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Best Picture Books of 2014 for Animal Lovers

This accurate (if abbreviated) delineation of the process of medieval manuscript bookmaking shines thanks to the fey twist...

BROTHER HUGO AND THE BEAR

Prepare to be charmed by a bear who loves words—or at least loves to eat them.

Brother Hugo cannot return his book to the library of the monastery: A bear has consumed it. Enjoined to go to another priory to borrow a volume that he might copy to replace what the bear ate, he finds the bear follows him, snuffling hungrily. All his brother monks help him to prepare the parchment, make the inks, sew the pages and bind it shut. They even supply him with scraps of text to toss to the bear as Brother Hugo attempts to return the book he had copied. This does not work out, exactly. The rhythm of the text is antique but lucid and sweet, and the pictures, festooned with curlicues and decorated in shades of gold, gray and brown, echo the manuscript illuminations that inspired them. Rich backmatter gives all the historical background without detracting from the essential spark of the tale. The author, who holds a Ph.D. in medieval history, was inspired by a line from the 12th-century abbot Peter the Venerable about a precious volume eaten by a bear to make this lively story.

This accurate (if abbreviated) delineation of the process of medieval manuscript bookmaking shines thanks to the fey twist of ursine longing for the written word. (glossary, author’s note, illustrator’s note) (Picture book. 5-9)

Pub Date: April 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8028-5407-0

Page Count: 34

Publisher: Eerdmans

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

Heed Graham: Get up, get out of bed (drag a comb across your head, if you must), and go forth

VANILLA ICE CREAM

Everyday life conspires to change the world. Want to try an ice cream cone?

For Graham, great events can have the most quotidian beginnings. To start: The weather is hot, and the ground is dusty—this is India in the summer. There is an open-air, roadside eatery—samosas, lassi, puri and muri—and a table with chairs under a few palms. A trucker stops his rig, filled with sacks of rice. Truck-stop sparrows are a bold breed, and one notices that one of the rice sacks is spilling its precious cargo. Time to feast, even as the truck pulls away: “Like all wild birds, he follows the food.” The text is minimal, as compressed as a prose poem, letting Graham’s spacious, impeccably placed and paced watercolors tell the tale. The truck drives to a port; the sacks are loaded on a freighter, which sails to a new city. Another day dawns. The sparrow finds another eatery in a city park. The weather is hot. A grandma and granddad are having ice cream cones. The sparrow drops onto the table to investigate, which agitates the dog, which bumps granddad’s arm, which dumps the cone in the baby’s lap: A new world is born.

Heed Graham: Get up, get out of bed (drag a comb across your head, if you must), and go forth .(Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7377-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

A touching, delectably illustrated circus story that applauds the underdog.

EXTRAORDINARY JANE

Jane may not be the strongest or most fearless performer in the Barnaby Beluchi Circus, but she’s a really good dog.

In this sparely written read-aloud, the pictures tell the story. Jane cowers in a corner, paws over eyes, while her six brothers are shot out of cannons. She scratches a possible flea while her ballerina mother dances atop a galloping horse. Not daring, not graceful, “Jane was just Jane.” Youngsters will relate to the fear of not living up to the expectations of others…but they will also recognize how treasured the loving puppy is: Adoration shines from the eyes of her dear friend the ringmaster. Harrison’s expressive, beautifully rendered acrylic-on-board paintings effectively capture Jane’s quiet role in the exciting, extravagant world of the big top. The colorful compositions are all the more striking due to the crisp white backgrounds and dramatically varied perspectives, from the dizzying high wire to circus ring–level, where Jane accidentally plows down her fellow performers with a giant red balancing ball. Small moments steal the show here, both heartrendingly cute ones, like the ringmaster toweling Jane off after her bath, and funny ones, such as the contrast of Jane’s blob painting of the ringmaster with the artistic elephant’s more refined portrait.

A touching, delectably illustrated circus story that applauds the underdog. (Picture book. 3-5)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8037-3914-7

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

Totally ebullient.

SHOE DOG

An irrepressible dog can’t resist falling into the same type of mischief over and over again, until something surprising changes his pattern.

