Book List

Best Picture Books of 2018 About History and Tradition

A fascinating, splendidly executed peek into both the mundane and the dramatic aspects of lighthouse life.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller


This tribute to lighthouses of an earlier era focuses on one lighthouse and its dedicated keeper.

Perched “on the highest rock of a tiny island / at the edge of the world,” the lighthouse shines for seafaring ships. A new keeper arrives, continuing the endless routine of polishing the lens, refilling the oil, trimming the wick, winding the clockwork, painting the round rooms, fishing, making tea, sending letters to his wife (in bottles), and writing daily in his logbook. One day, a ship delivering supplies brings the keeper’s wife! The keeper rings a warning bell in fog, rescues wrecked sailors, and logs his baby’s birth. When he’s ill, his stalwart wife tends the light and maintains the logbook. Eventually, a mechanical light replaces the keeper. While the spare, unemotional text resembles a keeper’s log, the book’s vertical orientation echoes a lighthouse tower. Rendered in Chinese ink and watercolor, precise, detailed illustrations present the lighthouse surrounded by patterned blue, green, or gray waves depending on the weather or season, reinforcing its solitary enterprise. A cutaway interior view exposes a compact, contained world. Close-ups of the keeper and his wife (both white) in porthole-shaped frames and from unusual aerial views emphasize their isolated, intimate, circular environment. An “About Lighthouses” section adds insightful detail.

A fascinating, splendidly executed peek into both the mundane and the dramatic aspects of lighthouse life. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-36238-2

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

Soaring, uplifting, and utterly beautiful.


In the beginning, the world was created one day at a time, according to the Creation story of the Jewish tradition.

Day by day, employing simple, descriptive, accessible language, Helfand and Zager describe the first seven days of our world. The first five days are each recounted in a double-page spread, a four-line stanza in aabb verse followed by the mantra “and there was evening and there was morning” with an appropriate description of the particular day, whether it be peaceful or noisy or lively. Day Six is described in three sets of verses, being the day on which a plethora of living things is added to those created on Day Five. Preceding the seventh day there is a quotation from the siddur, the Jewish liturgy, which describes the completion of God’s work. Therefore the seventh day is not numbered but named Shabbat, the holy day of rest. Zager’s imaginative, distinctive illustrations are composed from images created from Hebrew letters that reflect the words of each verse and are so intricately designed as to demand close, careful, and repeated perusal. The book is aimed at young Jewish readers, especially those who are studying or already know their “aleph-bet,” able to read Hebrew. But there is definite appeal across religions and culture in the format, concept, and construction of the work. A picture glossary provides a key to the illustrations and the Hebrew words they are derived from.

Soaring, uplifting, and utterly beautiful. (Picture book/religion. 5-10)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5124-8364-2

Page Count: 24

Publisher: Kar-Ben

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

Young readers will enjoy how Latour and Daley celebrate Haitian history and culture through this lovely, artistic story


In this story full of the sounds, colors, and language of Haiti, the protagonist connects with herself, her family history, and the history of Haiti through her auntie Luce’s extraordinary art. 

The bright cover depicts the young, brown-skinned, female protagonist with cornrowed hair, holding hands with Auntie Luce on the beach near a high hillside of multicolored houses. The dripping sun above them suggests that, with the long-handled brush that each character holds aloft, they are also painting the scene in which they appear. Vague details of conflicts between Luce and her sister, the protagonist’s mother, hint at why the child flies unaccompanied to Haiti every winter to visit, leaving her parents and brother behind. On this visit, the first question she asks Luce is if she can sit for a new painting. Since Auntie Luce last painted her when she was 7, Luce enthusiastically agrees, although the child has trouble sitting still for so long. It’s worth the effort, though, because Luce’s paintings “always talk back”—telling the stories of important black heroes of Haiti, such as Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Toussaint Louverture, as well as relatives. Daley’s richly saturated acrylic-on–illustration board paintings convey some of the complexities of time and place through the images themselves. 

Young readers will enjoy how Latour and Daley celebrate Haitian history and culture through this lovely, artistic story . (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-77306-041-5

Page Count: 36

Publisher: Groundwood

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

An aspirational vision in which inclusivity is as American as (apple) pie.


A delectable, festive celebration of pluralistic community.

