2016 Favorite Books for Young Readers

It’s that time of year again — when I slap out a list of books I’ve enjoyed over the past year.

2016 was very much the Year of Picture Books. Not only was there a stunningly high number of quality picture books this year, but I also took time to try and read more of them than usual. (In the meantime, I read hardly any YA fiction this year. Sorry, YA fiction fans.) I’m sure part of the decision to do this is because my youngest child is 5, and so my picture book read-aloud years are numbered. Gotta relish it while I can.

And the usual disclaimer: this is a list of personal faves, not a full compendium of every good book that you or your kids should read or that a library should purchase. (If you want one of those, click here.) There were quite a few books that aren’t here because I didn’t have time to read them or simply couldn’t get my hands on (like King Baby or John Lewis’ March Vol. 3, THANKS A LOT, POTUS45) and there were others that many of my colleagues raved over, but which I rated a personal meh.* 

There’s no accounting for taste. Likewise: not every book on this list is for you. If you’d like a personal recommendation based on your previous reads, I’m happy to do it!

PICTURE BOOKS

before-morning

I’ll Forever Think of This Book When It Snows: Before Morning by Joyce Sidman, illus. Beth Krommes

you-belong-here

Best Book to Give New Parents: You Belong Here by M.H. Clark, illus. Isabelle Arsenault

schools-first-day-of-school

Now Considered Best Available Book About Starting School: School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex, illus. Christian Robinson

we-found-a-hat

Best Ending to a Picture Book “Trilogy” We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen

du-iz-tak

You Know That Phase in Fourth Grade When You Tried to Make Up Your Own Language? Carson Ellis Took It to the Next Level: Du Iz Tak? By Carson Ellis

they-all-saw-a-cat

Best Book For Inspiring Art Students: They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel

frank-and-lucky

2nd Best Book About Education Published This Year: Frank and Lucky Get Schooled by Lynne Rae Perkins

leave-me-alone

This is My Personal Absolute Favorite. Grumpy Old Woman Knits! And there are ALIENS! Leave Me Alone! By Vera Brosgol

thunder-boy-jr

In Which Sherman Alexie is Brilliant Once Again: Thunder Boy, Jr. by Sherman Alexie, illus. Yuyi Morales

a-hat-for-mrs-goldman

Most “Awww”-Inducing Story About A Child Helping a Sweet Elderly Neighbor: A Hat for Mrs. Goldman: A Story About Knitting and Love by Michelle Edwards, illus. G. Brian Karas

lion-lessons

Best Encapsulation of How My Kids Do Pretend Play: Lion Lessons by Jon Agee

emma-and-julia

A Must-Read for Dance Fans: Emma and Julia Love Ballet by Barbara McClintock

the-night-gardener

Drool-Worthy Illustrations: The Night Gardener by Terry & Eric Fan

nobody-likes-a-goblin

What happens when the bad guys from a D&D-style game are the heroes: Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke

when-spring-comes

Perfect Preschool Springtime Book: When Spring Comes by Kevin Henkes, illus. Laura Dronzek

apples-and-robins

Best use of die-cut shapes and puzzle pictures: Apples and Robins by Lucie Felix

best-days-are-dog-days

This was Katie’s favorite. We read it SOOOOO many times: The Best Days are Dog Days by Aaron Meshon

bloom

Best for Fans of “The Paper Bag Princess”: Bloom by Doreen Cronin, illus. David Small

hungry-lion

Channelling Edward Gorey (Or, Sometimes It’s Hilarious When Characters Die): A Hungry Lion, or, A Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cumnins

happiest-book-ever

Favorite Group Read-Aloud: The Happiest Book Ever! By Bob Shea

pug-mans-3-wishes

My favorite, funniest author-illustrator does it again: Pug Man’s 3 Wishes by Sebastian Menchenmoser

dont-call-me-grandma

Best Non-Knitting Grumpy Grandmother: Don’t Call Me Grandma by Vaunda Michaux Nelson; illus. Elizabeth Zunon

margarash

Channelling Tomi Ungerer (I adored this weird, weird, book): Margarash by Mark Riddle, illus. Tim Miller

sound-of-silence

Best Moment of Zen: The Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsaito, illus. Julia Kuo

if-i-was-a-banana

Best Pencil Illustration (This Inspired My Daughter To Draw for Hours): If I Was a Banana by Alexandra Tylee, illus. Kieran Rynhart

real-cowboys

Sometimes Illustrators Switch Mediums and It Takes Your Breath Away: Real Cowboys by Kate Hoefler, illus. Jonathan Bean

poor-little-guy

Best Use of Gorgeous Calligraphy (and the story’s a hoot): Poor Little Guy by Elanna Allen

the-branch

Most Satisfying Story Involving Woodworking: The Branch by Mireille Messier, illus. Pierre Pratt

toshis-little-treasures

Perfect for the Where’s Waldo and I Spy fans: Toshi’s Little Treasures by Nadine Robert, illus. Aki

super-happy-magic-forest

Fairy Tales for the Adventure Time Generation: Super Happy Magic Forest by Matty Long

white-cat-and-the-monk

Aww, the Middle Ages Sure Loved Their Pets: The White Cat and the MonkA Retelling of the Poem Pangur Ban: by Jo Ellen Bogart, illus. Sydney Smith

 

