BEST OF 2015: Our Favorite Books for Young Readers

Over the course of the last several months, our Young Readers Committee read (and often reread) hundreds of books to identify those titles we believe to be the best 2015 had to offer for preschool and early-elementary-school-aged children. So without further ado, BCPL’s favorite 2015 books for young readers are:

Picture Books (Fiction)

8: An Animal Alphabet by Elisha Cooper
Alphabet book meets counting book meets seek-n-find in this clever interactive title sure to appeal to animal lovers of all ages. Each letter of the alphabet features several animals whose names begin with that letter, and readers are prompted to seek out those animals who appear on the page exactly eight times.

Ally-Saurus & the First Day of School by Richard Torrey
Young Ally—who prefers to be called Ally-saurus—absolutely loves dinosaurs. But on her first day of school, she meets children with completely different interests. Will a dinosaur-girl fit in with the wannabe princesses of her class? This is a wonderful story about imagination, discovering new interests, and making friends.  The cartoon-like artwork is playful and fun.

Ask Me by Bernard Waber, illustrated by Suzy Lee
Lee’s stunning colored-pencil illustrations combined with dialog from the late-great Bernard Waber create a heartfelt snapshot of the bond between a young girl and her father. Rather than focusing on a traditional plot, the book depicts bits of conversation between the two throughout the day as they revel in their time together, eating ice cream, playing in the leaves, and exchanging questions. From the dialog, it is clear that this is a special routine for the two of them.

The Baby Swap by Jan Ormerod, illustrated by Andrew Joyner
With retro illustrations reminiscent of Waber’s Lyle Crocodile books, this humorous tale follows Caroline Crocodile’s attempts for swap her drooly, troublesome new brother in for another animal baby that will be a better fit.

The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach
At the beginning, an unseen narrator suggests that a bear is the guilty party after a sandwich has gone missing and then proceeds to weave an intricate story of how the bear might’ve gotten the sandwich. A slyly humorous story punctuated with vivid, equally funny illustrations that are pivotal to the storytelling, this tale is sure to please. The kids (and parents) who loved I Want My Hat Back will gobble it up.

Counting Crows by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Ron Dunlavey
With a red, black, and white palette and lively rhyming text, this whimsical book follows the adventures of a flock of crows and offers readers a fresh—and slightly zany—new counting book that stands out from the rest.

The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
After various adventures and misadventures—shared with Duncan and readers in a series of hilarious postcards—Duncan’s crayons are back! At least two of our committee members felt this follow-up to the now-classic The Day the Crayons Quit is even better than the first book! 

A Fine Dessert by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Tracing a single dessert across centuries, continents, and four families, this deliciously illustrated picture book provides a rapid-fire, accessible cultural history of how things have changed over time—from human rights issues to cooking implements—while other things have remained relatively consistent, such as the irresistible pleasure of licking the bowl after a fine dessert. Includes a recipe and historical notes.

Fire Engine No. 9 by Mike Austin
Far more than another bland (if highly popular) fire truck book, this action-packed fire-crew adventure features lively wordplay and bold digital illustrations that practically vibrate with color and energy.

Float by Daniel Miyares
Reminiscent of Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day, the story follows a young boy who goes out in the rain to play with his paper boat and finds more adventure than he expects. Both timeless and modern, it’s a story of exploring, of the excitement and awe found in quiet moments, and—perhaps most touchingly—of the everyday bond between a father and his son. And that’s just the story—the digital art used to tell that story is mostly soft grays with the added punch of the boy’s yellow rain slicker. Subtle detailing, plays on perspective, and wonderfully rendered emotions make for spreads worth savoring. And then there’s that little twist at the end, perfectly flipping the color palette and (hopefully) setting us up for a new story.

It’s Only Stanley by Jon Agee
A wacky, slightly ominous sensibility and rhyming text convey the story of the Wimbledon family and their dog Stanley, whose bizarre behavior awakens them on and off throughout the night.

Job Wanted by Teresa Bateman, illustrated by Chris Sheban
 In an amusing ode to perseverance and ingenuity, a down-on-his-luck dog looking for a home will do anything to convince a skeptical farmer to hire him on and sets out to prove that he can be just as useful as a horse or cow. Though less attention-getting then many of our other selections, the muted illustrations perfectly reflect the dog’s initial weariness and the farmer’s quietude.

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson
A young boy rides the bus across town with his grandmother, who teaches him to appreciate the beauty in everyday things and in caring actions.

Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Christian Robinson
With heavily blue, retro-style cartoon images, Mac Barnett and Christian Robinson tell the story of a friendly house ghost who is chased from his home and goes in search of a friend and a new place to stay. Despite the blue hues and the tinge of sadness and loneliness of Leo’s introduction, this is a warm tale of friendship and imagination.