Frontmatter illustrations depict a white mother and Asian father with their two biracial children. They are packing up pies to share at a lakeside picnic, which takes place in a setting that seems based on Lake Champlain in northern Vermont, where Chin and his family reside (as revealed in the illustrator bio). The possibly autobiographical illustrative elements are nowhere dictated by Ledyard’s spare, poetic text, but they may explain the powerful sense of community and affection that defines each spread as the central family interacts with a multiracial cast of characters with diverse skin tones and hair textures. They share pie, yes, but also a book, a ball, a climbing tree, a jump-rope, and then intangibles such as time, stories, words and music, and so on. The culminating illustration shows the assembled crowd gazing at fireworks, which may make readers recall subtle red-white-and-blue plates and picnic blanket. “And a blanket? A breeze? The sky? These are for sharing. // Just like pie” reads the closing text. This isn’t a flag-waving Fourth of July story, but it can be read as a gentle yet firm call for American readers to reflect on and embrace the ideal of pluralism.

An aspirational vision in which inclusivity is as American as (apple) pie. (Picture book. 3-8)

Pub Date: May 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-62672-562-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Neal Porter/Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

A writing, translation, and illustration masterpiece.


A highly humorous book about tradition in changing times, bravery, and love, imported from Germany.

In this tale from Syrian-German author Schami, the old storyteller of Damascus used to carry a large, ornate chest on his back, with small holes in it through which children could peek to see scrolled pictures accompanying his stories. In one, he tells of Leyla, the beautiful daughter of a rich farmer, Sami the poor shepherd, and their enduring love in the face of all obstacles put forth by her father against their marriage. Sami manages to fend off robbers with his left hand while rescuing Leyla with his right; he scares lions with his left hand while milking a lioness with his right; and he is challenged to acquire Leyla’s dowry of 300 camels from the herd of the sultan himself! German illustrator Knorr’s jewel-toned illustrations are superbly detailed and sequenced artfully, the tale of Leyla and Sami organized in bordered panels to form an integral part of both plots. The happily-ever-after story of the two lovers always sounds fresh, but as time goes by, some of the images the storyteller uses fade away, and he replaces them with contemporary magazine clippings, playfully affecting the plot. Leyla becomes Colgate, who has “beautiful white teeth,” Sami’s donkey becomes a motorcycle, and he is helped at one point by a clown. The story goes on, becoming “weirder and weirder” as time goes on but still vital and wonderful.

A writing, translation, and illustration masterpiece. (Picture book. 8-12)

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-62371-971-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Crocodile/Interlink

Review Posted Online: Aug. 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018

A visually and sonically stunning introduction to the importance of appreciating time and the change of seasons throughout...



The passing of the year celebrated round the world through verse and collage.

While many regard Jan. 1 as the first day of the calendar year, in this magnificent collaboration, Singer and Roth show that cultural observances of that new beginning happen each month. Presenting 16 celebrations from over 14 countries, they explore 12 months’ worth of events that mark time’s passage. “From the earth’s movement, / from the moon’s phases, / these clocks and calendars / we create. / Together /… / we / celebrate.” Such remembrances can involve purification rituals, whether “washing the bad away” in April, by cleaning house and starting “the new year right / with a gigantic water fight” in Thailand, or setting “the bad ablaze” in Ecuador, at midnight on Dec. 31, by burning giant effigies representing the “año viejo.” Scots look ahead to the “First Footer” (or visitor); Spaniards try to eat 12 grapes in 12 seconds for good luck—“so each new month will be sweet.” Throughout the collection, which opens like a wall calendar, each of Roth’s intricate collages animates Singer’s verse, bursting with texture in a riot of color. “Happy New Year” in 15 languages precedes extensive notes, a glossary and pronunciation guide, and an impressive list of sources.

A visually and sonically stunning introduction to the importance of appreciating time and the change of seasons throughout the world: a multicultural gem. (Picture book/poetry. 4-12)

Pub Date: May 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-62014-162-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Lee & Low Books

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

More Book Lists

The Magazine: Kirkus Reviews

Jenn Shapland reclaims a queer icon in My Autobiography of Carson McCullers.

  • The Kirkus Star

    One of the most coveted designations in the book industry, the Kirkus Star marks books of exceptional merit.

  • The Kirkus Prize

    The Kirkus Prize is among the richest literary awards in America, awarding $50,000 in three categories annually.

    See the 2019 winners.

Great Books & News Curated For You

Be the first to read books news and see reviews, news and features in Kirkus Reviews. Get awesome content delivered to your inbox every week.

Thank you!

Looks good !! Please provide a valid email.