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Children's Book Reviews

Searching for new books for a young reader? Our thoughtful, critical reviews offer valuable guidance for parents, teachers, and others about which kids books are worth adding to your collection of children's literature.
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Leafy Critters
Written by Yvonne Lacet
Leaves, branches, and seeds are made into remarkable animals that will inspire creativity.
Aug 14, 2020
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-5

In this wordless book, acclaimed artist and photographer Lacet merges art, creativity, and nature to delight readers with a series of animals made from natural materials like leaves and seeds. The complexity and color of the animals vary greatly—on the minimal end, there is a bright flamingo created from just three leaves and a small branch, while on the more complex side, there is an enchanting peacock created with an assortment of over one hundred colorful petals. While most creations are shot on a white background, a stunning polar bear in a swirling arctic snowstorm is created using small white petals arranged on a black background. On several pages, Lacet includes a shot of the materials, laid out in columns and rows, used for the animal, which gives readers helpful insight into the creative process of how simple found objects can be combined to create delightful displays, and the varying levels of complexity make the projects intriguing and inspiring for all skill levels. Any reader who has ever gathered flower petals or leaves to make pictures will be flooded with fun memories, and for those who haven’t and are eager to give it a try, Lacet’s simple directions in the back will help them get started.

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Catch the Sky: Playful Poems on the Air We Share
Written by Robert Heidbreder & illustrated by Emily Dove
Approachable poems and illustrations will inspire young poets.
Aug 14, 2020
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-8

This collection of poems focuses on the sky, from the “rosy, red arms” of sunrise that “caress the sky,” to the “pulsing hues” of the northern lights that “charge the nights.” As the day progresses, the poems also seamlessly transition through seasons, settings, and activities, celebrating myriad elements of the sky. Tall sunflower plants and fireworks fill summer skies. Palm trees and clouds adorn blue tropic skies. Lightning flashes in stormy skies. Helicopters and hot air balloons rise, while snow “flows down” and “buries towns deep . . . in silent sleep.” The poems are brief—almost all consist of four short lines with an ABCB rhyming pattern—making it a particularly user friendly introduction to poetry for young readers. But even in the brevity Heidbreder’s love of poetry is easy to see, with thoughtful lines, unique rhymes, and emotion in each poem. Dove’s simple, digital illustrations are two page spreads that tie together the separate poems on each page in a connected setting and context. For example, on pages with poems about kites and balloons, Dove’s urban skyline setting provides a shared background for both. These relatable, realistic settings and depictions further support the collection’s approachability.

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Luci Soars
Written & illustrated by Lulu Delacre
An intriguing premise with a clear message about the transformative power of perspective.
Aug 14, 2020
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

As a baby, Luci is surrounded by supportive, loving voices who praise her with the familiar Spanish phrase, “¡Qué linda!” They are so enraptured in their love for her that they don’t realize a remarkable aspect about her—in their world of black and white hues, Luci doesn’t cast a shadow. But as she grows, Luci becomes aware of her lack of a shadow, and she knows that others notice, too. Indeed, they don’t merely notice, but they stare, so she learns “to walk always in other people’s shadows.” But one day at school, she summons the courage and chooses to step into the sunlight. Though she’s met by derisive laughs and scorn from classmates, her courage helps her gain a new perspective—shadows merely keep people tethered to the ground—and she soars into a colorful sky. Delacre’s story is rich with meaning, and in the story’s closing lines, she makes sure readers understand what it is: “I can change how I look at things . . . and you can too.” Delacre skillfully uses the mostly gray-scale illustrations to create both vague discomfort about strangers and open hostility toward Luci, while also setting the stage for Luci’s impactful entry into a world of vibrant color when she gains her new perspective.

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Neighbors
Written & illustrated by Kasya Denisevich
Ink illustrations highlight the power of imagination in a new environment.
Aug 11, 2020
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-7

A little girl clad in red stands out against detailed greyscale scenes as she approaches and then enters her new home: 3 Pond Lane, Building 2, Apartment 12. In her room by herself, her thoughts turn to her neighbors, and she imagines who they might be and what they might be like. At first she imagines them fairly realistically and normal—practicing a musical instrument, sitting at a dining table, watching television. Then, the musings cleverly transform from the mundane to the imaginative—a woman showering becomes a mermaid, while a family standing on shoulders to reach a high shelf becomes circus performers—until the girl envisions her neighbors disappearing altogether into an expanse of empty universe as she wonders if she is all alone. In the morning, the little girl sets off to discover the truth of who lives next door and meets a little girl in a yellow dress, and they head off to school together. With sparse text, the ink illustrations are the star of the show, featuring beautiful architectural elements in the building—note, for example, the intricate stair rail—and miniature scenes in the different apartments (though the inclusion of a woman showering and a man sitting on a toilet reading the newspaper, while tiny, will be distasteful to some readers), which are all highly detailed, if not precise. Denisevich uses touches of color to great effect, particularly as the story comes to a close, skillfully using the endpapers to bring the story full circle.

