Book List

Best Picture Books of 2014 That Celebrate Diversity

Sensitive and reassuring.


Young Morris definitely marches to the beat of a different drummer.

He likes his mom and his cat and lots of school activities. He especially enjoys the dress-up center, where he chooses a tangerine-colored dress that reminds him of “tigers, the sun and his mother’s hair.” The dress also makes delightful sounds as he moves, and when he adds shoes that click, his joy is complete. None of this sits well with the other kids, who tease and ostracize him, leaving him isolated. One lonely Friday, hurt and upset, he pretends a tummy ache and stays home from school. Supported by his mother’s soothing, calming encouragement, he reads, dreams, and paints wild and wonderful adventures with blue elephants and spaceships. When he returns to school, tangerine dress and all, he wins over his classmates with his imaginative play and his new self-confidence. Baldacchino treats the tricky and controversial subject of expected gender behaviors and bullying with care and compassion, employing language and tone that avoid histrionics or preaching. Morris is a complex character whose creativity and personality shine. Malenfant’s lively and colorful illustrations, rendered in an unusual mix of charcoal, watercolor, pastel and Photoshop, are appealing and eye-catching and clearly depict Morris’ difficulties, dreams and triumphs. An opportunity for a cozy read-together and a lively discussion.

Sensitive and reassuring. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: May 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-55498-347-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Groundwood

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014

A stunning work of creative genius sure to captivate the young and lend pure delight to beachcombers of any age.



A riveting collection of puppets made from found objects at the seashore.

Coretta Scott King–Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement winner Bryan here presents the uncanny fruit of over 50 years of artistry and beachcombing. A child of the Depression, Bryan early on developed a penchant for collecting cast-off items from New York City sidewalks. As an adult, when walking the shores of Maine’s Little Cranberry Island, he does the same, now turning much of his seaside bounty into the more than 30 hand puppets captured here in exquisite detail by photographer Hannon. Not only do shells, sea glass and driftwood find new life in Bryan’s African folklore–inspired creations, but bits of net, marbles, thumbtacks, gloves, twine, all kinds of bones, watchbands, forks, fur and a bedpost—not to mention the occasional button—and more amazingly transform into appendages and accessories. As if his wildly fashioned creatures don’t have enough character, Bryan gives each of his puppets a name and poem describing both what it’s made from and its vision. Says the shamanlike Spirit Guardian: “We are born of cast-off pieces / And, like magic, brought alive / By your own imagination. / That’s the gift / By which we thrive.”

A stunning work of creative genius sure to captivate the young and lend pure delight to beachcombers of any age. (Picture book/poetry. 4 & up)

Pub Date: July 8, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4424-8728-4

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

Never burdened by its message, this exceptional title works on multiple levels; it is both a striking introduction to a...


This first-person account presents Mohandas Gandhi through the eyes of his then–12-year-old grandson.

Arriving at Sevagram, the ashram Gandhi lived in as an old man, young Arun and his family greet their famous relative and start participating in the simple lifestyle of morning prayers, chores and pumpkin mush. It is challenging for the boy, who misses electricity and movies and dreads language lessons. The crux of the story hinges on the moment Arun is tripped and injured during a soccer game. He picks up a rock and feels the weight of familial expectations. Running to his grandfather, he learns the surprising fact that Gandhi gets angry too. Grandfather lovingly explains that anger is like electricity: it “can strike, like lightning, and split a living tree in two…. Or it can be channeled, transformed….Then anger can illuminate. It can turn the darkness into light.” Turk’s complex collages, rich in symbolic meaning and bold, expressive imagery, contribute greatly to the emotional worldbuilding. Watercolor, gouache and cut paper set the scenes, while fabric clothes the primary players. Gandhi’s spinning wheel is a repeated motif; tangled yarn surrounding Arun signals frustration. 

Never burdened by its message, this exceptional title works on multiple levels; it is both a striking introduction to a singular icon and a compelling story about the universal experience of a child seeking approval from a revered adult. (authors’ note) (Picture book/memoir. 4-8)

Pub Date: March 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4424-2365-7

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: Jan. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

An exquisitely crafted call to honor ourselves, one another and the natural world.


