Book List

Best Picture Books of 2013 About Family & Friends

Raise the roof for this picture book. It’s something special.

BUILDING OUR HOUSE

Bean sets aside the urban setting of his Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winner, At Night (2007), in this homage to his back-to-the-land parents, who built his childhood home in the 1970s.

Told from the perspective of Bean’s older sister, the story revels in the practical work of house-building, demystifying the stages of construction in a matter-of-fact, engaging tone. The oversized, portrait format echoes the height of the house the family builds, but front endpapers first show a vast, rural landscape in the foreground of which lies the “weedy field Dad and Mom bought from a farmer.” Frontmatter depicts them packing and leaving the city. Ensuing spreads detail how they live in a trailer on their new property while slowly building the house: setting the corners of the foundation; digging out the basement; gathering rocks and using them in the foundation; measuring, marking and cutting timber for the frame; and so on. The scene depicting a frame-raising party situates the little homesteading family in a loving community of relatives and friends who gather to help; then, right after they all move in, the family grows when both Mom and the pet cat have babies. Throughout, the watercolor-and-ink illustrations invite close examination for narrative details such as these while also providing ample visual information about construction.

Raise the roof for this picture book. It’s something special. (Picture book. 3-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-374-38023-6

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

A great addition to the literature on ducks…or socks! (Picture book. 2-6)

HAVE YOU SEEN MY NEW BLUE SOCKS?

Where, oh where are Duck’s new blue socks?

Duck is quite sad over the loss of his new blue socks. “I know I put them somewhere near. / How could they simply disappear?” He searches his big box to no avail. He asks his friend Mr. Fox. Mr. Fox hasn’t seen them, but he suggests rifling the big box and asking the ox. The ox hasn’t seen them either, but he did see some socks on the rocks by the lake. Unfortunately, “[t]hese are socks, but they’re not new. / They’re more like purple, not like blue.” Duck asks the peacocks if they’ve seen his socks, telling them everywhere he’s looked and everyone he’s asked…and the youngest peacock notices “…a touch of blue / underneath your laced-up shoe!” Bunting and Ruzzier (Tweak Tweak, 2011) reteam with excellent results. Bunting’s lyrical rhyming, repeating text is only a few large words from early-reader territory: “I’m trying not to be depressed. / Without my socks I feel undressed.” Storytime audiences will enjoy Duck’s sock hunt, and lapsitters with sharp eyes can spot the gradual unraveling reveal of the new blue socks’ location in Ruzzier’s broad, cartoon watercolors.

A great addition to the literature on ducks…or socks! (Picture book. 2-6)

Pub Date: March 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-547-75267-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Clarion

Review Posted Online: Dec. 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2013

Poetic language, attractive illustrations and a positive message about Islam, without any didacticism: a wonderful...

DEEP IN THE SAHARA

Lalla, a little Mauritanian girl, gets her heart’s desire when she shows her mother that her faith is important to her.

Lalla sees her mother, her big sister, Selma, her cousin Aisha, her grandmother and all the other women in her West African town all wrapped in malafa, the colorful veils that wrap from head to toe. She wants to look beautiful and grown-up too, but each female family member tells her that wearing the malafa is more important than beauty, mystery, being a mature woman and even tradition. When Lalla figures out for herself that the malafa is central to the religious practice of Muslim women in her region, then her mother joyously wraps her in “a malafa / as blue as the Sahara sky / as blue as the ink in the Koran / as blue as a stranger’s eye.” The author notes that she changed her opinion regarding the wearing of veils for religious reasons when she lived in Mauritania and wrote this book to share the joy she observed. The collage illustrations done by an Iranian artist show the colorful cloths of “lime and mango,” the beautiful women wearing the veils in different ways and the details of the houses.

Poetic language, attractive illustrations and a positive message about Islam, without any didacticism: a wonderful combination. (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-375-87034-7

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade/Random

Review Posted Online: Aug. 14, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2013

This fresh new version will soon have young listeners and readers telling the story themselves.