This small, wiggly pup bounces upward as a silhouetted woman enters the animal shelter. He longs for a home “warm as soup / and cozy as pie,” full of nose kisses and tummy rubs. And oh, how exciting—the woman takes him home! “That very day, / Shoe Dog chewed through / five high heels, / four flip-flops, / three sneakers, / two boots, / one wing tip.” Scolding—“ ‘BAD DOG!’ / She, Herself said”—and punishment—no petting or access to the Big Bed—see him lying forlornly in a gray-blue space, subdued. But each time new shoes arrive, he tracks down and rips into the fresh box, chomping every shoe with gusto. Consequences ratchet up mildly, but Shoe Dog never learns impulse control as such; instead, unexpectedly, he meets a shoe he’d never, ever chew. Finally he’s welcome “on the Big Bed / in the Land of Upstairs,” curling up blissfully with his new shoe-love. Tillotson uses thick black lines for Shoe Dog’s scribbly, coiled-spring body, smudging charcoal inside his shape to give him substance; scraps of pink and beige mark his pointy ears and muzzle. Motion lines show how he scampers and bounds. The visual angle varies, and shoe-box tissue paper flies through the air.

Totally ebullient. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: March 25, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4169-7932-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Richard Jackson/Atheneum

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2014

CHUKFI RABBIT'S BIG, BAD BELLYACHE

A TRICKSTER TALE

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

It is nearly impossible to look at without reading aloud, chanting aloud, and even tapping and stamping and sliding: extreme...

I'M A DIRTY DINOSAUR

This Australian import cries out for toddler participation, with parts for everyone.

The little dinosaur—an outline sketch of a creature drawn with multicolored pencil—rejoices in total mudlusciousness with a vigorous chant. “I’m a dirty dinosaur / with a dirty face. // I never have a wash / I just shake about the place.” The winsome background to the dinosaur’s antics is painted with watercolor and smeared and splattered with actual mud. Opposite, in bold print with each letter a different color, is the refrain: “SHAKE, SHAKE, / SHAKE, SHAKE, / SHAKE ABOUT / THE PLACE!” The dinosaur goes on to mention a “dirty tum,” which it taps like a drum: “TAP, TAP,” etc. There is also stamping about the street with dirty feet and sliding that dirty tail “like a snail.” At the end, in deep realization of its yuckiness, the dinosaur decides to go to the swamp and “GIVE MYSELF A WASH!” Birds, flowers, dragonflies and a frog or two accompany the protagonist, who walks (dances, really) on two legs and sports little stegosauruslike spine plates and a belly button.

It is nearly impossible to look at without reading aloud, chanting aloud, and even tapping and stamping and sliding: extreme joyousness. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61067-296-2

Page Count: 22

Publisher: Kane Miller

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

Richly composed and sweetly appealing—just right for baby storytimes as well as one-to-one sharing.

BREATHE

A very young white whale swims into the wider world of the arctic seas, celebrating first adventures of the very young.

Magoon’s digital art captures the colors and crisp, airy light of the Arctic setting; cartoon lines and wide eyes present creatures above and under the ice as friendly, rounded and smiling. Even the polar bear—seen against the sky through an ice hole as a dark shadow, possibly threatening—is fairly benign. The little whale (clearly a baby beluga but not named as such) is doing the work that toddlers do—exploring the world with mama nearby. The few words of the text speak both to whale baby and, by extension, to the listener: “Play all day // and swim, / and swim, / and swim. // Breathe.” This last (“Breathe”) appears on a double-page spread in which the young whale is surrounded by the vast sea, snowy mountains, and a pale, bright sun. Then a dive changes the palette from the pale blues and whites of the surface through greeny yellows and finally to dark: Here, what was perhaps an arctic whaler, stilled and slightly ghostly, sits on the seafloor. The simple adventure concludes with an anthropomorphic yet welcome invitation: “Most of all, love / and be loved.”

Richly composed and sweetly appealing—just right for baby storytimes as well as one-to-one sharing. (Picture book. 6 mos.-3)

Pub Date: April 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4424-1258-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

Lucid and insightful, Mathers presents death and grief as natural processes with compassion and great care.

