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Best International Picture Books of 2015

Witty and provocative, the tale provides food for thought in behavior management and governance as well as a great story.

THE POTATO KING

This German import recounts the intriguing legend surrounding Frederick the Great’s potato legislation.

In the versatile vegetable recently transported from South America, Fritz (as he is familiarly called here) sees a weapon to prevent famine in Prussia. He decrees that everyone should plant this crop; his citizens are not convinced. Niemann’s decision to utilize potato prints and photographs of the tuber against a clean white background makes this account a beautifully unified narrative accessible to a range of ages. The thoughtful design extends to the palette of both image and type—the king’s words and silhouette are both rendered in red, for instance. Controlled pacing builds suspense. A wordless, crowded spread of textured, blue soldiers and cannons contrasts with the previously spare compositions during which listeners learn, “He ordered his solders to march to the village….” To do what? Force-feed villagers? Imprison abstainers? No, rather, this clever king tries reverse psychology: “…and guard the potato field.” Since the forbidden is irresistible, naturally the people creep in at night to steal the royal plants for their own fields. This understated, visually delightful tale of how a humble vegetable found its way into the hearts and kitchens of a community will surely entertain young readers and move them to printmaking.

Witty and provocative, the tale provides food for thought in behavior management and governance as well as a great story. (author’s note) (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: April 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-77147-139-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Owlkids Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2015

As beguilingly surreal as the Mad Hatter’s party, with its own enigmatic appeal.

THE TEA PARTY IN THE WOODS

When Kikko wakes up to snow, her father goes off to clear the walk around Grandma’s house but forgets the pie he was to take with him.

Kikko hurries to catch up to him, falling and crushing the pie in the process, but she discovers she has been following not her dad but a bear in a suit and hat! She follows him to a house she’s not seen before, where a well-dressed lamb invites her to tea. Around the tea table are seated carefully attired animals, greeting Kikko with interested gazes. They sit her down, invite her to eat and drink, and replace the smashed pie with slices of their own forest-made pies before accompanying her to Grandma’s in a grand parade. The illustrations are lovely and mysterious: what looks like charcoal or pencil softly indicates forest and interiors as well as the visages of upright and clothed deer, bear, rabbit, goat, and others. Spare use of color sparks in Kikko’s bright gold hair, her red hat, and the multihued pie slices. Minimal line and shadow suggest the forest as a Japanese print might, while the tumbled richness of the tea table evokes rich Dutch still lifes. Kikko’s family reads as Asian, perhaps Japanese, and the animals are as serene and otherworldly as Totoro.

As beguilingly surreal as the Mad Hatter’s party, with its own enigmatic appeal. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-77138-107-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Kids Can

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

Gentle humor pervades this father-son tale in the nicest way.

WHEN DAD SHOWED ME THE UNIVERSE

A small boy and his father take an evening walk in this Swedish import first published in 1998 but only now translated and published in the United States.

Dad thinks it’s time to show his son the universe. They put on warm socks and get provisions (chewing gum), then walk past the closing shops into the night air to a field the boy recognizes as a place where folks walk their dogs. The boy sees the universe in a snail, a blade of grass, a thistle, but his father wants him to look up. Stars! His father knows all their names and holds the boy up to see the ancient light from stars long gone—and steps into something left by a dog. “So how was the universe?” asks the boy’s mom. “It was beautiful,” he replies. “And funny.” The winsome illustrations perfectly capture the pull and tug of high philosophy and low humor (stepping in dog poo is the quintessential early-grade chuckle, after all). The boy’s voice captures how badly he wants to please his father, how thoroughly he is enchanted by the smallest things, how keenly he notices just what kids notice: steam coming from his father’s mouth in the cold, his father’s whistling to help them walk.

Gentle humor pervades this father-son tale in the nicest way. (Picture book. 4-9)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-9272-7181-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Gecko Press

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

The book’s extra-large trim is the perfect format for this mesmerizing vision of a thrillingly expansive world.

THE WORLD IN A SECOND

Even “while you turn the pages of this book, the world doesn’t stop….”

