Norman frantically tries to come up with a terrific gift for Freddy, but a car proves too expensive, a cellphone on sale turns out to be worthless, and the cake the button attempts to bake—complete with raw bacon and unbroken egg—is a disaster. Norman feels that the homemade present he finally concocts isn’t good enough for his pal. Luckily, Freddy truly appreciates Norman’s talents and loves his gift. Olson’s (Norman, 2018) signature puns (jokes the two friends read together put Norman “in stitches”; the snacks they share make Freddy “stuffed”) are fewer than in the first volume. But Norman’s misadventures help him learn to value his own talents and deftly reinforce the themes of the original story. The author’s posed photographs with digitally illustrated details are gloriously silly and sure to give adults giggles alongside their children.

The message that real friends value their pals most for being themselves couldn’t be delivered by a cuter button.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73237-073-9

Page Count: 34

Publisher: Bellie Button Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

The dragons’ acceptance of the heroine’s reactions, their solid advice, and a kid-friendly elephant children can identify...

ELLIE AND HER EMOTIONAL DRAGONS

A young elephant deals with her feelings with the help of four tiny dragons who live in her closet in this debut picture book.

Ellie the elephant has four magic dragons: Naz, who assists her when she’s afraid; Nali, who consoles her when she’s sad; Tully, who helps her check her anger; and Hani, who shares her happiness. When Ellie is startled by sounds in her new home, Naz tells her it’s all right to be scared and offers tips on how to handle her fears. When Ellie is unhappy because her father goes to work, Nali encourages her to draw a picture to lift her spirits. When a new friend rips her picture, Tully suggests she take deep breaths to calm down. In Goodrich’s clever tale about coping, the dragons provide sound counsel (“We can always draw another picture,” Tully asserts). Each dragon is in a bold color, which Van Wagoner (Nelson Beats the Odds Activity Guide, 2019, etc.) uses to great effect in a paint-splatter style. The dragons leave trails of brilliant hues when they fly, but other colors in the beautiful illustrations, such as the purple of Ellie’s skin or the gray of her noisy radiator, extend beyond their characters or objects to enhance the pages.

The dragons’ acceptance of the heroine’s reactions, their solid advice, and a kid-friendly elephant children can identify with should resonate with young readers struggling to manage their emotions.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-73285530-4

Page Count: 34

Publisher: Wisdom House Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

A beach adventure pairs with the beautifully lyrical words of Ariel in this triumph of poetry and approachability.

THE WILD WAVES WHIST

In their second Shakespearean board book, Parekh and Amini (Behowl the Moon, 2017) adapt Ariel’s songs from The Tempest for a tale of two children discovering the wonders of an island world.

A boy and a girl, both with brown skin, meet on the beach of a fantastic island that hints at the Caribbean setting frequently discussed in Shakespeare scholarship. With their dog, the children see crabs, sea turtles, wild island birds, and—in a lovely two-page spread—a crowing rooster. Other vibrant creatures fill the final pages—an ape, an antlered form hidden in shadow, a three-toed sloth, and a red panda all exist in harmony while the children play. Shakespeare’s familiar words are just as complex in their vocabulary as parents are sure to remember. But for the very young lap readers intended as this reinvented story’s audience, the sounds of the words will be more important than their meanings (“Courtsied when you have and kiss’d / the wild waves whist”). Amini’s textured, mixed-media illustrations create a gorgeous paradise filled with flowers and plants and a lack of Prospero or any other adult to disturb the children’s joy. The two kids will be easy for young readers to identify with, and their curious explorations should feel familiar to beachgoers.

A beach adventure pairs with the beautifully lyrical words of Ariel in this triumph of poetry and approachability.

Pub Date: March 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9984397-3-0

Page Count: 20

Publisher: Drivel and Drool

Review Posted Online: Dec. 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

A moving tribute to shelter dogs, the humans who love them, and the wisdom of looking beyond outward appearances.

SECOND-CHANCE SAM

KING OF THE JUNKYARD

A lonely canine gets a new lease on life in this picture book.

