Book List

Best Picture Books of 2013 for the Youngest Children

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


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


Browne really cranks up the color intensity in this gorgeous, large-trim portrait gallery of primates.

Beginning with “1 gorilla” and counting up to “10 lemurs,” he presents on each spread a formally arranged head and upper-body close-up, with each subject placed against a plain white backdrop facing the viewer. Most are smiling, though as the groupings increase in size, they begin to take on the look of class photos, with a range of expressions on view and eyes sometimes playfully glancing to the side rather than looking directly out. Nonetheless, every visible eye gleams with steady, clear intelligence. Each ape is painted in hair-fine detail, in variegated hues that—particularly for the titular simian and the fiery orange parent and child orangutans that follow—glow incandescently. Browne closes with a self-portrait followed by a multicultural gathering of humans spanning the age spectrum, all with features and expressions that clearly echo those seen previously on hairier faces. The former British Children’s Laureate has a simple point—“All primates. / All one family. / All my family… / and yours!”—and he makes it in a visually compelling way. (Picture book. 3-8)


Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-7636-6352-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Nov. 7, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

The boy, his dog and bird rear back in wonder; readers will gape at the two enormous, whale-sized talents at work in this...

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Fogliano and Stead (And Then It’s Spring, 2012) produce another tender, timid story about a boy, his animal friends (a basset hound and a bird) and practicing patience.

Whale watching requires lots of resolve to avoid distractions like birds, roses, pirate ships, clouds, pelicans and so on. Fogliano’s exhaustive accounting of what not to notice artfully communicates the impossibility of unflagging focus. Her skeined advice unreels in a vivid, looping poem, while Stead’s soft, accompanying artwork settles into subdued, simple compositions. Linoleum printing offers oceanic, undulating blues and greens, while pencil drawings bring the redheaded boy’s freckles and his hound’s drooping skin into focus. Stunning specificity surfaces in the poem’s off-kilter phrasing (an inchworm’s “just nibble scoot” across a leaf). The drifting verse floats and coalesces like the clouds that threaten to divert the boy from whale watching. When read aloud, it charms like an incantation. The poem’s unresolved ellipses at the conclusion suggest an unending whale hunt, but Stead’s final two images silently deliver what we’ve been waiting for. The whale, huge and hidden, floats beneath the unknowing child’s tiny vessel and then twists its mass, pulling its head completely out of the water.

The boy, his dog and bird rear back in wonder; readers will gape at the two enormous, whale-sized talents at work in this transfixing picture book. (Picture book. 2-6)

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59643-731-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Neal Porter/Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2013

Another baby-faced winner from the Global Fund for Children, with an important social message to boot.


From the Global Babies series

In a natural follow-up to Global Babies (2006) and American Babies (2010), an empowering text and vibrant photos present baby girls from Canada, China, Guatemala, France, India, Liberia, New Zealand, Peru, Russia, the United States and more.

From the girl on the cover wearing a hijab to an American tyke wearing overalls, the girls mostly sport everyday wear in a broader range of colors than pink and purple. As girls are not always valued, the text, meted out in a few words per page, is a rallying cry in support of their potential: “Baby girls / can grow up / to change the world.” The portrait of each girl is presented on a full page or with a boldly colored border that allows for the occasional word of text. The babies mostly present happy or serious facial expressions, and a few engage in activities that illustrate girl power in subtle ways; an American baby, in her father’s arms, clutches a crayfish, and an Italian toddler looks as if she is “reading” aloud from a book.

Another baby-faced winner from the Global Fund for Children, with an important social message to boot. (Board book. 3 mos.-1)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-58089-439-5

Page Count: 16

Publisher: Charlesbridge

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2013

The true essence of a picture book: a unique balance of visual and written narrative sure to enchant young and old alike.


A delightful depiction of the parallel lives of a young girl and a tiny chick from dawn to dusk.

Preschooler Naomi stretches to greet the day while a picture of a wide-eyed yellow chick looks on passively from the wall behind her bed. Appel’s lithe translation from the Hebrew of Golan’s plain, lightly rhymed verse describes consecutive phases of a typical day in the little girl’s life, with each segment ending with the refrain, “But not Little Chick.” Awakened by her father, Naomi brushes her teeth, eats, goes to preschool, plays, makes art, listens to a story, naps, goes shopping with her mother, puts on her pajamas and eventually hops back into bed with her stuffed bear—“But not Little Chick.” Those following the text alone might think the only thing Little Chick has in common with Naomi is “snuggl[ing] in for the night” and feel a bit sorry for her. But the visual narrative portrayed in Karas’ warmly expressive crayon-and-pencil illustrations on the right side of each spread reveals an equally adventuresome, action-packed day for Little Chick. Pre-readers are sure to revel in the hilarious mischief Little Chick enjoys with barnyard friends, while those reading to them will be fascinated by the effective conveyance of this information through images alone.

The true essence of a picture book: a unique balance of visual and written narrative sure to enchant young and old alike. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-8028-5427-8

Page Count: 34

Publisher: Eerdmans

Review Posted Online: Aug. 14, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2013

A winner all around.


From the Bear and Mole series

A good friend will help you prepare for your challenges and will see you through them, as Bear does for Mole in another charming tale in the series from Hillenbrand (Kite Day, 2012, etc.)