So what happens in the very busy titular second? A container ship struggles in a storm on the Baltic; an elevator gets stuck in New York City; a driver honks impatiently in a Mexican traffic jam; a volcano erupts; “a very old woman closes her eyes to sleep.” Even as Martins’ spare text describes the action with poetic restraint via Miller-Lachmann’s translation (“In an island barbershop, a man bids farewell to his mustache”), Carvalho’s double-page spreads invite readers to linger to understand each of the 23 stories. Boys on a terraced, urban soccer court watch in alarm as a “ball flies toward a window” of an adjacent apartment building; behind a police barrier, a man in a furry hat depresses a plunger and demolishes another apartment building, next to a nuclear power plant. The flat, posterlike art features bright, matte colors and shapes defined by sure, black lines. In sequencing, the book resists easy, time-zone chronology, taking readers from Papua New Guinea to Portugal to Angola to Turkey with successive turns of the page, creating an experience that is at once disorienting and immersive. A concluding map provides a key to each picture’s location and time of day.

The book’s extra-large trim is the perfect format for this mesmerizing vision of a thrillingly expansive world. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: April 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59270-157-5

Page Count: 56

Publisher: Enchanted Lion Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

A bilingual sampler—cold of setting but warm of spirit.

WAY BACK THEN

An Inuit father lovingly regales his sleepy kuluit with bedtime tales of tiny people, giant polar bears, flying igluit, children born from the land rather than human mothers, and other wonders “way back then.”

Inspired by Arnaktauyok’s stippled scenes—of cozy ice shelters lit from within, figures clad in fringed and colorfully patterned hide dress, and magical arctic animals—Christopher presents a series of short folkloric episodes in Inuktitut script with English translations running below. The tales all open with the titular phrase, and they range from where caribou came from and the origins of night and day (in a quarrel between a fox and a raven) to how the loving land grew extra babies so that there would be more people and also gave an orphaned giant the sky for a home. The storyteller focuses more on wonder than drama: yes, the nanurluk were fearsome, but isn’t it marvelous that the giant polar bears were so big that they could be mistaken for icebergs? Imagine a time when sleds weren’t needed because an iglu not only provided shelter, but could fly from place to place! Several stories, such as how seals and small whales were created from the fingers of a bird spirit’s reluctant wife, are available elsewhere in fuller versions, but truncated as they are, these snippets together create a storyscape that, like the art they accompany, reflects harmonious connections with both the mythic past and the land itself.

A bilingual sampler—cold of setting but warm of spirit. (glossary/pronunciation guide, introduction) (Picture book/folk tales. 6-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-7722-7021-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Inhabit Media

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

A vast amount of information on monkeys is expertly delivered in both text and image without patronizing either readers or...

MAD ABOUT MONKEYS

An informational picture book about monkeys throughout the world.

Tackling a topic as general as monkeys is a tall order for a picture book, but this one succeeds admirably. Author/illustrator Davey begins with the basics: what a monkey is (part of the mammal group of primates), when they evolved (about 35 million years ago), where they live, and what they eat. He moves on to more specific information, such as the differences between Old World and New World monkeys (following this with a colorful visual quiz), social life, size and physical characteristics, and monkeys in mythology, and he ends with a section on the deforestation of monkey habitat that manages to deliver at least a sense of hope. All this information is related in an engaging conversational style—“ ‘But why such colourful bums?’ I hear you ask.” Davey keeps things lively by relating specific traits of various monkey species; for example, long-tailed macaques swim underwater, mandrills have colorful rumps, black-capped capuchins use tools, and these serve not only to pique readers’ curiosity, but also to highlight the primates’ diversity. The design of the book is stellar, interweaving text and stylized-but-accurate illustrations into a vibrant, cohesive whole that stands out for its appeal and clarity.

A vast amount of information on monkeys is expertly delivered in both text and image without patronizing either readers or monkeys—a delight. (index) (Informational picture book. 5-10)

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-909263-57-4

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Flying Eye Books

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

Like a mailbox overstuffed with gifts, Dubuc's animal scenes are a delight and well worth the wait.

MR. POSTMOUSE'S ROUNDS

A dedicated postal worker, who happens to be a small mouse, makes the daily deliveries in a lively dispatch from Dubuc.

