Book List

Best Picture Books of 2018 for Contemplative Kids

A book to savor and share throughout the year, this is sure to inspire budding naturalists and crafters.

DRAWN FROM NATURE

A British-based Etsy artist known for intricate compositions with pressed flowers and leaves undertakes an exploration of seasons; her medium lends authenticity to the narrative.

Spring is the first of four chapters; the topics described and depicted in double-page spreads include bird song and mating, nest building, and the life cycles of frogs and butterflies. Reading the two to three paragraphs per page is like hiking with a relative who is both knowledgeable and passionate about the outdoors. Ahpornsiri incorporates less-frequently-discussed behaviors into her discussions, such as deer rutting and a mother duck’s transfer of waterproof oils to her babies to help them float. The captions are small, light, and feathery, making them a bit hard to read, but that is a minor flaw. The companionship of an adult reader for children up through age 8 would bridge the gap between the more complex (although clearly explained) concepts such as photosynthesis, prehensile tails, and deciduous trees and the captivating art that will attract a wide age range. Each animal is built into a delicate collage from precisely cut plant parts; the absence of visible outlines adds to the awe. The artist has an exquisite sense of page design, creating pleasing curves and patterns while employing plants and a palette particular to each season.

A book to savor and share throughout the year, this is sure to inspire budding naturalists and crafters. (glossary, artist’s note) (Nonfiction. 6-12)

Pub Date: March 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7636-9898-0

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Big Picture/Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

Wow.

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THE STUFF OF STARS

The stories of the births of the universe, the planet Earth, and a human child are told in this picture book.

Bauer begins with cosmic nothing: “In the dark / in the deep, deep dark / a speck floated / invisible as thought / weighty as God.” Her powerful words build the story of the creation of the universe, presenting the science in poetic free verse. First, the narrative tells of the creation of stars by the Big Bang, then the explosions of some of those stars, from which dust becomes the matter that coalesces into planets, then the creation of life on Earth: a “lucky planet…neither too far / nor too near…its yellow star…the Sun.” Holmes’ digitally assembled hand-marbled paper-collage illustrations perfectly pair with the text—in fact the words and illustrations become an inseparable whole, as together they both delineate and suggest—the former telling the story and the latter, with their swirling colors suggestive of vast cosmos, contributing the atmosphere. It’s a stunning achievement to present to readers the factual events that created the birth of the universe, the planet Earth, and life on Earth with such an expressive, powerful creativity of words paired with illustrations so evocative of the awe and magic of the cosmos. But then the story goes one brilliant step further and gives the birth of a child the same beginning, the same sense of magic, the same miracle.

Wow. (Picture book. 3-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7883-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

Every life and job is unique; this book’s take on the job of a watchman is empathetic, poetic, and a joy to look at, cute...

KITTEN AND THE NIGHT WATCHMAN

The story of a simple friendship that forms over the course of a night shift is given rich life with evocative art and prose.

After the title character leaves his family to work as a caretaker of a large construction site, he’s visited by a small, gray kitten. The tiny furry companion follows as the night watchman makes his rounds, but when the kitten disappears, the man worries about its fate as he hears a dog, a train, passing cars. This isn’t a Stephen King novel; things turn out fine, and the man’s family ends up one feline richer. But the journey to get to that dawn reunion is lovely. Illustrator Yoo’s sunsets, purple-to-blue night skies, and chalky beams of yellow light set the mood, while her deceptively simple rendering of the kind-faced watchman puts readers into the man’s shoes. But the real surprise is the depth of debut writer Sullivan’s words. The construction vehicles don’t just sit on the lot: “Garbage trucks line up like circus elephants. / A backhoe rises like a giant insect.” Sound effects (“peent peent peent” goes a nighthawk) and lived-in, careful observations make it no surprise to learn that Sullivan was a building and equipment guard and that the cat-adoption story is real. The man and his family are people of color.

Every life and job is unique; this book’s take on the job of a watchman is empathetic, poetic, and a joy to look at, cute kitty and all. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4814-6191-7

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

If every girl is a little princess, this book shows that to keep that crown requires only finding things to love in life and...

THE TRULY BRAVE PRINCESSES

From the Égalité series

A not-so-subtle deconstruction of the princess myth.

A one-page introduction invites readers to look beyond crowns to spot princesses in their lives (“Maybe she’s a neighbor, maybe a schoolmate, maybe the cashier at your supermarket…”). What follows is a set of 17 two-page spreads, each featuring a different princess’s stats (name, age, profession, and favorite activities) along with a free-form description of her life. It begins with a physician and ends with an astronaut who is giving up her princess crown to explore deep space. In between, readers see enormous princess diversity, not just of race, but of age, ability, body type, interests, even marital status. There are children, a single mom, a same-sex couple, a hijabi architect with a stay-at-home male partner, an elderly photographer who’s popular on Instagram, and more. The book feels modern in its references and social cornerstones while retaining a classic, elegant style thanks to Wimmer’s gorgeous portraits of the princesses in their crowns, each facing a page of that princess in action. Brown and Wimmer use diversity not only to highlight important differences among people, but also to show how these unique traits and interests allow every princess to choose her own path. A Spanish edition releases simultaneously, with translation by Salvador Figueirido.