NONFICTION PICTURE BOOKS

freedom-over-me

Probably the Most Powerful Book on This List: Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan

miracle-man

Most Gorgeous Book About Christianity in a Long, Long Time: Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus by John Hendrix

best-in-snow

Most Awwwww-Dorable Nature Photography: Best in Snow by April Pulley Sayre

freedom-in-congo-square

Most Important History You Probably Didn’t Know About: Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford, illus. R. Gregory Christie

radiant-child

Incredible Artist, Brilliant Illustration: Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe

voyage-in-the-clouds

Most Hilarious History Book: A Voyage in the Clouds: The (Mostly) True Story of the First International Flight by Balloon in 1785 by Matthew Olshan, illus. Sophie Blackall

anything-but-ordinary-addie

Most Interesting Biography of Someone You’ve Never Heard Of: Anything but Ordinary Addie: The True Story of Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic by Mara Rockliff, illus. Iacopo Bruno

preaching-to-the-chickens

Most Sincere Depiction of a Child’s Spiritual Life: Preaching to the Chickens by Jabari Asim, illus. E.B. Lewis

their-great-gift

Absolutely Necessary Reading For All American Children: Their Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice, and Hope in a New Land by John Coy, photos by Wing Young Huie

adas-violin

Most Inspiring Story: Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood, illus. Sally Comport Wern

the-tree-in-the-courtyard

Perfect Pairing of Illustrator and Subject: The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window by Jeff Gottesfeld, illus. Peter McCarty

can-i-eat-that

I Will Admit That I Read The Title of This Book With the Voice of Steve Urkel. Also: The Tongue Twister on the Last Page is Epic: Can I Eat That? by Joshua David Stein. illus. Julia Rothman

 

BIOGRAPHIES

presenting-buffalo-bill

The Author’s Enthusiasm For Her Subject is Infectious: Presenting Buffalo Bill: The Man Who Invented the Wild West by Candace Fleming

some-writer

Most Gorgeous Illustrated Biography: Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet

samurai-rising

Book With the Highest Body Count (and it’s AWESOME): Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune by Pamela Tuner, illus. Gareth Hinds

 

 

POETRY

when-green-becomes-tomatoes

Yes, just the one. This is the most beautiful book of children’s poetry to come out in years, and everything else just kinda faded into the background: When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons by Julie Fogliano, illus. Julie Morstad

 

FOLKLORE

singing-bones

Illustrations Just As Freaky As the Grimm Tales: The Singing Bones, by Shaun Tan

storyteller

Absolutely Gorgeous Middle Eastern Story-Within-A-Story-Within-A-Story: The Storyteller, by Evan Turk

cat-from-hunger-mountain

Best Moral For Our Times: The Cat From Hunger Mountain by Ed Young

little-red

Now THAT’S Graphic Design: Little Red by Bethan Woollvin

 

GRAPHIC NOVELS 

snow-white

Brothers Grimm-Meets-Jazz Era: Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan

delilah-dirk

Indiana Jones-Meets-Pride and Prejudice: Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling by Tony Cliff (be sure to check out the other ones in this series!)

ghosts

The One Your Kids Have Probably Already Read: Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

nameless-city

You Know that Show “Avatar: the Last Airbender”? This is Basically a Book Set in Ba Sing Se: The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks and Jordie Bellaire

mighty-jack

Best Fractured Fairytale (featuring a character with autism!): Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke

 

MIDDLE GRADE FICTION

girl-who-drank-the-moon

Most Original Fantasy: The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

inquisitors-tale

Brooke’s Personal Favorite This Year! Featuring Farting Dragons, Monks that Fight Bandits with Donkey Legs, Theological Debates, and Loving Your Crooked Neighbor With Your Crooked Heart: The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz

ms-bixbys-last-day

In which John David Anderson is a jerk whose book made me cry during an entire airplane ride:  Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson

ghost

Best Sports Story — no, Best School Story — no, best story in which I love the protagonist so much I just want to put my arm around his shoulders and let him know that everything’s gonna be okay:  Ghost by Jason Reynolds

when-the-sea-turned-to-silver

Bless Grace Lin Forever For Introducing More Kids to Chinese Folklore: When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin

full-of-beans

Best Straight-Up, Charming Small-Town Historical Fiction: Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm

charmed-children-of-rookskill-castle

Best Spooky WWII-Era Mystery With a Dash of Steampunk: The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox

cloud-and-wallfish

Most Essential Reading for Life in Trump’s America (Or, Best Historical Fiction In Real-World Dystopia): Cloud & Wallfish by Anne Nesbet

five-children-on-the-western-front

 

Best Sequel to Classic Children’s Novel (Kate Saunders is another jerk who made me cry): Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders

 

YA FICTION

(Yeeeeeah, I didn’t read much of this genre this year. Go read Still Life With Tornado, or We Are the Ants, or The Sun Is Also a Star, they are supposed to be great.)

the-lie-tree

Best Introverted Protagonist Who Becomes Fearless in Her Pursuit of Revenge (also best mystery; very reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe or classic stories like “The Monkey’s Paw”): The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

burn-baby-burn

Best Book With Strong Independent Disco Divas: Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

 

Happy reading!

 

*Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale, Sarah Pennypacker’s Paxand Lauren Wolk’s Wolf Hollow. Seek ’em out if you’re so inclined, you might enjoy them!

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