Mr. Postmouse is a busy worker; he tirelessly pulls a wagon stacked high with packages for the animal residents who make up his daily route. That means climbing ladders to get to the Birds’ several homes, scaling snowy peaks for the Mountain Goats, and hoping that scary Mr. Snake isn't receiving anything today. The double-page spreads that make up each leg of the journey are rendered in sneakily detailed cross-sections of the interiors of these homes. The Rabbit family's house, with carrots planted in the roof, leads to underground rooms that feature high-stacked bunk beds and, amusingly, a toilet in use. Mr. Snake's hothouse home stretches over multiple pages, while the Ants have a predictably busy belowground infrastructure. Young readers may miss a few jokes, allusions, and background stories along the way, but it's all the more reason to revisit Mr. Postmouse's mail duties again. The scenes playing out in the various tableaux are playful but never cutesy. Mr. Postmouse's fear of Mr. Snake and the stacked sheep inside Mr. Wolf's home allude to dangers in the animal world that Mr. Postmouse seems adept at avoiding.

Like a mailbox overstuffed with gifts, Dubuc's animal scenes are a delight and well worth the wait. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-77138-572-5

Page Count: 24

Publisher: Kids Can

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

TIPTOE TAPIRS

Tapir’s courage and quiet steps show a leopard how to change his ways and avoid a human hunter.

This charming pourquoi tale is set in a Southeast Asian jungle where tapirs, rhinos, hornbills, apes, crocodiles, porcupines, and leopards coexist. Ably translated from the original Korean, the text is spare, gentle, and repetitive. “The leopard ran with loud, heavy steps. / THUD, THUD, THUD. / Tapir ran with soft, silent steps. / Hush, hush, hush.” In the art, created with watercolor, drawing ink, and marker pen, most animals have a distinctive color. Tapir is gray and white, while Little Tapir is a pleasing reddish brown. The jungle is more suggested than shown in these allusive images, reminiscent of Korean landscape paintings, and the figures and text both are set on an expanse of white. The placement of text and picture varies, sometimes together, sometimes opposed on a spread, but each spread is a self-contained idea until the climactic page turns of the leopard attack. The pacing is perfect. There is humor in the tiptoeing animals, the dancing rhinoceros and elephant, and Little Tapir’s dream of a birthday mud cake, but it is gentle, befitting the overall quiet tone of this appealing import.

Exquisite. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8234-3395-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

In leaving readers with much to wonder about, the book packs the most powerful of punches.

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TWO WHITE RABBITS

"When we travel, I count what we see," this little girl tells readers. 

She counts hens, cows, "one little bored donkey," and a russet mutt that her father calls a chucho and that joins the two on the road. That one Spanish word and a sign for the frontera constitute some of the few textual clues to the pair's circumstances. Adult readers will see Latin American migrants, probably without papers to judge by the raft they ride across the river and the soldiers they flee. Children will see an adventure that's sometimes thrilling, sometimes boring, sometimes terrifying—how much will depend on how familiar readers are with this perilous trek, but even those from the coziest of homes will detect some. They ride atop boxcars, and they stop while Papá works to make money for the next leg of the journey. They are dark-skinned; their fellow migrants range from pale to dark. The only constants are the chucho, the girl's stuffed bunny, "the way people we meet on the road look at us," and the current of affection that runs between father and daughter. The story does not conclude; it simply ends with the companions "back on the road," now with the titular rabbits. Like the creators' previous book, Jimmy the Greatest (2012), it's a masterpiece of understatement.

In leaving readers with much to wonder about, the book packs the most powerful of punches. (Picture book. 4-10)

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-55498-741-2

Page Count: 52

Publisher: Groundwood

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

Borando creates a genuine affinity between the two felines, her art and text, and readers and page. Simply captivating.

BLACK CAT, WHITE CAT

Two cats find friendship in their seemingly opposite (yet, oh so similar!) lives.

Black Cat is black from his ears to his paws, and he is only awake by day. White Cat is white from her nose to her tail, and she lives by night. But curiosity gets the better of both, and they set out into the unknown and meet. Together they travel, as reciprocal tour guides, each delighting in the wonders of the other’s world. The artist’s illustrations, done in black and white, skillfully play with negative space and composition. Cleverly, she reverses images from spread to spread, flops the values, or changes just one pattern to encourage readers to look for similarities and differences; taken altogether, it is a wonderful exercise in juxtaposition. Basic shapes and minimal linework will appeal to the very young, while sophisticated patterning will appeal to all. The charming, cheery text also holds a surprise ending, for which giggles are sure to ensue!