The author of I Know the River Loves Me / Yo sé que el río me ama (2009) offers a bilingual picture book that presents the triumphant journey from seed to tree, conveying a deep appreciation for nature.

A seed, depicted as a little child, nestles deep underground. The child wakes up and grows into a strong tree, free yet rooted. Upon waking, the child sees other trees, presented on the page as an array of ethnically diverse children, standing and moving in their own ways. The text is brief, lyrical, and equally expressive in both the English and Spanish. “Some sing songs / Some sing along / All trees have roots / All trees belong // Unos cantan canciones / Otros se unen al coro / Todos los árboles tienen raíces / Todos los árboles tienen un lugar.” Reading the text aloud invites the incorporation of creative movement, such as yoga or dance, and is sure to engage younger and older children alike. Visionary illustrations stretch vibrant colors across the pages, with details that encourage readers to sit with the book and explore. Most notably, the author/illustrator excels at using few words to evoke grand imagery, relaying a powerful message to children: We are all our own trees—equal, vital and free.

An exquisitely crafted call to honor ourselves, one another and the natural world. (Picture book. 3-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-89239-294-0

Page Count: 24

Publisher: Children's Book Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

This story soars.


Set in Pakistan during Basant, “the most exciting day of the year,” this story focuses on the strength and resourcefulness of a child in a wheelchair as he navigates the skies at the spring kite festival.

Perched on the rooftop and assisted by his brother and sister, Malik launches his small but swift creation, named Falcon, into the stratosphere, where it defeats both of the kites that belong to the bully next door. (Unlikely as that may be, it will undoubtedly please the intended audience.) Falcon sends many others to the ground, where “they’ll belong to whoever finds them. But at least they will have tasted freedom.” Silk, burlap, brocade, embroidery, ribbons and rice paper mingle with light brown figures outlined in black within exquisite and dynamic mixed-media collages. In one particularly successful scene, layered buildings and billowing laundry form a backdrop, the three siblings dominate the middle ground, and Malik’s white robe becomes a sky against which small figures cycle in the foreground. Pointed Moorish arches are a design element on almost every page, often framing the text and lending a cultural reference. Displaying another side of his personality, the “King” concludes his day of warfare with a secret act of kindness. Krömer’s inventive compositions are a visually exciting match for Khan’s introduction to an appealing event (originally published in Canada in 2001 with art by different illustrators).

This story soars. (author’s note) (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-60060-659-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Lee & Low Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

From the booming paigu to the delicate strings of the ruan, the lutelike pipa and the yangqin, or hammered “butterfly harp,”...



Thirteen young musicians of diverse ethnic background ready themselves to play their traditional Chinese instruments on stage in this informative and gracefully illustrated twin debut.

Jiang, a composer, presents upbeat, free-verse poems in the children’s voices about their instruments or their mental states: “When I tune my erhu, / I only need to listen to / Two strings. So easy!” These are paired to sidebar historical and descriptive notes, associated legends and characterizations of the distinctive sounds each instrument makes. Chu’s illustrations are rendered in clearly drawn lines and soft, harmonious colors. They depict each musician in turn playing his or her instrument in rehearsals or solo performances with, often, imagined natural landscapes, animals or mythical beasts floating behind. The preparation culminates in a concert seen in an elevated view of orchestra and audience, followed by a final lineup to take a bow beneath a closing note on characteristics of classical Chinese music.

From the booming paigu to the delicate strings of the ruan, the lutelike pipa and the yangqin, or hammered “butterfly harp,” a lively medley that will expand the musical boundaries of most young audiences. (bibliography) (Informational picture book/poetry. 6-9)

Pub Date: April 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-885008-50-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Lee & Low Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

This lovely reimagining of an old tale affirms the browning of American’s contemporary young readership


A brown-skinned Beauty—what a refreshing change!

Cornrows, braids and beads, Afro puffs and twists. No, it’s not an African-American hair magazine; these are some of the hairstyles that Beauty and her sisters sport in Cummings and Lee’s ethnically rich retelling of an old, typically Caucasian favorite. The Beast’s family crest, an intricate figure on the title page that strongly resembles a West African Adinkra symbol, sets the stage for this picture book’s all-black cast of characters. Though Lee recounts the familiar French version in the text, beginning with the cover image, the illustrations affirm the beauty of this lithe girl of African descent and even of her mean-spirited sisters. Cummings’ illustrations convey so much detail that even the pre-transformation Beast seems beautiful…in his own way. Because of these culturally specific visual dynamics, the handsome visage of Beast-turned-prince comes as no surprise. Readers who attend to detail will delight in the Beast’s fierce animal topiaries and in a plethora of beastly faces found in unlikely places such as the backs of chairs, masks hanging on the walls and the cedar chest in Beauty’s room.

