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Best Picture Books of 2014 That Confound Expectations

For children and their bird-watching parents, who will appreciate the clever premise and the message of admiration.

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AVIARY WONDERS INC.

SPRING CATALOG AND INSTRUCTION MANUAL

A catalog of bird parts and instructions for making your own in a sadly possible future in which living birds have nearly disappeared.

Feathers, beaks, legs and feet, bodies, tails and even flight styles can be ordered from this enterprising company, whose motto is “Renewing the World’s Bird Supply Since 2031.” Written and illustrated (in oil, ink, graphite and colored pencil) in the style of traditional mail-order inventories, this weaves in a surprising amount of genuine bird information while displaying the variety of interchangeable parts. Body and wing shapes fit different purposes. Legs and feet are adjusted for habitat, and beaks must match potential food. There are decorative streamers, collars and crests. The illustrations reflect actual birds; in spite of decorative coloration, beaks and wings are recognizable as identified. If a model is based on a bird now critically endangered or extinct (such as the slender-billed curlew, great auk and passenger pigeon), the label points it out. The author also enumerates actual bird threats: insecticides, habitat loss, the exotic pet trade and cats. Finally, careful instructions for assembly and training are included. Don’t teach your bird a song you don’t want to hear over and over!

For children and their bird-watching parents, who will appreciate the clever premise and the message of admiration. (Picture book. 10 & up)

Pub Date: March 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-547-97899-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Clarion

Review Posted Online: Jan. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

Heartwarming creative genius abounds here, offering visual and aural pleasures aplenty: not to be missed.

A POND FULL OF INK

A dozen poems from the inimitable Dutch writer magnificently translated and illustrated.

Although she was the winner of the Hans Christian Andersen Prize in 1988, Schmidt’s work, while widely translated elsewhere, is largely little known to English speakers. But through the award-winning talents of Australian translator Colmer and Dutch illustrator Posthuma, this volume—first published in the Netherlands in 2011, 16 years after Schmidt’s death, and for which Posthuma nabbed his second Gouden Penseel prize for best illustrated children’s book—should change all that. Schmidt’s zany characters burst to life in Colmer’s florid translation. Between the ravishingly well-crafted verse, with its tight meter and lithe rhyme, and Posthuma’s stark, richly layered mixed-media illustrations, readers can spend hours savoring each page. Schmidt’s sympathies for the daring and slightly misbehaved shine through in these wry, whimsical sketches. The fairy-tale writer draws from his pond of ink; furniture with legs steps out of the house for a walk; the intolerant Isabella Caramella feeds her hungry pet crocodile, Crabbit; and so on. Seasoned bath avoiders and their kin will thrill at “Belinda Hated Getting Clean…”: From her ink-splotched aura, Medusa-like hair and creepy talons to full-blown leafiness, Posthuma delectably marks Belinda’s transformation from fauna to flora.

Heartwarming creative genius abounds here, offering visual and aural pleasures aplenty: not to be missed. (Picture book/poetry. 6-14)

Pub Date: March 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8028-5433-9

Page Count: 34

Publisher: Eerdmans

Review Posted Online: Jan. 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2014

Extraordinary and wonderful.

THE PILOT AND THE LITTLE PRINCE

THE LIFE OF ANTOINE DE SAINT-EXUPÉRY

What was essential about one golden-haired boy in love with flying becomes visible in Sís’ richly visual biographical portrait of French writer and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

Sís covers the basics: Saint-Exupéry briefly studied architecture, then was a pioneer air mail pilot and began to publish his stories. Assigned to the mail station at Cape Juby in the Spanish Sahara, “he loved the solitude and being under millions of stars.” He spent two of the war years exiled in New York and finally returned to fly for France. Sís’ work invites readers to take time, to attend to the narrative in both the straightforward text and the nuanced, complex pictures. Antoine’s pilot friend Guillaumet advises him “to follow the face of the landscape”: A small plane flies over faces in the dunes (perhaps a nod to Saint-Exupéry’s Terres des Hommes). A desert fox greets one of Antoine’s several crashes, but instead of direct speculation about Saint-Exupéry’s inspiration for The Little Prince, Sís offers a multifaceted look at the author as adventurer and dreamer. Saint-Exupéry disappeared over the sea near Corsica in 1944: In Sís’ poignant illustration, the lines of the Lockheed P-38 become the wings and bicycle of a flying machine, a little like one Antoine made as a child.

