SLPL Staff Picks for 2014

We’re excited to share St. Louis Public Library’s staff picks for the best kids’ books of 2014! In the list below you’ll find picture books, chapter books, graphic novels, juvenile memoirs and biographies published in 2014 and why we think you should check them out.

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino; illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant
Morris is teased by the other children in his class for wanting to wear the tangerine dress from his classroom’s dress-up center. But inspired by a dream, Morris paints a fantastic picture and everything begins to change when he takes it to school.
Why we love it: Morris Micklewhite is a creative, strong, and self-confident character from whom anyone can learn and relate.  (Picture Book)

El Deafo by Cece Bell
The author recounts in graphic novel format her experiences with hearing loss at a young age, including using a bulky hearing aid, learning how to lip read, and determining her “superpower.”
Why we love it:  Readers who loved Raina Telgemeier’s Smile will enjoy this story about fitting in while still being yourself and finding power in our differences.  (Graphic Memoir)

Caminar by Skila Brown
Dissuaded by his mother from confronting soldiers who have murdered a neighbor in his 1981 Guatemalan village, young Carlos joins a band of guerillas in the hope of carrying a warning to his grandmother’s mountaintop home.
Why we love it: This novel in verse deals with some heavy subject matter, but serves as a deeply moving introduction to the Guatemalan Civil War and Mayan genocide.  Recommended for mature upper elementary students and middle schoolers.  (Middle Grade Book)

Hug Machine by Scott Campbell
The hug machine is available to hug anyone, any time, whether they are square or long, spikey or soft.
Why we love it:  Campbell’s delightful illustrations remind us that we could all use a hug from time to time, no matter how scary or prickly we may be.  Pair this story with Hug Me! (see below) for a perfectly hug-tastic storytime.  (Picture Book)

Hug Me! by Simona Ciraolo
Felipe the cactus just wants a hug, but his family is not the touchy-feely kind, so he goes out into the world to find a friend and maybe get that long awaited hug.
Why we love it: This book makes us want to hug it!  Underlying messages of our need for support and affection make this sweet story about Felipe the cactus a real charmer.  It’s a reminder that although we make mistakes, we need to be reassured that we are loved. (Picture Book)

Little Roja Riding Hood by Susan Elya; illustrated by Susan Guevara
A rhyming twist on the classic fairy tale in which a little girl saves her grandmother from a wolf. Includes glossary of Spanish words.
Why we love it: This modernized version of Little Red Riding Hood has a variety of words in Spanish and vibrant illustrations making it perfect for bilingual story times. (Picture Book)

A Mom for Umande by Maria Faulconer; illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hartung
Because his own mother is too young to take care of him, Umande, a newborn gorilla, is fed and cuddled by human zookeepers until a surrogate mother is found.
Why we love it: Who can resist a baby gorilla? 1st and 2nd graders love this true story about zoo baby, Umande, who needs a mother. The large pictures make it a great class room story-telling pick. (Picture Book)

Chu’s First Day of School by Neil Gaiman; illustrated by Adam Rex
On the first day of school, a young panda learns about the special things his animal classmates can do.
Why we love it: It is hard for readers to not fall in love with colorful illustrations of Chu, an adorable panda, as he nervously sets out to start his first day of the school year. (Picture Book)

The Dumbest Idea Ever! by Jimmy Gownley
Recounts the author’s adventures as he grows from an eager-to-please boy into a teenage comic book artist.
Why we love it: Jimmy is an average kid but when his comic book gains unexpected fame he has to learn how to handle the spotlight gracefully and there are a few hiccups along the way.  (Graphic Memoir)

The Princess in Black by Shannon and Dean Hale; illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Who says princesses don’t wear black? When trouble raises its blue monster head, Princess Magnolia ditches her flouncy dresses and becomes the Princess in Black!
Why we love it: Princess Magnolia doesn’t wait around to be rescued by a prince, she rescues her own kingdom!  (Early Chapter Book)

Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon
Dory, the youngest in her family, is a girl with a very active imagination, and she spends the summer playing with her imaginary friend, pretending to be a dog, battling monsters, and generally driving her family nuts.
Why we love it: The ultra-imaginative Dory is written so realistically that she is sure to remind you of children in your own life.  Recommended for kids who enjoy Junie B. Jones.  (Early Chapter Book)