Borando creates a genuine affinity between the two felines, her art and text, and readers and page. Simply captivating. (Picture book. 2-5)

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7636-8106-7

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

A double pleasure for old friends and new readers alike.

DOUBLE TROUBLE FOR ANNA HIBISCUS!

From the Anna Hibiscus series

When twins arrive, Anna Hibiscus finds it hard to share her extended family.

Atinuke’s latest picture book is not so much about “Amazing Africa” as it is about adjusting to a new sibling—worse, two of them. This gentle, appealing story begins on the title page with Anna Hibiscus resting against her mother’s obviously pregnant tummy. Soon, she’s introduced to the new babies: “That big bump was brothers,” she tells her cousins. Not surprisingly, all the adults in her extended family are either suddenly busy or still sleeping. Angry and jealous, Anna hides and cries, but soon it is her turn for some attention and affection. Anna’s strong emotions will be familiar to any older sibling. Her body language is remarkably expressive in Tobia’s colorful illustrations, spots and full-page scenes that often spill across the gutter. There are fascinating details, especially in the endpaper scenes showing Anna's family’s modern African home in its urban context. There’s lots going on inside their cluster of homes, too. Readers and listeners who meet this lively child for the first time in this universal story will likely be intrigued enough by her mixed-race family and her culturally different but oh-so-similar life to go on to other Anna Hibiscus episodes, in both picture and chapter books.

A double pleasure for old friends and new readers alike. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-61067-367-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Kane Miller

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

Rare is the book containing great emotional depth that truly resonates across a span of ages: this is one such.

THE ONLY CHILD

Left alone when her mother leaves for work, a child amuses herself with television, dolls, and a toy deer before boarding a bus for her grandmother’s house.

The ensuing experience, in which she falls asleep, misses her stop, and runs scared into the woods, is pulled directly from the author’s childhood in China. In this wordless, 112-page graphic novel, her constantly-in-motion protagonist is rescued by a mysterious stag that leads her up a ladder of clouds into a puffy paradise. The animal is a perfect playmate. Humorous close-ups reveal a hands-on exploration of the animal’s muzzle, toothy smiles, and affectionate nuzzling before the afternoon’s excitement. Guojing’s telling is skillfully paced. Early on, a sequence of 12 nearly square panels on a page conveys the child’s sense of confinement, loneliness, and boredom. Varying in size and shape, digitally manipulated graphite compositions create a soft, quiet atmosphere within which a gamut of effects are achieved: brilliant, snowy light, the etched faces of shivering street vendors, nuanced cloudscapes, and the pure black of a whale’s interior after the duo and a new friend are swallowed, Jonah-style. Majestic settings, tender interactions, and pure silliness lead readers to pore closely over these images, pulled along by shifting perspectives, ethereal beauty, and delight in the joy born of friendship.

Rare is the book containing great emotional depth that truly resonates across a span of ages: this is one such. (author’s note) (Picture book. 5 & up)

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-553-49705-2

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade/Random

Review Posted Online: Aug. 26, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

This title feeds and calms listeners’ imaginations in the most delightful way.

MY BEDTIME MONSTER

The book jacket’s depiction of a Leonardo da Vinci–esque creature transporting a child across an emerald sky signals a highly original approach to a pitch for a pet.

Sporting a scarlet bowler hat, the cylindrically shaped girl describes her requirements: cuddly but strong; adept at flying and swimming; capable of shrinking and growing on demand. The dialogue indicates that she is talking with her parents. They may be offstage, but it is also possible that what seems to be the monster/pet on the facing page (and elsewhere) is a dreamy composite of the parents—a provocative ambiguity. Soon after Rikki crawls into bed, a voice invites her to play hide-and-seek. The ensuing nocturnal adventure involves the rhinoceroslike creature’s fulfillment of her wishes. Composed of a patchwork of foil and saturated colors (especially red and green) and replete with a tusk, wings, and stylish shoes, the monster continuously morphs, expanding at the climax to escape a spiky sea ogre. While the textured scenes are mysterious and quirky, and the protagonist is anxious at times, the award-winning, Czech-born collaborators balance tension with joy: “Rikki’s heart beats faster, full of excitement.” Girl and pet have fully bonded by the conclusion, when the child asks the monster to stay “please, and always protect me.”

This title feeds and calms listeners’ imaginations in the most delightful way. (Picture book.4-6)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-988-8240-47-0

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Minedition

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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