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Best Informational Picture Books of 2014

Gorgeous illustrations and impressive, urgent scientific explanation.



From the Sunlight series

This fourth in Chisholm and Bang’s series about the sun’s relationship to life on Earth explores its ancient stores of fossil fuels and the effect of intense and rapid consumption of these in recent human history.

The sun’s first-person voice puts readers at the center: “Yes, living things—including YOU—need energy to stay alive and grow.” The explanation begins with plants and moves concisely through photosynthesis and the use of the resulting carbon chains and animal production of carbon dioxide. Bang’s edge-to-edge art in rich blues and greens is stippled with color suggesting, variously, energy in sunlight, microscopic life and the release of carbon gases. Reds and yellows convey the heat of the sun as well as that of cities and deserts. This lively diagram of the relationships among plant and animal, sunlight, CO2 production and the Earth’s “blanket” of atmosphere is pitched to somewhat older readers than the earlier books. The result of the relatively sudden excess of CO2 on what was formerly an ebb and flow of warmth and cooling is direct. “ ‘SO WHAT?’ some people say. / SO THIS:” precedes the description of how and why more heat is trapped under the Earth’s blanket and what climate changes are now being seen. Abundant backmatter provides a more detailed explanation of the science introduced earlier.

Gorgeous illustrations and impressive, urgent scientific explanation. (Nonfiction.7-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-545-57785-4

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Blue Sky/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

In a word: marvelous! (Picture book/biography. 6-10)

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After award-winning collaborations about poet William Carlos Williams and artist Horace Pippin, Bryant and Sweet return to investigate the life of Peter Mark Roget.

Born in London in 1779, Roget was plagued by lifelong setbacks. His father died early; his mother was unstable. Frequent moves and pronounced shyness engendered solace in books. Partial to classifying his knowledge and experiences, Peter composed his first book of lists by age 8. Inspired by the taxonomy of Swedish physician and botanist Linnaeus, teenage Peter studied medicine in Scotland, eventually establishing a practice in London, and he worked on a book of word classifications, completing it in 1805 for his own reference. Roget lectured, invented (the slide rule and the pocket chess set) and, inspired by the publication of several contemporary, inferior books of lists, returned to his own. His Thesaurus, published in 1852 and nurtured by his descendants, has never gone out of print. Bryant’s prose is bright and well-tuned for young readers. She goes gently, omitting Roget’s darkest traumas, such as witnessing his uncle’s suicide. Sweet tops herself—again!—visually reflecting Roget’s wide range as a thinker and product of the Enlightenment. Injecting her watercolor palette with shots of teal, scarlet and fuchsia, Sweet embeds vintage bits (ledger paper, type drawers, botanical illustrations and more), creating a teeming, contemplative, playfully celebratory opus. Exemplary backmatter includes a chronology, author’s and illustrator’s notes, selected bibliography, suggested reading, quotation sources, and a photograph of one of Roget's manuscript pages.

In a word: marvelous! (Picture book/biography. 6-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8028-5385-1

Page Count: 42

Publisher: Eerdmans

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

Well-researched and carefully paced, this is an enduring and inspiring book that will help kids to understand the why and...


Two masters of illustrated, brief biographies for young people reunite (If You Spent a Day with Thoreau at Walden Pond, 2012) for this accessible introduction to an iconic 20th-century American realist.

Their careful, almost developmental approach quickly transcends the provision of objective biographical facts (though they are all there in abundance) by first presenting Hopper’s childhood pencil case—inscribed “Edward Hopper Would be Artist”: five words that summarize a life story. It is evident that Burleigh and Minor are determined that readers both understand and see “the artist’s process of discovery.” Their decision to avoid reproductions of Hopper’s work throughout reflects the essential understanding that Hopper’s own paintings were never exact representations of a specific place at a specific time. Minor helps readers acquire both the sense and the sensibility of a Hopper work via his own charcoal-and-pencil studies of the paintings under consideration in Burleigh’s thoughtful text. In this wonderfully illuminating way, they both help readers comprehend Hopper from the inside out: from the actual motifs, to the edited and combined studies, to the familiar, finished and admired paintings on the museum walls. Backmatter is particularly well-organized and inclusive.

Well-researched and carefully paced, this is an enduring and inspiring book that will help kids to understand the why and the how of an artist at work. (Picture book/biography. 5-9)

Pub Date: Aug. 19, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8050-8752-9

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

Another impressive presentation from a master craftsman.



The evolution of the eye and the surprising ways animals see the world are displayed in a thoughtfully designed and engagingly illustrated album.

