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Best Picture Books of 2013 To Take You Outside the Box

For today’s curious children, this intriguing and accessible blend of words and pictures will provide a splendid...

ON A BEAM OF LIGHT

A boy who asked too many questions becomes iconic physicist Albert Einstein, whose questions changed the world.

The author of Manfish (illustrated by Eric Puybaret, 2008) presents another dreamer, a man who “asked questions never asked before. / Found answers never found before. / And dreamed up ideas never dreamt before.” Story and perfectly matched illustrations begin with the small boy who talked late, watched and thought, and imagined traveling through space on a light beam. Readers see the curious child growing into the man who constantly read and learned and wondered. With gouache, pen and ink, Radunsky’s humorous, childlike drawings convey Einstein’s personality as well as the important ideas in the text (which are set out in red letters). The narrative text includes several of Einstein’s big ideas about time and space; one illustration and the back endpapers include the famous formula. The mottled, textured paper of each page reinforces the concept that everything is made of atoms. A nice touch at the end shows children who might also wonder, think and imagine dressed in the professor’s plaid suit. An author’s note adds a little more about the person and the scientist.

For today’s curious children, this intriguing and accessible blend of words and pictures will provide a splendid introduction to a man who never stopped questioning. (Picture book/biography. 6-9)

Pub Date: May 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-8118-7235-5

Page Count: 56

Publisher: Chronicle

Review Posted Online: March 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2013

A splash of vibrancy about a self-taught master.

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A SPLASH OF RED

THE LIFE AND ART OF HORACE PIPPIN

This outstanding portrait of African-American artist Horace Pippin (1888-1946) allows Pippin’s work to shine—and his heart too.

“The colors are simple, such as brown, amber, yellow, black, white and green,” says pencil-lettered text on the front endpapers. These are Pippin’s own humble words. His art and life aren’t really simple at all, but here, they’re eminently accessible. On that spread, brush and pencil lie on overlapping off-white papers—lined, gridded, plain—decorated in pencil hatchings and a painted progression of hues between each primary color and its complement. From Pippin’s young childhood (working for pay to help his family; sketching with charcoal and paper scraps until he wins his first real art supplies in a contest), to his Army service in World War I, to the well-deserved fame that arrived only late in his life, he “couldn’t stop drawing.” When a military injury threatens Pippin’s painting ability, he tries wood burning—“[u]sing his good arm to move the hurt one”—and works his way back to painting. Sweet’s sophisticated mixed media (watercolor, gouache and collage), compositional framing, and both subdued and glowing colors pay homage to Pippin’s artistic style and sometimes re-create his pieces. Bryant’s text is understated, letting Pippin’s frequent quotations glimmer along with the art. Backmatter provides exceptional resources, including artwork locations.

A splash of vibrancy about a self-taught master. (historical note, author’s note, illustrator’s note, references) (Picture book/biography. 5-11)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-375-86712-5

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

Eye-catching pictures and splendid forward momentum add up to a giggle-inducing tale with subtlety underneath.

NEVER EVER

Who says closing your eyes hinders adventure?

“Nothing exciting ever happens to me! Never, ever! Humph,” grumbles a girl with coiled-spring red legs and scribbly-straight ginger hair. Holding her floppy stuffed rabbit, she closes her eyes and sets off on a stroll. They pass an orchard of innocent pigs, one of which sprouts wings and follows, aloft. In a field of wind-bent reeds, a purple gorilla stands; from a mass of shining yellow flowers, up pops a lion. The girl’s eyes stay resolutely closed, even when the lion’s gusting roar blows her hair and dress like a stiff breeze. “[N]ever, ever, ever, evereverevereverevereverever,” she repeats, as animals emerge from the abstract, ever-changing landscape. Gorgeous secondary and tertiary colors, often watery and splashing, make a vibrant mix of saturation and pallor. Motion-filled lines create energy. Surprise and hilarity escalate, all rising from the girl’s closed eyes, but is she really entirely ignorant? Perhaps not: The gorilla inquires “Ever?” and she answers; plus, her eyes do open at a certain critical point, yet afterward, even as she cleans grime off her bunny, she insists, “See? Told you! Nothing exciting EVER happens to me!” Her eyes-shut expression holds subtle amusement and defiance; this girl may know more than she admits.

Eye-catching pictures and splendid forward momentum add up to a giggle-inducing tale with subtlety underneath. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-84643-552-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Child's Play

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2013

This marvelous metabook shines in both concept and beauty.

THE STORY OF FISH AND SNAIL

Right from the title page, Freedman’s latest makes a splash.

