Book List

Best Picture Books of 2015 for the Sense-of-Wonder Shelf

A master-class of picture-book writing and illustrating.

BLOWN AWAY

A rhyming picture book about the perils and joys of travel.

When Penguin Blue, in the Antarctic, test-flies his new kite on a windy day, it carries him into the air. Penguin-friends Jeff and Flo try to pull him down, but they too are blown along. Seal Wilbur—hanging clothes on his clothesline—and polar bear Clive, fishing (very far from home), also try to help, but soon all are careening through the sky, pulled along by the kite. When they see a tropical island, they let go. The island is filled with friendly jungle animals, including a gorilla, but the travelers are homesick (and hot). Using ingenuity, they get themselves home (with a monkey stowaway), and all is back to normal. Or is it? While the monkey stowaway finds the Antarctic too cold and flies back to the jungle island with another kite—reinforcing home’s emotional connection—the last page shows the gorilla holding Clive’s fishing pole and dressed in clothes from Wilbur’s clothesline. Home is comfortable, but contact with other cultures has its advantages too. This tightly crafted tale shines with the hallmarks of accomplished picture-book making. From the clever (never cutesy) rhyming text through the visual jokes within the whimsical illustrations that amplify the storyline to the expert design of the endpapers—everything works, and it works together.

A master-class of picture-book writing and illustrating. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: Jan. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-236724-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

Poignant, vulnerable, wise.

MY PEN

A boy describes everything his pen can do, from the literal to the metaphorical.

A thoughtful boy wearing a fedora opens with a pensive, poetic assertion. “There are rich people who own jewels and houses and pieces of the sky,” there are people who are famous worldwide, and sometimes he feels small in comparison—“[b]ut then I remember I have my pen.” This extraordinary nib pen hides an elephant in a teacup and X-rays the boy’s chest, revealing a butterfly with a pen body. It has tender abilities (“My pen makes giants of old men / who have seen better days”) and cryptic qualities (“My pen is smart as a snowflake”). Myers uses nib pen for his excellently skilled, shaded and detailed drawings in black ink on white background. The boy’s pen “draws [him] a new face every morning,” shown only partially finished. When text says the pen “wears satellite sneakers” or “tap-dances on the sky,” illustrations show the boy doing so; when the pen “worries about all the wars in the world,” the boy shelters from tanks and warplanes. This pen is the boy’s tool but also his heart, self and strength, and maybe it’s not so unusual: “There are a million pens in the world / and each one has a million worlds inside it.” Highly sophisticated concepts and art invite the long and close examination of older readers.

Poignant, vulnerable, wise. (Picture book. 7-12)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4231-0371-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

Thank you, Tomie.

LOOK AND BE GRATEFUL

The beloved, Wilder Award–winning illustrator spins a simple paean to gratitude.

DePaola has been moving toward an ever more simple and radiant aesthetic, as his pictures become increasingly iconic and his colors, as on this beautiful tea-stained paper, become as translucent as glass. There are only about 40 words in this small volume, including the dedication (“For all the children”). Following the path of his Let the Whole Earth Sing Praise (2011), he pares down his hymn of joy to the single moment, to the day we have been given. Even toddlers will recognize the sun, the ladybug, the flowers, and the oranges, and they will comprehend the mostly one-syllable, hand-lettered words and the open-gestured hands in many skin tones. The repetition of those open hands, the image of a white dove, and the girl and boy on the cover echo the repeated words of gratitude. The blue and gold endpapers are filled with stars.

Thank you, Tomie. (Picture book. 3-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8234-3443-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

A beautifully realized and delightful celebration of night and sunrise.

THE NIGHT WORLD

A young narrator says goodnight to his cat, Sylvie, who later wakes him to beckon him to an adventure in the early hours.

