Saturday, January 31, 2015

PLANETESME PICKS: Best Picture Books and Nonfiction of 2014

What makes a book great?  I created this list with a teacher/school librarian's eye.  These are books that are fun to share with a group;  books that children love and make children cheer;  books that connect to the wider world, and springboard us into further classroom connections or themes; books that promote empathy, history, imagination and arts appreciation; books that are exemplary in their beauty and expand what a book can be.  I create these lists with the belief that children's literature is our best hope for equalizing education in America, and recognizing also, in America, we are short on funds in homes and schools.  And so I recommend these titles that I share with my own, knowing the children will be the better for encountering them, and that in combination with best books from other years culminate in well-rounded learning through reading.  Links for information, please support your local independent bookseller!

Best picture books of 2014:

Adventures with Barefoot Critters by Teagen White (Tundra Books)
Aviary Wonders, Inc.:  Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth (Clarion)
Brother Hugo and the Bear by Katy Beebe, illustrated by S.D. Schindler (Eerdmans)
Flashlight by Lizi Boyd (Chronicle)
Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Christian Robinson (Atheneum)
Go to Sleep, Little Farm by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Green is a Chile Pepper:  A Book of Colors by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, illustrated by John Parra (Chronicle) 
I Wish I Had a Pet by Maggie Rudy (Beach Lane)
A Letter for Leo by Sergio Ruzzier (Clarion Books)
The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara (Roaring Brook)
The Orchestra Pit by Johanna Wright (Roaring Brook)
Peanut Butter and Cupcake by Terry Border (Philomel)
A Perfect Place for Ted by Leila Rudge (Candlewick)
Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony (Scholastic)
Rooting for You! by Susan Hood, illustrated by Matthew Cordell (Disney-Hyperion)
The Scarecrow's Wedding by Julia Donaldson, illusrtated by Alex Scheffler (Arthur Levine Books)
The Secret Life of Squirrels by Nancy Rose (Little, Brown)
Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton  (Candlewick)
Wazdot?  by Michael Slack (Disney-Hyperion)

Other great picture books of 2014:  My Teacher is a Monster! by Peter Brown (Little, Brown); Draw! by Raul Colon (Simon & Schuster); Before After by Anne-Margot Ramstein and Matthias Arégui (Candlewick); Noodle Magic by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, illustrated by Meilo So (Orchard); I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel by Caryn Yacowitz, illustrated by David Slonim (Arthur Levine); Princess Sparkle-Heart Gets a Makeover by Josh Schneider (Clarion);  The Dandelion's Tale by Kevin Sheehan, illustrated by Rob Dunlavey; The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane);  The Storm Whale by Benji Davies (Holt); Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau by Andrea Beaty; Troll Swap by Leigh Hodgkinson (Nosy Crow):  Big Bad Bubble by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri (Clarion); The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak (Dial); Never Say a Mean Word Again:  A Tale from Medieval Spain by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Durga Yael Bernhard (Wisdom Tales); Rex Wrecks It! by Ben Clanton (Candlewick);   The Odd One Out:  A Spotting Book by Britta Teckentrup (Big Picture Press).

Best nonfiction of 2014:

Ashley Bryan's Puppets by Ashley Bryan (Atheneum)
Ballerina Dreams:  From Orphan to Dancer by Michaela and Elaine DePrince, illustrated by Frank Morrison (Random House)
The Cosmo-Biography of Sun Ra by Chris Raschka (Candlewick)
Firefly July:  A Year of Very Short Poems selected by Paul Janeczko, illustrated by Melissa Sweet  (Candlewick)
Food Trucks!  by Mark Todd (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Gingerbread for Liberty!  How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
The Girl from the Tar Paper School:   Barbara Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement by Teri Kanefield (Abrams)
Ivan:  The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Clarion)
Josephine:  The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson (Chronicle)
Malala:  A Brave Girl from Pakistan/ Iqbal:  A Brave Boy from Pakistan by Jeanette Winter (Beach Lane)
Miss Patch's Learn to Sew Book by Carolyn Meyer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
On the Wing by David Elliot, illustrated by Becca Standtlander (Candlewick)
The Right Word:  Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Eerdmans)
Some Bugs by Angelina DeTerlizzi, illustrated by Brendan Wenzel (Beach Lane)
Tiny Creatures:  The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton (Candlewick)
Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman and Rick Allen (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) 0544252306/planetecom-20

Other great nonfiction of 2014:  The Pilot and the Little Prince:  the Life of Antoine de Saint Éxupery by Peter Sis (Farrar Straus Giroux); Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family's Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh (Abrams);  Weeds Find a Way by Cindy Jenson-Elliot, illustrated by Carolyn Fisher (Beach Lane);  Leontyne Price:  Voice of a Century by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Raul Colon (Knopf);   Lend a Hand:  Poems About Giving by John Frank, illustrated by London Ladd (Lee & Low)Everything is a Poem:  The Best of J. Patrick Lewis by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Maria Cristina Pritelli (Creative Editions); The Case for Loving:  The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Aiko, illustrated by Sean Qualls (Arthur Levine Books);  Star Stuff:  Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos by Stephanie Roth Sisson (Roaring Brook); Buried Sunlight:  How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm (Scholastic); The Iridescence of Birds:  A Book About Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper (Roaring Brook);Handle with Care:  An Unusual Butterfly Journey by Loree Griffin Burns, photos by Ellen Harasimowicz (Millbrook); Feathers:  Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen (Charlesbridge); Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales (Roaring Brook).  

