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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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picture book
“A beautiful story of love, loss, and continuing on that could have done more to emphasize healthy grieving.” - Mar 20, 2020

George loves the time he spends with Grandma Stella each Saturday. Together they do all sorts of wonderful things, like ninja tournaments, video games (while wearing space helmets!), gardening, reading George’s favorite books, and making cinnamon rolls. But one Saturday morning, as George gets ready for his day with Grandma Stella, he finds his parents crying in the kitchen. His father explains why—Grandma Stella has passed away. George tries to cope but in his grief crosses off all the Saturdays on his calendar. Then one day, a new Stella arrives—George’s baby sister. “Now George doesn’t have time to be sad on Saturdays” because he can spend the day with Baby Stella doing the things he loved to do with Grandma Stella. Ryan’s cute illustrations enliven the story and the sweet relationships portrayed, and Wellins’ beautifully shares the fantastic relationship George and Grandma Stella share. However, the story disappointingly skips over the opportunity to fully discuss healthy grieving, mourning, and moving forward. Even as George passes on Grandma Stella’s love to Baby Stella by sharing some of the same activities he and Grandma Stella enjoyed, “busyness” is the stated cure for George’s grief, even as the story tenderly depicts remembering loved ones by cherishing and honoring their life and traditions.

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picture book
Dusk Explorers
Written by Lindsay Leslie & illustrated by Ellen Rooney
“A brilliantly illustrated and nostalgic depiction of the magic of summer nights.” - Mar 20, 2020

As the sun descends in the sky, neighborhood children head outdoors to climb in the trees, play games, and explore the outdoors. Activities like hide and seek throughout the neighborhood, kick the can under the street lights, and leapfrog on the cool grass all bring smiles to children’s faces. Toad hunting, firefly catching, and worm-tunnel finding bring a sense of excitement to the magic of a summer night, when “Screen doors open. Porch lights turn on. The neighborhood waits . . . for dusk explorers.” Leslie’s text guides the reader through a nostalgic summer night, reminiscent of simpler times. While not rhyming, the lovely text flows through Rooney’s brilliant sunset skies. The illustrations fabulously highlight the rare dusk setting in children’s literature with skies of vivid pinks and deep blues, dimly-lit neighborhood scenes, and the silhouettes and shadows of children. Of particular note is the superb portrayal of firefly catching, with black silhouettes and golden fireflies juxtaposed against a breathtaking background of purples, pinks, and blues. The story’s location hints at a lower income neighborhood and includes a diverse group of children, subtly sending the message that fun-filled summer nights and lasting memories are for everyone. The book lacks a developed story, but instead boasts a sentimental reminder of summer nights that will inspire and encourage children to soak up the sunsets and enjoy magic of evening time spent outdoors.

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picture book
“A trip to the zoo that focuses too highly on imagination.” - Mar 20, 2020

Amadou’s class is preparing for a field trip to an old zoo, but Amadou has trouble learning about its history in the classroom as his wandering mind imagines all of the zoo animals. He continues to struggle waiting in line for the train, listening to instructions at the zoo, and following directions his teacher, Madame Minier, gives—his imagination is sweeping him away as he enjoys the animals, dreaming of riding atop the elephants or swimming with a hippopotamus. Little by little he draws his classmates away from their teacher and into his imaginative fun, until even Madame Minier abandons her initial instructions and joins her students in seeing the zoo through their eyes. The illustrations highlight Amadou’s imagination, mirroring his creative outlook through color. First, only Amadou is portrayed in color, then the animals at the zoo, then his classmates, and finally even his teacher as they all join in Amadou’s adventures. While full of imaginative fun, Walsh’s storyline ultimately feels unsatisfactory: Amadou’s disruptive behavior receives all the praise, while his teacher’s disciplined approach—admittedly perhaps too up tight, as she won’t even allow Amadou to stand on one foot like the flamingoes—is abandoned. Finding a balance and mutual respect between to two would have strengthened the story.

