Book List

Best Picture-Book Readalouds of 2014

CIRCLE, SQUARE, MOOSE

Moose is back! Hooray—unless you are a book about circles and squares.

The simple concept book starts off well enough with a button representing a circle and a sandwich representing a square. And then mischief and mayhem erupt as Moose takes an enormous bite out of the sandwich. Admonitions from the book follow, and then it attempts to continue with a wedge of cheese and a slice of pie to illustrate triangles. Alas, Moose interrupts again, presenting a cat with triangular ears. Leave the book, they are told. More Moose antics ensue with rectangles and diamonds. The book grows ever more frantic, and fortunately Zebra arrives to salvage the exercise. Or does he? Zebra appears hopelessly tangled in ribbon (a curve) when Moose steps in to save the day with a circle that becomes a hole through which they escape the book. Moose then presents his friend with the last shape, a star. It is a great joy to watch Bingham and Zelinsky, who brilliantly collaborated on Z Is for Moose (2012), once more let Moose loose to naughtily and enthusiastically disrupt reading. Bingham’s text is both straightforward and filled with humorous speech bubbles. Zelinsky digitally manipulates his palette of bright colors to fill the pages with sly clues, fast-paced action, expressive typefaces and animals with winning personalities. Are further books in Moose’s future?

Hilarious fun. (Picture book. 4-6)

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-229003-8

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Greenwillow

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

It is nearly impossible to look at without reading aloud, chanting aloud, and even tapping and stamping and sliding: extreme...

I'M A DIRTY DINOSAUR

This Australian import cries out for toddler participation, with parts for everyone.

The little dinosaur—an outline sketch of a creature drawn with multicolored pencil—rejoices in total mudlusciousness with a vigorous chant. “I’m a dirty dinosaur / with a dirty face. // I never have a wash / I just shake about the place.” The winsome background to the dinosaur’s antics is painted with watercolor and smeared and splattered with actual mud. Opposite, in bold print with each letter a different color, is the refrain: “SHAKE, SHAKE, / SHAKE, SHAKE, / SHAKE ABOUT / THE PLACE!” The dinosaur goes on to mention a “dirty tum,” which it taps like a drum: “TAP, TAP,” etc. There is also stamping about the street with dirty feet and sliding that dirty tail “like a snail.” At the end, in deep realization of its yuckiness, the dinosaur decides to go to the swamp and “GIVE MYSELF A WASH!” Birds, flowers, dragonflies and a frog or two accompany the protagonist, who walks (dances, really) on two legs and sports little stegosauruslike spine plates and a belly button.

It is nearly impossible to look at without reading aloud, chanting aloud, and even tapping and stamping and sliding: extreme joyousness. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61067-296-2

Page Count: 22

Publisher: Kane Miller

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

Although this luminous tale of self-discovery has echoes of “The Little Mermaid,” like Minnow, it sings its own strong song.

THE MERMAID AND THE SHOE

Unlike her talented older sisters, a little mermaid feels disappointingly ordinary until her curiosity unveils her special skills.

Each of King Neptune’s 50 mermaid daughters has a remarkable talent—except Minnow, who asks lots of questions, like why crabs don’t have fins, where bubbles go and what lies beyond their underwater kingdom. Her sister Calypso dismissively chides her to “stop asking useless questions…and be remarkable.” When Minnow discovers a mysterious object no one can identify, she’s determined to find out what it is. Her relentless curiosity carries her above water, where Minnow sees a girl wearing a pair of shoes similar to the mysterious object. With her questions answered, Minnow triumphantly returns to her underwater family, heralded as a “daring explorer.” Delicate, ethereal watercolor-and–colored-pencil illustrations rely on muted blue-gray washes accented with splashes of color to convey Neptune’s underwater kingdom, with its flora and fauna. Kelp-enclosed cameo close-ups of Minnow and her sisters with white, gossamer hair and golden-scaled tails alternate with luminous double-page spreads featuring diminutive Minnow, carrying a scarlet shoe and fearlessly ascending from the dark underwater world into the brilliant sun and sky, where she watches a “landmaid” reveal the secret of shoes.

Although this luminous tale of self-discovery has echoes of “The Little Mermaid,” like Minnow, it sings its own strong song. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: April 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-55453-771-6

Page Count: 36

Publisher: Kids Can

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

A warm, cuddly tale and a total delight.

