The year’s best children’s books beautifully embody the curiosity and spirit of young minds. They see the fantastic in the everyday, from the hidden lives of woodland creatures to a friendship between a sandwich and a cupcake, and find profoundly simple answers to deceptively simple questions, like what defines a friendship and how one idea can change the world.
The Book with No Pictures, by B.J. Novak
This supremely silly, entirely endearing book is one of the year’s most delightful surprises. B.J. Novak understands that if there’s one thing kids like even better than pictures, it’s nonsense words. Even better? Hearing nonsense words read aloud by your parents. We’ve yet to make it through this one without the kids collapsing into fits of giggles (usually we don’t even make it past “a hippo named Boo Boo Butt”).
Frozen: Hide-and-Hug Olaf, by Kevin Lewis and Olga Mosqueda (illustrator)
In the year since the movie’s release, few viewers of Frozen, be they children or adults, have been able to “let it go.” This wonderful book-and-toy combination will turn the newest Disney classic into a treasured family tradition. All Olaf the Snowman wants is a nice, warm (but not too warm!) hug, and this hide-and-seek themed picture book doubles as a game: parents can hide the adorable stuffed Olaf, so when storytime is done, tykes must hunt for him and give him exactly what he’s looking for.
Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories, by Dr. Seuss
There are few writers as universally beloved as Dr. Seuss, by both the adults who grew up reading his stories and the children experiencing them for the first time. What greater gift, then, than to discover that there are new Seuss stories to fall in love with? This book collects four stories, including the title tale featuring kind-hearted elephant Horton, originally published in Redbook magazine more than 50 years ago, and recently rediscovered by a Seuss historian (Seusstorian?). Like all of the good doctor’s stories, they are utterly timeless.
How to Babysit a Grandma, by Jean Reagan and Lee Wildish (illustrator)
In the follow-up to their bestseller How to Babysit a Grandpa, Jean Reagan and Lee Wildish lovingly poke fun at the power dynamic between grandparent and grandchild, offering kids helpful advice on the care and feeding of grandmothers, from how to keep her busy at the park (“If she’s feeling brave, try the biggest slide of all!”) to entertaining her at home (do her makeup for her!). It’s a lovely look at the joy grandchildren bring into our lives…and a reminder of who really calls the shots during a visit to grandma’s house.
Peanut Butter & Cupcake, by Terry Border
In one of the year’s most wonderfully oddball books, a piece of bread spread thick with peanut butter searches fruitlessly for a friend to play soccer with—until he finally meets his other half (you can probably guess where this is going). The silly rhyming wordplay is great fun, and the story of finally finding a friend who completes you is heart-warming. What truly sets this book apart are the pictures, which blend real food (enhanced with spindly paperclip arms and legs) with watercolor backgrounds into unique, low-fi works of art. It takes a warped, wonderful mind to imagine a hamburger taking two hot dogs for a walk, and a mad genius to illustrate it. Terry Border is both.
Pete the Cat and the New Guy, by Kimberly & James Dean
Fun-loving, easygoing cool cat Pete is back in the latest entry in a series that has risen from self-publishing phenomenon to mainstream success. When new neighbors move in, Pete isn’t quite sure how to feel about the strange kid next door, who’s not quite a duck and not quite a beaver. Gus the Platypus can’t climb a tree or jump, but he soon discovers his own special talents to share with Pete and his friends. It’s a friendly reminder, in singsong rhyme, that it’s not only OK to be different—it’s really cool.
The Pigeon Needs a Bath, by Mo Willems
Willems’ Pigeon books are irresistible to children—for once, they get to be the ones to tell someone “NO!” even if it is just a mischievous bird with a hair-trigger temper. Willems’ latest tackles that eternal parent-child struggle: bath time. The pigeon will do almost anything to avoid a dip in the tub (The water is too hot! Too cold! Too lukewarm!)…but once he’s in there, good luck getting him out.
The Secret Life of Squirrels, by Nancy Rose
Ever wonder what squirrels do when your back is turned? According to Nancy Rose’s quirky photo-project-turned-children’s book, pretty much the same things you do: run to the post office, hold a backyard BBQ, play the piano, or grab some books from the library. Rose began taking staged photos of a pet squirrel on miniature sets as a hobby, and her worked gained a huge online following. Paired with deadpan captions (“His favorite Piece is Moonlight Sonata. Most squirrels would find that piece quite difficult to play.”), the photos tell the story of a day in the life of Mr. Peanut, a most extraordinary squirrel.
What Do You Do with an Idea?, by Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom (illustrator)
A great idea can change the world, but only if paired with action. This book teaches children (or adults!) the importance of having confidence in their ideas, nurturing them, and helping them to grow. The classical illustrations from Mae Besom are charming and intricate, recalling the work of Maurice Sendak, and depict a young child’s idea housed within a delicate egg, which needs to be coaxed out of its shell. The book’s timeless qualities are sure to endure and inspire for years to come.