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picture book
Heart on Pluto
Written by Karl Jones & illustrated by Andrew J. Ross
“A compelling, approachable, and adorable story to learn about the heart on Pluto and space in general.” - Mar 19, 2020

Jones and Ross collaboratively share the adventure of New Horizons, a satellite launched by NASA to travel to Pluto. On the way to its destination, the space probe sends images of its journey through the Solar System back to friends on Earth. As it travels, New Horizons shares some educational information about Pluto—it’s one of the farthest objects from the sun and Pluto used to be categorized as a planet but is now called a “dwarf planet.” When New Horizons reaches Pluto after nine years of travelling, it captures the discovery of a heart-shaped lake on Pluto along with the message that “it’s hard to feel lonely when there’s so much love way out here.” Ross’ fabulous and endearing illustrations and Jones’ personification of New Horizons make the science aspect of the story—though on the lighter side—feel approachable and appealing. While still being educational and containing some fun facts (cited and explained more in-depth at the end of the book), this read isn’t categorized as fact-filled, but is instead a lovely book that will spark an interest in learning about Pluto, NASA, and the Solar System at large. The additional love theme to the story provides for a surprising learning experience (who knew there was a heart on Pluto?!) and a sweet, adorable take on a space book.

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picture book
Do Not Go in There
Written by Ariel Horn & illustrated by Izzy Burton
“An imaginative juxtaposition of anxiety and optimism that’s sure to resonate with fellow worrywarts.” - Mar 19, 2020

Adorable monster friends Bogart and Morton display differing viewpoints as they imaginatively contemplate what might be behind a red door. Bogart anxiously expresses concerning “what ifs” about dangerous and scary things lying in wait, while Morton cheerily revises each worry to be an exciting prospect. For example, when Bogart warns Morton that there’s probably a scary wolf “collecting every fork in the world, so there are lots of pointy things in there, and you could get hurt!” Morton giddily replies, “Is it like a fork fortress? With a gumdrop castle?” Burton’s beautifully executed illustrations boast fabulous colors and many delightful details in depicting the imaginative scenarios Bogart and Morton think up. While the ending may feel unresolved to some readers as the story stops before the two friends actually decide whether or not to open the door, it also feels very intentional as it leaves the focus of the book on the contrasting approaches of fear and positivity. Were it a fairytale it might have ended with a positive surprise behind the door confirming that approaching situations optimistically and bravely usually ends on a good note. But the continued mystery of what might be beyond the door keeps the focus of the story where Burton seems to intend it be: on addressing anxiety, worry, and fears of the unknown, accepting uncertainty, and having empathy for others’ viewpoints.

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picture book
I Promise
Written by LeBron James & illustrated by Nina Mata
“Absolutely enjoyable and with a wonderful message, this celebrity picture book stands on its own merits.” - Mar 18, 2020

In his debut children’s book, LeBron James teams up with New York Times bestselling illustrator Nina Mata to create a powerful book showcasing his I PROMISE program and emphasizing to young students the importance of going to school and keeping commitments to oneself and others. James demonstrates a respectable knack for poetry, with strong cadence and original rhymes, as he sets forth various commitments to school children—speak kindly, try new things, stand up for what’s right, and more. The inclusion of sports ideas (“I promise to run full court / and show up each time, / to get right back up / and let my magic shine.”) hits just the right balance in acknowledging James’ status as a superstar athlete without overpowering the book and limiting its appeal only to young readers interested in sports. Mata’s illustrations are lively and diverse, adding a level of specificity to broad principles that helps children see concrete applications of each commitment. For example, as James writes, “I promise to respect my elders and peers the same. / To leave new places better than I came,” Mata’s illustrations show a child high fiving the school crossing guard while a classmate tosses a plastic bottle in a recycling bin. This is truly a book readers of all ages and walks of life can appreciate, regardless of their personal level of King James fandom.

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picture book
Thesaurus Has a Secret
Written & illustrated by Anya Glazer
“A cheerful book with an excellent message about the joy of reading.” - Mar 18, 2020

Thesaurus (with his incredibly impressive vocabulary) is just like all of the other dinosaurs, except for one thing—he loves to read. Believing that “reading just wasn’t something dinosaurs did,” Thesaurus hides his love of reading from his fellow dinosaurs until one day he gets so caught up in the story that he begins to read out loud and discovers that his love of books isn’t as unique to him as he thought! Glazer’s colorful pastel color palette is cheerful and sets a happy, upbeat tone for this book about how much fun reading can be and having confidence in yourself. While the story itself is fairly simple, little details throughout such as Thesaurus’ splendid vocabulary, the mixture of standard text and speech-bubbles, and, of course, the host of excellent book title puns (Stegosaurus and Sensibility, A Tail of Two Cities, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontesaurus, etc.) add a level of humor and interest.