WHEN AUNT MATTIE GOT HER WINGS

Lottie the hen must say goodbye to her beloved aunt Mattie in this gentle story about loss, grief and friendship.

When the hospital calls to say Aunt Mattie is getting weak, Lottie journeys to see her. On the long bus ride, happy memories surface—of shared picnics and jokes, and of Mattie herself, a bird full of humor and gusto, who found her calling as a nurse. But now Aunt Mattie is 99, ready to fly to the great beyond. For hours, Lottie sits with her aunt at the hospital. Descriptive details (the sound of Aunt Mattie’s breathing, the way she looks in the hospital bed, the feeling of day turning to night) are simply captured; yet in doing so, Mathers brings meaning to the clinical and unfamiliar. Here, these moments are precious and valuable. Throughout the tale, Lottie’s friend Herbie is a comforting presence. His innocent perspective allows even the very young to grasp complex concepts. As he drives Lottie to the bus station, meets her at the hospital and shares in her heartache, it’s clear his friendship and support make this difficult time bearable for Lottie. Together, the two scatter Aunt Mattie’s ashes in the ocean, so she’ll “always be near...mixed in with sand and sea.” Watercolor illustrations, painted in mostly square panels and organized like an old newspaper comic strip, are earnest and appealing.

Lucid and insightful, Mathers presents death and grief as natural processes with compassion and great care. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4814-1044-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 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

CIRCLE, SQUARE, MOOSE

Moose is back! Hooray—unless you are a book about circles and squares.

The simple concept book starts off well enough with a button representing a circle and a sandwich representing a square. And then mischief and mayhem erupt as Moose takes an enormous bite out of the sandwich. Admonitions from the book follow, and then it attempts to continue with a wedge of cheese and a slice of pie to illustrate triangles. Alas, Moose interrupts again, presenting a cat with triangular ears. Leave the book, they are told. More Moose antics ensue with rectangles and diamonds. The book grows ever more frantic, and fortunately Zebra arrives to salvage the exercise. Or does he? Zebra appears hopelessly tangled in ribbon (a curve) when Moose steps in to save the day with a circle that becomes a hole through which they escape the book. Moose then presents his friend with the last shape, a star. It is a great joy to watch Bingham and Zelinsky, who brilliantly collaborated on Z Is for Moose (2012), once more let Moose loose to naughtily and enthusiastically disrupt reading. Bingham’s text is both straightforward and filled with humorous speech bubbles. Zelinsky digitally manipulates his palette of bright colors to fill the pages with sly clues, fast-paced action, expressive typefaces and animals with winning personalities. Are further books in Moose’s future?

Hilarious fun. (Picture book. 4-6)

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-229003-8

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Greenwillow

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

A work to be savored by young artists and scientists.

WINTER BEES & OTHER POEMS OF THE COLD

How do animals survive and thrive in the bitter cold of winter in the northern tundra?

Sidman explains and celebrates their remarkable adaptations in a collection of carefully constructed and delightfully varied poems. The moose calf is naturally built for cold and brags about all his achievements in a lilting, rhyming verse. The tundra swans rest in the marshes and wait for the right time to migrate south as they dream lovely images of their flight. The winter bees huddle in a warm, humming mass. With lines repeated in the strict organization of a pantoum poem, the beavers dart about in complete silence in the watery space beneath the ice. In dual-voiced verse, the raven and wolf exhort each other to be watchful and successful in their hunting. Other animals, along with trees and snowflakes, take their turns in the stark beauty surrounding them. The final two poems hint at the coming of spring. Fascinating, detailed information about the subjects accompanies each poem. The poems appear on the left, with the factual material on the right of double-page spreads, while Allen’s intricate, unusual and exquisite illustrations take center stage. They are rendered in a combination of media, including large numbers of cut, inked and hand-colored linoleum blocks, which are then digitized and layered; the result is magic.

