We have had a blast reading books this year and had a very difficult time narrowing down our list to only a few of our top books. I consider the below books to be the best because they are the ones our family enjoyed reading together the most. Many are funny, but there are also several that are beautiful, clever, and inspiring. We hope you find some books here that your family can enjoy as much as we have!
Little Pig Saves the Ship by David Hyde Costello, 2017
(Ages 3 – 6)
Little Pig is a darling character that many children will adore. As the youngest of five siblings, he is disappointed to be left behind as his older brothers and sisters attend sailing camp. Tiny, his oldest brother leaves him with a book of knots to practice while they are away and Little Pig’s grandfather builds him his own wooden boat to sail in a nearby stream. Each day the two enjoy playing with the boat until disaster strikes on Friday. The small boat disappears down a waterfall and both Little Pig and his grandfather run after it. Little Pig uses his knot-tying knowledge to loop a rope around the boat and pull it up to safety. When his siblings return, they celebrate Little Pig’s new boat and sail together as a family.
The sequence of the boat floating down the river while the grandfather and Little Pig chase after provided the perfect amount of drama for my son. The charming watercolor illustrations make this sweet story come to life and add to the wholesome feel of the book. We also really enjoyed the first book in this series, Little Pig Joins the Band by David Hyde Costello (2011) and hope there are more adventures for Little Pig and his giant family.
The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC’s (the Hard Way) by Patrick McDonnell, 2017
(Ages 3 – 7)
This is a clever new twist on alphabet books that is simply brilliant. Each page features the upper and lower-case letters of the alphabet with almost no other text. The story is told primarily through the comical illustrations. It was fun for my five-year-old son to guess the relevant word based on the letter on the page and complimentary picture. This was a perfect way for him to practice matching sounds with the corresponding letter. Most of the time this was easy for him, but if he ever stumbled, we discovered there is a key at the end of the book that explains what each letter represents.
The story itself follows a little red cat who encounters a myriad of predators who chase him through the alphabet. For example, the first spread features an “Aa” with the image of the cat running into an alligator. He then stumbles upon a bear, chicken, and dragon who pursue him through the jungle, mountains, a kingdom, etc. Each new page presents a new element to the adventure that is engaging and amusing. This book is original, educational, and most of all a lot of fun!
It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk by Josh Funk; illustrated by Edwardian Taylor, 2017
(Ages 4 – 8)
I love fractured fairytales and this instantly became a favorite of our family’s. An insistent narrator attempts to tell the traditional story of Jack and the Beanstalk, but Jack refuses to cooperate. Jack engages in a hilarious dialogue with the narrator questioning his choice of storyline. Things get even more comical when Jack enters the giant’s castle and they find that they have a common love of beans. Much to the narrator’s dismay, Jack and the giant, who prefers to be called Fred, change the ending of the story by opening a restaurant called “Where Have You Bean?” where they only serve beans. The final scene is a two-page spread of several recognizable fairytale characters enjoying Fred the Giant’s specialty, taco salads. The narrator hems and haws and finally accepts that things worked out and this is the true ending to the story.
The expressive cartoon-like illustrations perfectly match the clever wit of the author. The speech bubbles are easy to follow and I had a blast reading this book out loud. I thought this book would be too old for my two-year-old, but she begged to read it as often as my five-year-old. They both enjoyed the silliness of the story and had fun pointing out the other fairytale characters in the ending scene.
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall, 2017
(Ages 4 – 8)
Jabari has just finished his swim lessons and is now ready to tackle the high dive at his local pool. Jabari appears confident, but hesitates when it is his turn to climb onto the diving board. First, he needs to rest, then he needs to stretch, then he decides that maybe tomorrow is a better day for jumping. His dad pulls him aside for some sound advice. “It’s okay to feel a little scared. Sometimes, if I feel a little scared, I take a deep breath and tell myself I am ready. And you know what? Sometimes it stops feeling scary and feels a little like a surprise.” With his father’s encouragement, Jabari pushes his fear aside and takes the plunge ready for a “surprise double back-flip” as his next jump.