The Hero’s Guide to Being an Outlaw by Christopher Healey
The princes and princesses flee from bounty hunters when they are wrongly accused of the murder of Briar Rose, who was killed as part of a nefarious plot to seize control over the thirteen kingdoms.
Why we love it: The League of Princes series is about 4 inept Prince Charmings from the Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty stories. They are thoroughly incompetent yet still bid to try to save the world (with help from the princesses of course). This series will make you laugh out loud and cheer for the hapless princes in all their misadventures. (Middle Grade Book)

Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah and Ian Hoffman; illustrated by Chris Chase
Jacob, who likes to wear dresses at home, convinces his parents to let him wear a dress to school, too.
Why we love it: Provides the perfect opportunity for parents to discuss gender, identity, unconditional love, and fitting in. (Picture Book)

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm
Ellie’s scientist grandfather has discovered a way to reverse aging, and consequently has turned into a teenager–which makes for complicated relationships when he moves in with Ellie and her mother, his daughter.
Why we love it: Holm deftly weaves sci-fi elements into this story of family, friendship and middle school. (Middle Grade Book)

The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth by Ian Lendler; illustrated by Zack Giallongo
When the Stratford Zoo closes for the evening, the animals sneak out of their cages and use their limited acting ability to put on an unusual version of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”
Why we love it: A fun introduction to Shakespeare in a very kid-friendly format! (Juvenile Graphic Novel)

Kayden Is Different by Roosevelt Mitchell, III M. Ed; illustrated by Chris House
Meet Kayden. He is just like many children today with a disability. Whether it’s a physical or mental disability, there are those who are bullied because of the way they are. Being bullied ruins any child’s self-esteem, but the effect is even greater for children with disabilities. Unfortunately children who do the bullying do not understand that those born “different” are just like them. Kayden teaches kids that you can be a hero even with a disability!
Why we love it: This book is a quick and short read with great pictures featuring a little boy with a disability. Speaking from the 1st person point of view, Kayden is 5 years old and tells the reader how it makes him feel when people stare or asking hurtful questions about his disability. Kayden is all better when playing with his friend Kyla and wishes they could have more friends and be accepted. (Picture Book)

How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson
The author reflects on her childhood in the 1950s and her development as an artist and young woman through fifty poems that consider such influences as the Civil Rights Movement, the “Red Scare” era, and the feminist movement.
Why we love it: Even though each poem is written as a sonnet, Nelson never allows this strict format to constrain her voice.  (Memoir in Verse)

The Book With No Pictures by B. J. Novak
In this book with no pictures, the reader has to say every silly word, no matter what.
Why we love it: This book absolutely demands to be read out loud and is guaranteed to result in uproarious laughter.  (Picture Book)

Hilda and the Black Hound by Luke Pearson
In Hilda’s new adventure, she meets the Nisse – a mischievous but charismatic bunch of misfits with some intriguing secrets.
Why we love it: This latest installment in Hilda’s Nordic adventures is just as endearing as the previous three volumes.  Readers are sure to enjoy Hilda’s head strong attitude and the always surprising magical elements in her world. (Juvenile Graphic Novel)

Josephine by Patricia Powell; illustrated by Christian Robinson
Presents an introduction to the life of the passionate performer and civil rights activist that traces her journey from the slums of St. Louis to the world’s most famous stages.
Why we love it: This biographical book covering the life of Josephine Baker is filled with fresh, striking, and exuberant illustrations that truly bring Baker’s extraordinary accomplishments to life. (Juvenile Biography)

Goldi Rocks & The Three Bears
by Corey Schwartz; illustrated by Nate Wragg

In this fractured fairy tale, the Three Bear Band holds tryouts for a lead singer.
Why we love it: This fun retelling of Goldilocks and The Three Bears is great for story times; it features the bears as a rock and roll group looking for a lead singer that can hit the high notes! (Picture Book)

Buddy and the Bunnies in: Don’t Play with Your Food! by Bob Shea
A monster named Buddy is determined to eat some cute little bunnies, until they prove to be more enjoyable as playmates.
Why we love it: This tasty tale gets funnier every time you read it. (Picture Book)

Mix It Up! by Herve Tullet
Using no special effects other than the reader’s imagination, simple directions lead the reader to experiment with mixing and changing colors on the printed page.
Why we love it: The sequel to “Press Here” is every bit as fun as the first book. Follow the instructions to mix, splatter and move paint around on the pages—then do it again! (Picture Book)

Boys of Blur by N. D. Wilson
When his stepfather moves them to Taper, Florida, in the Everglades, twelve-year-old Charlie discovers a secret world hidden within the sugar cane fields, as well as new family connections and friendships.
Why we love it: Somehow, Boys of Blur manages to successfully combine elements of Beowulf, zombies and high school football while seamlessly blending them into one exciting and thoughtful read.  (Middle Grade Book)

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
In vivid poems that reflect the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, an award-winning author shares what it was like to grow up in the 1960s and 1970s in both the North and the South.
Why we love it: Woodson’s unique childhood experiences are rendered relatable for readers of any background.  (Memoir in Verse)


H is for Hibernation

Check out these books and more to learn about animal behaviors throughout the winter season!

Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson
One by one, a whole host of different animals and birds find their way out of the cold and into Bear’s cave to warm up. But even after the tea has been brewed and the corn has been popped, Bear just snores on! See what happens when he finally wakes up and finds his cave full of uninvited guests — all of them having a party without him!

Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner
Over the snow, the world is hushed and white. But under the snow exists a secret kingdom of squirrels and snow hares, bears and bullfrogs, and many other animals that live through the winter safe and warm, awake and busy, under the snow. Discover the wonder and activity that lies beneath winter’s snowy landscape in this magical book.

What is Hibernation? by John Crossingham
Hibernation is one of nature’s greatest miracles, allowing animals to sleep through periods of extreme cold and heat. Interesting information describes how different animals use body fat to survive, how they can wake themselves up, and how some give birth during hibernation.

Hibernation Station by Michelle Meadows
Everybody at the station! It’s time for winter hibernation! The sweet rhyming text of this book will calm even the most rambunctious kids and have them dreaming about what it’s like to hibernate. Young readers will be soothed and delighted as this story introduces them to different types of hibernating animals. The creatures on the train are preparing to snuggle into sleep, although with a passenger list that includes chipmunks, bears, snakes, hedgehogs, groundhogs, frogs, turtles, mice, bats, and more, there’s a lot of noise! Will the hibernating critters ever get to sleep? Take a trip to Hibernation Station to find out!

Bear Has a Story to Tell by Philip C. Stead
It was almost winter and Bear was getting sleepy. But first, Bear had a story to tell… Bear found his friend Mouse, but Mouse was busy gathering seeds and didn’t have time to listen to a story. Then Bear saw his friend Duck, but Duck was getting ready to fly south. What about his friend Toad? He was busy looking for a warm place to sleep. By the time Bear was through helping his friends get ready for winter, would anyone still be awake to hear his story?
Wes_wintersnoozelgTry making this paper bag cave to show the hibernating bear all through winter. You could even have your kids pick out one of their own teddy bears to place in the cave!  Craft directions courtesy of Wescott.

Books worth Savoring During the Holiday Season

Educators say that children should be read to every day. What better time to read to your child than at bedtime, cuddled up under a comforter or quilt before drifting off to sleep.

mooshkaMooshka, A Quilt Story by Julie Paschkis is a tribute to storytelling and family traditions. Each square in Karla‘s quilt prompts a different story. When a new baby comes, the reluctant new big sister uses these stories to comfort the baby.

storyblanketThe Story Blanket by Ferida Wolff and Harriet May Savitz and illustrated by Elena Odriozola is sure to spread warmth and cheer on winter nights. When the children in the village gather to hear stories the storyteller notices that a child needs socks, the postman needs a scarf– and the blanket starts to shrink. Graceful restrained language and art combine to inspire a tale of generosity, perfect for this season of giving.

brotherhugoOver the years librarians have heard lots of excuses for not returning a book—but “a bear ate it”? Based on a snippet from an historic document, Brother Hugo and the Bear is about a monk and his brother monks who prepare the parchment, make the inks, sew the pages and bind it to replace the manuscript the bear had eaten. But it seems the bear has developed a taste for text that is not easily satisfied.

tigersoupTiger in My Soup by Kashmira Sheth also speaks to the power of words and imagination. What if the letters in your soup spelled out T I G E R, and then the tiger came to life? Ignored by his older sister who is absorbed by her own book, a bored boy manages to have an action-packed fantasy adventure. Beautiful, bizarre and beguiling.

stormwhaleThe Storm Whale by Benji Davies is a heartwarming tale of loneliness and compassion. Crisp, evocative scenes of coastal life and a fantastical yet comforting story reminds us to cherish and listen to those we love.