SHARE

Mom says it’s important to share, but it’s not always easy.

When a younger bunny cousin comes to visit, he wants to have everything his older cousin has and to do everything she does. Her mother keeps reminding her to share, so she lets him play, with disastrous results, as he is rough and careless. She tries to stay out of his way and play other games or read a book or watch television, but he follows her everywhere and gets involved in every activity until she just can’t stand it anymore. Won’t he ever stop plaguing her and leave? At the end of the day, when he hugs and thanks her, she realizes her mother is right: He copies her actions out of admiration. Morality tales are often pedantic and stiff, but Garland employs bouncy rhymes and a sweetheart of a bunny to get her point across. Even Mom’s offstage voice encourages rather than scolds. Visually appealing type winds its way through the large-scale cartoon illustrations, which feature patterned background wallpaper and lots of pink and green eye-catching details. Bunny and her little cousin are full of life, with facial expressions and body language that match every emotion. Young readers will empathize with both characters and will want to read it over and over.

A warm, cuddly tale and a total delight. (Picture book. 2-6)

Pub Date: March 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-77147-005-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Owlkids Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2014

Two fertile imaginations grow a grand salute.

THE GREAT BIG GREEN

An abundantly illustrated puzzle poem provides a spectacular celebration of green in the world.

The author of the Moxy Maxwell chapter-book trilogy offers something completely different in this lush tribute. An opening line sets the conversational tone: “The thing is, / the thing is green.” She goes on to provide examples of “mean green,” “dark and dangerous green” and “green things / that are good for you.” Her examples aren’t just things that grow; there are green socks, a green light for “go” and an old green door. The text reads aloud beautifully, building to the question, “Have you guessed yet?” and the final answer, revealed not in words but in a familiar image of Earth from space, with previous elements cleverly placed. Desimini’s imaginative illustrations complement and extend the graphically flexible text. Done with scanned textures and images combined into mixed-media collages, these are both realistic and imaginative, full of whimsy. Two young children, one dark-skinned, one light-, explore a world in which the range of green colors is remarkable and balanced with some surprises. There are the orange and tan of a green-eyed tiger, the red of a ladybug or a tree-frog’s eyes, and pink-purple skies. Readers will want to identify every fruit and vegetable and look for added elements (a snatch of “Greensleeves” in musical notation, for example).

Two fertile imaginations grow a grand salute. (Picture book. 3-8)

Pub Date: April 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-62091-629-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Boyds Mills

Review Posted Online: Jan. 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2014

The richness of this book’s words and images will inspire readers to learn more about this holiday that never should have...

ALL DIFFERENT NOW

JUNETEENTH, THE FIRST DAY OF FREEDOM

Johnson tells a tale of Juneteenth in Texas through the eyes of a child, while Lewis’ earth-toned watercolor illustrations capture the quotidian aspects of the way of life emancipation ended.

The young female speaker who lives and works on the plantation with her mother, siblings and others takes personally the titular phrase, “all different now,” when freedom comes. Just before the Union general announces on the balcony of the big house that the slaves are “now and forever free,” rumors of this news has spread so quickly from the port to the countryside that Lewis includes an image with four vertical panels showing slaves engaged in many different types of work, passing the word and responding with surprise, shock and praise to the news. The historical details that Lewis integrates into the images situate Johnson’s story historically and give young readers a sense of what cotton plantations in the mid-1860s looked like. In the backmatter, Johnson makes clear why this bit of history matters to her, and Lewis shares the impossibility of contemporary Americans’ reaching a true understanding of the lives of 19th-century slaves—but how important it is to try.

The richness of this book’s words and images will inspire readers to learn more about this holiday that never should have been necessary…but was. (Web resources, glossary) (Picture book. 5-9)

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-689-87376-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

Richly composed and sweetly appealing—just right for baby storytimes as well as one-to-one sharing.

BREATHE

A very young white whale swims into the wider world of the arctic seas, celebrating first adventures of the very young.