This is the perfect story to help anyone face a fear or just to enjoy a well-told tale about an important moment in a child’s life. I love the relationship between Jabari and his caring father who perfectly nurtures him through this scary situation. Jabari’s father and sister are visible in almost every scene making the reader feel their support during this exciting time for Jabari.
In addition to the sweet story, the illustrations are also magnificent. I loved the muted color scheme that made the aqua hue of the water look so inviting. Cornwall intermixed text into the illustrations adding to the beauty. My favorite page was when Jabari is standing on top of the diving board. The illustration is from Jabari’s point of view looking down at his toes curled around the end of the board and his father and sister down below. It perfectly captures his excitement and fear at that moment in time. Just brilliant!
Kid Amazing vs. The Blob by Josh Schneider, 2017
(Ages 4 – 8)
Theodor Seuss Geisel Award winner, Josh Schneider, combines comical illustrations with clever wit to tell the story of a big brother using his vivid imagination to battle the loud and slobbery Blob, who of course, is his younger sister. Even though the boy calls the Blob his arch-nemeses, one of the many things I like about this story is that their relationship does not seem contemptuous. It’s just a funny story about a big brother helping with his younger sibling.
A young boy named Jimmy is practicing his letters when he first hears the terrible “Waaaaa” coming from the Blob. He quickly escapes into his secret hideout seen in a detailed map of his house and transforms into Kid Amazing. The commissioner (his mom) asks him to check on his sister and after using several of his nifty gadgets to ward off the bad smell and clean up slobber, he is almost defeated by the terrible sound coming from the Blob. It feels like his brain is melting, when “he sees it: the Blob’s howl neutralizer” (a pacifier). With a giant POP the baby is silenced and all is well in Jimmy’s world. The baby’s screams are represented by large yellow, “A’s” that are featured throughout the book. Small details such as the A’s covered in slobber and then breaking apart when the pacifier is inserted add to the delightful quirkiness of the book. The story ends with Jimmy being rewarded with a cookie and uttering the fateful words, “That’s the last trouble we’ll get from her.” Of course, the last page features the baby running down the hallway with her diaper off.
We love superhero stories and we found this one particularly hilarious. Both my two-year-old and five-year-old love it and begged to read it again and again. Luckily, the droll dialogue made this book a lot of fun to read out loud, so I didn’t mind reading every day for a week.
Creepy Pair of Underwear by Aaron Reynolds; illustrated by Peter Brown, 2017
(Ages 4 – 8)
I was lucky enough to see Peter Brown speak at my old school’s book fair and after he was introduced, the children clapped so loudly for him and Creepy Pair of Underwear, it took several minutes to quiet them down. This is a book that is loved by children!
The dynamic duo who created Creepy Carrots (2012) is back with another perfectly crafted spooky tale. This time, their hero, Jasper Rabbit, is in need of new underwear. As he is about to leave the underwear store with his mother and his plain white underwear, he spots them…glowing Creepy Underwear. So creepy! So comfy! Jasper has to have them. That night he happily sports his new undies, but once the lights go out he quickly discovers they glow a ghoulish, green light. He tries to get rid of them every way he can think of, but much to Jasper’s dismay and terror, they keep coming back! After he mails them to China and the underwear return…with souvenirs, Jasper is driven to extreme measures. He buries them on top of Crakenhopper Hill. That night as he turns off the light to go to sleep, he is finally at peace, but discovers his room is now filled with complete darkness. He retrieves his creepy undies and returns to the store to purchase even more to create a line of ghoulishly green glowing underwear to serve as a nightlight. “That night Jasper wasn’t scared at all. As he lay down to sleep, he smiled. And so did his underwear – because they had finally found somebody who wasn’t scared…of Creepy Underwear.”