A work to be savored by young artists and scientists. (glossary) (Informational picture book/poetry. 6-10)

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-547-90650-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

Humorous and intelligent—and with watercolor seascapes so luminous that readers will want to jump in—this is a book to be...

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THREE BEARS IN A BOAT

Taking a break from Ladybug Girl, Soman uses his watercolors to paint a playful tale of responsibility.

When Dash, Charlie and Theo—three sibling bears growing up by the sea—break their mother’s treasured blue seashell while attempting to get into the honey pot, they don’t ’fess up. They instead sail away in their boat, thinking maybe they can find another shell to replace the broken one before their mother gets home. An old, “salty bear” advises them to sail to a faraway island, but when they get there, there’s no shell. A sudden storm, conveyed in a brilliant page turn, helps the quarreling bears realize both their common vulnerability and their culpability, and they sail home, finding a blue shell on their own beach. They apologize to Mama Bear, offering the replacement shell. She forgives them, of course, but with a twist that will make readers smile as they remember another naughty adventurer and his “still hot” dinner. Filled with illustrations that insert lighthearted visual nods to classic books (a boat named Melville is filled with Moby Dick–ish bears, and a raft carries Huckleberry Finn–like bears), this tale is a treat for both eye and ear.

Humorous and intelligent—and with watercolor seascapes so luminous that readers will want to jump in—this is a book to be treasured for years to come. (Picture book. 2-8)

Pub Date: May 20, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8037-3993-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

Utterly endearing.

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HERE COMES THE EASTER CAT

From the Here Comes… series

An attention-seeking, nap-loving cat hatches a plan to become the Easter Cat so that he will be loved like the Easter Bunny.

The text is arranged as a series of questions from an unseen authority figure. The silent main character, referred to only as Cat, answers the questions through gestures or expressions or by holding up posterlike signs. He magically produces signs, props, costumes and motorcycles in the manner of a cartoon cat, all in the service of his plan to become the Easter Cat. Eventually he meets the real Easter Bunny, who is exhausted from delivering all those eggs without any naps at all. Cat comes up with a new plan: He’ll drive a motorcycle (quite a spectacular Hog) with the Easter Bunny and a sidecar for deliveries and help deliver eggs while the bunny naps. Quirky colored-pencil illustrations complement the whimsical story, with a minimalist illustration on each spread facing a short question or comment from the narrator. The design uses an interesting, old-fashioned typeface and plenty of white space, creating a playful but sophisticated mood that plays on Cat’s contrary personality. After his success at assisting the Easter Bunny, Cat comes up with another idea for the final spread: He tries on a Santa Claus costume that just might predict a sequel.

Utterly endearing. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8037-3939-0

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

A perfect read aloud that will leave them begging for more—an absolute delight.

GASTON

From the Gaston and Friends series

Gaston, an adorable pup, lives with his loving and proper poodle pack, until an outing reveals there’s more to family than meets the eye.

Mrs. Poodle treasures her new puppies: Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, Ooh-La-La and Gaston (say them aloud, and there will be giggles!). Four white pups, so attentive and sweet. But upon second viewing, it’s clear not all are the same. Gaston—the one with the eager-to-please smile—is, well, different. His sisters are naturals at etiquette, while he is comical in his efforts. When a park visit establishes that puppies were mixed at birth, Gaston heads home with the bulldogs, while his counterpart, Antoinette, takes her place with the poodles. But it’s clear the two truly belong with their adoptive families. Once returned to the families who nurtured them, all feels and looks right as the dogs celebrate with joy. Now fast friends, the families meet and play; much later, when Gaston and Antoinette fall in love, the two allow their brood—who are a delightful mix of their parents—to be whatever they want to be. Robinson’s brilliantly designed acrylic paintings, done in an earth-tone palette, beautifully enhance DiPucchio’s clever and witty text. His simple, graphic style, reminiscent of M. Sasek, is full of energy and sophistication, and the interplay among type, text and compositions leads to humorous results. Gaston will win hearts, as will his story’s message of belonging and family.

A perfect read aloud that will leave them begging for more—an absolute delight. (Picture book. 2-7)

Pub Date: June 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4424-5102-5

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: April 9, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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