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If You Come to Earth
Written & illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Stunning and deep, a rich exploration of Earth and all its inhabitants unlike any other.
Aug 11, 2020
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

The book opens as a little boy—Quinn—lays on his bed penning a letter to a “Visitor from Outer Space,” letting them know everything they’ll need to know about the Earth (and its inhabitants!) when they arrive. Exquisite detail and diversity permeate the book, as two-time Caldecott winner Blackall pairs the matter-of-fact text of Quinn’s letter with gorgeous spreads showcasing the Earth’s geography, people, plants, animals, marine life, weather, facial expressions, modes of transportation, occupations, hobbies, and more. Blackall addresses deep topics in the illustrations with absolute poignancy—a triangle of those who have lost their homes (due to fire, flood and war) is included in the spread showcasing different types of homes (along with a castle closely resembling Neuschwanstein, a trailer, a lighthouse, and more), one page captures the impact of disease and accident as six people lay on hospital beds, and another simultaneous highlights conflict by juxtaposing two children wrestling and a greyscale war (with some soldiers oozing red blood)—in a child-appropriate way. In an author’s note at the book’s conclusion, Blackall shares that most of the people illustrated are actual people, which adds an additional layer of meaning and vibrancy to this well-crafted and striking book. Each and every page is a work of art, with new details to marvel at and explore on each re-reading.

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Tiny T. Rex and the Perfect Valentine
Written by Jonathan Stutzman & illustrated by Jay Fleck
A cute and simple Valentine’s book perfect for dino lovers and best friends.
Aug 11, 2020
board book
Recommend Ages: 2-4

Stutzman and Fleck’s adorable tyrannosaurus rex Tiny returns for a book that delivers exactly what one might expect from the title—a solid (if somewhat cheesy) book that’s perfect for Valentine’s Day. Tiny is on a mission to create the perfect valentine for his best friend Pointy, and despite things not working out as he envisions (in a very cute chalkboard blueprint, complete with fireworks!), he sticks with it, making attempt after attempt. When all he ends up with is a big mess (glitter!) and no card to give Pointy, Tiny feels down in the dumps until his best friend reminds him that Tiny himself is the best valentine a friend could ask for. The teal and red color scheme pops throughout, tying together Tiny and Pointy’s scales, and the story is predictable, but sweet.

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Your Place in the Universe
Written by Jason Chin
A fascinating nonfiction read that puts the universe in perspective . . . literally.
Aug 10, 2020
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

After judging the book by its cover, a few pages in readers may be surprised to discover that Your Place in the Universe is in fact a super-informative, non-fiction book—but they won’t be disappointed. Starting from four 8-year-old children, Chin skillfully scales up from giraffes to trees to buildings (which children may have some sense of) to larger and larger pieces of our world and solar system until reaching the universe. By using drawings that are done to scale (as much as possible while still making essential pieces visible) and starting with the scale of familiar things to work up to new things, readers get a glimpse of just how large the universe really is, as well as the confidence to build on their existing knowledge to learn new things. The construction of the book itself cleverly mirrors this concept, starting with short and sparse facts and working up to more in depth explanations as concepts become more unfamiliar and finally concluding with almost textbook-like backmatter for readers whose curiosity has been piqued. The illustrations are pleasantly realistic without overwhelming detail, and Chin’s illustration of the cosmic web invokes a sense of wonder that is beautifully appropriate for its grandeur and majesty.

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On Account of the Gum
Written by Adam Rex
This laugh-out-loud and delightfully clever book is more fun than bubble gum.
Aug 10, 2020
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-7

A galloping and hilarious romp from start to finish (including the endpapers!), the story trips along and off the tongue in a spiraling stream of escalations all beginning with the classic problem of getting gum stuck in one’s hair. While perhaps they should have tried peanut butter first (we’ve definitely heard that works!), the clever inclusion of many of the old tricks for getting gum out of hair and the reliance on googling an answer (and realizing that not every site knows what it’s talking about) adds to the stories punch and pizzazz. Rex’s distinctive illustration style shines with bubble-gum-bold color choices, handwritten text of all colors and sizes and utterly expressive faces, creating a sense of action and business that belies the fact that the entire story takes place in a single and unmoving chair. Just when the excitement seems to be winding down, Rex hits readers with an ending that clicks perfectly into place for a moment of sheer genius—turns out it’s picture day!