If every girl is a little princess, this book shows that to keep that crown requires only finding things to love in life and pursuing them. (Picture book. 4-10)

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-8-41712-338-3

Page Count: 44

Publisher: nubeOCHO

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

A colorful story about celebrating difference as complementary and transformative.

MIXED

A COLORFUL STORY

Beginning with endpapers full of colorful, distinctive faces in primary hues, Chung presents the heavy issue of discrimination using vivid colors and precise text.

“In the beginning, there were three colors:” loud reds, bright yellows, and laid-back blues. But initial urban harmony soon gives way to suspicion and competition about which is the best color, leading to high brick walls and color-specific isolation. The story could end there and already be a timely response to current events. However, one day a Yellow and a Blue “notice” each other and realize their happiness lies in each other’s distinct characteristics. Their relationship grows, and other colors take note, reacting negatively at first. Undeterred, the two “mix” (depicted as a wedding) and create a new color—Green—who embodies bits of each of her parents (“bright like Yellow and calm like Blue”) but is also “a color all her own.” Suddenly other Reds, Blues, and Yellows rediscover one another, too, and begin to mix, transforming the primarily black-and-white urban landscape, which is drawn in a graphic, eye-catching style. This book’s simple and straightforward approach to confronting discrimination is age-appropriate without trivializing difficult, hurtful situations, offering children and adults excellent moments for discussion and personal growth. Mixed-race readers, especially, may appreciate the author’s presentation of mixed-color characters as instruments of change and hope.

A colorful story about celebrating difference as complementary and transformative. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: July 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-250-14273-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: April 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

Lending itself to a range of readings, from perspective to an exploration of identity, this Italian import is a pleasingly...

PETRA

A well-crafted conversation starter that touches on many themes, including perspective, relevance, and potential.

Meet Petra, a smooth gray oval of possibility. When first encountered, Petra appears to be an ancient mountain, one that loomed high above dinosaurs and inspired knightly quests. When the perspective changes via the introduction of a canine, readers see that Petra is a large pebble. The encounter with the dog (and its white owner) causes Petra to believe in turn that she is an egg in a nest and then (once exiled by a parent bird) an island in a pond. With each encounter, Petra’s optimistic outlook never dampens: “Whatever I become, I’m bound to be amazing!” She is eventually claimed by a young white child and painted to look like an elephant. At book’s end, Petra wonders, “What will I be tomorrow? Who knows? Well, no need to worry. I’m a rock, and this is how I roll.” Coppo accomplishes a lot with a little. Her illustrations—a mixture of tempera, pastels, and digital collage—are simple but emote mountains. Petra’s facial expressions mirror the text elegantly, often with the subtlest shift of pupil orientation or a minor change in the shape of the mouth. The result is a book that will work in both large storytimes and intimate lap reads.

Lending itself to a range of readings, from perspective to an exploration of identity, this Italian import is a pleasingly intelligent book. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-6267-6

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Tundra

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

A stunning, dreamlike voyage into the heart of a child.

OCEAN MEETS SKY

A young boy adventures into a fantastical realm, where ocean meets sky and the spirit of his grandfather lives on.

Finn, who lives by the sea, remembers his grandpa: his voice, his sayings, his extraordinary stories. To honor him, Finn builds a boat on the beach, creating a wonderful fort out of flotsam and jetsam. While asleep in his creation, the lonely boy dreams of a mustachioed golden fish, which leads him through wondrous surroundings. Whales swim among the stars, and celestial ships intermingle with zeppelins and subs. But it’s the fish that must be followed, as it transforms into the moon and reveals itself to be Finn’s grandfather, a benevolent Asian face illuminating the child’s world. Just as Finn begins to say goodbye, he hears his mother calling him home with the promise of a dumpling supper. Graphite renderings, digitally colored in a cool palette, recall hand-tinted etchings. Dazzling spreads, full of texture and detail, offer much for readers to explore. Inspiration from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and David Wiesner’s Flotsam can be seen in both story and art. However, the Fan Brothers’ approach to loss, healing, and intergenerational relationships makes this a unique and refreshing offering.

A stunning, dreamlike voyage into the heart of a child. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: May 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4814-7037-7

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

This subtle, satisfying narrative will be especially appealing to introspective readers who yearn for something that’s...

WHALE IN A FISHBOWL

Wednesday the whale, like the day of the week, is positioned in the center of town.