The Creepy Underwear, which resembles Frankenstein, is pictured with various comical expressions balancing the scary factor with humor. As a school librarian, I received requests for Halloween stories almost all year round. This is one of those books that children will be drawn to and want to read again and again. It is perfect for reading out loud to a group or simply one on one.
Bunny’s Book Club by Annie Silvestro; illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss, 2017
(Ages 4 – 8)
My son and I loved this charming story of a group of animals who enjoy reading. Reminiscent of old fashioned wallpaper, the end papers set the tone for the quaint feel of this book. There is even an adorable illustration of a check out card with all of the animals’ names on it. The story begins with a little bunny who loves to listen to the storytimes held outside the public library on warm summer days. When the air turns cool and storytime is moved inside, Bunny is driven to drastic measures. “With a flashlight in his paws and hope in his heart, Bunny jumped out of bed and tiptoed through the dark.” He breaks into the library through the book return and discovers a sea of books. He soon shares his secret with his friends and in a comical scene, they all squeeze through the book return even though Bear causes a delay with his large derriere. In a dramatic lead up, they are caught by the librarian, but instead of being angry she provides them with their own library cards.
Even though this is a quiet story, the author and illustrator do a wonderful job of making many of the scenes exciting. In addition to reading this book with my four-year-old son, I also read it with my first and second graders at my school. It was a great end of the year read to get them excited about summer reading and remind them to use their public library over the summer. They enjoyed the book as much as my son and a few observant children even relished in the book choices the animals made. For example, a few thought it was funny that the raccoon chose a story about bandits and the frog picked a fairytale. There is something in this story for many different age groups making it a must have for most bookshelves.
Hattie & Hudson by Chris Van Dusen, 2017
(Ages 4 – 8)
Hattie loves to explore the beautiful lake outside her home, but was shocked one morning when the quiet song she was singing to herself was interrupted by an enormous sea monster emerging from the water. Although massive in size, the sea monster is quite friendly and joins Hattie in her song. While other boaters see the monster and flee, Hattie instantly forms a bond with the gentle giant. She sneaks out to meet him at night and names him Hudson. When the frightened townspeople threaten to harm Hudson, Hattie and Hudson work as a team to hatch a plan to save him. This sweet story of an unlikely friendship is beautifully told through gorgeous illustrations. The scene of Hudson emerging from the water toward the end of the story is particularly awe inspiring. This book has many layers that will appeal to several age groups. Younger readers will appreciate the vivid illustrations and enjoy the story at the surface level, and older readers will hopefully pick up on the underlying messages of acceptance, compassion, and not judging others based solely on their appearances. Chris Van Dusen is an amazing storyteller and artist. Children always gravitate toward his books and this will be no exception.
Charlotte the Scientist is Squished by Camille Andros; illustrated by Brianne Farley, 2017
(Ages 4 to 8)
Charlotte is a serious scientist who is ready to conduct experiments. The only problem is that she has no room to run her tests because she is constantly surrounded by her many brothers and sisters. Being a proper scientist, she uses the Scientific Method to solve her problem. She identifies her question of how to create more space, forms her hypotheses, conducts her experiment, makes her observation, and reaches a conclusion. Charlotte’s first few experiments fail, but Charlotte’s persistence pays off as she finds solidarity after traveling to the moon. While she finds the space she needs, she also becomes lonely, so she revisits her initial hypothesis and creates her own lab out of her spaceship back on Earth. After a lot of hard work, Charlotte finally concludes that she can have the room she needs while still being close to her large family. Children will love this charming story and budding scientists will enjoy the last few pages that review the simplified version of the scientific method. Charlotte is an inspirational character who demonstrates creativity and persistence. My five-year-old son absolutely loves this charming story and there is no doubt that it will be popular among children, parents, and teachers alike.