Night Animals by Gianna Marino
Cowering from the frightening sounds of the forest at night, possum’s fear sets off a chain reaction among the other night animals. Before we know it, everything is turned upside down, the animals are all terrified, and readers are laughing out loud at the characters’ over-the-top reactions.

Rhymoceros by Janik Coat
The only board book to make our list, Rhymoceros features a delightfully deadpan blue rhinoceros demonstrating sixteen pairs of rhyming words,  placing him in a variety of amusing situations.  

Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith
With only occasional splashes of color, this triumph of visual storytelling features a modern-day Red Riding Hood as she makes her way through the city with her father, who is often too distracted by his phone to notice her silently plucking weeds from cracks in the concrete and bestowing her gifts on those she passes—a dead bird on the sidewalk, a sleeping homeless man, a friendly dog out for a stroll with his owner. And yet the father isn’t wholly inattentive—he waits patiently when she slips away for a bit with her own distraction and is never more than a few feet from his daughter. Like The Last Stop on Market Street, this is a lovely celebration of the beauty to be found in everyday things, though the execution is entirely different. (BCPL copies on order.)
Two Mice by Sergio Ruzzier
Minimal text and textured illustrations follow the adventures of two mice while focusing on the numbers one, two, and three. Rhythm and rhyme create a comfortable and familiar pattern even as the mouse adventures offer a hint of danger.

Wait by Antoinette Portis
A busy mom rushes through the city even as curious preschooler is captivated by the activity and objects around him, resulting in a familiar push and pull between the two. Although the illustrations are bolder and more grounded and the book features two words (“hurry” and “wait”), this makes a wonderful complement to Sidewalk Flowers.

The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski
When she borrows a magical picture book from school, a young girl is disappointed and baffled by the lack of words until a whisper in the wind tells her to create her own story based on the images of each page. With the girl’s imagination unleashed, the bizarre and beautiful stories come to life.

Wolfie the Bunny by Amy Dyckman, illustrated by Zachariah OHora
When Dot the Bunny’s parents take in a stray wolf to raise, she is certain her new “brother” will eat them up and lives in a constant state of anxiety until proven otherwise. In the meantime, her earnest concerns and Wolfie’s adorakable innocence make for a whimsical, funny, and memorable story.

Honorable Mentions:
The Boy & the Book
Click, Clack, Ho! Ho! Ho!
Everybody Sleeps (But Not Fred)
How to Read a Story
I Don’t Like Koala
I Don’t Want to Be a Frog
Ice Cream Summer
If You Plant a Seed
Land Shark
Maple & Willow Apart
My Bike
Pig and Pug
Red: A Crayon’s Story
The Tea Party in the Woods (BCPL copies are on order)
To the Sea (BCPL copies are on order)
The Skunk
Special Delivery
Stella Brings the Family
What James Said

Picture Books (Nonfiction)

The Blue Whale by Jenni Desmond
This gorgeously illustrated book presents facts about the blue whale in an accessible and visually appealing way that helps to put information about the animal’s size and habits into perspective.

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko, illustrated bu Sean Qualls an Selina Alko
An tribute to the Loving family who fought and won a landmark civil rights case, this book features cheerful mixed medium artwork and an important message about standing up for your family and what you believe in. Endnotes provide further context, including a brief personal story from the author.

A Chicken Followed Me Home: Questions and Answers About a Familiar Fowl by Robin Page
Fascinating facts about chickens are presented through a series of questions and answers; big, bold illustrations; and a touch of humor. 

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
In this sweet tale, a woman tells her young son about their connection to the bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh. Blackall’s gorgeous watercolor and ink drawings—vibrant yet calm—elevate the story to something truly special. Photographs are included in the back matter.

Founding Fathers!: The Horse-Ridin,’ Fiddle-Playin,’ Book-Readin,’ Gun-Totin,’ Gentlemen Who Started America by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Barry Blitt
This humorous dossier on the the signing of the Declaration of Independence and each of the “founding fathers” is easily browsable and can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

Market Maze by Roxie Munro
A book about how food gets to local markets, Market Maze challenges readers to guide the food products from their source through the maze-like illustrations to their destinations. In addition to building awareness about food and sustainability, the simultaneous transport of foodstuffs from different parts of the town and the overlapping paths taken for their delivery may offer an opportunity to clue kids into both the vastness and the interconnectedness of the world beyond their immediate surroundings.