In Gerstein’s pen, ink, and acrylic art against gray paper, the night world of hallway, sleeping family, front walk, and garden is recognizable—yet everything is shadowed and quiet. When child and cat step out of the house, a stippling of bright stars across the night sky echoes the sweeping Milky Way reproduced on the endpapers. Gerstein’s darkness has softness and depth: here the night world is benign, and for all its strangeness, it is simply, though possibly magically, different. The narrator hears animal voices expressing expectation (“It’s almost here”); he speaks with his cat and with a porcupine on his front lawn. He hears the increasing volume of birdsong; the sky pales with light; a bear in the shadows slips away as the dawn arrives. Children lucky enough to experience a summer night in the country—or even the suburbs—without artificial light may get to experience this arrival of early morning, which has its own fanfare: at first mysterious, then spectacular, bold, bright. Gerstein’s morning sky practically sings its own hymn. Everything in the young protagonist’s world looks different in the daytime: the front walkway, bright roses, and sunflowers.

A beautifully realized and delightful celebration of night and sunrise. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: June 16, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-18822-7

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

Waiting as a joyful activity in itself is almost never celebrated; this Zen-like meditation might win some converts.

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WAITING

Five toys ranged on a windowsill exemplify existential pleasure.

In the mode of such pastel-hued, minimalist delights as A Good Day (2007), Henkes presents a pig with an umbrella, a bear with a kite, a puppy on a sled, an owl with spots, and a rabbit with stars (this last is depicted as a spring-loaded rabbit head, rather like the innards of a jack-in-the-box). Respectively, the first four wait for the rain, the wind, the snow, and the moon; the rabbit just likes waiting. Henkes keeps readers gently off-balance as to the nature of these toys' sentience. Sometimes, as when comically on their backs "sleeping," they seem stiff and immobile; other times, as when they huddle together during a thunderstorm, eyes wide and frightened, their bodies exude warmth and softness. Images are snapshots of single moments, and never is a child depicted; it is left to readers to decide whether the toys move on their own or have been posed by a hand outside the frame. The story is all about quietly filling in the gaps; though little appears to happen beyond the changing of seasons and arrival (and in one case, tragic departure) of other toys, the protagonists' contentment with just waiting is contagious.

Waiting as a joyful activity in itself is almost never celebrated; this Zen-like meditation might win some converts. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-236843-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Greenwillow

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

Profound and entirely wonderful.

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WILD IDEAS

Finding solutions to sticky problems can be a mind-expanding adventure.

The creative team behind You Are Stardust (2012) again blends science with a philosophical spark that demands thoughtful inquiry. Employing well-researched facts, Kelsey focuses on the rather remarkable adaptations and achievements of animals. Watch how chimps fold leaves to spoon water or how orangutans create a safe place in which to study a problem and make plans. Sea otters use rocks to crack crabs. Other animals cooperate to carry out actions that will provide food or safety. Animals large and small use both their natural gifts and surprising powers of invention and innovation to negotiate their ways in the world. Kelsey speaks directly to young readers in carefully constructed, elegant, accessible language that transcends the ordinary and demonstrates not even the slightest hint of condescension With this approach, she inspires them to observe, learn, listen to advice from knowledgeable, trusted adults, and then leap enthusiastically and let their imaginations soar to find solutions to even the most perplexing problems. Kim’s richly hued, exquisite dioramas are textured and detailed, placing realistic, accurate forms into fantastically dreamlike scenes that have depth and movement. This is a work that will be read and examined again and again, with something new to be discovered at every turn.

Profound and entirely wonderful. (author’s note) (Informational picture book. 5-12)

Pub Date: April 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-77147-062-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Owlkids Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2015

Bracketed by beautiful endpapers, this ode to everyday beauty sings sweetly.

SIDEWALK FLOWERS

A child in a red hoodie and a man on a cellphone navigate an urban landscape, the child picking flowers from cracks and crannies along the way.

Best known for his nonsense verse, Lawson here provides a poignant, wordless storyline, interpreted by Smith in sequential panels. The opening spread presents the child and (probably) dad walking in a gray urban neighborhood. The child’s hoodie is the only spot of color against the gray wash—except for the dandelions growing next to a sidewalk tree, begging to be picked. The rest of their walk proceeds in similar fashion, occasional hints of color (a fruit stand, glass bottles in a window) joining the child and the flowers she (judging by the haircut) plucks from cracks in the concrete. Smith’s control of both color and perspective is superb, supporting a beautifully nuanced emotional tone. Though the streets are gray, they are not hostile, and though dad is on the cellphone, he also holds the child’s hand and never exhibits impatience as she stops. Once the child has collected a bouquet, she shares it, placing a few flowers on a dead bird, next to a man sleeping on a bench, in a friendly dog’s collar. As child and dad draw closer to home, color spreads across the pages; there is no narrative climax beyond readers’ sharing of the child’s quiet sense of wonder.

