Best of 2014: Children's Books

Updated: February 2, 2015

The best children's books of the year, as selected by LAPL librarians. Perfect for holiday gift-giving!

Book cover for Absolutely almost
Absolutely almost
Graff, Lisa (Lisa Colleen), 1981-
Call Number: x

Grades 4 -6.  Albie almost understands why he doesn’t have many friends, or can’t remember how to spell everything on his spelling test (no matter how much he practices), or why he likes to read “baby” books even though he is in fifth grade. It must have something to do with the reason why he is starting at a new public school rather than his fancy private one.  Join Albie as he discovers, with the help of some new friends, that just being himself is almost perfect.


Book cover for The actual & truthful adventures of Becky Thatcher
The actual & truthful adventures of Becky Thatcher
Lawson, Jessica.
Call Number: x

Grades 4 - 6.  A lively, funny and tender historical romp ala Mark Twain told from the point of view of Becky Thatcher. Fans of historical fiction and spunky heroines will enjoy this one.

Book cover for The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend
The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend
Santat, Dan, .
Call Number: xz

Grades Pre-K - 2.  Beekle is an imaginary friend in search of his perfect match: a child who believes in him. Rather than wait around forever in his fantastic realm, he sets off for the real world and begins an adventure to fulfill his destiny.


Book cover for Curiosity
Blackwood, Gary L,
Call Number: x

Grades 5 - 8.  At first, 12-year-old Rufus feels fortunate to be offered a job operating a chess-playing automaton after his father is sent to debtors’ prison. However, as time goes on, his employer seems more and more nefarious, and we begin to wonder if and how Rufus will escape the crafty showman Maelzel.

Book cover for Daddy's zigzagging bedtime story
Daddy's zigzagging bedtime story
Sitomer, Alan Lawrence.
Call Number: xz

Grades Pre-K - 2.  There is something for EVERYONE in this very funny read-aloud about a dad who makes up the perfect bedtime story to please his fussy children. The story is complete with a princess who drives a monster truck and battles space aliens with the help of a cupcake baking unicorn, and an army of adorable orphan kitty cats!  Bedtime story bliss! 


Book cover for A dance like starlight : one ballerina's dream
A dance like starlight : one ballerina's dream
Dempsey, Kristy.
Call Number: xz

Grades K - 3.  In 1951 prima ballerina Janet Collins was the first African American hired to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House. Dempsey's lyrical prose and Floyd Cooper's expressive illustrations offer a poignant tribute to Collins in this tale of a young black ballet student who aspires to become a prima ballerina despite not being allowed to perform with her white classmates. With her mother, the young dancer takes three buses to get to the Opera House to watch Collins perform.  Enchanted by Collins' skill and beauty, the young dancer is now more hopeful and determined than ever to pursue her dreams. 

Book cover for El Deafo
El Deafo
Bell, Cece
Call Number: x GN

At four years old, Cece’s hearing becomes severely impaired after a case of meningitis. From then on, a bulky hearing aid and misconceptions (speaking louder does not make words any clearer!) add new dimensions to the challenges of making friends. But her trusty Phonic Ear may also provide unforeseen advantages as Cece discovers her ability to hear what no one else can

Book cover for The farmer's away! Baa! Neigh!
The farmer's away! Baa! Neigh!
Kennedy, Anne, 1955-
Call Number: xz

Grades Pre-K - 2.  Lots of picture books feature animal antics in the absence of the farmer. What sets this apart is the sheer EXUBERANCE of the frolicking barnyard denizens as they float down the river in inner tubes, have a picnic, ride a roller coaster, water ski, waltz, and generally cavort. PLUS the entire text is written in barn-speak, easily interpreted, even by non-readers, by looking at the illustrations as rebus symbols. The front end-papers provide a key to each animal’s sound. (The same key is at the end with extra silliness!)