GRANDMA AND THE GREAT GOURD

Retelling a story from her childhood, well-known Bengali-American writer Divakaruni uses lively language, nonsense syllables and traditional rhythms.

When Grandma sets out to visit her daughter and grandchildren, she must cross the jungle in between their villages. She leaves her faithful dogs home to tend her garden. Along the way, she meets a fox, a bear and a tiger that all want to eat her, but she persuades the predators that she will be fatter, plumper and juicier on her way back. She approaches her return journey with trepidation, but the inventive mother and daughter create a plan for a safe trip. The old woman is soon ensconced inside a giant, hollowed-out gourd. When the daughter has sealed her in with stitches and rice glue, she starts the gourd rolling toward her mother’s village. First the tiger and then the bear approach the gourd in hopes of finding something to eat. They are each fooled by the grandma singing out and asking for a push. At last, the crafty fox realizes the trick, but by then, Grandma is so close to home the dogs are able to rescue her. The storyteller’s voice is augmented by frequent repetition and onomatopoeia, making this story a pleasure to read aloud. Intensely colored and patterned collages on glossy paper boldly advance the plot.

This fresh new version will soon have young listeners and readers telling the story themselves. (Picture book/folktale. 6-8)

Pub Date: March 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59643-378-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Neal Porter/Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2013

Captivating and powerful.

THE MATCHBOX DIARY

The story of one person’s life is the very essence of history, transcending time, distance and generations.

A little girl and her great-grandfather meet for the first time and attempt to get to know each other. The child is intrigued by the curiosities she sees in a collection of matchboxes. These matchboxes represent the memories of the old man’s life, a tangible diary, undertaken as a substitute for the written form at a time in his life when he was illiterate. Bits and pieces contained within call forth events, emotions or people that were important in his life’s journey, from his early childhood in Italy to the difficult voyage to America and the struggles of his immigrant family in the new world. An olive pit, a pen nib, a fish bone, a piece of coal and more tell of poverty, dreams and perseverance. Writing entirely in dialogue, Fleischman employs a natural and believable matter-of-fact tone that provides a fresh view of the immigrant experience, as the humble objects and their stories form the beginning of a loving bond between the little girl and her great-grandfather. Ibatoulline’s illustrations, done in acrylic gouache, are extraordinarily detailed and expressive. Modern scenes appear in warm, amber-toned colors, while framed sepia vignettes depict past memories as if part of a family album.

Captivating and powerful. (Picture book. 6-10)

Pub Date: March 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-7636-4601-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2013

Sure to be requested and welcome for lapsits and reciting together any time of day.

GOOD NIGHT, SLEEP TIGHT

Bedtime diversions and traditional rhymes are a winning combination here.

When Bonnie and Ben’s favorite babysitter, Skinny Doug, offers a bedtime salute of “Good night, sleep tight. / Hope the fleas don’t bite!” he embarks on a command performance of seven traditional rhymes. The not-very-sleepy duo keeps him going, as he recites from his personal repertoire: “ ‘We love it! we love it!’ said Bonnie and Ben./ ‘How does it go? Will you say it again?’ ” This catchy refrain follows each of the resourceful babysitter’s rhymes. To their entreaties to repeat each one, Skinny Doug replies, “I’ll tell you another / I learned from my mother.” After “Good night, sleep tight,” Skinny Doug offers “It’s raining, it’s pouring,” “This little piggie,” “Pat-a-cake,” “Round and round the garden,” “This is the way the ladies ride,” and “Star light, star bright.” The engaging, economical framing text is memorable and sweetly appealing, sure to encourage little listeners to participate. The finite number of rhymes introduced before the babysitter hustles Bonnie and Ben off to sleep is just right: It’s enough for one sitting, where larger collections bring the inevitable negotiation about where to stop. Horacek’s simple, solid lines and primary colors are friendly, cheery and almost exuberantly inviting.

Sure to be requested and welcome for lapsits and reciting together any time of day. (Picture book. 1-5)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-545-53370-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Orchard/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2013

This book overflows with affection—and you can never have too much of that.

