Top Ten(ish) Picture Books of 2014: The Best Books for Kids' Holiday Gifts

top ten picture books kids 2014 book long enough

2014 was a fantabulous year in picture books, so it's been really hard for me to narrow down all the books I liked into a list of my top favorites. Thus, the reason there are twelve titles below, instead of ten! Without further adieu, and drumroll please, here are the 2014 books you absolutely CANNOT miss sharing with a child! We'll check back in late January to see if any of the awards committees agreed with me ... 

My Grandfather's Coat by Jim Aylesworth and Barbara McClintock

ages 4-8

Other picture book retellings of the well-known Yiddish folktale (often referred to as "Something from Nothing" in oral folklore or by the song title "I Had a Little Overcoat") exist, but this one is by far my favorite. I am a huge fan of both Aylesworth and McClintock's work; when they get together, good things always happen. They've incorporated an Ellis Island immigration story here, with lots of artistic detail surrounding Jewish-American culture in the last hundred years. McClintock's end note explains the meticulous research she did to honor that culture in her watercolor illustrations. Aylesworth is an expert folktale reteller with a knack for bringing zest to traditional tales that is difficult to accomplish outside of oral retellings. Besides all that, My Grandfather's Coat is a lovely, heartwarming story about family and cultural identity being passed from one generation to the next. And all that is accomplished with simple, lyrical text true to the original song, along with inviting, boisterous artwork. This one is going in my permanent collection and you need to own a copy to share with your children, too! Here's a two-page spread so you can see what I mean:

Nana in the City by Laura Castillo

ages 4-7

I'm pretty much starstruck when it comes to this endearing, gentle picture book. A young boy is a bit frightened to stay overnight with his Nana, who lives in a bustling picture-book version of New York City. He sees so many scary things there ... loud traffic, crowded streets, and down-and-out folks, to name a few. Castillo's artistic talent shines through here, as she makes skyscrapers and other tall city buildings seem to loom over and lean in on the small boy. Ample use of varying shades of gray demonstrates just how foreboding the city feels to this young child. The vibrating walls of Nana's apartment make it hard to fall asleep, but things look up when she presents her grandson with a bright red cape she's knitted while he slumbered. With cape as superpower, the boy feels braver and begins to see the colors, movement, and life force that make the city extraordinary. And, of course, Castillo's colors change as his fear wanes. 

Every person (child or adult) has faced and overcome fears with a change in perspective, which makes this book deeply relatable. It's also a tender story of the relationship between grandparent and grandchild, and a love letter to New York. And did I mention that the gradually warming ink and watercolor illustrations perfectly gel with the story's reassuring tone? I added a copy of Nana in the City to my permanent collection. Run and do the same!

Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads by Bob Shea and Lane Smith

ages 5-10

Read my review here.

I'm My Own Dog by David Ezra Stein

ages 5-8 

Read my review here.

Extraordinary Jane by Hannah E. Harrison

ages 4-7

Read my review here. 

Gaston by Kelly Dipucchio and Christian Robinson

ages 4-8

Read my review here. 

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton

ages 7-10

Read my review here.

Hug Machine by Scott Campbell

ages 4-7

Read my review here.  

Link disclosure: A Book Long Enough is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. That means if you purchase a book through an Amazon link that appears on my site, I receive a commission. 

Top 5 Chapter Books of 2014

top 5 chapter kids best 2014 book long enough

So I rounded up my girls (at ages almost 10 and 12 not an easy feat) and asked them to choose their favorite books from the past year. They read like gonzos (at least 30 chapter books a year) and they're pretty picky. It was interesting to watch them go through the list I keep of everything they've read. I expected it might take time to choose the best of the best, but to my surprise it only took a few minutes. That means the books the girls chose really impressed them. And I have to say that as a librarian, I love their choices. Sometimes we adult bibliophiles choose award-winning children's books based on how they appeal to grown-ups and forget that kids need to like them, too. In this instance, though, I'm happy to note that the books the girls loved are also critically acclaimed, which means the librarians and critics are at least on the right track. We shall see what happens when the major awards happen in January, but for now here are five you should make sure your tween (ages 9-12) doesn't miss!

El Deafo by Cece Bell

My girls are really into books that feature other-abled protagonists. They loved Wonder, Out of My Mind, and Petey (my personal favorite) to name a few. (You can see an entire list of this genre, here.) El Deafo, written by the award-winning Cece Bell, is an autobiographical novel in cartoon format. Yes, you read that right. When many adults think of cartoons (better known in long format as graphic novels), they remember Marmaduke and Ziggy. El Deafo is here to prove that the cartoon format can be so much more. Bell chronicles her childhood hearing loss and experience wearing the "Phonic Ear," a device that helps her hear, but also increases her sense of social isolation. Every kid can relate to wanting to fit in. This book will help upper elementary and middle school students not only develop increased sensitivity to "otherness," but know that they are not alone. I'm hoping El Deafo is the first graphic novel to win a Newbery Honor this year. 

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

My eldest daughter loved Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, Auxier's 2011 chapter book debut, so we snatched The Night Gardener from the library shelves as soon as it was published. She's really into fantasy combined with a tinge of not-too-scary horror, and good old-fashioned storytelling, as well. Auxier sweetens these genres with a spooky house that is not what it seems, a curse, and an apparition. If your child enjoys the slightly gothic tone of Lemony Snicket, the fantastical adventure of Harry Potter, or maybe a good ghost story a la Washington Irving, s/he needs to read The Night Gardener.  

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

This is the perfect novel to share with any kid who's ever felt alone, and who hasn't? Albie is a fifth grader who has never been the best at anything. His mom wants him to stop reading that babyish Captain Underpants and get into Johnny Tremain. (I can really feel Albie's pain on this one, because I hated Johnny Tremain when I had to read it in fourth grade. I thought it was the most boring book I'd ever had the misfortune to open.) Then a quirky new babysitter comes into lonely Albie's life and through a series of events and interactions helps him see just how much he has to be proud of. This profound chapter book is written in short chapters that will appeal to kids who like poetic writing, as well as kids who don't really like to read at all. Its very accessible and very deep all at the same time, and that, dear readers, makes it genius. Just a beautiful book deserving of a wide audience. 

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

If you're not already familiar with Jacqueline Woodson's impressive body of children's literature, know that she's just taken her award-winning creativity to yet another level. Brown Girl Dreaming is Woodson's autobiography written in verse. It chronicles her years growing up African-American in the 1960s, teetering right on the edge of a world defined on either end by Jim Crow and Martin Luther King, Jr. Readers learn how writing helped young Jackie find her lyrical voice. This is a beautifully rendered book that I expect to garner even more accolades than the National Book Award Woodson just took home. My daughters were so enthralled with it that they each read it in two sittings. 

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

My nearly-ten year old has read this book no less than two dozen times since it came to live at our house last August. As the middle child and younger sister, I know she very much relates to this tale of two sisters who don't always (ever) get along. But that's not all this latest graphic novel installment from the über-popular Raina Telgemeier has to offer. Inside is a touching tale (couched in a lively pace and upbeat artwork) of how families interact and the impact of one generation upon another. Telgemeier's gift of interspersing such depth in an entertaining presentation makes her work a marvel. 

Link disclosure: A Book Long Enough is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. That means if you purchase a book through an Amazon link that appears on my site, I receive a commission.