Book cover for The Fourteenth Goldfish
The Fourteenth Goldfish
Holm, Jennifer L.
Call Number: x

Grades 5 - 7: 11-year-old Ellie’s cranky, scientist grandfather has discovered the secret of immortality and turned himself back into a teenager. He enlists her help to break into his laboratory and recover an obscure, African jellyfish with regenerative properties—will Ellie and Grandpa Melivin pull it off? Fast-paced, light-hearted and witty, this book will also introduce kids to famous scientists and how they changed history.



Book cover for Freedom summer : the 1964 struggle for civil rights in Mississippi
Freedom summer : the 1964 struggle for civil rights in Mississippi
Rubin, Susan Goldman,
Call Number: x 323.1 R896

Grades 5 - 8.  Rubin's extensive documentation of this historic time is attractively arranged with photographs and facsimiles of primary source material. The narrative emphasizes individual stories in chronological chapters. Includes timeline, appendices, links to additional information, index and source notes.

Book cover for Gravity
Chin, Jason
Call Number: x 531 C539

Grades Pre-K - 3. An excellent introduction to the concept of gravity for young children, with lush and quirky illustrations that both educate and intrigue, plus extra information at the end for inquiring young minds.

Book cover for Greenglass House
Greenglass House
Milford, Kate.
Call Number: x

Grades 4 - 7.  12-year-old adopted Milo and his parents usually have a quiet season at Christmas running their old inn, The Greenglass House, which sits on a precarious cliff overlooking the ocean. This season proves different as strange and mysterious guests arrive one by one in the midst of a terrible storm. When thefts occur in the guestrooms, Milo has a mystery to involving his heritage and the history of the house. Highly atmospheric and entertaining.

Book cover for Half a world away
Half a world away
Kadohata, Cynthia.
Call Number: x

Grades 5 - 7.  Twelve year-old Jaden is starting to forget what his birth mother looks like, but not the fury he feels thinking about how she left him, and not his brother, in a hardscrabble orphanage in their native Romania.  Adopted by a loving American couple when he was eight, he still sleeps on the floor, hoards food and steals, but with the help of one of his psychotherapists, he no longer sets fires. Instead, he ponders electricity and does aggressive running. When his adoptive parents take him on a trip to Kazakhstan to spend time with the infant they plan to adopt, he fears he is going to be discarded again.

Book cover for The history of money : from bartering to banking
The history of money : from bartering to banking
Jenkins, Martin, 1959-
Call Number: x 332 J52

Grades 4 - 7.  With the aid of Satoshi Kitamura's amusing illustrations, Jenkins gives a clear, concise overview of how money came into use, and some of the factors that can make it so elusive. Short chapters infused with plenty of humor keep this an engaging read.


Book cover for If I had a raptor
If I had a raptor
O'Connor, George, .
Call Number: xz

Grades Pre-K - 2.  A young girl dreams about the joys of having a pet raptor, from the sweet, fluffy baby raptor she would pick from the box of "Free Raptors!" to the grown-up menace she would still love.  If you ever accepted a free kitten, well, this will feel very familiar indeed.


Book cover for It's an Orange Aardvark!
It's an Orange Aardvark!
Hall, Michael, 1954- .
Call Number: xz

Grades Pre-K - 1.  Five carpenter ants hear a noise outside of their stump. Is it a hungry aardvark waiting to eat them up? One ant makes a hole in the stump and reveals the color orange. Can an aardvark be orange? More holes reveal more colors as the ants make silly speculations on what could be outside. The colorful surprise ending will bring you delight.

Book cover for Let's get cracking!
Let's get cracking!
Marko, Cyndi, .
Call Number: x

Grades 1 -3.  2nd grade chicken, Gordon, and his still-partially-in-the-shell little brother, Benny, survive a dip into Uncle Quack's toxic sludge and become Superheroes!  Colorfully illustrated beginning chapter book/graphic novel hybrid; first in a fun new series.

Book cover for Life on Mars
Life on Mars
Brown, Jennifer, 1972-
Call Number: x

Grades 5 - 7.  Twelve-year-old Arcturus Betelgeuse Chambers' pursuit of life on Mars changes forever when a grouchy, retired astronaut moves in next door and befriends him. Upbeat, witty and moving.

