What a great year it's been for children's books! We've seen a bounty of novels with diverse characters and timely contemporary topics and thankfully we are still seeing fresh, imaginative, fantasy, albeit in much smaller numbers. 2019 has it's share of new books from favorite authors but also some exciting debuts, and books from authors who are already established in other genres adding their voices to children's literature.
Our number one pick for the best children's book of the year comes from a young adult author we fell in love with after reading her debut, Dumplin' (now a Netflix film), back in 2015. Dear Sweet Pea is Julie Murphy's first book for middle-grade readers and it has the same smart, thoughtful, sensibility we've come to expect from this author.
Dear Sweet Pea is the story of seventh grader Patricia "Sweet Pea" DiMarco, a girl with a small but diverse group of friends, and newly divorced parents. Sweet Pea is also overweight and is subjected to some accompanying prejudices and bullying but one of the beautiful things about this book is that this does not define her. It's merely what is, and isn't the focus of the book. Sweet Pea's neighbor writes the local advice column and when she goes out of town and asks Sweet Pea to manage her mail, temptation overcomes good sense and much is revealed about the people Sweet Pea thought she had pegged. Dear Sweet Pea is a pitch-perfect coming of age tween novel, hitting all the right notes of the highs and lows of seventh grade with a warmhearted read that is at once reassuring, wise, and utterly relatable.
You can see all of our picks for the top 20 children's books by age and see below for the No.1 picks in each age category (Dear Sweet Pea is No. 1 for ages 9 to 12, so you'll see our No. 2 for that one).
You Are My Happy by Hoda Kotb
A book that released this spring and just stuck with us all year. Beautiful illustrations and a tender story of gratitude and happiness, this is a picture book that can be read aloud to little ones from infancy into preschool. A new staple for baby showers in the years to come.
Sulwe by Lupita Nyong'o
Nyong'o may be an Academy Award-winning actress but don't let that fool you into thinking her first book, gorgeously illustrated by Vashti Harrison is a bit of celebrity fluff. On the contrary, Sulwe explores the insecurity that is pretty much a universal experience in our beauty-obsessed society. This is a story that reassures children that we are all beautiful, and special, and comparing ourselves to others is not what's important--it's letting our own inner light shine.
The Hippo at the End of the Hall by Helen Cooper
A delightful fantasy about a rare history museum and a boy who discovers the magic within. With acts of bravery and friendship, this illustrated novel is both an exciting mystery and story about family, perfect for young independent readers. The Hippo at the End of the Hall is also an excellent choice for reading aloud with beginning readers.
White Bird: A Wonder Story by R. J. Palacio
The author of the international bestseller Wonder has written her first graphic novel. White Bird is a story that still lives in the Wonder universe, it's about Julian's grandmere, who was hidden from the Nazi's as a young girl during WWII. While not a light tale, Palacio is extremely thoughtful in her storytelling and the book ultimately shows readers the power of kindness and an example of those who saw great injustice happening and did what they could to fight it.
Mythologica: An encyclopedia of gods, monsters and mortals from ancient Greece by Stephen P. Kershaw
We've seen many books on Greek mythology, but this one is really something special. The text is written by a scholar and expert, and it's accompanied by stunning artwork from illustrator Victoria Topping. For any kid that thinks mythology is boring, or that nonfiction encyclopedic works are not for them, Mythologica is a book that can change minds...
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