Around this time of the year, John Schumacher and I get all reflective. While it would be cool if we shined brightly when you pointed a flashlight at us, I don’t mean that kind of reflective. I mean we looked back on the year in children’s literature. We reflected with a purpose: over the next four days, John and I will count down our favorite books of 2014. We love them all. Be sure to head over to Watch. Connect. Read. for additional resources for each book.
20. Little Elliot, Big City by Michael Curato [Henry Holt (Macmillan) | Grades PreK-2]
It is not a secret that I have a soft spot for mice and elephants in children’s literature. I cannot get enough of them. I want to wander around Central Park with Stuart, discuss books with Despereaux, and ask Ruby what she loves most about Ivan. When I discovered that Little Elliot, Big City featured an elephant and a mouse, it was love at first sight.
Elliot is a gentle polka-dotted elephant who often feels invisible, and Mouse desperately needs a friend to give her a little boost. This unlikely pair form a friendship that will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. They show how a random act of kindness can make a big difference in someone’s life. Add it to your folders labeled: “A Great Read-Aloud” and “A Perfect Friendship Story for All Ages.”
19. Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers [Philomel (Penguin) | Grades K-3]
For all the times you hear that making books is hard work (and I believe all of it, by the way), you almost forget that sometimes it might be a hell of a good time as well. I don’t know for a fact that Oliver Jeffers had a good time making this wildly creative ABC book in which every letter gets a short story (ask him for me, will you?), but it certainly seems like it. Rare is the book that changes your notion of what a book can be. Through a revolutionary format and excellent storytelling, this one does it.
18. Neighborhood Sharks by Katherine Roy [Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan) | Grades 3-5]
Shark books are like Jon Hamm when he played Liz Lemon’s incredibly-handsome-yet-slow-witted boyfriend on the show 30 Rock. Yeah, you’re doing well, but you’re starting with an advantage, dude. Shark books begin from the enviably popular place of “This book has an awesome shark on the cover!” Given that, do the insides matter all that much? Neighborhood Sharks by Katherine Roy shows that (of course) it does – full of in-depth, up-to-date, and often revealing information about the great whites that reside a mere 30 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge. All that and an awesome shark on the cover? It’s just not fair.
17. The Right Word by Jen Bryant; illustrated by Melissa Sweet [Eerdmans | Grades 1-4]
Institutions often begin with obsession. Someone has to be behind the scenes working like a maniac to get a big new idea off the ground, right? Because of the tireless list-making of Peter Mark Roget (creator of the Thesaurus) I can call him smart, but also perspicacious. This beautifully illustrated story of Roget’s life is a great example of how an unusual interest can lead to something much more.
16. Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman [Henry Holt (Macmillan) | Grades 1-4]
If you only read one book on zen philosophy for kids in 2014, it should be this one. Sure Isabel is skilled at martial arts, but more than that, she’s smart. In each of the 13 short chapters Isabel overcomes obstacles by outwitting her opponent. It’s a book that will entertain readers, but also make them think. Is there a better combination?