After the Fall by Dan Santat, 2017
(Ages 5 – 10)
Wow! What an inspirational and beautifully illustrated story. We all know that Humpty Dumpty takes a bit of a tumble in the nursery rhyme, but what you may not know is that once the King’s men finally put him back together, he develops a horrible fear of heights. Sadly, this stops him from pursuing his passion of bird watching. Through stunning illustrations, Santat tells the story of how Humpty Dumpty conquers his fear and learns to soar (literally).
There are plenty of great lessons in this book including perseverance, overcoming adversity, and trying new things, but it never feels overly didactic. It has more of a whimsical feel with underlying humor that adults and some older children will pick up on. For example, one two-page spread features the cereal aisle at the grocery store. Unfortunately, Humpty Dumpty’s new fear of heights limits him to the cereals located on the bottom shelves that consist of colorless boxes of cereals with names like “Sad Clown”, “Grown-Up Food”, “Fiber Flakes”, and “Bo-Rings.”
The most impressive part of this book, however, are the last few pages. It is clear that Santat put a lot of thought into each page as Humpty Dumpty returned to that treacherous wall and climbed again. The ending took my five-year-old son and me completely by surprise and I was blown away. It turns out Humpty Dumpty is not just a hard-boiled egg, he is an egg waiting to hatch. In the last striking scene of Humpty on top of the wall, we see him burst out of his shell and sprout wings with the text, “Maybe now you won’t think of me as that egg who was famous for falling. Hopefully, you’ll remember me as the egg who got back up…and learned to fly.” AMAZING! This book could be perfect as a graduation gift, teaching growth mindset, sharing with a group or with an individual child. One thing is clear though, it is a book that belongs on everyone’s bookshelf!
7 Ate 9: the untold story by Tara Lazar; illustrated by Ross MacDonald, 2017
(Ages 5 – 10)
The author has combined the mysterious style of film noir with the classic joke, “Why was six afraid of seven? Because seven ate nine!” to create a comical tale that both children and adults will enjoy. The plot revolves around a Private “I” who takes on the case of the missing “9”. The number “6” claims that “7” is behind the disappearance. Leaving no number unturned, the Private “I” gets to the bottom of this numerical mystery. Because this story is filled with hilarious puns, idioms, double entendre, dialogue, and components that make up the mystery genre, it is a terrific teaching tool to introduce or review any of the before-mentioned elements. Children will delight in pointing out the various word plays that appear on every page.
Malala’s Magical Pencil by Malala Yousafzai; illustrated by Kerascoet, 2017
(Ages 6 – 10)
This beautiful and inspirational tale follows the true story of Malala, a young girl from Pakistan, who even at a young age follows her dreams and fights for the rights of others. Even though Malala’s life is difficult and tragic, she does an incredible job of making her story accessible and hopeful to all who read this stunning book.
She begins her story by describing her favorite television show where a boy has a magic pencil that can solve any problem. At first, Malala envisions her own magic pencil that draws a lock on her door to keep her brothers out, beautiful dresses for her mother, and a soccer ball to play with. Soon she discovers several injustices in her community and dreams how her magic pencil could fix larger problems in the world. When the Taliban come to her town and forbid girls from attending school, Malala stops wishing and picks up her pencil and writes. She starts writing speeches and traveling the country sharing her story and arguing for the rights of children to attend school. Malala’s message and influence are so strong that even the Taliban try to stop her. The book very delicately touches upon the Taliban’s attempt on her life with the words, “My voice became so powerful that the dangerous men tried to silence me. But they failed.” Malala’s story is one of bravery and resilience that all children should read.
She has been honored for her work with several awards including the Nobel Peace Prize. Now her story is celebrated by audiences of all ages with this magnificent picture book told in Malala’s own words. She writes, “I am Malala. I’ve always wished I could make the world a more peaceful place…and every day I work to make my wish come true.” This story has many important lessons, but the one I think will resonate with most children is the fact that even a child can make a difference. Hopefully this book will inspire them to fight for what they believe in despite their age.
For more of our favorite books, check out our Best Books of 2016and our Kid Picks lists.