The look of a Jenkins book is unmistakable: realistic cut-and-torn–paper images set on a stark white background; short informational paragraphs; a helpful section of concluding facts with a pictorial index. But the content is always an interesting surprise. Here, he considers vision, the way animals link to their world using light-sensitive cells. Beginning with a description of the earliest, most simple eyes, he goes on to catalog four kinds, giving a representative example of each: eyespots (starfish), pinholes (giant clams), compound eyes (dragonflies) and camera eyes (birds, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, even octopuses). Then he offers 22 more—from sea slugs to Eurasian buzzards—each presented on a full page or spread across two. Each example includes a full-color thumbnail silhouette and a much larger close-up of the head and eye. Some of the papers are textured or varied in color. A surprising number of animals have hairy or bristly bits around their eyes, often depicted in individual tiny bits and pieces, suggesting incredible finesse on the part of the artist. A concluding section summarizes eye evolution, again from eyespots to camera eyes. A bibliography of suggestions for further reading and a glossary round out this intriguing introduction.

Another impressive presentation from a master craftsman. (Informational picture book. 6-10)

Pub Date: April 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-547-95907-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2014

Very little information is available for this age group about these microscopic creatures, making this an especially welcome...



Invisible to the human eye, some of the tiniest creatures are known do some of the biggest jobs on Earth.

Davies, who surveyed Extreme Animals (illustrated by Neal Layton, 2006) and encouraged readers to look Outside Your Window (illustrated by Mark Hearld, 2012), here presents examples of microbial life and the work that microbes do. This experienced science communicator makes an immediate connection to her readers, using their prior knowledge of big whales and small ants to convey how tiny microbes can be. She gives examples of their sizes and numbers, their varied shapes, their habitats, appetites and how they eat. Microorganisms slowly change food into compost, milk into yogurt and rocks into soil. They reproduce by dividing, and they’re very good at it. Luckily, only a few can make us sick; most are busily engaged in other vital tasks. They are “the invisible transformers of our world.” Sutton’s watercolor illustrations support and enhance the text. Thoughtful book design adds to the appeal, with generous white space, illustrative vignettes as well as paintings that fill a page or a spread, and an unusually legible type. This will show well when read aloud and intrigue emergent readers.

Very little information is available for this age group about these microscopic creatures, making this an especially welcome introduction. (Informational picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7315-4

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2014

Never burdened by its message, this exceptional title works on multiple levels; it is both a striking introduction to a...


This first-person account presents Mohandas Gandhi through the eyes of his then–12-year-old grandson.

Arriving at Sevagram, the ashram Gandhi lived in as an old man, young Arun and his family greet their famous relative and start participating in the simple lifestyle of morning prayers, chores and pumpkin mush. It is challenging for the boy, who misses electricity and movies and dreads language lessons. The crux of the story hinges on the moment Arun is tripped and injured during a soccer game. He picks up a rock and feels the weight of familial expectations. Running to his grandfather, he learns the surprising fact that Gandhi gets angry too. Grandfather lovingly explains that anger is like electricity: it “can strike, like lightning, and split a living tree in two…. Or it can be channeled, transformed….Then anger can illuminate. It can turn the darkness into light.” Turk’s complex collages, rich in symbolic meaning and bold, expressive imagery, contribute greatly to the emotional worldbuilding. Watercolor, gouache and cut paper set the scenes, while fabric clothes the primary players. Gandhi’s spinning wheel is a repeated motif; tangled yarn surrounding Arun signals frustration. 

Never burdened by its message, this exceptional title works on multiple levels; it is both a striking introduction to a singular icon and a compelling story about the universal experience of a child seeking approval from a revered adult. (authors’ note) (Picture book/memoir. 4-8)

Pub Date: March 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4424-2365-7

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: Jan. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

With an elegant, spare text and playful, daring pictures, Chin’s latest opus exerts a powerful pull all its own.


After stunning explorations of the Galápagos Islands and California’s redwoods, Chin turns literally high-concept for a study of gravity’s pull.

“Gravity // makes / objects // fall / to Earth.” This big idea spans three double-page spreads, as (in a bit of metafictive fun) the very book in hand falls to Earth. It lands on a beach, where a brown-skinned boy plays with space toys, a half-peeled banana waiting nearby. What would happen without gravity? Chin ponders this visually, as (with the boy clinging to a rock) the book and toys soar into space to comingle, mysteriously, with the trappings of a lemonade stand. A series of panels goes even broader-concept, as shifts in perspective show the moon drifting away from the Earth and Earth untethered from the sun’s pull. The text tackles the role of mass in gravity’s relative force before rejoining the central visual arc by echoing the first sentence. That array of objects—beach ball, toy rocket, now-mottled banana—rains down on a group of Caucasian girls, who marvel at the sudden shower. Clearly, it’s their lemonade stand that’s endured Chin’s mischievous dabble with anti-gravity, as on the final spread, the boy juggles a sploshing pitcher, lemons and paper cups on the surrounding sand.