Sam is an adult shelter dog who dreams of having a family. He wonders if the reason the young pups get adopted instead of him, when he’s already trained to fetch and sit, is because he has a crooked leg. When an elderly man who walks with a cane visits the shelter, he recognizes Sam as a kindred spirit. Sam is thrilled, but his hopes are dashed when he realizes that his new home is a small shack next to a junkyard instead of the mansion he imagined. But as the man says: “We both know that sometimes things aren’t what they seem.” Sam soon discovers joy and “treasures” at the messy junkyard, finding a purpose, friends, and love. Sam’s initial struggle to see past the first impressions of his new life, despite having been the subject of that same type of scrutiny, rings true, and the sage old man’s words form the core of this touching story. Sky’s (Santa’s Dog, 2018, etc.) rhyming stanzas scan beautifully throughout, making this an easy read-aloud for group sharing. The rescue tale also features a vocabulary that’s approachable for newly independent readers. Tatulli’s (Fireworks in the Night, 2016) playful cartoon art, populated by animals and humans of all colors and ages, captures Sam’s spirit perfectly.

A moving tribute to shelter dogs, the humans who love them, and the wisdom of looking beyond outward appearances.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9998430-4-8

Page Count: 25

Publisher: Dogs & Books

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

A tale that offers a kindred spirit for readers who struggle with change.

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ROCK & ROLL WOODS

When noisy new neighbors move into a bear’s quiet neighborhood, it takes him time to adjust in this debut picture book from author Howard and illustrator Wolf.

Kuda, a brown bear, loves the soft noises that fill his neighborhood, including a whooshing stream and the chirps of local birds. But during his walk, a new sound seems to attack him: “BOOM whappa whappa.” When Kuda asks Rabbit where the noise is coming from, Rabbit explains that they have new neighbors. Kuda’s surprised that Rabbit, Owl, and Squirrel all like the racket, and he soon goes home and buries himself in blankets and ear muffs. When he finds an invitation to a “ROCK & ROLL celebration,” however, he decides he’s had enough of being alone. He sees friends dancing and playing music, and he slowly lets himself feel the rhythm, too. Soon, the new fox neighbor invites him to jam with them. Howard’s clever, onomatopoeic text is full of sound words that young readers will love, and her sensitivity in portraying Kuda’s difficulty in trying something new will resonate. An author’s note at the end describes sensory-integration issues and autism with clarity and compassion. Wolf’s adorable, stylized cartoon animals and the rainbow-colored stream of the music make the woods feel welcoming.

A tale that offers a kindred spirit for readers who struggle with change.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-946101-68-6

Page Count: 38

Publisher: Clear Fork Publishing

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

A beautifully rendered, touching celebration of sharing traditions across generations and cultures.

PRIYA DREAMS OF MARIGOLDS & MASALA

A girl finds a way to keep her grandmother from missing India in this picture book.

Priya’s house is the only one on her street with an Indian family. After school every day, she helps her grandmother Babi Ba make rotli for dinner. As they work, Priya asks Babi Ba what India is like. Her grandmother responds with highlights of India for each of the senses, describing the smells of the spice market, the sounds of the tuk-tuks and cows in the street, the “swish-swish of a sari,” the taste of hot cha, and the crowd with its mix of beliefs and customs. Babi Ba describes the marigold garlands, just like the one “hanging in the doorway” of Priya’s house. In the winter, Priya notices her grandmother’s sadness and discusses the marigold garland tradition with her school friends. They help Priya make a huge garland of paper marigolds for Babi Ba. Patel (Neela Goes to San Francisco, 2016) is an Indian American author whose “family is from Gujarat, India.” In her tale, Priya’s strong connections to her grandmother and her diverse classmates, who are so open to learning her traditions, offer a wonderfully ideal view of culture sharing. Patel’s drawings, rendered without hard lines but in brilliant colors inspired by her visits to India, capture the theme vividly.

A beautifully rendered, touching celebration of sharing traditions across generations and cultures.

Pub Date: March 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64343-955-6

Page Count: 36

Publisher: Beaver's Pond Press

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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