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picture book
“A nighttime move set to calming text proves fresh and just a touch odd.” - Mar 18, 2020

A journey through the darkness takes a family to a new home, on a timeline that many who have moved close enough to allow multiple trips can relate to. The two children and their father experience common animal nightlife—including deer, bats, and rabbits—from the safe confines of their car as they travel, and finally arrive at their new home, where they are greeted by a loving mother who appears to have been hard at work getting their house in order. Stories and snacks in a fort, bedtime prayers and finally snuggles round out the night as the two children fall peacefully asleep in their new home. The combination of the themes of nighttime and moving is an interesting one, simultaneously feeling like a fresh take on both while leaving the reader just a tad confused as the story progresses as to what the book is actually about. Stutzman’s text is lyrical, and the cadence and rhyming feel calming—the ideal tone to address children’s fears about either moving or encountering the dark. Since many children, with their early bedtimes, have less experience with the natural world in the dark, the description and illustrations of nightlife are illuminating—in more ways than one, thanks to Kuefler’s masterful use of light.

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picture book
“This light-hearted tale of facing fears gives readers a chance to laugh and delve deeper.” - Mar 18, 2020

Sheep Dog, Sheep Sheep, and their one-of-a-kind friendship return! Sheep “loves her naturally curly wool” . . . that is, until it starts to grow out of control and she can no longer see! After tripping over a stone and landing in the pond (“Holy begonia! Water chickens!”) she is rescued by Sheep Dog, but turns down his suggestion of a haircut, opting instead for wearing a cowboy hat as tall as she is and staying one step ahead of Sheep Dog. It’s not until Sheep learns from a passing “water chicken” that her wool will in fact grow back that she’s willing to take the plunge and discovers a shearing is exactly what she needed. While perhaps not quite on par with the original series title, Baaad Hair Day is completely enjoyable—silly, fun and with plenty of clever humor that will appeal to young and old audiences alike (even without the two instances of potty humor). Though dating the story to the present, the references to popular culture (e.g., a selfie stick, Kondo’s joy philosophy) will elicit a knowing smile from many readers. By pulling out the idea that sometimes fear stems from missing crucial information (such as wool grows back), Barclay has create a book that allows for discussion about a host of childhood fears in an approachable way.

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picture book
“Magical illustrations accompany this introduction to mythical creatures sure to delight fantasy fans young and old.” - Mar 18, 2020

In the style of popular counting rhyme Over in the Meadow, Over in the Woodland takes readers on a journey from one to ten in a mythical woodland setting, showcasing creatures such as griffins, cyclops, mermaids, trolls, dwarves, fairies and more. At the rhyme’s conclusion, there is a two page spread giving some additional detail on each of the ten mythical species included to acquaint readers with some their primary characteristics. The Abreu sisters’ adaptation is pleasant and reads easily in the familiar cadence without feeling painfully forced to a mold. The dramatic style of Covelli’s illustrations has a rich and lush feel—complete with soft lighting and deep colors—and pairs perfectly with the mythical theme. The departure from classic children’s book depictions of the more commonly seen mythical creatures such as dragons and mermaids is notable and gives the reader the sense of truly being introduced to the mythical world.

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picture book
“This reminder to enjoy life is masterfully executed and utterly enjoyable to read and reread.” - Mar 18, 2020

From his first moments of awakening, one busy boy (with dog in tow) rushes at a frantic pace to get ready, get out the door, catch the bus, do his school work, and hurry home again. The stress induced by this pace (and the prevalent but untrue notion that busyness is akin to success—”hurry if you want to win”) is front and center as children scurry around to the increasingly abrasive call of “Hurry. Hurry. Hurry.” A world of gray horizons (with color in only the boy’s immediate surroundings) blossoms into one of full color as the boy hearkens to the call to “STOP,” slow down, breathe, explore, marvel and “Look around, for goodness’ sake.” The readers’ experience mimics that of the boy’s and one may find oneself taking a deep breath and enjoying the little details as the pace changes with a subtle reminder that life (and particularly childhood) is meant to be experienced, not rushed. This mindful and intentional read feels authentic rather than contrived or preachy—in part aided by its use of illustrations to tell a story—and is a welcome reminder to stop and smell the roses.

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picture book
Dozens of Doughnuts
Written by Carrie Finison & illustrated by Brianne Farley
“A delightful tale of a gracious host that is fun, fresh and pure joy to read aloud!” - Mar 18, 2020