Magoon’s digital art captures the colors and crisp, airy light of the Arctic setting; cartoon lines and wide eyes present creatures above and under the ice as friendly, rounded and smiling. Even the polar bear—seen against the sky through an ice hole as a dark shadow, possibly threatening—is fairly benign. The little whale (clearly a baby beluga but not named as such) is doing the work that toddlers do—exploring the world with mama nearby. The few words of the text speak both to whale baby and, by extension, to the listener: “Play all day // and swim, / and swim, / and swim. // Breathe.” This last (“Breathe”) appears on a double-page spread in which the young whale is surrounded by the vast sea, snowy mountains, and a pale, bright sun. Then a dive changes the palette from the pale blues and whites of the surface through greeny yellows and finally to dark: Here, what was perhaps an arctic whaler, stilled and slightly ghostly, sits on the seafloor. The simple adventure concludes with an anthropomorphic yet welcome invitation: “Most of all, love / and be loved.”

Richly composed and sweetly appealing—just right for baby storytimes as well as one-to-one sharing. (Picture book. 6 mos.-3)

Pub Date: April 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4424-1258-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

Totally ebullient.

SHOE DOG

An irrepressible dog can’t resist falling into the same type of mischief over and over again, until something surprising changes his pattern.

This small, wiggly pup bounces upward as a silhouetted woman enters the animal shelter. He longs for a home “warm as soup / and cozy as pie,” full of nose kisses and tummy rubs. And oh, how exciting—the woman takes him home! “That very day, / Shoe Dog chewed through / five high heels, / four flip-flops, / three sneakers, / two boots, / one wing tip.” Scolding—“ ‘BAD DOG!’ / She, Herself said”—and punishment—no petting or access to the Big Bed—see him lying forlornly in a gray-blue space, subdued. But each time new shoes arrive, he tracks down and rips into the fresh box, chomping every shoe with gusto. Consequences ratchet up mildly, but Shoe Dog never learns impulse control as such; instead, unexpectedly, he meets a shoe he’d never, ever chew. Finally he’s welcome “on the Big Bed / in the Land of Upstairs,” curling up blissfully with his new shoe-love. Tillotson uses thick black lines for Shoe Dog’s scribbly, coiled-spring body, smudging charcoal inside his shape to give him substance; scraps of pink and beige mark his pointy ears and muzzle. Motion lines show how he scampers and bounds. The visual angle varies, and shoe-box tissue paper flies through the air.

Totally ebullient. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: March 25, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4169-7932-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Richard Jackson/Atheneum

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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GUS & ME

THE STORY OF MY GRANDDAD AND MY FIRST GUITAR

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 kid is the hero in this tale of ingenuity and bravery.

BLIZZARD

Young readers will be tickled by a young boy’s resourcefulness in this story of how he and his family survive a monumental blizzard.

The first flake falls on Monday while the young narrator is at school, and by the time he and his sister make it home after being dismissed early, the snow is over their boots. On Tuesday, the family’s door won’t open, and the kids climb out the window to play outside (though it’s too deep for sledding and even walking). Wednesday, Dad shovels, but the snowplows don’t come (though the kids can now build snow tunnels and forts). Thursday. Still no plow, and supplies are running low. On Friday, armed with the knowledge gleaned from his Arctic Survival book, John prepares some tennis rackets and his sled and ventures out, stopping at each of the neighbors’ houses on his way to and from the store (a very funny map charts his journey and what he does on the way) and singlehandedly bringing everyone something they needed—from cat food and milk to coffee, candles and peanut butter. The Caldecott honoree’s pencil, watercolor and digital paint illustrations are reminiscent of Steven Kellogg in their light and line and detail, and readers will pore over the pages as they vicariously live through a blizzard. An author’s note explains that the story is based on his own experience in the New England blizzard of 1978.

A kid is the hero in this tale of ingenuity and bravery. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4231-7865-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

Absolutely enchanting.

HANNAH'S NIGHT

A child wakes in the middle of the night and embarks on a quiet adventure.

When little Hannah realizes it’s still dark, she decides to tiptoe downstairs with her trustworthy cat, Shiro. Upon realizing all are asleep, the charming child takes small liberties: feeding the cat milk, eating cherries from the fridge and carefully playing with her sister’s toys. Sakai’s evocative illustrations envelop readers in the stillness and silence of a hushed home. Done in paint and colored pencil, they perfectly capture a child’s innocent point of view. Hannah is incredibly appealing as she squats next to Shiro, gazes up at the moon and giggles that her sister—just in the next bed—does not notice that Hannah is borrowing her toys. Each pose is perfection; parents will achingly recognize a magical time in their own children’s development, and young readers will recognize themselves in the careful explorer. The simple and elegant artwork provides a rich environment for the text, whose translation is offered with a New Zealand accent. As dawn breaks, Hannah spots the “prettiest dove she’d ever seen” outside her window. Trusting in the hope and wonder of a light-filled, new day, Hannah finally falls asleep, curled up next to Shiro on the edge of her sister’s bed.