Extraordinary and wonderful. (Picture book/biography. 6-12)

Pub Date: May 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-374-38069-4

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Frances Foster/Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

Without a doubt, these inventive images are imaginative and engaging—chock full of inspiration for kids to try their own...

TAKE AWAY THE A

Amid the flood of alphabet books, now and then one rises to the surface. This one is a prize catch.

In a distinctive, refreshing approach, the text takes a word and subtracts one letter, turning it into a different word. “Without the A / the BEAST is the BEST.” The stylized illustration on the double-page spread gives form to the concept by depicting a photographer (a buzzard) focusing on the winners of a competition: A monster wearing a “Scariest and Hairiest” sash stands in first place, with a goose and fish in second and third. “Without the B / the BRIDE goes for a RIDE.” A worried-looking buck holding a balloon and a doe wearing a bridal veil are riding on a Ferris wheel. Now picture these: The chair has hair; the dice are ice; plants are pants; the crab hails a cab; and so on. All of the figures are animals fashioned with touches of humor; a white mouse pops in and out throughout the scenes. For Q, the word “faquir” (a turbaned tiger) attends a “fair”; for X, “foxes” become “foes.” The artwork is deceptively simple; subtle details betray its sophistication. Altogether, the fascinating illustrations, crafty composition and tall format give the book real flair.

Without a doubt, these inventive images are imaginative and engaging—chock full of inspiration for kids to try their own wordplay and a boon to teachers. (Alphabet picture book. 7-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59270-156-8

Page Count: 56

Publisher: Enchanted Lion Books

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

A delightful and interactive step into the world of creating engaging picture books for children.

ANY QUESTIONS?

Gay introduces young readers to her craft as an author and illustrator of children’s books, simultaneously inviting their participation in creating the story.

In a spread at the beginning, the author is addressed by a heaving crowd of young fans, asking her questions in their own authentic voices: “Do you have a pet rabbit? I do” and “Can you write a story about me?” The author then takes some of these inquisitive young characters through her process, using both the illustrations and the narrative to demonstrate how a picture book comes to life. The process isn’t always easy. She experiments with many doodles and words. A number of ideas are tried and discarded, until the right setting and the characters finally reveal themselves; in this case, it’s a shy giant who lives in the forest. A metastoryline emerges, with the author asking the children she is still addressing to help her further develop the giant’s tale. The ideas blend together sweetly, with the children eventually finding themselves inside the story. The whimsical mixed-media illustrations invite exploration, and they include what appear to be handwritten, even cursive passages. The exceptional use of negative space allows readers to truly experience a story appearing in front of their eyes.

A delightful and interactive step into the world of creating engaging picture books for children. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 12, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-55498-382-7

Page Count: 60

Publisher: Groundwood

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

A humorous—make that hysterical—homage to movies and big dreams.

THIS IS A MOOSE

Moose is steadfastly determined to achieve stardom amid the stars.

The “Mighty Moose” is the subject of a nature film—or so the director intends. The moose, however, has donned a space suit and persists in his intention to be an astronaut through multiple takes. His lacrosse-playing grandmother intrudes on the set as does a giraffe (the “Regal Giraffe”). Moose don’t play lacrosse, and giraffes belong in a safari film, according to the increasingly irate director. Grandmother, giraffe and assorted friends nonetheless launch the moose into space, allowing him to leave his natural habitat far behind. Director Waddler, evoking the spirits of Billy Wilder, Daffy Duck and Mo Willems’ Pigeon, finally gets the picture and resets and retitles his film as This Is an Astronaut. Morris’ story is filled with child-friendly humor that is cleverly matched by Lichtenheld’s comic ink, pencil and gouache paintings. The pair captures personality (lots of it), action and adventure, along with some old-fashioned filmmaking tropes. The blues and browns of the background craftily evoke both a natural and astral setting, while the literally colorful text, both typeset and hand-lettered, could adorn any traditional production set (or playground). And for a witty final touch, there is a Glossary of Filmmaking Terms. Certain to elicit gales of giggles.