LouAnn has the perfect treat to fill her up and last her through the long winter months. But just as she’s sitting down to her plate of “one dozen doughnuts, hot from the pan, ” the doorbell rings and she graciously shares half her doughnuts with Woodrow the woodchuck. As friend after friend shows up just as LouAnn is about to finally get to taste the doughnuts, and her good manners require her to give up her own share in deference to her guests while she makes more and more batches of delicious doughnuts she never gets to taste, finally LouAnn has had enough! With a “ROAR!” worthy of a bear and a tantrum reminiscent of a toddler (after her friends have departed), LouAnn settles down only to be met with one final “Ding! Dong!” A heartfelt apology, complete with the friends making enough doughnuts to satisfy LouAnn (and still have enough to share) bring this delightful book full circle. Original rhymes (interrupted to great effect by the recurring “Ding! Dong!”) and pleasant cadence make this a read aloud readers will want to return to again and again for storytime. While LouAnn’s fit goes disappointedly unaddressed, the animal’s apology for their thoughtlessly taking advantage of LouAnn’s generosity is lovely, and both offer opportunities for follow up discussions. Farley’s illustrations (which continue the story onto the endpapers!) have a special distinctive character that is utterly enjoyable and full of personality.

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picture book
Five Sisters
Written by Stephanie Campisi & illustrated by Madalina Andronic
“Enchanting illustrations and poetic text weave a tender tale of longing for a child in a folklore style.” - Mar 18, 2020

This tender tale of a couple’s wish to have a child of their own is told in the style of a folktale, both in its structure as well as in the poetic writing style, which is rich with imagery. The old man and old woman have cared for the forest since its beginning and in return are blessed for their goodness with a branch from an oak tree. The old man carves the branch into five matryoshka dolls that the old woman cares for like daughters, her heart seemingly satisfied. When a wolf bites the doll daughters, leaving them in pieces, the old man once again returns to the oak tree from whence they were carved, but this time is blessed with a daughter “real and true.” While the story feels disjointed at times—particularly as it transitions from the doll daughters sitting in the windowsill to their playing outside in the stream—overall the book offers a rich reading experience, providing a wealth of opportunities to delve deep with a child about their thoughts on the couple’s caring for the forest, desiring a family, raising the dolls, the danger of the wolf, and the final granting of the couple’s heart’s desire. In the true nature of folklore, some aspects are left unexplained and open to the imagination. The illustrations are key, both in the continued feeling of traditional folklore they support as well as their unique beauty and detail. Their very specific style—a gorgeous color palette alive with forest life; small heads and large bodies for the primary characters with detailing on their traditional clothing—feels simultaneously timeless and uniquely fresh.

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picture book
Friday Night Wrestlefest
Written by J.F. Fox & illustrated by Micah Player
“Family fun takes center stage in this energy-inducing bedtime book” - Mar 18, 2020

Opening on a Friday-night scene that feels comfortingly familiar and exciting (“School is out. Dinner was pizza.”) with backpacks, socks and pizza boxes laying a trail to the main event, readers soon get a hint of the colorful arena followed by the main event—Wrestlefest. In a playful manner, the event opens on Daddoo taking on The Tag Team Twins. Soon Mama-Rama joins in the ruckus after arriving home from what looks like a day at the office, but it’s not over until the needs of Big Bald Baby take precedence, at which point a more mellow routine of pjs, brushing and a bathroom visit culminates in a story and tucking in. By now the “wrestlefest has officially become a nestlefest.” In a book that feels like an utter celebration of a loving (and fun-loving) family, this is a very unique bedtime book that matches the energy of bed-resisting children before they succumb. Chock full of puns, crazy fighter nicknames, and written in the style of wrestling commentary, this is a fun read aloud with boldly-colored and incredibly-expressive illustrations that have just a hint of comic book superhero style.

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picture book
Frog Boots
Written by Jill Esbaum & illustrated by Joshua Heinsz
“A well-meaning agenda without the mastery of an engaging story.” - Mar 18, 2020

Dylan is about to start attending a new school and really wants something new and super cool . . . and finally lands on a pair of purple boots covered with poison dart frogs. They make him feel “cool and smart. Taller, even.” That is, until he proudly sticks his feet in the center for Circle Time and is met by the laughter of his classmates, who have deemed his boots to be “girl boots.” The boots that have brought embarrassment instead of instant popularity are relegated to the closet until Dylan remembers that he really does love poison dart frogs and that his boots used to make him feel really awesome, at which point they gradually work their way back into his life—first on weekends and then finally to school again, where validation from a new friend, Jeremy, allows Dylan to walk tall. While the message that certain colors need not be relegated to the realm of either just boys or just girls is a positive one, Frog Boots feels more like an agenda in story form than a story in its own right. The final resolution, where Dylan’s confidence is bolstered by Jeremy, has the potential for engendering warm fuzzies, until it’s hampered by Jeremiah’s long laughter, which feels directed at the antagonistic girl, seemingly encouraging meeting bullying with bullying. The illustrations are simple, with fun paint effects (particularly in the hair).

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