As Bear packs books into his knapsack, Mole asks for help in removing his training wheels and checking his bike for safety. Each simple sentence is clearly illuminated with carefully rendered mixed-media artwork, from “They removed”—with Bear holding the bike steady as Mole wields his wrench—to “Mole snapped”—as the pleased little mammal, snout in air, properly fastens his helmet. A tender, double-page spread shows Bear placing a reassuring paw on the back of worried-looking Mole’s bike as the large-type words declare, “At last Mole was ready.” Now comes the wild action! A sophisticated simultaneous succession shows Mole wobbling toward a gentle “crash” on the facing page. Bear encourages the sobbing Mole to try again, and this time he succeeds—scattering plenty of leaves and animals as he gains speed. At journey’s end, everything comes full circle as the friends arrive just on time for a tale at the storymobile. The few words in the text include such vocabulary as grimaced, hoisted and exhaled, making this a terrific choice for a read-aloud from a precocious older sibling to a younger one.

A winner all around. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-8234-2520-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: June 26, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

The deceptively simple and visually appealing My Turn to Learn series is a great tool for introducing basic concepts to the...

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This simple counting book starring a sweet brown bear is perfect for little hands.  

The first spread introduces readers to a brown bear wearing a green hat and scarf and a small smile. It reads simply: “ONE bear.” Throughout the title, the number words are in large capital letters, and the nouns that follow them appear in cursive, an unusual choice for a board book and one that adds a touch of whimsy to the sweet, digitally produced illustrations. In the remaining page spreads, the brown bear is pictured with two owls (perched atop his head), three blue birds, four flowers and five puffy white clouds. Numbers six to 10 are grouped together on a final page spread. Large tabs labeled 1 through 5 run down the length of the rightmost edge of this sturdy selection, making it a cinch for little hands to grasp and open. Other titles in this charming series include My Turn to Learn Colors (978-0-316-25163-1), featuring a bunny and his vegetable garden; My Turn to Learn Opposites (978-0-316-25165-5), starring two adorable purple owls; and My Turn to Learn Shapes (978-0-316-25166-2), focused on a mama hen and her sweet baby chicks on the farm. Families will want them all.

The deceptively simple and visually appealing My Turn to Learn series is a great tool for introducing basic concepts to the littlest readers. (Board book. 0-3)

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-316-25164-8

Page Count: 12

Publisher: LB Kids/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2014

Tender and wistful and glorious.


A small child is wonder-struck by every creature she encounters.

She wants nothing more than to examine and touch and follow each of them. But a butterfly flutters off into the air, a lizard wiggles away between the rocks, pigeons fly out of reach, and the family cats scat as she nears. As each disappears from view, the little one calls, “Wait! Wait!” Finally, Daddy scoops her up and lovingly guides her as they go off on an adventure of their own. Nakawaki, with the help of translator Kaneko, offers these moments of wonderment and exploration in lovely, spare text, with each word carefully chosen to capture the swift, fluid movements of the creatures and the determination of the curious baby. Sakai’s soft, delicate acrylic-and–oil-pencil illustrations are breathtaking. The butterfly, lizard, pigeons and cats are brilliantly depicted in vivid, accurate detail, while the child is all expressive softness and yearning as she encounters each new experience. Each double-page spread is a sea of white, with a single large-print sentence and a lightly drawn hint of setting, allowing the characters and action to hold center stage. Parents and their little ones will snuggle together to read this joyous evocation of the newness and wonder of the world over and over again.

Tender and wistful and glorious. (Picture book. 1-5)

Pub Date: July 22, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59270-138-4

Page Count: 24

Publisher: Enchanted Lion Books

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2013


With luminous mixed media pictures, a short, carefully meted-out text and a Southwestern U.S. setting, Pinkney (The Lion and the Mouse, 2009) takes on another of Aesop’s fables—marvelously.

A persevering tortoise and a speedy but arrogant hare tackle a challenging race course that includes rocky elevations and a water crossing. When a farmstead’s cabbages tempt the hare, he tunnels under a fence to gorge and nap. Meanwhile the tortoise, closely observed by desert denizens, passes the slumbering hare and wins by a length. In the tortoise’s scenes, the fable’s moral inches along, like him: The first proclaims “SLOW”; the second, “SLOW AND”—and so on, with the victory spread featuring the entire moral.  The ingenious layout mixes bordered panels, spot illustrations and full-bleed single- and double-page spreads, arranged to convey each racer’s alternating progress through a golden landscape. Bejeweled with blooming cactuses and buzzing with bees, reptiles, mammals and more, the desert tableaux will engross readers. The critters’ bits of clothing—hat, bandanna, vest—add pops of color and visually evoke the jaunty characters of Br’er Rabbit stories. Hare’s black-and-white checked neckerchief does duty as the signal flag and Tortoise’s victory cape. Lush, encompassing endpapers feature, in the front, a layout of the racecourse and, in the rear, the reveling animals, with the hare, still stunned, gazing out at readers. A captivating winner—start to finish! (artist’s note, design notes) (Picture book/folk tale. 3-6)


Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-316-18356-7

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 14, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2013

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