Atop a black-and-white stack of closed books sits one open book with blue pages fluttering like waves. A yellow fishtail disappears into the page, splashing water into the air above the books. This book happens to be a watery world (fish tank?) where, every day, Snail waits for Fish “to come home with a story.” Fish offers one with “a whole ocean, and a secret treasure, and a pirate ship”—but rather than telling it, “I want to show you this time, Snail!” Nope—Snail won’t go. They fight; Fish departs. Highlighted against the closed books and unobtrusive, black-and-white bookshelves in the background, Fish and Snail’s watercolor world looks clear and fine. But with Fish gone, “[h]ow can this be The Story of Fish & Snail?” Snail peers downward over the edge of the towering pile of books, where Fish has disappeared with a quiet “plimp.” Fish’s body, far below, appears murkily underwater inside the daunting new book. “F-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-S-H!” cries Snail, launching bravely into the air. Water splashes the whole height of the pile as Snail plunges into the new book. Fish peeps around a page’s corner, ready for reconciliation and adventure. Texture, scale and angle accentuate the exciting difference between the in-book worlds and the pale library background.

This marvelous metabook shines in both concept and beauty. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: June 13, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-670-78489-9

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2013

Social learners and budding math lovers alike will find something awesome about this exceptional man.

THE BOY WHO LOVED MATH

THE IMPROBABLE LIFE OF PAUL ERDOS

An exuberant and admiring portrait introduces the odd, marvelously nerdy, way cool Hungarian-born itinerant mathematical genius.

Heiligman’s joyful, warm account invites young listeners and readers to imagine a much-loved boy completely charmed by numbers. Paul Erdos was sweetly generous throughout his life with the central occupation of his great brain: solving mathematical problems. Unmoored from the usual ties of home and family once grown, he spent most of his career traveling the world to work with colleagues. Erdos was known for his ineptness at practical matters even as he was treasured, housed and fed by those with whom he collaborated in math. The polished, disarming text offers Pham free rein for lively illustration that captures Erdos’ childlike spirit. She uses a slightly retro palette and line to infuse Erdos’ boyhood surroundings with numbers and diagrams, conveying the idea that young Paul lived and breathed math. She populates his adulthood with his affectionate colleagues, even including a graph with Erdos at the center of several dozen of the great mathematical minds of the 20th century to illustrate the whimsical “Erdos number” concept. An extensive author’s note includes a bit more biographical information about Erdos and points to George Csicsery’s 1993 film N is a Number as well as to Heiligman’s website for links for further exploration. Pham’s illustrator’s note invites young readers to go page by page to learn about the kinds of numbers that captivated Erdos and to meet him among his cherished mathematicians.

Social learners and budding math lovers alike will find something awesome about this exceptional man. (Picture book/biography. 3-9)

Pub Date: June 11, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59643-307-6

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

A treat for eye and mind alike, besides being suitable for displays and durable enough to stand up to plenty of hands-on use.

ANIMALS UPSIDE DOWN

A PULL, POP, LIFT & LEARN BOOK!

More than 26 creatures flip, twist, swivel or simply pose upside down in this neatly laid-out gallery of nature’s acrobats.

A fruit bat and a male bird of paradise pop up to hover gracefully over double-page spreads, but most of Jenkins’ animals move laterally or switch positions with the pull of a tab or lift of a flap. From a pangolin swinging by its tail to reach a termite’s nest and a sparrow hawk twisting in midair to seize a bird from underneath to a net-casting spider dropping a webby trap over a passing fly, the movements are small but consistently natural-looking. The animals are all rendered with typically amazing accuracy from pieces of cut and torn paper. Captions that themselves sometimes curve or stand on their heads identify each animal and comment on how upending helps it to, usually, capture or to keep from becoming food (more information about each is provided on the closing spread). On a lighter note, to cap the lot, a simple but ingenious sliding panel even flips a human silhouette, as “sometimes going topsy-turvy is just for fun!”

A treat for eye and mind alike, besides being suitable for displays and durable enough to stand up to plenty of hands-on use. (Informational pop-up. 5-9)

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-547-34127-9

Page Count: 24

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2013

Even readers who received fastidious toilet training and admonitions against potty humor will let down their guard and find...

TOILET

HOW IT WORKS

A perfect blend of humor and clarity—in text and in artwork—explains the anatomy of human waste, the mechanics of a flush toilet and the subsequent treatment of waste in septic and sewer systems.

