Beginning with a list of several hundred books that have earned stars throughout the year, SLJ’s book review editors commenced the grand task of winnowing down the best of the best. From a repressed tiger learning to showing off his stripes to punctuation personified, this year’s crop of picture books featured memorable characters and stunning visuals. Whether read one-on-one or in a storytime, these titles will delight, inspire, and entertain.
BECKER, Aaron. Journey . illus. by author. Candlewick. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780763660536. LC 2012947264
Gr 1-4– Bored with her ho-hum world, a lonely girl draws a door and steps into a magical realm where her red marker–and resourcefulness–comes in handy for exploring exotic locales, rescuing a chimerical captive, and making a new friend. Precisely detailed, yet fancifully unfettered, Becker’s stunning watercolors tell an imaginatively dazzling wordless tale. (July)
BROWN, Peter. Mr. Tiger Goes Wild. illus. by author. Little, Brown. Tr $18. ISBN 9780316200639.
K-Gr 2 –Stifled by his starch-collared life in a prim-and-proper city, Mr. Tiger casts off Victorian garb–and bipedal posture–to release his inner beast and embark on a journey of self-discovery. Droll sepia-toned illustrations punctuated by vivid flashes of orange and crackerjack comic timing provide a chuckle-inducing ode to individuality. (Aug.)
DAYWALT, Drew. The Day the Crayons Quit. illus. by Oliver Jeffers. Philomel. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399255373.
K-Gr 2 –Overworked, underused, or otherwise fed up, Duncan’s crayons candidly state their grievances. Handwritten letters pair with childlike artwork as fastidious Purple protests messy coloring, Beige grumbles about playing second fiddle to Brown, and peeled-off-wrapper Peach requests new clothing. A creative look at the commonplace. (July)
DONALDSON, Julia. The Highway Rat. illus. by Axel Scheffler. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine. RTE $16.99. ISBN 9780545477581.
PreS-Gr 2 –A roguish horse-riding rodent filches food from travelers at sword point, until he meets a gutsy duck who promises sweet treats but instead serves up a clever comeuppance. Inspired by Alfred Noyes’s poem, this rambunctious adventure unrolls with galloping verses, color-saturated cartoons, and scrumptious humor. (Mar.)
ELLIOT, David. Henry’s Map. illus. by author. Philomel. RTE $16.99. ISBN 9780399160721.
PreS-Gr 2 –Dismayed by his messy surroundings, a meticulous pig draws a map that shows each barnyard animal in its proper place. The critters’ excitement comically turns to consternation when they climb the hillside to compare Henry’s sketch to the now-empty farm (“Where did we go?”). Sprightly pencil-and-watercolor artwork accentuates the tale’s soft-shoe humor. (June)
FLEMING, Candace. Papa’s Mechanical Fish. illus. by Boris Kulikov. Farrar/Margaret Ferguson. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780374399085.
Gr 2-4 –From edible socks to steam-powered roller skates, Papa’s inventions fizzle until his daughter Virena poses a question about fish and he gets the idea to build an underwater vessel. The time is 1851, the story is based in fact, and the illustrations are fabulously funny and buoyant. (May)
FOGLIANO, Julie. If You Want to See a Whale. illus. by Erin E. Stead. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter. RTE $16.99. ISBN 9781596437319. LC 2012012988.
PreS-Gr 2 –In this gentle meditation on patience, a daydreaming boy discovers the quiet joy of watching and waiting. Softly textured greens and blues combine with detailed pencil work and vast stretches of white to complement the poetic text. Perseverance is rewarded for boy and reader with the final revelation of the great cetacean. (June)
HENKES, Kevin. Penny and Her Marble. illus. by author. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. 2013. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780062082039; lib. ed. $14.89. ISBN 9780062082046. LC 2012000708.
PreS-Gr 2 –Spotting a gleaming object on her neighbor’s lawn, Penny sneaks it into her pocket, but later feels remorseful and returns the marble to Mrs. Goodwin–who greets her with a lovely surprise. A winsome mouse protagonist, enchanting spring-hued illustrations, and spot-on sensibilities make this easy reader shine. (Feb.)
HOLUB, Joan. Little Red Writing. illus. by Melissa Sweet. Chronicle. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780811878692.
K-Gr 2 –A little red pencil, armed with a basket of nouns, wanders through a collage forest of adjectives, eventually encountering the Wolf 3000 pencil sharpener. Amusing textual and visual puns abound in this ingeniously fractured fairy tale. An ode to creative writing that begs for repeated readings. (Sept.)
IDLE, Molly. Flora and the Flamingo. illus. by author. Chronicle. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781452110066.
PreS-Gr 2 –An unlikely duo star in this wordless pas de deux. Flora, all soft roundness and plucky perseverance, tries to imitate the lithe and haughty Flamingo. Delicate layers of colored pencil, clever lift-the-flaps, and generous white space allow the visual humor to build with each page turn, culminating in a splashy finale. (Apr.)
LUDWIG, Trudy. The Invisible Boy . illus. by Patrice Barton. Knopf. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781582464503.