With an elegant, spare text and playful, daring pictures, Chin’s latest opus exerts a powerful pull all its own. (“More about Gravity,” bibliography) (Informational picture book. 5-9)

Pub Date: April 29, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59643-717-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Neal Porter/Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: Jan. 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2014

Impressive complexity put artfully and respectfully within the grasps of young readers.



Beautiful and a little sad: the complex, brilliant, flawed nature of the third U.S. president.

Kalman’s rich, impressionist colors and lively lines offer glimpses: Monticello; the chamber where the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia; portraits of Jefferson’s wife and of Sally Hemings. The image of Jefferson on horseback riding along a lane at Monticello, redbud in bloom, seems both immediate and long past. Kalman’s poetic presentation conveys succinctly what a longer text might: Jefferson was a lover of books, an autodidact and an aesthete. His house was both functional and beautiful. His personal life was layered with sadness: Only two of six legitimate children survived past childhood; his wife died young. Kalman doesn’t speculate on the source of Jefferson’s passion for the ideals of democracy and liberty yet conveys clearly his contribution to the growing nation as founding father and president. But this intriguing man was a slave owner and father to children whose mother and aunts were severely oppressed. Kalman’s intimate address to listeners and readers works well here: A charming, earlier narrative acknowledgment that peas have their appeal (as they did for Jefferson the gardener) gives way to the thorny personal realization that someone admired fails profoundly to meet expectations: “Our hearts are broken,” is stated flatly next to a ledger of payments to enslaved residents of Monticello.

Impressive complexity put artfully and respectfully within the grasps of young readers. (Picture book/biography. 7-11)

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-399-24040-9

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013



If indeed the “child is father to the man,” Newbery medalist MacLachlan’s poetic, careful and concentrated text captures the essence of Matisse’s childhood experiences and draws powerful parallels with his later life and work.

In her second picture book, Hooper (Here Come the Girl Scouts, by Shana Corey, 2012) employs a relief-print process with digital enhancement, art that is a perfect match for the simple story’s vivid imagery. Effective page turns and the accretion of detail in both text and illustration take readers on a journey from perennially overcast northern France to the patterned interiors and lush exoticism of Matisse’s Provence while demonstrating the artistic beginnings of his fauvist palette. It modulates from spread to spread, from the “dreary town in northern France” where the skies and streets are gray, through the exciting, paint-filled pots of color in Matisse’s mother’s china-painting studio and the oranges and golds of fruit and flowers from the markets to the many shades of reds in the rugs his mother put on the walls and floors of their house. The title springs from Matisse’s love of pigeons. He was fascinated by their “sharp eyes” and “red feet.” And he particularly loved watching their colors change as they moved—the titular “iridescence.” Raising pigeons, it seems, was the perfect pastime for this quiet, color-loving boy who would become a brilliant painter.

Glorious. (biographical note, artist’s note, further reading) (Picture book/biography. 4-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59643-948-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Neal Porter/Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

Positively riveting.


As they did in Basketball Belles (2011), Macy and Collins offer a superb social study through a sports lens.

In the days after World War II, when Rosie the Riveter was expected to go back to slinging hash at home, some girls took up a new sport slinging each other around a track. Roller derby had been developed, and a growing fan base, aided by the advent of television coverage, couldn’t get enough of the feisty free-wheeling queens. Collins’ dynamic, full-spread action “shots” emphasize the circular sweep of the track and the disappear-into-the-distance audience. They give readers the feeling they are not just ringside, but perhaps working the TV camera. The text replicates a sportscaster’s staccato and captures the pace of the competition. Macy seamlessly packs in the details that allow youngsters to understand the cultural revolution they are witnessing, including the changing role of women, the birth of TV sports programming, and the use of sports marketing that includes the cultivation of personas and manufactured rivalry—here between Toughie Brasuhn and Gerry Murray—to keep fans hooked. Even as these women battle it out, the mischievous glimmers in their eyes reveal their love of the sport and regard for each other. Children eager to see the two real-life queens need only turn to the backmatter to find photos and URLs for film clips.

Positively riveting. (author’s note, timeline, sources, further reading) (Informational picture book. 7-10)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8234-2923-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

A beautiful example of artistic bookmaking, a story of family love and lore, and the magic of music personified in a way...

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What makes music the heart and center of a life? In this case, it is a grandfather who lives in a house full of “instruments and cake.”

