Favorite Books for Young Readers 2018

Tomorrow morning I’m waking up at the crack of dawn and carpooling myself down to a convention center stuffed with frizzy-haired, infinity-scarf-wearing, wheeled-tote-pulling, middle aged women in funky leggings (in other words, librarians, aka My People . . . and yes there are a few token guys scattered hither and yon and we all love them), and we’re going to listen to the announcement of the Youth Media Awards (YMAs) for the best and most distinguished books for young people  (and okay, fine, there are awards for audiobooks and “videos” but seriously nobody cares about those) and we’re all going to yell our heads off over the books that we love winning shiny stickers and undying fame.

My goal is to get my list of cherry-picked favorites out before the YMAs so I can feel all smug if/when any award winners also appear here.

So here we go. Ready to smug it up with me?

Standard Caveats: Remember, this is not a comprehensive list of all the best books. If you want that, click here. There were plenty of books from 2018 that were highly regarded and well written, but I couldn’t get around to reading them all (I tried), and then there were plenty that I liked well enough but didn’t love and ergo did not include on my list.

For the second year in a row, we had kinda . . . fine . . . middle grade fiction. Lots of great stuff, but no big obvious-winner, This Must Needs Be a Classic standouts. Still plenty of books that I love and adore and champion. It just means that the Newbery field is anyone’s game. And I don’t read much YA fiction at all, so that department is a bit skim as usual.

Meanwhile, we have an abundance of riches in the picture book category. True story: my initial list of picture books was about 30% longer than what you see here. 2018 was the year where we got not one, not two, but three different picture books about giraffes, and I’m still a wee bit misty-eyed that I could not include ’em all. (Unless you count those links as inclusion. Hee hee, I loopholed myself.)

Not every book is for every reader. I have very wide-ranging tastes! Not everything here is for you. If you’d like a personalized reading recommendation, send me a text/email/DM and I’ll happily do some matchmaking for you.

Parents, please do not hand these over to young ‘uns without first giving them a gander yourself. I’ve marked books that have troubling, dark, or mature content with a double asterisk (**). But I’ve found that even the most benign daisies-and-sunflowers books manage to offend somebody, so you’ve been warned.

Now that we’ve got all that out of the way, let’s fire up our library cards and get ready to rumble!

(Or just click here to see the Google Doc with the bare-bones bibliography.)



I Had Major Doubts About This Picture Book “Sequel” to a Classic Children’s Novel, but BOY Is It Good: All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah by Emily Jenkins, illus. Paul O. Zelinsky

Best Use of Clever Die-Cut Illustrations that Your Children Will Inevitably Poke a Finger Through: Blue by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

In Which the Moral of the Story is “Wear Your Halloween Costume to the Store, and Penguins Will Make Off With You”: Harriet Gets Carried Away 

Sweetest Self-Esteem Builder: Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

The Picture Book That Made Me Cry: The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illus. Rafael López

Best Historical Fiction for Kids (and even grown-ups will be surprised at what they learn): Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall

Best “Awwww!” School Story: Dear Substitute by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick, illus. Chris Raschka

Funniest Picture Book of the Year (and now my go-to birthday present): Are You Scared, Darth Vader? by Adam Rex

Gorgeous Illustrations, Heartwarming Story of Multi-generational Love: Drawn Together by Minh Lê, illus. Dan Santat

Warning: This Book Will Make You Want to Eat Honey Straight Out of the Jar: Honey by David Ezra Stein

Most Adorable Original “Pourquoi” Tale (also Best Bedtime Story): A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin

Everyone Thinks It’s a Shoo-In for the Caldecott Medal: Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

Poetry that Lingers With You: A House That Once Was by Julie Fogliano, illus. Lane Smith


Best Friendship Story: Little Brown by Marla Frazee

You Know What I Love? Weird as heck picture books. About rocks. Sorry about that: Petra by Marianna Coppo

Most Whimsical, Stream-of-Consciousness Illustration: They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki

Sweetest Mother-Daughter Story (warning: will leave you with craving to wear more bright yellow clothes): Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, illus. Ebony Glenn

BEST. TITLE. EVER. Pie is for Sharing by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard, illus. Jason Chin

The Story For Our Times: The Wall In the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee

Helloooooo There, Crazy Dreamscape Flying-Whale Book: Ocean Meets Sky by Terry and Eric Fan

This is literally a story about potatoes trying to acquire pants and I make no apologies: Potato Pants! by Laurie Keller

GORGEOUS. PICTURES. Made on CARDBOARD. Beat that, illustrators of the world: The Patchwork Bike by Maxine Beneba Clarke

Mother Goose-meets-Mario Kart: The Princess and the Pit Stop by Tom Angleberger, illus. Dan Santat

I’m betting hard money that you’ve never seen the Cherokee alphabet used in a picture book before: We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell, illus. Frané Lessac

Most Adorable Bible Story: Paul Writes (a Letter) by Chris Raschka

Best Book to Give New Parents (or any parents): The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer, illus. Ekua Holmes

Probably My Favorite Read-Aloud of the Year: We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins



Best monkey-oriented mystery story of all time: Baby Monkey, Private Eye by Brian Selznick and David Serlin

I canNOT Get Enough of This Series. More Folklore, Please! Noodleheads Find Something Fishy by Tedd Arnold, Martha Hamilton, and Mitch Weiss

Prepare for a lot of “ewwwws” from whoever reads this (but you gotta admit it’s irresistible): Stinkiest! 20 Smelly Animals by Steve Jenkins

It’s Not Quite “Frog & Toad” but It’s Close: Fox & Chick: The Party and Other Stories by Sergio Ruzzier