This lovely reimagining of an old tale affirms the browning of American’s contemporary young readership . (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-688-14819-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2013


A family’s arduous journey from a farm in Mexico to a crowded dwelling in Los Angeles unfolds, literally, as a ribbon is untied and accordion-style pages open to reveal one continuous, aesthetically astonishing scene.

The densely packed black-and-white composition painted on traditional amate (tree bark) paper conjures both the mystery and stylization of pre-Columbian codices and the imagery and political overtones of a Diego Rivera mural. Written in the first person (English on one side, Spanish on the reverse), the succinct but pithy paragraphs read vertically, paralleling the visual layers. Low buildings, pigs and vegetation surround the young narrator as he feeds roosters in the top scene. When the economy changes, his father searches for work across the northern border. Tension mounts as the family follows later, jumping onto moving trains and avoiding police so they don’t “disappear.” Mirrored actions heighten the drama: An early game of hide-and-seek contrasts with the subsequent need to escape detection by border patrols, for instance. Arriving to a world of skyscrapers and thruways, mother and children find cleaning jobs, but their future is uncertain, as is the whereabouts of their husband/father. Content and design coalesce in a handsome presentation that invites readers to decode intriguing images in a pastoral setting suggestive of folklore—and in the process, arouses empathy for the all-too-real risks surrounding migrants.

Breathtaking. (author and illustrator notes) (Picture book. 6-12)

Pub Date: May 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4197-0957-9

Page Count: 22

Publisher: Abrams

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

A very fine working of story, information, art and culture.


Published first in French in 2011, Perrin’s elegant construction looks at children and young people around the globe eastward from the Greenwich meridian.

At 6 a.m. in Dakar, Senegal, Keita is helping his father with his catch of fish. “At the same moment,” goes the refrain, it is 7 a.m. in Paris, and Benedict is drinking his hot chocolate before school. The moment unfolds with Yasmine in Baghdad, Lilu in the Himalyas, Chen in Shanghai, Allen and Kiana in Honolulu, and so on. The children range in age from newborn, like Diego in Lima, Peru, who is born there at 1 a.m., to teenagers, like Sharon and Peter kissing goodbye in San Francisco at 10 p.m. The pictures, in pencil and digital color, fill the tall oblong shape of the book dramatically. Details are telling: A little red-beaked bird appears on most of the pages; the Frenchman striding along with his briefcase is smoking a cigarette; in Dubai, Nadia is watching yet another huge building go up; Pablo’s dreams in Mexico City take shape with Aztec symbols. A lovely foldout world map places and names all these children. A brief but excellent description of time zones and timekeeping closes the volume. Who knew that India and China both have only one time zone across their huge expanses?  

A very fine working of story, information, art and culture. (Picture book. 5-9)

Pub Date: March 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4521-2208-3

Page Count: 36

Publisher: Chronicle

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2014



Like tricksters in traditions everywhere, “Chukfi Rabbit is lay-zeeee.”

In a time long ago, the narrator tells readers in an assured voice, Ms. Shukata Possum organizes “an everybody-work-together day to build her” a new house. Chukfi pleads prior commitments—until he hears that “fresh homemade butter” will be served with dinner. Well, that rotten rabbit shows up but disappears as soon as he can, going down to the spring where Ms. Possum is keeping the butter cool and eating it all up while feigning illness. Greedy Chukfi! When the workday is finished, he must pretend a great appetite, “even though his belly [is] great-big stuffed.” A giant, buttery belch betrays him, of course. Choctaw storyteller Rodgers invests the tale, found in the archives of the Oklahoma History Center, with plenty of humor and oral flair. From the spring, Chukfi hears the “saw-saw-sawing and the ham-ham-hammering”; as “they didn’t really have hammers back in those days, [the turtle] kindly agree[s]” to substitute. Choctaw illustrator Widener dresses her animal characters in a mélange of traditional and contemporary attire; Chula Fox and Luksi Turtle sport black, brimmed hats and tasseled belts, while Kinta Beaver wears a denim work shirt and a baseball cap. Both text and illustrations positively exude good humor. Chukfi is a trickster worthy of the name, and this fresh, funny tale makes an excellent addition to the genre. (author’s notes) (Picture book. 5-8)