The Most Amazing Creature in the Sea by Brenda Z. Guiberson, illustrated by Gennady Spirin 
Spectacularly detailed illustrations and an assortment of bizarre facts encourage children to explore the mysteries of the natural world.

Raindrops Roll by April Pulley Sayre
Close-up photography and lyrical text encourage children and adults alike to admire the beauty of rain and its effects.

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Julie Morstad
A little bittersweet and wholly inspiring, this gorgeously illustrated oversize picture book provides a glimpse into the short life of ballet icon Anna Pavlova, from her poor beginnings through her untimely death. The heart of the story, of course, lies in her immediate and ongoing captivation with dance, which is echoed by the reader’s own fascination with the graceful images and complementary text. (BCPL copies are on order.)

Water Is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle by Miranda Paul, illustrations by Jason Chin
Both engaging and informative, this book follows a group of children as they glimpse and interact with different parts of the water cycle, from fog to a frozen pond. Back matter provides more in-depth scientific explanations within the context of the primary text.

Easy Readers

Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret by Bob Shea
When Ballet Cat and Sparkles the Pony can’t decide what to do for the day, secrets come out that may threaten their friendship.

Don’t Throw It to Mo! by David A. Adler, illustrated by Sam Ricks
The smallest and youngest kid on the team, no one expects much from Mo. But Mo loves football and loves being on the team, even when his coach makes him practice with butter on his fingers. An inspired level 2 reader with large, readable text and fantastic full-color illustrations.

Ling & Ting: Together in All Weather by Grace Lin
The irrepressible twins are back for a new set of silly antics, this time focusing on each of the four seasons.

In! Over! and On! (the Farm) by Ethan Long
Providing both a playful intro to prepositions and plenty of laughter, this easy reader also includes a perfectly placed lift the flap interactive and two gate folds. The illustrations are simple, colorful, and on-point.

What This Story Needs Is a Pig in a Wig by Emma J. Virjan
A pig in a towering red wig, a fluctuating cast of additional colorful characters who end up with the Pig in a Wig on a boat in a moat, and simple rhyming text make for an effective and charming early reader certain to appeal to fans of Mo Willems’s Elephant & Piggie books. Thankfully, this is only the first book in a new series!

Honorable Mentions:
Hot Rod Hamster and the Haunted Halloween Party
Mr. Putter and Tabby Smell the Roses
I Really Like Slop (Elephant & Piggie)

Early Chapter Books

Big Bad Detective Agency by Bruce Hale
When Wolfgang (please don’t call him the Big Bad Wolf!) is accused of destroying the homes of the Three Little Pigs, he has only a day to find the real culprit, or he will be sentenced to the dungeon (and a lifetime of yucky porridge) by the ruler of Fairylandia. Reluctantly, he teams up with Ferkel, the young fourth Pig who wants to assert a bit of independence from his family, to scope out potential suspects.

The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake by Robin Newman, illustrated by Deborah Zemke
With plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor and wordplay, Detectives Wilcox and Griswold of Ed’s farm investigate the snatching of Miss Rabbit’s carrot cake.

Dory and the Real True Friend by Abby Hanlon
The fantabulous Dory Fantasmagory and her gigantic imagination is back, and best of all, this time she has a real true friend. The problem? No one—meaning her older brother and sister—believes her friend isn’t made up.

Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
In this second installment of the Tales of Deckawoo Drive series, DiCamillo brings back a familiar character from her Mercy Watson series and gives her the lead role. Francine prides herself as the best animal control officer around, but she suffers a debilitating blow to her self-confidence after an encounter with a eerie raccoon and an unfortunate fall.

Lola Levine Is Not Mean! by Monica Brown, illustrated by Angela Dominguez
Lola Levine is bursting with energy and an ace soccer player—but she is NOT mean! Unfortunately, after her competitiveness gets a little out of control during a schoolyard game, most of her classmates have begun calling her Mean Lola Levine.

Piper Green and the Fairy Tree by Ellen Potter, illustrated by Qin Leng
When her beloved older brother leaves Peek-a-Boo Island to attend school on the mainland, Piper Green pledges to never take off the earmuffs he gave her. No matter how much trouble her refusal causes.

The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
The Princess in Black’s work is never done. She doesn’t even get a break on her birthday. When the monster alarm rings during her party (again and again and again), Princess Magnolia must find increasingly ridiculous ways to distract her guests so she can don her disguise and keep her kingdom safe without revealing her secret identity.

Honorable Mentions:
The Adventures of Sophie the Mouse: A New Friend
The Critter Club: Ellie and the Good Luck Pig
Jasper John Dooley: You’re in Trouble
My Pet Human
Super Fly: The World’s Smallest Superhero!
Source: Book News and Reviews