Book cover for The Luck Uglies
The Luck Uglies
Durham, Paul (Paul Joseph), 1972-
Call Number: x

Grades 5 - 7.  The egotistical Earl of Longchance and the good inhabitants of Village Drowning fear the Luck Uglies – a notorious secret society now banished and lost. But when the Bognoblins, foul and vicious beasts who wear necklaces made of unfortunate villagers’ feet, begin turning up in the village, plucky 11-year-old Rye O’Chanter and her friends will need to find the riley outlaws in order to save the sleepy village. This action-packed, lighthearted and witty debut novel promises more to come as the first in a trilogy.

Book cover for Mama built a little nest
Mama built a little nest
Ward, Jennifer, 1963-
Call Number: x 598 W259

Grades Pre-K - 2.  On each double-page spread, four-line, zippy rhyming verses describe the different kinds of nests made by avian mamas (and papas), beautifully illustrated by the amazing Steve Jenkins who has created bold, intricate cut paper images to introduce a different bird's nest on each spread.  In smaller text, a few sentences briefly describe each bird and its nesting habits.

Book cover for Me and my big mouse
Me and my big mouse
Long, Ethan, .
Call Number: xz

Grades Pre-K - 2.  Michael's pet mouse, Bo, is about three times bigger than he is! Bo is a lot of fun to hang out with, but a tad on the needy side. Encroaching on privacy, doing embarrassing things in front of Michael's friends, and generally behaving like a pesky younger sibling, he becomes so unbearable that Michael severs the relationship. Finding that he misses his big friend, another tactic allows for a fresh start...or at least a step in the right direction. With hilarious illustrations, this is an entertaining read-aloud or discussion starter on problem solving.

Book cover for The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher
The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher
Levy, Dana,
Call Number: x

Grades 3- 6.  A hilarious and heartwarming tale of a large family’s hijinks during one school year, The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher  follows adopted brothers Sam, Jax, Eli, and Frog as they explore friendships, family, and community. With the loving support of their two fathers and a constellation of diverse family traditions, no challenge is too great for the Fletcher brothers!

Book cover for My cousin's keeper
My cousin's keeper
French, Simon, 1957-
Call Number: x

Grades 4 - 7. Eleven-year-old Kieran is trying to fit in with the popular kids at school. Out of the blue, his transient aunt leaves her son, Bon, with Kieran’s family so that he can lead a more stable life. Kieran has to determine what is the right thing to do: stand up for his socially at-odds cousin, or join his classmates in bullying Bon.  

Book cover for The Night Gardener: A Scary Story
The Night Gardener: A Scary Story
Auxier, Jonathan
Call Number: x

Grades 5 - 7: In the 1800s, Irish orphan Molly and her little brother Kip work as servants for the once-wealthy Windsor family in their crumbling English manor. The children’s parents died in a shipwreck passage to England, all of which Molly keeps from Kip by spinning fabulous tales about their parents’ adventures and anticipated return. A thick fog enrobes the Windsor house and its pale, gaunt family who appear happier in a family portrait. A true gothic novel with reappearing muddy footprints leaves blown through hallways and secured locks that come unbolted. Only Molly and Kip will be able to save the Windsors and themselves by facing the Night Gardener. This whimsical, macabre story celebrates the beauty and power of storytelling, and the destructive power of lies we tell ourselves.

Book cover for Ophelia and the marvelous boy
Ophelia and the marvelous boy
Foxlee, Karen, 1971-
Call Number: x

Grades 5 - 7.  In this moving and lyrical new take on the Snow Queen fable, timid and curious 11-year-old Ophelia visits a quiet and snowy city where her father is working to complete a new museum exhibition. During the day, Ophelia explores the empty museum’s treasures – and one afternoon, discovers a Marvelous Boy who speaks to her through the keyhole in a door hidden far from the museum’s main collections. Together, they’ll both find bravery they didn’t know they possessed, and try to defeat an evil Snow Queen set on blanketing the world in ice forever.