Bracketed by beautiful endpapers, this ode to everyday beauty sings sweetly. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: March 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-55498-431-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Groundwood

Review Posted Online: Jan. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

The book’s extra-large trim is the perfect format for this mesmerizing vision of a thrillingly expansive world.

THE WORLD IN A SECOND

Even “while you turn the pages of this book, the world doesn’t stop….”

So what happens in the very busy titular second? A container ship struggles in a storm on the Baltic; an elevator gets stuck in New York City; a driver honks impatiently in a Mexican traffic jam; a volcano erupts; “a very old woman closes her eyes to sleep.” Even as Martins’ spare text describes the action with poetic restraint via Miller-Lachmann’s translation (“In an island barbershop, a man bids farewell to his mustache”), Carvalho’s double-page spreads invite readers to linger to understand each of the 23 stories. Boys on a terraced, urban soccer court watch in alarm as a “ball flies toward a window” of an adjacent apartment building; behind a police barrier, a man in a furry hat depresses a plunger and demolishes another apartment building, next to a nuclear power plant. The flat, posterlike art features bright, matte colors and shapes defined by sure, black lines. In sequencing, the book resists easy, time-zone chronology, taking readers from Papua New Guinea to Portugal to Angola to Turkey with successive turns of the page, creating an experience that is at once disorienting and immersive. A concluding map provides a key to each picture’s location and time of day.

The book’s extra-large trim is the perfect format for this mesmerizing vision of a thrillingly expansive world. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: April 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59270-157-5

Page Count: 56

Publisher: Enchanted Lion Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

A bilingual sampler—cold of setting but warm of spirit.

WAY BACK THEN

An Inuit father lovingly regales his sleepy kuluit with bedtime tales of tiny people, giant polar bears, flying igluit, children born from the land rather than human mothers, and other wonders “way back then.”

Inspired by Arnaktauyok’s stippled scenes—of cozy ice shelters lit from within, figures clad in fringed and colorfully patterned hide dress, and magical arctic animals—Christopher presents a series of short folkloric episodes in Inuktitut script with English translations running below. The tales all open with the titular phrase, and they range from where caribou came from and the origins of night and day (in a quarrel between a fox and a raven) to how the loving land grew extra babies so that there would be more people and also gave an orphaned giant the sky for a home. The storyteller focuses more on wonder than drama: yes, the nanurluk were fearsome, but isn’t it marvelous that the giant polar bears were so big that they could be mistaken for icebergs? Imagine a time when sleds weren’t needed because an iglu not only provided shelter, but could fly from place to place! Several stories, such as how seals and small whales were created from the fingers of a bird spirit’s reluctant wife, are available elsewhere in fuller versions, but truncated as they are, these snippets together create a storyscape that, like the art they accompany, reflects harmonious connections with both the mythic past and the land itself.

A bilingual sampler—cold of setting but warm of spirit. (glossary/pronunciation guide, introduction) (Picture book/folk tales. 6-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-7722-7021-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Inhabit Media

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

Wonder-full in every way.

RAINDROPS ROLL

With lyrical words and striking images, a poet, photographer and veteran natural history writer celebrates rain.

“Rain plops. / It drops. // It patters. / It spatters.” From the beginning of a storm to the return of the sun, this splendid presentation reveals the wonder of water in the form of rain. Short, rhythmic lines, often only two words but rhyming or alliterative, are set one to a page against a full-bleed photograph. Sayre’s close observations, many in an ordinary garden, will lead readers and listeners to look more closely, too, both at her photographs and at the world around them. There are insects hiding from a shower; drops cling to flowers, leaves and insect legs. There are even tiny reflections in the globules. Raindrops bend down grasses, highlight shapes and band together. Some of the pictures harbor extra secrets. (A fly is barely visible on the front cover photograph.) These carefully chosen images have been thoughtfully arranged and beautifully reproduced. Preschoolers can appreciate the poem and pictures, but middle graders will want the facts in the concluding “Splash of Science,” which provides some background and explanation for the short statements and goes on to describe “Raindrops Inside You,” connecting the reader to the water cycle.