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Over and Under the Rainforest
Written by Kate Messner & illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
Absolutely transportive, this book brings the rainforest to life and invites curiosity.
Aug 10, 2020
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-9

This celebration of the Costa Rican rainforest and its many inhabitants invites readers to join in on a peaceful and informative hike under the canopy. From oropendolas and capuchin monkeys in the trees, to leaf-cutter ants scurrying and agoutis snuffing along the ground, the animals and insects of the rainforest are introduced to readers in a way that is both simple and intriguing. Messner’s narrative is engaging and educative, and Silas Neal’s illustration style matches the text’s tone with art that highlights the essence of each animal in a realistic way without overwhelming the eye with details to take in. As perspective shifts from looking directly upward at the leafy canopy, to directly down to the water below a hanging bridge, and everything in between, readers are pulled into the rainforest world for an experience that feels blissfully immersive in this two dimensional media, and the talent of the creative team is on full display as together they broaden the world of young readers through this story. Additional back matter begins to satiate curious readers’ appetites to learn more about the rainforest.

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Rain Before Rainbows
Written by Smriti Prasadam-Halls & illustrated by David Litchfield
In the midst of trying times, this remarkably beautiful story reminds of hope and beauty ahead.
Aug 10, 2020
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-7

As hinted in the endpapers, a girl and her fox friend are forced to leave their burning castle home to embark on a journey of “mountains for climbing” and trials to overcome, fraught with lightning, thunder, crashing waves, worries, battles, and dark days. But all the while, there’s hope ahead, assured in the beautiful, optimistic narrative—“Sowing and planting. Roots before shoot. Stem before flowers. Leaf before fruit.”—and shown in the kind and courageous friends that act as helping hands and guides. At last, the promised rainbow after the rain appears on a fresh, bright morning, presenting new opportunities, simple joys, and relief. Award winning author Prasadam-Halls weaves this inspiring, relatable, and touching tale with terrific cadence and rhyme. Litchfield’s illustrations magnificently convey the idea of trials and struggles leading to victories and good outcomes, creatively using both epic proportions—such as castles and dragons—and seemingly small, but hopeful, reflections—such as a flower growing from a seed. The illustrations spill over with waves of color, growing gradually throughout the story from dim and dark pages to sparkling, glorious spreads of color as the journey progresses from darkness to light. Light on text but heavy on meaning, this beautiful story is sure to strike a chord and inspire anyone who needs a reminder of the light waiting just around the corner, the rainbow ready to shine after the rain.

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Kindness Grows
Written & illustrated by Britta Teckentrup
Die-cut pages and lovely illustrations display the effects of kindness and friendship.
Aug 10, 2020
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-7

All about friendship, each page juxtaposes the difference between fostering friendship and tearing them down. Anger, harsh words and actions, and not being there for your friends creates a crack that widens and separates friends, while on the other hand, “with every kindness that we care to show, Something good and magical will begin to grow.”Die-cut pages emphasize these differences. On one side a tree (representing friendship) thrives alongside kind and friendly acts and on the other a crack (conveying hurt and damage) widens. Both the tree and crack grow as the book progresses, until the two sides merge when the children around the sprouting tree reach out “to spread the seed of friendship and touch somebody’s heart,” mending the crack and growing stronger together in kindness. This artistic read focusing on kindness hosts beautiful illustrations, elevated further by the addition of die-cut pages to further illustrate the message Teckentrup shares on kindness and friendship. While the text rhymes well, the cadence is slightly off and the text feels a little preachy. A lovely book, but possibly a read more appreciated by parents.

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Hugsby
Written & illustrated by Dow Phumiruk
A huggable, little monster with a remarkably empathetic heart.
Aug 5, 2020
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-6

Among the many monsters available from the monster shelter—who, with characteristics like will “melt in your arms” and “soft like a cotton ball,” are not the least bit scary—Shelly chooses Hugsby, who is “Smart, cuddly, and a great listener.” She and Hugsby enjoy simple pleasures together, like having a tea party, blowing bubbles, and, especially, sharing hugs, but when it’s almost “Pet Monster Show-and-Tell Day” at school, Shelly suddenly worries that the things Hugsby does won’t be interesting to her classmates. She thinks her worries are validated when the first few monsters do impressive feats like flips and tricks. But as Hugsby sees her nervously begin introducing him, he does what he does best—he gives her a hug, a skill the entire class wants to experience. Though the storyline is predictable, Phumiruk’s introduction of pet monsters as completely normal and not requiring any explanation provides an inventive, enjoyable touch. The pencil illustrations digitally textured with watercolors are soft and very fitting for this tender, touching story, and the sequence depicting Hugsby’s noticing Shelly’s increasing nervousness and offering a consoling hug are especially well done in communicating Hugbsy’s impressive capacity for empathy.