Book cover for The orphan and the mouse
The orphan and the mouse
Freeman, Martha, 1956-
Call Number: x

Grades 4 - 6.  A mystery involving black market baby trading unfolds in a Philadelphia orphanage in 1949. Carolyn, a young fire survivor whose scars make her an unlikely candidate for adoption, is helped to thwart the culprits by an intrepid, art-loving mouse. David McPhail's illustrations add to the charm of this Stuart Little inspired tale.

Book cover for The poem that will not end : fun with poetic forms and voices
The poem that will not end : fun with poetic forms and voices
Graham, Joan Bransfield,
Call Number: x 811 G7396-2

Grades K - 3.  Individual poems in a variety of styles are showcased within the framework of a rhyming picture book about a boy who cannot stop writing poems--until the teacher assigns one in school! The poetry is fun, accessible, and well-crafted. Brooker's paint and collage illustrations appealingly convey an active boy obsessed with rhythm. A guide to poetic forms is appended.


Book cover for Saving Lucas Biggs
Saving Lucas Biggs
De los Santos, Marisa, 1966-
Call Number: x

Grades 4 - 7.  Margaret's father dared to challenge the powerful Victory Fuels Corporation when he learned that their fracking practices were poisoning the community's drinking water. Now he's been falsely convicted of murder and sentenced to death. In desperation, Margaret uses the forbidden family "quirk" of being able to travel through time in the hopes of saving his life.

Book cover for Say hello like this!
Say hello like this!
Murphy, Mary, 1961-
Call Number: xz

Grades Pre-K - K.  All sorts of animals say hello in their own way in this cheery companion to A Kiss Like This. Half pages inserted into each spread act as flaps without as much risk of tearing as the fold-out type. They also invite children to guess the sound the animal will make. The bouncy rhyme pairs well with the exuberant illustrations.

Book cover for A snicker of magic
A snicker of magic
Lloyd, Natalie,
Call Number: x

Grades 4 - 7.  Mama has a wandering heart, which means 12-year-old Felicity Pickle and her little sister Frannie Jo have wandered about with mama in their battered van.  But Midnight Gulch is one of those quirky little towns where there just might be magic.  It’s the characters that make this one shine, especially Felicity, who sees words everywhere and uses them in remarkable ways.  She’s a girl who loves deeply and openly, creating her own kind of magic.  Added to this are a series of folkloric backstories about feuding brothers, doomed romances, mysterious do-gooders, lost children, and a curse.  A delightful and inspiring debut. 

Book cover for The Thickety : a path begins
The Thickety : a path begins
White, J. A.,
Call Number: x

Grades 5 - 7.  Shunned by villagers who convicted her mother of witchcraft years ago, Kara Westfall now cares for her sickly brother and dispirited father. The villagers believe that nothing is more evil than magic… except, perhaps, the dark and mysterious forest that surrounds their tiny island.  When a strange bird lures Kara into the dark woods, she discovers a magical book that may have belonged to her mother… and may save the town from the dark figure that haunts the Thickety.

Book cover for Tools rule!
Tools rule!
Meshon, Aaron, .
Call Number: xz

Grades Pre-K - 2.  One day, the tools strewn about in a messy yard decide to take action and organize! The cartoon style art brings the characters to life, and pun-filled text balloons enhance the fun. T-Square is the take-charge foreman, assisted by Vise (“Let’s get a grip on things”). With plenty of enthusiasm, the tools assemble, and working together, build a tool shed. At day’s end, all are happy to get to sleep in their own nooks and on their own hooks. A terrific, non-didactic introduction to the concept of teamwork!

Book cover for 'Twas nochebuena
'Twas nochebuena
Thong, Roseanne.
Call Number: xz

Grades Pre-K - 3. In this lively, lyrical blend of English & Spanish traditions, a little girl describes the preparations her Latino family undertakes each December. Look closely at the upbeat illustrations in warm, retro colors to find Olvera Street hidden between the pages.

Book cover for Winter bees & other poems of the cold
Winter bees & other poems of the cold
Sidman, Joyce.
Call Number: x 811 S568-8

Grades K - 4. Caldecott honorees Sidman and Allen team up again with another joyful winner. Expressive and educational poems describe how animals of the tundra survive the bitter cold.