DON'T SAY A WORD, MAMÁ / NO DIGAS NADA, MAMÁ

Mamá has always been proud of her loving daughters, even when they’ve grown.

Rosa, her husband and their three children live “in a little house just down the street from her mother.” Sister Blanca lives alone “in a little house just up the street from her mother.” One year, each sister plants a garden, growing tomatoes, corn and “good hot chiles.” Each woman gives their mother some and tells her that she is going to give her sister half her yield—but: “Don’t say a word, Mamá!” In the night, each unknowingly passes the other with a basketful and leaves it in her sister’s empty kitchen. In the morning, each is astonished at the enormous pile of tomatoes and gives still more to her mother, who accepts them with a shrug: “you can never have too many tomatoes.” This is repeated with the luxuriant crop of corn, but Mamá at last spills the beans—or rather the peppers—as she can’t manage a similar surplus of chiles. Storyteller Hayes uses repetition, parallel structure and short sentences masterfully, unspooling a sweet family tale that never turns saccharine. His own Spanish translation appears alongside the English text. Andrade Valencia contributes highly saturated paintings that combine a folk aesthetic with magical realism, playfully depicting anthropomorphized vegetables marrying and having babies as the sisters marvel at the bounty.

This book overflows with affection—and you can never have too much of that. (Bilingual picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-935955-29-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2013

PENNY AND HER MARBLE

From the Penny series

Whose marble is it?

In this third early reader about a little anthropomorphic mouse named Penny, Henkes continues to plumb the emotional world of childhood as few author/illustrators can. The story begins with Penny taking a walk and pushing her beloved doll, Rose, in a stroller. She heeds Mama’s admonition that she “[o]nly go as far as Mrs. Goodwin’s house,” and when she arrives there, she spies a shiny blue marble at the edge of the lawn. Though unsure whether she should do so, Penny pockets the glinting little orb and scurries home. Later, Penny’s conscience bothers her, and the marble hidden in her drawer adopts a presence akin to Poe’s telltale heart. She can’t bring herself to tell her concerned parents what is bothering her, and after a fitful night’s sleep, she goes for another walk to return the marble. Hoping to make a quick getaway after surreptitiously replacing it, Penny is worried when her neighbor approaches. Will Mrs. Goodwin be angry that she took the marble? As it turns out, Mrs. Goodwin purposefully put the marble on her lawn in the hope that someone would find it and take it home as a little treasure. Reassured, Penny thanks Mrs. Goodwin and walks home, imagining herself beside a sea as blue as her new marble. Henkes’ characteristically meticulous vignettes both expand the story and provide picture clues to help new readers along.

Another gem. (Early reader. 5-8)

Pub Date: March 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-208203-9

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Greenwillow

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2013

Sánchez has captured a kaleidoscope of emotion and powerful sensations in a way children will grasp completely. It’s The...

HERE I AM

Beautiful, evocative pictures tell the story of a boy who comes from an Asian land to a big U.S. city.

Images in this virtually wordless, slender graphic novel range from dreamlike curlicues to bold, dark cityscapes and emotional vignettes. The boy looks out of the window of a plane, great sadness in his body language. He and his father, mother and baby sister go through a crowded airport and a noisy and bewildering city to a small apartment. He finds the subway and the streets confusing, and he does not understand anything at school. The boy cherishes a red seed he has evidently brought from home. By accident, he drops it out the apartment window and then goes on a frantic search for it, finding new and interesting places along the way. He discovers he loves big, salted pretzels and shares some with the pigeons. When a girl with bouncy braids and beads in her hair climbs a tree and hangs upside down, the red seed falls out of her pocket. She and the boy plant it together, and as the seasons pass, friendship, seed and baby sister grow. An author’s note describes the storyteller’s voyage at age 4 from Korea to Washington, D.C.

Sánchez has captured a kaleidoscope of emotion and powerful sensations in a way children will grasp completely. It’s The Arrival for younger readers. (Graphic novel. 5-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-62370-036-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Capstone Young Readers

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2013

Yakyu or baseball, it’s all sheer joy.