A humorous—make that hysterical—homage to movies and big dreams. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-316-21360-8

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

Bertier presents a marvelous springboard for using formal elements to create individual or collaborative narratives.

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WEDNESDAY

In the tradition of Leo Lionni’s Little Blue and Little Yellow (1959), this French import uses geometric shapes, color and size to explore compatibility and conflict.

Big Square and Little Round play a game every Wednesday: “As soon as one of them says a word, they transform themselves into it.” Despite a few awkward turns of phrase, the narrative proceeds effectively. The blue square breaks apart to form a butterfly and a flower; the orange circle imitates the poses but displays its own curvaceous style. When the square gets carried away in pursuit of ever larger goals (a pine tree, a house), the circle retreats to a corner. It eventually crosses the gutter and reaches out to its friend with the idea of working together. They make a clown’s face, a lovely bouquet, even abstract compositions “that then take shape” to form a dog and then other things. Readers familiar with tangrams might be disappointed that the transformations are not mathematically accurate, but the soft, cream-colored paper, complementary colors and clean design result in a harmonious balance nonetheless. Emotionally, the ups and downs of a day with a friend will ring true for young children.  

Bertier presents a marvelous springboard for using formal elements to create individual or collaborative narratives. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59270-152-0

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Enchanted Lion Books

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

Schenker’s illustrations and design combine with Bell’s graceful translation to take the breath away.

LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD

As she did with Hansel and Gretel (2013), Schenker employs intricate die cuts, patterned prints, bold lines and basic colors to create a haunting journey through the familiar Grimms tale.

Opposite the first page of text, Little Red Riding Hood poses in her cape against a thicket of die-cut vines, through which readers can discern a sun-dappled forest and the ominous black silhouette of a wolf. With the turn of the page, readers see on the recto the little girl’s back as she proceeds into the wood and the Wolf about to emerge from the trees; on verso, her promise to obey her mother is printed within the shape of her image from the previous page. As Little Red Riding Hood proceeds through the wood, subsequent, die-cut pages continue to lift and turn, creating a layered dimensionality. The sleeping grandmother can be glimpsed through the window of her cottage; as the page turns, she is revealed in her bed, while the wolf’s menacing face can be seen through that same window from the interior. The “All the better to eat you with!” moment is suitably terrifying: Cuts in the black page evoke the snarling wolf by revealing the crimson page beneath, but the image is so stylized that it appears almost abstract, its impact emotional rather than graphic.

Schenker’s illustrations and design combine with Bell’s graceful translation to take the breath away. (Picture book/fairy tale. 5-10)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-988-8240-79-1

Page Count: 44

Publisher: Minedition

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

MIGRANT

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

Evocative, enthralling and with absolutely astounding artwork so good readers will wish that, like summer, it would last...

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RULES OF SUMMER

One summer, two brothers live by mysteriously dire rules laid down by the older of the pair.

The little one lists what he learned: “Never leave a red sock on the clothesline”; “Never eat the last olive at a party”; “Never ruin a perfect plan”—and so on. What if you break a rule? You risk facing monstrous red rabbits, crow armies, teetering robots, lumbering metal dinosaurs, large lizards, overgrown fungus and more. You’ll miss a chance to ride on that whizzing red rocket, to catch a shooting star, to visit that glowing, golden kingdom inside the gate. Vivid acrylics and oil paints depict a pretend world so surreal, so specific (and sometimes so downright disturbing) readers will spend hours poring over its subtleties and subtexts. They’ll puzzle over the brother’s urgent directives too, which vacillate between painfully obscure injunctions and specific commandments quick as a thunderclap. The attachment and tensions between the boys stream clear throughout, however, with the younger racing to catch up and worrying over trespasses he never knew to avoid. Amid the murky peril and bizarre cast of reappearing characters, the brothers’ relationship and its powerful emotional undertow remains the centrifugal force, holding each image—and the entire book—together.

Evocative, enthralling and with absolutely astounding artwork so good readers will wish that, like summer, it would last forever. (Picture book. 4 & up)

Pub Date: April 29, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-545-63912-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Levine/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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