Absolutely enchanting. (Picture book. 2-5)

Pub Date: April 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-877579-54-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Gecko Press

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

A crowd-pleasin’ knee-slapper that’ll have ’em rolling in the aisles, yessirree.

KID SHERIFF AND THE TERRIBLE TOADS

A young sheriff comes riding high—atop a tortoise—toward the troubled, “cumin-scented” town of Drywater Gulch. Just give him a minute.

How to get the Toads—not the four-legged kind, but three lawless brothers saddled with a silly name and a yen to “steal your gold, kiss your cattle, and insult your chili”—into the hoosegow? Avowed dino-expert Ryan knows just the ploy: blame the big hole blasted into the bank on T. Rex and the stagecoach robbery on Velociraptors. The cattle-kissin’? Why, Triceratops, of course. Annoyed to no end at not getting proper credit for their crimes (“Why I smooched them beefy lips my own self!”), the Toads rudely occupy the clink: “HA! You can blow them dinersores out your nose Sheriff, this here jail is full up of real bonafide criminals!” “Hooray!” cheer the townsfolk. Sheriff Ryan just saddles up his reptilian steed and rides off into the sunset…over the next three days. The hulking Toads cut properly brutish figures in Smith’s angular, sand-and-brown Wild West scenes, while their pint-sized nemesis sports the requisite white chaps and a huge white hat.

A crowd-pleasin’ knee-slapper that’ll have ’em rolling in the aisles, yessirree. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59643-975-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

Humorous and intelligent—and with watercolor seascapes so luminous that readers will want to jump in—this is a book to be...

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THREE BEARS IN A BOAT

Taking a break from Ladybug Girl, Soman uses his watercolors to paint a playful tale of responsibility.

When Dash, Charlie and Theo—three sibling bears growing up by the sea—break their mother’s treasured blue seashell while attempting to get into the honey pot, they don’t ’fess up. They instead sail away in their boat, thinking maybe they can find another shell to replace the broken one before their mother gets home. An old, “salty bear” advises them to sail to a faraway island, but when they get there, there’s no shell. A sudden storm, conveyed in a brilliant page turn, helps the quarreling bears realize both their common vulnerability and their culpability, and they sail home, finding a blue shell on their own beach. They apologize to Mama Bear, offering the replacement shell. She forgives them, of course, but with a twist that will make readers smile as they remember another naughty adventurer and his “still hot” dinner. Filled with illustrations that insert lighthearted visual nods to classic books (a boat named Melville is filled with Moby Dick–ish bears, and a raft carries Huckleberry Finn–like bears), this tale is a treat for both eye and ear.

Humorous and intelligent—and with watercolor seascapes so luminous that readers will want to jump in—this is a book to be treasured for years to come. (Picture book. 2-8)

Pub Date: May 20, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8037-3993-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

Stead does not disappoint, giving readers another beautifully rendered picture book full of whimsy, heart and delight.

SEBASTIAN AND THE BALLOON

Sebastian, an Everychild from his plain, russet face and nondescript hair to his striped socks, creates a hot air balloon from his grandmother’s quilt scraps and goes on a joyous, never-ending journey.

When Sebastian decides that he needs to see the world beyond his tired street of identical houses, he gathers “all the things he would ever need” and boards his huge hot air balloon. “He charted a course. He checked the breeze. He cut the strings… // and floated free.” Those last three words float over a large white moon, which in turn is suspended in a double-page spread of vast, textured, blue-and-black sky. Against the moon is Sebastian in his colorful balloon, his faithful cardinal friend hovering nearby. This is the first of many frame-worthy pictures, as Sebastian and the bird form friendships with a winsome bear, a “very tall bird” and—yes, Shakespeare enthusiasts—three weird (but charming) sisters, all of whom eventually crowd into the balloon and advance the journey. Expressive charcoal drawings colored with layers of pastels and oil paints add to the dreamlike quality of the tale. The sophisticated nature of the book requires readers to slow down and read the pictures as carefully as the text—and both carry equal, impressive weight.

Stead does not disappoint, giving readers another beautifully rendered picture book full of whimsy, heart and delight. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59643-930-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Neal Porter/Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

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