Pub Date: June 24, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-935955-26-9

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Cinco Puntos

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

Readers will agree that “Melba Doretta Liston was something special.” (Picture book. 4-8)


Bewitched by the rhythms of jazz all around her in Depression-era Kansas City, little Melba Doretta Liston longs to make music in this fictional account of a little-known jazz great.

Picking up the trombone at 7, the little girl teaches herself to play with the support of her Grandpa John and Momma Lucille, performing on the radio at 8 and touring as a pro at just 17. Both text and illustrations make it clear that it’s not all easy for Melba; “The Best Service for WHITES ONLY” reads a sign in a hotel window as the narrative describes a bigotry-plagued tour in the South with Billie Holiday. But joy carries the day, and the story ends on a high note, with Melba “dazzling audiences and making headlines” around the world. Russell-Brown’s debut text has an innate musicality, mixing judicious use of onomatopoeia with often sonorous prose. Morrison’s sinuous, exaggerated lines are the perfect match for Melba’s story; she puts her entire body into her playing, the exaggerated arch of her back and thrust of her shoulders mirroring the curves of her instrument. In one thrilling spread, the evening gown–clad instrumentalist stands over the male musicians, her slide crossing the gutter while the back bow disappears off the page to the left. An impressive discography complements a two-page afterword and a thorough bibliography.

Readers will agree that “Melba Doretta Liston was something special.” (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: July 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-60060-898-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Lee & Low Books

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014


Anna, the youngest in a large family, desperately wants to carry her coffee can of water on her head.

She doesn’t yet have this skill that all her siblings have mastered. Why, Karen can even read while she carries a water container on her head, a detail noted in the exuberant paintings accompanying the simple text, ideal for reading aloud. There is another problem. Anna is afraid of the cows in Mr. Johnson’s field, near the spring. One day, when she is trailing way behind the others, Anna just starts running away from her bovine enemies (very peaceful creatures, as depicted in the illustrations). Her whole family comes to find her, and they all witness a grand sight: Anna running with her full can on her head and not spilling a single drop! James, of Antiguan background, allows her bold acrylic paintings in tropical colors to sprawl across wide double-page spreads of lush Caribbean landscapes. The hummingbirds and butterflies add a bit of whimsy to Anna’s cover portrait. While not mentioned in the text, the Jamaican flag is seen on the wall of a country store, and the author was born there. When water easily comes out of a faucet, young readers rarely think about the difficult chore of carrying water, but they will empathize with Anna’s desire to reach an important milestone. (Picture book. 4-6)


Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-896580-60-9

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Tradewind Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2014

A compelling story told with impeccable care.

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A little-known yet important story of the fight to end school discrimination against Mexican-American children is told with lively text and expressive art.

Most associate the fight for school integration with the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education. However, seven years earlier, Mexican-American students in California saw an end to discrimination there. The little girl at the center of that case, Sylvia Mendez, was the daughter of parents who looked forward to sending her to the school near their newly leased farm. When her aunt attempted to register the family children, they were directed to the “Mexican school,” despite proficiency in English and citizenship. No one could explain to Mr. Mendez why his children were not allowed to attend the better-appointed school nearby. Despite the reluctance of many fellow Mexican-Americans to cause "problems," he filed a suit, receiving the support of numerous civil rights organizations. Tonatiuh masterfully combines text and folk-inspired art to add an important piece to the mosaic of U.S. civil rights history. The universality of parents’ desires for better opportunities for their children is made plain. The extensive author’s note provides context, and readers can connect with the real people in the story through photographs of Sylvia, her parents and the schools in question. Helpful backmatter includes a glossary, bibliography and index. Even the sourcing of dialogue is explained.

A compelling story told with impeccable care. (Informational picture book. 6-9)

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4197-1054-4

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Abrams

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2014

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