Wonder-full in every way. (further resources) (Informational picture book. 3-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4814-2064-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

Gentle humor pervades this father-son tale in the nicest way.

WHEN DAD SHOWED ME THE UNIVERSE

A small boy and his father take an evening walk in this Swedish import first published in 1998 but only now translated and published in the United States.

Dad thinks it’s time to show his son the universe. They put on warm socks and get provisions (chewing gum), then walk past the closing shops into the night air to a field the boy recognizes as a place where folks walk their dogs. The boy sees the universe in a snail, a blade of grass, a thistle, but his father wants him to look up. Stars! His father knows all their names and holds the boy up to see the ancient light from stars long gone—and steps into something left by a dog. “So how was the universe?” asks the boy’s mom. “It was beautiful,” he replies. “And funny.” The winsome illustrations perfectly capture the pull and tug of high philosophy and low humor (stepping in dog poo is the quintessential early-grade chuckle, after all). The boy’s voice captures how badly he wants to please his father, how thoroughly he is enchanted by the smallest things, how keenly he notices just what kids notice: steam coming from his father’s mouth in the cold, his father’s whistling to help them walk.

Gentle humor pervades this father-son tale in the nicest way. (Picture book. 4-9)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-9272-7181-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Gecko Press

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

Sublimely satisfying.

ASK ME

As a little girl and her father take a walk together, the girl directs her dad to ask her questions about what she likes.

The girl, clad in a bright red coat, gently commands, “Ask me what I like.” Dad, wearing a bold blue cap, complies. The answers flow: “I like dogs. I like cats. I like turtles.” As they walk through the neighborhood, the conversation continues, spurred on by what the girl observes. She likes geese in the sky and in the water. She likes lightning bugs but not fireflies. She loves flowers and ice cream cones. She likes “red everything.” She likes “splishing, sploshing and splooshing in the rain.” She likes those words she made up. Sharp-eyed readers will notice the text color subtly changes from gray when the girl speaks to dark blue when her father does. Their simple back-and-forth dialogue speaks volumes about their strong father-daughter bond. As endearing and joyful as it is to read Waber’s words aloud, it is Lee’s illustrations that make this title truly special. Primary colors in pencil dominate the images, with grays and light tans lending calming touches. The autumn trees and wildflower field look wonderfully scribbled, contrasting beautifully with the finely detailed geese, butterflies, and maple leaves. Lee makes masterful drawing look deceptively simple, creating visual appeal for readers of all ages.

Sublimely satisfying. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: May 12, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-547-73394-4

Page Count: 40

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

Surreal, staggering mixed-media paintings make traveling across such beautifully varied and bizarre storyscapes exhilarating.

THE WHISPER

A “magical book” on loan from her teacher loses its words on the trip home, so a little girl spins her own stories for each enchanting picture.

Seeing the letters tumble from the binding, a fox encourages her, whispering, “Remember: beginnings, middles, and ends of stories can always be changed and imagined differently.” Readers join in, captivated by a series of spellbinding illustrations whose strangeness, recurring imagery (crowns, rabbits, wheels, bees, honeycombs, stars, suns, moons, teacups), expansiveness, and downright beauty beg for unbridled storytelling. The little girl sits crouched in the lower corner of each page, chin in hand, her eyes scanning the very same spreads that dazzle readers. A conversation emerges, in which the girl and readers volley narration, with increasing confidence and intensifying specificity. The girl submits, "As instructed, we arrived at exactly 3:33. One four-leaf clover and a large pot of hot, steeping tea had been purposely placed near the entrance of the woods," and then trails off with ellipses....Readers’ cerebral wheels will continue to spin, providing a resolution of their own—perhaps aloud to a caregiver or maybe just inside their own heads.

Surreal, staggering mixed-media paintings make traveling across such beautifully varied and bizarre storyscapes exhilarating. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-544-41686-4

Page Count: 40

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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