TAKE ME OUT TO THE YAKYU

A young boy enjoys the best of two baseball worlds.

This fortunate youngster can savor the fine points of baseball in America and yakyu in Japan. While in America, Pop-Pop drives him to the stadium in the station wagon and buys him a foam hand and hot dogs. In Japan, Ji Ji takes him to the dome in a bus-train and buys a plastic horn and soba noodles. At the games they variously cheer “get a hit” or “do your best.” Seventh-inning stretch calls for “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” or the team anthem and a release of balloons. In America, his team wins, but in Japan, it ends in a tie, allowable within their rules. Appropriate souvenirs are purchased, and after a wonderful day, Gramma or Ba Ba has a warm bath ready. The comparisons are made mostly on facing pages with matching sentences and illustrations rendered in strong, bright acrylic paint. American scenes have mostly blue backgrounds or highlights, while the Japanese counterparts are red. It’s all a perfectly constructed, vivid picture of the two nations’ particular takes on what has become both of their national pastimes, as well as a multigenerational love of the game. Colorful charts of Japanese and English baseball terms and other words add to the fun.

Yakyu or baseball, it’s all sheer joy. (Picture book. 3-8)

Pub Date: Feb. 19, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4424-4177-4

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

Foot-stomping fit pitchers will take multiple timeouts for this amusing modern fable.

NO FITS, NILSON!

Amelia helps a 9-foot blue gorilla named Nilson avoid tantrums by repeatedly reminding him, “No fits, Nilson!”

Chunky, acrylic illustrations depict age-old meltdown triggers: a toppled block tower, uncooperative sneakers that just (eeergh!) won’t get (oof!) on your feet and boring grown-up errands. Cheery matte colors, crisp white spaces and thick black outlines carve out a child’s binary world, in which moods run from hot to cold in a mercurial minute. When Nilson rages, his simian eyes squint, his shoulders hulk, and his mouth spews GAARRRGHH! in oversized, black, block letters. Children will empathize and, thanks to Nilson’s absurdity (this ape wears a newsboy cap, multiple watches and Adidas), see tantrums for what they really are—disproportionate and silly. Amelia, a cutie with hair clips, an inky bob, stripy tights and a monster scooter helmet, seems to always keep her cool…until the ice-cream truck runs out of her favorite banana flavor. Watch out! Readers sigh with relief when Nilson shares his scoop, and another fit is averted; they giggle with unexpected pleasure when Amelia kisses him good night and see that he’s a pint-sized stuffed animal who’s actually been helping her manage her feelings all along.

Foot-stomping fit pitchers will take multiple timeouts for this amusing modern fable. (Picture book. 2-4)

Pub Date: June 13, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-8037-3852-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

A straightforward tale of conflict and reconciliation for newly emergent readers? Not exactly, which raises it above the...

ROBOT, GO BOT!

In this deceptively spare, very beginning reader, a girl assembles a robot and then treats it like a slave until it goes on strike.

Having put the robot together from a jumble of loose parts, the budding engineer issues an increasingly peremptory series of rhymed orders— “Throw, Bot. / Row, Bot”—that turn from playful activities like chasing bubbles in the yard to tasks like hoeing the garden, mowing the lawn and towing her around in a wagon. Jung crafts a robot with riveted edges, big googly eyes and a smile that turns down in stages to a scowl as the work is piled on. At last, the exhausted robot plops itself down, then in response to its tormentor’s angry “Don’t say no, Bot!” stomps off in a huff. In one to four spacious, sequential panels per spread, Jung develops both the plotline and the emotional conflict using smoothly modeled cartoon figures against monochromatic or minimally detailed backgrounds. The child’s commands, confined in small dialogue balloons, are rhymed until her repentant “Come on home, Bot” breaks the pattern but leads to a more equitable division of labor at the end.