Best chapter books for young readers coming soon! 

What did I miss?  Please share your favorites of the past year in the comments below! 

And if you're looking for great children's literature from past years to supplement your child's education...
Best books list 2006, click here
Best Books 2007, click here!
Best Books 2008, click here!
Best Books 2009, click here!
Best Books 2010, click here
Best Books 2011, click here!
Best Books 2012, click here!  
Best Books 2013, click here!

Tuesday, March 04, 2014


My Teacher is a Monster!  (No, I Am Not.) by Peter Brown.  A boy with a penchant for irritating his teacher encounters her outside of school and finds her to be an entirely different creature.  Brown's pictures are funny and Ms. Kirby's illustrated metamorphosis into a human being is gradual and pretty darn great.  This book, despite it's laughs, has an unexpected depth and speaks volumes about teacher/student relationships; the only disappointment is that when Robert regresses into his bad behavior back in the classroom at the end of the book, Ms. Kirby is depicted as the monster instead of Bobby. 
Link for information; please support your local independent bookseller.  

Friday, February 28, 2014

Sun's a roaring dandelion, hour by hour.
Sometimes the moon's a scythe, sometimes a silver flower.
But the stars!  all night long the stars are clover.
Over, and over, and over!
- Robert Wallace, "In the Field Forever"
What greater gift on the bookshelf than a perfect anthology of poems?  This lovely, over-sized tome of thirty six well-chosen treasures takes us through the wheel of the year with evocative and colorful full-edge mixed media. The only complaint might be wishing the "very short" ride would never end, but open it back up, and the seasons begin again.   A book that would be relished as a gift, and a lyrical read-aloud treat for teachers as well.
Link for information; please support your local independent bookseller.  

Friday, February 21, 2014


Aviary Wonders, Inc.:  Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth. 
Extremely creative and extraordinarily gorgeous build-your-own-bird guide that painlessly introduces children to high-level science vocabulary and explores biology part by beautiful painted part, while quirky Q&A and assembly instructions also introduce readers to wonderful expository writing.   Teachers, this is an out-of-the-box mentor text, as children will enjoy creating their own catalogs and order forms for creatures that inspire them.  Imagination takes flight.
Link for information; please support your local independent bookseller.  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


Brother Hugo and the Bear by Katy Beebe, illustrated by S.D. Schindler.  Based on a real note found in a 12th century manuscript, a monk loses a library book when it is eaten by a bear, and makes penance by recreating the manuscript page by painstaking page.  But will the bear be waiting for another course?  An exciting read-aloud that teaches the process of how books used to be made, you don't have to be a bruin to find this book delicious.  I only wish the publisher had invested in a little illumination...ah, well, nothing a gold marker can't fix.
Link for information; please support your local independent bookseller.  

Thursday, February 06, 2014


Help!  We Need a Title!  by Henré Tullet.  Nothing's betta than a little meta.  An author climbs inside his own story to make peace with his characters and give them something exciting to do.  While this character-in-a-book awareness stunt has been done in various iterations in children's literature before (Henrik Drescher's unfairly out-of-print Simon's Book being one example, Mo Willems' We Are In a Book! and Mordecai Gerstein's A Book more recent explorations on the theme)  and my favorite writing-process-book-for-kids remains Mary Jane Auch's The Plot Chickens, naturally the author of Press Here has his own fun and cunning spin on things; expressive photos of the author himself pasted inside the book makes this a little fresh and lively lines are kid-friendly and worth a look.  
Link for information; please support your local independent bookseller.  

Saturday, February 01, 2014


Food Trucks by Mark Todd.  Each double-paged spread features a chummy vehicle, a poem and fun facts to fit every taste:  breakfast , burger, barbecue, falafel, salad, grilled cheese, cupcakes, sushi, curries, taco, pretzel, waffle, and, of course, ice cream.  While this title's content travels a bit all over the place with verse on one side and surprising non-fiction samples on the other, it offers an appetizing opportunity for children not only to choose a favorite but to design their own truck celebrating whatever culture and culinary tradition honks their horn.
Link for information; please support your local independent bookseller.


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