Book Weekend – Best Readaloud Picture Books

hugHug Me by Simona Ciraola follows a hopeful little desert cactus who’s searching for affection despite a tendency to be prickly.  After a series of rejections, the little cactus becomes resigned to loneliness.   But the green hero keeps an open heart, and finds friendship in an unlikely place.   The charming illustrations combined with the thoughtful exploration of nature vs. aspirations marks this picture book as one of my favorites.

OnceOnce Upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers is a series of short, inter-linking stories for each letter.  This is not a book for preschoolers, but for their older grade school siblings to read aloud.  The challenging vocabulary will encourage questions, while they chuckle at the twisty dark humor.

Reach for the Stars


Hello Nebulon by Ray O’Ryan
In Hello, Nebulon!, Zack makes the big move from Earth. He is already nervous about starting school and making new friends, but it only gets worse when he dreams that his classmates are slimy aliens with tentacles, pizza comes covered in gross bugs, and he can never communicate with his Earth friends again! Fortunately, when Zack arrives at Sprockets Academy for his first day of school, he meets and befriends Drake Tucker, a Nebulite boy who also loves to explore and learn about the planets. Nebulon isn’t as awful as Zack’s dream, but there are a lot of differences between Nebulon and Earth, and they make Zack miss his home in Dubbsville, Texas, even more. But things start to look up when he receives a mysterious surprise. What could it possibly be?

The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot by Margaret McNamara
GREEP BOINK MEEP! The three little aliens are happily settling into their new homes when the Big Bad Robot flies in to crack and smack and whack their houses down! A chase across the solar system follows in this out-of-this-world version of the classic Three Little Pigs tale. Margaret McNamara (How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin?) and Mark Fearing (The Book that Eats People) have created a humorous and visually stunning story that kids will adore—and that will introduce them to the planets and the solar system. The endpapers even include a labeled diagram of all the planets.

Why Are Black Holes Black? Questions and Answers about Space by Thomas Canavan Jr.
Why are black holes black? This introductory book will provide the answers to young scientists big questions about space. Provides age-appropriate text to fuel and inspire young readers to want to learn more. A wealth of bright photos and images accompany the inviting text that even reluctant readers will find appealing.

Fly Guy Presents: Space by Tedd Arnold
Fly Guy and Buzz are back with another great nonfiction book!
Award-winning author/illustrator Tedd Arnold brings nonfiction to life in this engaging nonfiction reader! During a visit to a space museum, Fly Guy and Buzz learn all about planets, space crafts, space suits, and even dirty snowballs (i.e. comets!)! With straightforward fun facts, humorous illustrations of Fly Guy and Buzz, and vivid photographs throughout, this book is sure to be a hit with budding astronauts everywhere!

Exploring Space Robots by Deborah Kops
How can robots help us explore space? A probe called New Horizons is zooming through the outer solar system. It’s headed to Pluto. It and other space robots can go where people cannot survive. In this book, you’ll learn how robots can work as our eyes, ears, and hands in space.  As part of the Searchlight Books collection, this series explores outer space and sheds light on the question What’s Amazing about Space? Fantastic photos, kid-friendly explanations of science concepts, and useful diagrams will help you discover the answers!


Get ready to blast off with this fun rocket craft from PBS Parents!

Best Illustrated Picture Books – Book Weekend

MommyEvery December the New York Times announces their picks for the best illustrated picture books.  Here are the top titles from that list.

Where’s Mommy? by Beverly Donofrio and illustrated by Barbara McClintock.  A girl and her mouse friend go on parallel bedtime hunts for their mothers through a charming mid-century modern house.  McClintock creates a cozy tiny world built into the spare nooks and crannies of the human house.




Harlem Hellfighters by J. Patrick Lewis and illustrated by Gary Kelley.  The story of a regiment from Harlem that fought bravely in World War 1 alongside the French.  They shared much with the Allies, including their new brand of jazz music, but returned to America to find Jim Crow still haunting them.




babytreeThe Baby Tree written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall.  When a curious little boy asked “Where do babies come from?” he gets a mixed bag of answers.  The mailman, his sitter, his grandma, all offer suggestions from funny to strange, but finally his parents set him down and explain the facts.  Blackall’s delicate line art balances between innocent and odd and her fresh bright colors keep the tone playful.

To see more of her work, check out her website,




Time for Bed, Fred! written and illustrated by  Yasmeen Ismail.  One playful dog runs wild trying to outrace bedtime, but will all his shenanigans work?  Or will all that clever tree-climbing, puddle-jumping and hiding just tire him out?