Her gigantic, downtown fishbowl is surrounded by traffic, buildings, and people “flurrying, hurrying, worrying.” Despite the rocks, fish, and plants in her bowl, she is clearly bored and lonely. The cityscape is painted and digitally composed in a muted palette of grays, browns, and pinks; the lyrical text builds mystery. The one thing that engages Wednesday is the “calm bit of blue” seen in the distance if she exerts herself and leaps upward. When a frequent canine observer is joined by its owner—a light-skinned girl in a paisley dress—the seed for escape is planted. Attracted to Piper’s blue eyes, the whale ponders her parting message: “you don’t belong in there.” Wednesday tries leaping again, but fog obscures the view. People start gathering, misunderstanding her motivation: The mammal is not performing. In a final spectacular attempt—highlighted in a vertical gatefold opening and observed by girl and dog—the fishbowl is knocked over, water gushes down the street, and Wednesday flows into the ocean, a lovely blue-green presence so vast it rises nearly to the top of the spread. The whale’s reaction? “And for the first time in her life, she sang.”

This subtle, satisfying narrative will be especially appealing to introspective readers who yearn for something that’s perhaps yet unknown. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: May 22, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-1518-2

Page Count: 42

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade/Random

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

Offbeat nonsense humor of the highest order: not to be missed.

A STORYTELLING OF RAVENS

A menagerie of common creatures portrayed in uncommon ways.

This book riffing on animals’ collective nouns has the declarative force of a George R.R. Martin title and the head-tilting creativity of Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons. Debut author Lukoff’s pithy statements are so bold and unexpected that each of the dozen or so situations described is presented in a double-page spread and given wide—though richly colored—illustrative berth. The volume opens on a cryptic note: “The nuisance of cats blamed it on the dog,” immediately driving readers to Nelson’s vivid mixed-media illustration, on the hunt for what “it” might be. While Nelson’s witty depiction rewards (a group of bemused cats sits loosely lassoed together by a few loops of yarn with a lone strand leading back to the mouth of a sleeping dog), one must still infer both what “it” is (cats tied up, a skein of yarn used for ulterior purposes?) and who’s really being considered the “nuisance”—the cat posse or the dog? Each of Lukoff’s seemingly arbitrary declarations operates similarly, employing sophisticated vocabulary and some behavioral characteristics of the animals described—monkeys, giraffes, sheep, frogs, the eponymous ravens—to paint a scene, perhaps the most hilarious and poetic of which involves hippos: “The bloat of hippopotamuses raced up the river. Five words: explosion at the cupcake factory.”

Offbeat nonsense humor of the highest order: not to be missed. (Picture book. 3-8)

Pub Date: May 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-55498-912-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Groundwood

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

A visual and emotional symphony.

TIGER VS. NIGHTMARE

A tiger, with some unusual help, fights off a nightmare.

Tiger’s parents don’t quite believe that the reason she carries extra curry or tacos from the supper table to her bedroom is because she has a monster under her bed, but it’s true. Monster was supposed to scare her long ago, but instead they play together nightly. Then, while Tiger sleeps, Monster scares away Tiger’s horned, multieyed, centipedelike nightmares—until a nightmare with a long-jawed white skull and a changeable, smoky body arrives. It conquers Monster and reaches Tiger. From now on, Tiger and Monster must work together. The plans they implement are brilliant and brave, and their hard-won victory (it takes a few tries) couldn’t be more triumphant, relieving, or empowering. Compositions range from full-bleed spreads to pages holding multiple sequential panels. Using watercolors and pencils, Tetri creates one color-world of inky blues (Monster; nighttime) and another of oranges and yellows (Tiger; daytime). The meanings of each color-world hold nuance and complexity: The nightmares are of the blue world, but so are coziness and small, dear Monster; Tiger’s victory explodes with warm colors like dawn, but she could only achieve it at night. Rich details enhance the setting inconspicuously: Tiger’s parents, also tigers, run a repair shop for flying cars; one parent is Dad while the other is of undesignated gender.

A visual and emotional symphony. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-62672-535-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: First Second

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018

A delightful exploration of a thematic concept, exceptionally designed and thoroughly charming. (Picture book. 4-7)

LOOK

A sibling pair experiences their world through words with a double O.

Two pajama-clad kids stretch as the sun rises over farmland, the yellow orb simultaneously creating an “o” in the title “LOOK,” setting the stage for Woodcock’s graphic play on the double O. Sunny-side-up eggs make “FOOD” for breakfast before the family car’s tires “ZOOM” them to the zoo. The search for the double Os continues with more park fun, as kangaroos, cockatoos, baboons, and balloons delight the siblings. After heading home, bath bubbles result from their “shampoo” before the two curl up with a good “BOOK.” The children, with their blue-black hair and peach complexions, “snooze” under a starlit sky, the full “moon” high above. The illustrations, done in a primary palette, have a simplicity that makes each shape immediately identifiable. Through the use of hand-cut rubber stamps and stencils, airbrush-like pens, and pencil linework that’s then digitally composited, Woodcock creates art that feels hand-crafted, warm, and extremely appealing. Much like Ed Emberley’s Drawing Books series, there is an overall theme with interesting images from page to page—each spread creating its own tableau within a loose narrative structure. But upon repeat visits, readers may find a more intentional rhythm to the tale, one that takes readers on a journey from morning excitement to evening sleep.

A delightful exploration of a thematic concept, exceptionally designed and thoroughly charming. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-264455-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Greenwillow

Review Posted Online: April 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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