When Keith visits his granddad Gus, they walk everywhere, and Gus hums tunes and symphonies as they wander through towns and villages—even all the way to London. In the workshop of a music store there, Keith is taken by the guitars. When he is tall enough, Gus promises, Keith can have the guitar that sits on top of the piano in his house. When that moment comes, Gus teaches Keith “Malagueña,” because then he “can play anything.” This is all told so naturally and with such sweet verve that readers may not notice that this is the legendary guitarist of the Rolling Stones. The vibrant and evocative pictures are done by Richards’ daughter, named for her great-grandfather. Over swathes of rich color she lays pen-and-ink drawings of figures and instruments, architectural details, free-floating musical notes—and cakes and tea things—that brilliantly carry the power of love and music into visual imagery. A CD of the author reading the story and playing a bit of “Malagueña” is included, and it is pretty wonderful, too.

A beautiful example of artistic bookmaking, a story of family love and lore, and the magic of music personified in a way that’s utterly accessible to children—and their dazzled parents. (biographical note, photographs) (Picture book. 4-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-316-32065-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Megan Tingley/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

A rich, accomplished piece about a pioneer in the art world.

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This impressive biography of Vasily Kandinsky highlights the unusual connection between his art and the music that inspired it.

As a young boy in Russia, Vasily—nicknamed Vasya—glumly studies “bookfuls of math, science, and history.” His heavy eyelids droop; he sits “stiff and straight” while adults drone on. Then his aunt gives him a paint box, and everything changes. As Vasya mixes one hue with another, he hears the colors making sounds. “Whisper” is set in a faux handwriting type; “HISS” is also set in a different type from the primary text. Vasya listens as “swirling colors trill…like an orchestra tuning up.” Rosenstock explains the mixing of Vasya’s senses—synesthesia, in contemporary terms—through the shapes he paints: “Crunching crimson squares,” “[w]hispering charcoal lines” and “a powerful navy rectangle that vibrated deeply like the lowest cello strings.” Using acrylic paint and paper collage, Grandpré emphasizes the blending of two arts by showing Vasya’s paintbrush-holding arms aloft as if he were conducting and by letting Vasya’s colors waft upward from his palette, making curlicues in the air, with music staffs and notes interwoven. As Vasya grows up, he faces resistance to his nonrepresentational work, including the repeated interrogation, “What’s it supposed to be?”—but his magnificent, abstract, sound-inspired paintings won’t be repressed.

A rich, accomplished piece about a pioneer in the art world. (author’s note, painting reproductions, sources) (Picture book/biography. 5-10)

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-307-97848-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2013

Full of the eww factor, up-to-date facts and kid appeal, this splendid, gory introduction is not for the faint of heart!...



Every fall, great white sharks return to feed on the seals and sea lions that migrate to the Farallon Islands just off the San Francisco coast, providing an opportunity for scientific study.

Combining informative text with expressive paintings, done in ink, pencil, watercolor and gouache, Roy explains how these apex predators function. The endpapers set the stage, looking out toward the distant islands through the Golden Gate Bridge in front and back at the California shoreline from high over the islands at the end. In an early series of stunning paintings, the shark’s meal is revealed in three spreads before the wordless fourth shows the strike; the water swirls, and the seal is captured in the shark’s toothy mouth. Bloody water surrounds the shark in the next picture. Subsequent pages explain why the seal is a perfect meal and highlight the shark’s streamlined body, warmed blood, superior vision, endless teeth, and projectile jaws that contribute to its success as a hunter. For this debut picture book, the author joined researchers who tag and follow these sharks, and she’s distilled their findings in a way that’s sure to attract young readers. The backmatter provides further information, sources and suggested reading.

Full of the eww factor, up-to-date facts and kid appeal, this splendid, gory introduction is not for the faint of heart! (Informational picture book. 7-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59643-874-3

Page Count: 48

Publisher: David Macaulay Studio/Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

A compelling story told with impeccable care.

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A little-known yet important story of the fight to end school discrimination against Mexican-American children is told with lively text and expressive art.

Most associate the fight for school integration with the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education. However, seven years earlier, Mexican-American students in California saw an end to discrimination there. The little girl at the center of that case, Sylvia Mendez, was the daughter of parents who looked forward to sending her to the school near their newly leased farm. When her aunt attempted to register the family children, they were directed to the “Mexican school,” despite proficiency in English and citizenship. No one could explain to Mr. Mendez why his children were not allowed to attend the better-appointed school nearby. Despite the reluctance of many fellow Mexican-Americans to cause "problems," he filed a suit, receiving the support of numerous civil rights organizations. Tonatiuh masterfully combines text and folk-inspired art to add an important piece to the mosaic of U.S. civil rights history. The universality of parents’ desires for better opportunities for their children is made plain. The extensive author’s note provides context, and readers can connect with the real people in the story through photographs of Sylvia, her parents and the schools in question. Helpful backmatter includes a glossary, bibliography and index. Even the sourcing of dialogue is explained.

A compelling story told with impeccable care. (Informational picture book. 6-9)

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4197-1054-4

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Abrams

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2014

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