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Song of the Old City
Written by Anna Pellicioli & illustrated by Merve Atilgan
A delightful introduction to Istanbul and its inspiring tradition of passing along kindness.
Aug 5, 2020
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-7

A young girl’s adventurous day in Istanbul begins with receiving a “flapping fish” from a local fisherman. With the fish and each subsequent item she is gifted—a freshly baked sesame simit, a fanciful story, pomegranate juice—she passes along the generous gesture, whether by returning the floppy fish to the sea, sharing her baked bread with seagulls, or retelling the story for someone else. Her journey leads her to bazaars, Turkish baths, rooftops, ships, and new friends, all along the way sharing kindness with humans and animals alike. Both the story and the illustrations are original and engaging, if a bit unrestrained—the last page concludes with the young girl falling through the sky after marching along wires strung from chimney to chimney. Atilgan’s detailed costuming of the main character—with her bright red sweater and boots—and other characters—with scarves, hats, coats, and wispy strands of hair—and their dynamic poses enrich the story with a bustling sense of movement, accentuating the girl’s busy day of experiencing and giving. This energy is further heightened by Pellicioli’s unique use of second person narration, which engages readers in the story and the exploration of the “old city filled with boats, people, prayers, and hot tea . . .”

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Vessel of Promises: A Bookish Fable
Written by Stephen Cowan & illustrated by Ed Young
A symbolic story celebrating books and libraries that will be most appreciated by mature readers.
Aug 5, 2020
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

As a river rises so slowly it’s imperceptible, an old woman dreams of impending destruction. The woman is part of the household of the biblical prophet and ark builder Noah, and as Noah is shown in shadowy background illustrations gathering animals, the woman begins to gather “promises” into a vessel. The promises mirror the animals simultaneously being gathered: “fast ones,” “slow ones,” and “young ones that could fit inside a shell.” When the waters again subside, the woman creates a space where the promises can be shared with others. In the closing line, the promises are revealed to be books, which continue to be available to readers at their own vessels of promises: their local libraries. While the celebration of books and libraries is a commendable message that all readers can appreciate, the opaque narrative and incredibly abstract illustrations of this “bookish fable” will likely make it most appealing and best suited for mature readers. The opening of the story, with a rising river and a woman’s foreboding dream, is intriguing, and there are enough clues along the way in both text and illustration that readers familiar with the biblical account of the flood will recognize the relation, but even the very astute may not deduce the promises’ symbolic representation of books. While a few lines are delightfully poetic—“The old woman gathered the ones that gathered dust”—some rhymes are hastily phrased, preserving a rhythmic cadence but impairing the sophistication of the fable.

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Bunnies on the Bus
Written by Philip Ardagh & illustrated by Ben Mantle
Humorous illustrations star in this careening tale of mischief.
Aug 3, 2020
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-6

A summer day in Sunny Town begins innocuously as a fluffle of bunnies boards a bus, but it soon becomes apparent that this bus ride will be anything but tame. Blowing past other animals as they go about their daily business around Sunny Town, the bouncing bus causes pandemonium wherever it careens—”No wonder there’s a fuss about the bunnies on the bus!” The simple story line—energetic bunnies take a bus, and then a train—doesn’t do the actual story told by the illustrations justice. With something new to discover on each new read through, multiple storylines for the other inhabitants of Sunny Town—including the efforts of two bandit squirrels to evade the law— and numerous clever details (e.g. exercising hamsters running inside balls, an “Am I Driving Well?” bumper sticker, newspaper headlines, book covers, etc.) add humor and pizzazz to this reading experience. While, unfortunately, some of the rhyming and cadence trips up rather than off the tongue (particularly the ending rhyme of “train”/ “again”), this lively story still begs to be read again and again.

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The Whole Hole Story
Written by Vivian McInerny & illustrated by Ken Lamug
An endless amount of fun and imagination, all stemming from a girl with a hole in her pocket.
Jul 28, 2020
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-7

Imagination is the name of the game in this playful story about a girl named Zia who has a hole in her pocket. The hole gets bigger and bigger with the use of her visionary skills, until she falls right through! Zia’s thoughts are entertainingly employed to guide her journey—she isn’t afraid of falling through the giant hole because “this was only an imaginary hole, so it could only be as scary as she allowed.” As she explores what she can do with a hole, Zia turns the hole into a variety of different things, from a fishing hole to a drain at the bottom of a watering hole. There’s no shortage of adventure as Zia uses the hole to travel to India and later to create an ice skating rink. Eventually she climbs a tree and notices the hole looks a whole lot smaller from that height, “so small, in fact . . . Zia thought she could fit the whole thing in her pocket.” While devoting two pages to trapping Zia underneath the hole felt a bit lowbrow compared to the rest of the book’s ingenuity, McInerny skillfully packs her author debut full of wonder and creativity, circling back to the initial hole in Zia’s pocket for a polished conclusion. Lamug’s illustrations playfully portray the whimsical nature of the story with a fun use of color and detail that fit superbly with the story’s wonderful sense of possibility.