Cartoony images of three toilet bowls—one being used by a thirsty, shaggy dog, one surrounded by a somber family with a dead pet goldfish, and one heaped with flowers, shown outside a home—adorn the first page of the book, along with this opening sentence: “Everybody knows what a toilet is for.” Genius Macaulay, with Keenan’s (unspecified) assistance, continues this tongue-in-cheek romp with clever drawings as he also carefully discusses such scientific facts as the function of bacteria in breaking down waste; the physics behind the tank, the bowl and the siphon; and the role of wastewater treatment plants in the overall water cycle. Cutaway views aid in showing exactly how various systems work, while unique visual angles of everything from human organs topped with eyeglasses to a bird’s-eye view of a bustling city encourage viewers to venture beyond reading literacy to art appreciation.

Even readers who received fastidious toilet training and admonitions against potty humor will let down their guard and find this book both informative and entertaining. (glossary, resources, index, author’s notes) (Informational early reader. 7 & up)

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59643-779-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: David Macaulay Studio/Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2013

A beautifully designed book that will resonate with children and the adults who wisely share it with them.

NELSON MANDELA

An inspirational ode to the life of the great South African leader by an award-winning author and illustrator.

Mandela’s has been a monumental life, a fact made clear on the front cover, which features an imposing, full-page portrait. The title is on the rear cover. His family gave him the Xhosa name Rolihlahla, but his schoolteacher called him Nelson. Later, he was sent to study with village elders who told him stories about his beautiful and fertile land, which was conquered by European settlers with more powerful weapons. Then came apartheid, and his protests, rallies and legal work for the cause of racial equality led to nearly 30 years of imprisonment followed at last by freedom for Mandela and for all South Africans. “The ancestors, / The people, / The world, / Celebrated.” Nelson’s writing is spare, poetic, and grounded in empathy and admiration. His oil paintings on birch plywood are muscular and powerful. Dramatic moments are captured in shifting perspectives; a whites-only beach is seen through a wide-angle lens, while faces behind bars and faces beaming in final victory are masterfully portrayed in close-up.

A beautifully designed book that will resonate with children and the adults who wisely share it with them. (author’s note, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 5-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-178374-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

Funny and spirited (and secretly educational, but nobody will notice).

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EXCLAMATION MARK

Punctuation with pizzazz.

How does an exclamation mark learn his purpose? Pre-readers and readers alike will giggle and cheer to see the process. The setting is a warm yellowish beige background with a faint pulpy pattern and repeating horizontal lines with dotted lines halfway between them—penmanship paper. Each bold, black punctuation mark has a minimalist yet expressive face inside its circular dot. “He stood out,” explains the first page, as the titular protagonist looks on doubtfully. He tries hanging around with periods, but squishing his extension down into a spring doesn’t really work; even prostrate, “he just wasn’t like everyone else. Period.” (Hee! Rosenthal gleefully puns instead of naming any punctuation.) Mournful, “confused, flummoxed, and deflated,” the exclamation mark’s line tangles and flops. Then someone unexpected arrives. “Hello? Who are you?” queries the newbie, jovially pummeling the exclamation mark with 17 manic inquiries at once. “Stop!” screams the exclamation mark in enormous, bumpy-edged letters—and there’s his identity! The outburst’s anxious vibe dissipates immediately (and the question mark is undaunted by being yelled at). Finally, the protagonist has “[broken] free from a life sentence.” Snapping up usages that match his newfound personality, he zooms back to show the other punctuation marks. The zippy relationship between exclamation mark and question mark continues beyond the acknowledgements page.

Funny and spirited (and secretly educational, but nobody will notice). (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: March 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-545-43679-3

Page Count: 56

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2013

Lighthearted, fun and original, this book will delight children and parents alike.

I AM BLOP!

Blop comes in many colors, but only one distinctive, easy-to-draw shape. The latest in a series of offbeat, imaginative creations by renowned French artist Tullet will intrigue children and encourage them to think outside the blop.

Tullet takes a single shape, a puffy X reminiscent of a butterfly or a flower, and allows it to run wild through a colorful circus of abstract ideas. Using very few words and a homely, handwritten script, Blop visually explores many concepts encountered for the first time by young children, including up and down, single and plural, colors, individual and family, school and classroom, pleasure and pain, beauty, the art museum, city and countryside, the universe. One spread asks questions to which there are no right or wrong answers: “What do Blops eat?" “Would you like to have a Blop?” “Can Blops fly?” Any child bored with standard activity-book fare will love using this open-ended, imaginative tool for creating their own universe. “Moi C’est Blop” (the original French title) taps directly into the heart of a child’s natural creativity by avoiding the didactic explanatory tone of similar books.

Lighthearted, fun and original, this book will delight children and parents alike. (Picture book. 2-6)

Pub Date: March 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-7148-6533-1

Page Count: 110

Publisher: Phaidon

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2013

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