K-Gr 2 –Ignored and excluded by his classmates, Brian feels invisible, but when he welcomes a new student by writing a friendly note–and Justin responds in kind–everyone begins to see Brian with fresh eyes. Told with kid-savvy perception and emotion-tinged artwork, this quiet story shows how small acts of kindness can have big results. (Sept.)
MILLER, Pat Zietlow. Sophie’s Squash. illus by Anne Wilsdorf. Random/Schwartz & Wade. Tr $16.99 ISBN 9780307978967; lib. ed. $19.99 ISBN 978-0-307-97897-4. LC 2012006438.
K-Gr 2 –Produce bound for the dinner table becomes a friend with the help of a marker and a bit of swaddling, but as brown spots and mushiness set in, the sage advice of a farmer yields fruitful results, albeit a harvest away. Cheerful watercolor art in autumnal shades brims with amusing detail and celebrates this endearing young optimist. (July)
OLSHAN, Matthew. The Mighty Lalouche. illus. by Sophie Blackall. Random/Schwartz & Wade. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780375862250; lib. ed. $20.99. ISBN 9780375962257; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780375987427. LC 2010031825.
K-Gr 3 –Sacked from his beloved job, a petite Parisian postman turns pugilist and–voilà–Lalouche’s nimble letter-sorting hands, stair-climbing stamina, and package-hefting strength soon have him vanquishing musclemen many times his size. Tongue-in-cheek text and shadow-box-style artwork evoke the late-19th-century setting and create a rib-tickling tour de force. (Apr.)
PARK, Linda Sue. Xander’s Panda Party. illus. by Matt Phelan. Clarion. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780547558653. LC 2012039662.
PreS-Gr 1 –Xander is planning a species-specific “whoop-de-do,” but since he’s the zoo’s only panda, he must rethink the guest list; with much bamboo-chewing contemplation, he eventually expands the invitation to encompass all creatures (and a captivating arrival from China). Euphonious rhymes and gleefully expressive watercolors celebrate friendship and inclusiveness. (Aug.)
PINKNEY, Jerry. The Tortoise & the Hare. illus. by author. Little, Brown. Tr $18. ISBN 9780316183567.
PreS-Gr 3 –The race is on as two realistically rendered critters trudge, scamper, tumble, and dash across a sunbaked Southwestern landscape, cheered on by their fellow desert denizens. From the tortoise’s heart-winning perseverance to the proud hare’s unexpected finish-line sportsmanship, minimal text and vivacious artwork add insight and resonance to an age-old fable. (Sept.)
RINKER, Sherri Duskey. Steam Train, Dream Train. illus. by Tom Lichtenheld. Chronicle. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781452109206. LC 2012030942.
PreS-K –As the mighty train squeals to a stop, a crew of animals helps load the unlikely cargo of ice-cream sundaes and toys. Rich oil pastels paint the deep midnight sky and luminous clouds that serve as a backdrop for this rhythmic, rhyming bedtime story. A whimsical yet soothing read-aloud. (June)
ROSENTHAL, Amy Krouse. Exclamation Mark. illus. by Tom Lichtenheld. Scholastic. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545436793.
Gr 1-5 –Can punctuation be funny? In the hands of Rosenthal and Lichtenheld, simple black lines and an economy of text overflow with humor and playfulness as an exclamation mark, struggling to fit in with straitlaced periods, learns to embrace his own exuberant nature. (Feb.)
SNICKET, Lemony. The Dark. illus. by Jon Klassen. Little, Brown. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780316187480.
PreS-Gr 2 –When his nightlight burns out and the dark drops into his room for a visit, a pajama-clad youngster comes face-to-face with his greatest fear. Atmospheric artwork and a perfectly paced narrative tackle a common childhood concern with shiver-generating suspense, tender humor, and a reassuring resolution. (Apr.)
WIESNER, David. Mr. Wuffles! illus. by author. Clarion. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780618756612.
K-Gr 4 –Prancing past untouched cat toys, a velvet-black feline pounces on a metallic orb. Detailed watercolor panels zoom in to reveal a miniature spaceship manned by green aliens who venture forth to repair their damaged vessel, while avoiding Mr. Wuffles’s claws. Ordinary becomes extraordinary in a mostly wordless tale packed with wit, whimsy, and adventure. (Sept.)
WILLEMS, Mo. That Is Not a Good Idea! illus. by author. HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062203090.
K-Gr 3 –Step by suspenseful step, a wily fox shepherds a wide-eyed goose to his kitchen for dinner, despite repeated warnings from six baby geese who emphatically trumpet the title refrain. Crisp dialogue and droll cartoon artwork propel events forward with the piano-pounding melodrama of a silent film, right up to the surprising and smile-inducing finale. (Apr.)
By SLJ Book Review Editors: Kiera Parrott, Trevelyn Jones, Luann Toth, Marlene Charnizon, Daryl Grabarek, Chelsey Philpot, Shelley Diaz, and Joy Fleishhacker.
Headline lettering by Melissa Sweet.