A straightforward tale of conflict and reconciliation for newly emergent readers? Not exactly, which raises it above the rest. (Easy reader. 4-6)

Pub Date: June 25, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-375-87083-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2013

Brilliant in execution and hysterical in dialogue; Shea’s pretty great, too

UNICORN THINKS HE'S PRETTY GREAT

Goat can’t stop comparing himself to Unicorn and coming up short.

With slumped shoulders and a sulky frown, Goat is the picture of dejection. Before Unicorn moved in, he thought he was pretty cool. But now? He just can’t compete. Goat bakes marshmallow squares to share with his friends, but Unicorn makes it rain cupcakes! (Brightly colored ones with adorable smiles, at that.) Goat tries to wow everyone with his new magic trick, but Unicorn is able to turn things into gold. “Dopey Unicorn! Thinks he’s so great!” Goat scoffs and stamps in a jealous huff. But suddenly, one slice of goat-cheese pizza changes everything. Goat finds out that Unicorn is actually envious of him, too. Who knew that cloven hooves were so awesome? Shea examines a universal struggle that readers of all ages face: The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Unicorn may seem like he has it all—on every page he is surrounded by a glow of love and adoration, with rainbows and sparkles ready to burst forth at any moment—but that doesn’t mean he’s content. Even unicorns want to eat something besides glitter now and then.

Brilliant in execution and hysterical in dialogue; Shea’s pretty great, too . (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: June 25, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4231-5952-0

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

In the current run of titles about older siblings feeding younger ones, this one stands out for its inventive imagery and...

TIGER IN MY SOUP

A boy is left in the care of his older sister in an interesting house.

The boy wants her to read to him, but she’s got a book of her own (and earbuds in her ears) and keeps putting him off. She makes him a can of soup for lunch, and the steam rises and morphs into…“A tiger!” He drops his spoon and tries to defend himself against the ravenous beast with a fabulous contraption made of ladle, corkscrew, whisk and tongs, but his sister only wants to know why he let his soup get cold. Microwaving the soup, she acquiesces, reading his book (which is about a tiger) aloud while he eats. The satisfied tiger, meanwhile, wanders about his imagination. The pictures are quite wonderful: The huge, vivid tiger grows out of the soup and goes everywhere, roaring and prowling. The children live in an architectural wonder of a house on a rocky promontory, with great windows and a fine outdoor staircase. The boy in his jeans and sneakers and the girl in her tastefully preteen flower-embroidered hoodie are the color of chai, and his picture book is patterned like a batik or Indian cotton print.

In the current run of titles about older siblings feeding younger ones, this one stands out for its inventive imagery and use of common kitchen implements. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-56145-696-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Peachtree

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

A paean to imagination and an artful acknowledgment of children’s needs and frustrations, leavened with poignancy and humor.

LOULA IS LEAVING FOR AFRICA

Loula seethes. Sick of three ugly brothers and ignored by dotty parents, she sets out for Africa, making it only as far as the tree in the front yard until Gilbert (the family chauffeur) arrives to assist her on an imaginative safari.

Much feels familiar here: an affluent, plucky girl with an upturned nose and a doting servant (Eloise, anyone?). A round-brimmed straw hat calls to mind a spunky French girl (bonjour, Madeline!). It’s Gilbert, long-legged and lanky in high-waisted trousers, driving cap and bow tie, that makes this story special, sweet and lasting. His elaborate game of pretend, one that turns a city playground into the jungle, desert and rivers of Africa, reveals an utter devotion not only to little Loula, but also to make-believe. “Mademoiselle, please! Don’t put your hand in the water! Piranhas!” he cautions urgently. Gestural ink-and-watercolor illustrations evoke the fantastic fluidity of the imagination, and crisp, copious white space suggests its limitlessness. Yellows and blues appear frequently, making this sunny adventure even sunnier. When Loula and Gilbert reach their destination (a tiny park island) at sunset, the dark squiggly cloud that hovered above Loula’s head on each previous page dissipates in a miniexplosion of elation.

A paean to imagination and an artful acknowledgment of children’s needs and frustrations, leavened with poignancy and humor. (Picture book. 2-6)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-55453-941-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Kids Can

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2013

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