LeUyen Pham Is a Genius and I’ll Pretty Much Read Whatever She Does: The Itchy Book by LeUyen Pham

My 7 year old read this one and found it so fascinating that she talked about snail facts for the following 48 hours: Snails are Just My Speed! By Kevin McCloskey

The Best New Series for Beginning Chapter Book Readers: The Unicorn Rescue Society by Adam Gidwitz, et al — guys guys guys, he’s collaborating with authors from  other cultures to talk about folklore from those cultures and giving them full co-authorship credit instead of just a “thanks” in the acknowledgements and it’s so great



Best Fantasy Fiction of the Year (also best Illustrated Novel of the year, but that’s a bitty lil’ category): The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson, illus. Eugene Yelchin

The One that Teachers Will Be Reading to All Your Kids: Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

Best Ending to a Beloved Series: The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall

Best Historical Fiction . . . okay okay, there’s a supernatural element, but I’m still calling it historical fiction, dadgumit: The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

**Most Compelling Literary Response to Huckleberry Finn: The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Book I Hope Wins the Newbery Medal: The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon

Best Immigration Underdog Story (plus, it’s set in the glorious 1990s): Front Desk by Kelly Yang

I’m Not Crying, YOU’RE Crying! (also: the One You’ve Probably Already Read): Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

Holy Smokes, That’s a Darn Good Horror Story: Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

**For the Kids Who Want to Read The Hate U Give, but Need Something With More PG-13ish Content: Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

WONDERFUL Reprise of “The Westing Game”: The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

Like Putting Danny, The Champion of the WorldA Little PrincessFrog and Toad are Friends, and Charlotte’s Web in a blender and then adding Jewish golem folklore for good measure: Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier





**And You Thought YOUR Summer Camp Memories Were Hard: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Most Sumptuous Fashion Choices Ever: The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (I waaaaaaannnnnt the marmalade dress for my ownnnnnnn)

Probably My Personal Most-Favorite of the Year: The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Hendrix

**So Glad This Is Getting Kids to Re-Discover This Classic YA Novel: Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, illus. Emily Carroll

In Which I Show My Eternal Weakness for Folktales: The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America by Jaime Hernandez

Basically the Margaret Mead of Elementary School: Mr. Wolf’s Class by Aron Nels Steinke

SLOTHS! CUTE SLOTHS IN TREES! Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths by Graham Annable

Best Story for Armchair Travelers: My Beijing: Four Stories of Everyday Wonder by Nie Jun

**Best Superhero Origin Redeux: Supergirl: Being Super by Mariko Tamaki, illus. Joëlle Jones

Nobody Else in History Deserves an Exclamation Point As Much as : Lafayette! By Nathan Hale



No, I Take It Back, THIS Is My Favorite Book of the Year: The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman

Would Not Recommend to Claustrophobes: Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record-Setting Dive of the Bathysphere by Barb Rosenstock, illus. Katherine Roy

Great Life Story, Pitch-Perfect Moody Illustrations: Mary Who Wrote Frankenstien by Linda Bailey, illus. Júlia Sardà

The 1980s, Quite Literally Dumped All Over This Book: All That Trash: The Story of the 1987 Garbage Barge and Our Problem with Stuff by Meghan McCarthy

**The Patient Explanation of Vietnam You’ve Been Waiting For: Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam by Elizabeth Partridge

**Riveting True-Crime Thriller: Chasing King’s Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Assassin by James L. Swanson

Best Book for Family Scripture Study OR Best Gift Book for Grandmas: Meet Me at the Well: The Girls and Women of the Bible by Jane Yolen and Barbara Diamond Goldin; illus. Vali Mintzi (I would have dismissed it but! Jane! Yolen!)

Illustrations so Beautifully Textured You Want to Stroke the Pages: Hawk Rising by Maria Gianferrari, illus. Brian Floca

In Which Die-Cut Illustration Finally Teaches You What an “Isthmus” Is: Water Land: Land and Water Forms Around the World by Christy Hale

The Book That Made William Go “Squeeeee” for 30 Straight Minutes: Cute as an Axolotl: Discovering the World’s Most Adorable Animals by Jess Keating, illus. David DeGrand

All the Illustrations Were Made From Pressed Flowers and Leaves and It’s a Frigging Miracle: Drawn from Nature by Helen Ahpornsiri

Great, Necessary Take On a Tough Topic: Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness by Anastasia Higgenbotham

Best. Flip-Book. Ever (also probably another go-to for birthday presents): Myth Match: A Fantastical Flipbook of Extraordinary Beasts by Good Wives and Warriors




**It’s Post Civil-War America and Black Girls are Fighting the Zombie Uprising. Yes, You Read That: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

**Fairy Tales are Creeeeepy, Part One: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert 

**Best Written Family Drama:  Picture Us In the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert

**Wonderful Follow Up to Brilliantly Thought-Provoking Series Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman (if you haven’t read the first one, Scythe, DO SO NOW)

**Lyrical, Moody Re-Mix of Moby Dick (which I’m including because I also read Moby Dick this summer and I deserve a freaking Reader Medal): And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness

**Fairy Tales are Creeepy, Part Two (also wins for Bloodiest Sword Fights, and That’s Really Saying Something): The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

**Hilarious, Pop-Culture-Filled Remix of Jane Eyre: My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodie Ashton and Jodi Meadows

**Best Mystery AND IT ENDS ON A CLIFFHANGER AND I NEED THE SEQUEL NOW NOW NOW: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

**Pretty much Lord of the Rings meets Black Panther: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

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