We’ve loved our annual new year tradition of compiling the best kids’ books of the year, thanks to all the major (and not entirely major) best-of lists and big children’s book awards of 2015 from publications, experts, and organizations we respect.
We’re talking everyone from the New York Times and the ALA to NPR, and smaller but beautifully curated lists from the likes of Brainpickings and Brightly.
While we recently put together our own list of the best children’s’ books of 2015 that we’re quite proud of, there’s no way we could get through every new book released. So we hope you take a look at these other perspectives. And while we’ve highlighted some favorites from the lists, be sure to take the time to click through to see all the books recommended.
Maybe your kids’ favorites will be on here, and maybe you’ll find some new favorites you can’t wait to add to your bookshelves.
Find all these books through our affiliate Amazon, or visit your library or your local indie bookstore.
Each year, we look forward to seeing which books the American Library Association recognizes with their Caldecott medal (for illustration) and Newbery award (for writing), along with their awards for books with a specific perspective — whether it’s the black experience, LGBTQ issues, or simply books that are informational for kids.
In addition to the ALA awards, we always pay attention to the National Book Award, since they’re considered one of the most important literary awards of the year.
Here’s a brief roundup of this year’s winners, but be sure to click through to see all the honorees.
The Caldecott Medal for Illustration
The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat
This is the witty, fun, and beautifully illustrated story of Beekle, an imaginary friend who hasn’t been imagined yet.
The Newbery Award for Children’s Writing
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
A fantastic novel about family, brotherhood and basketball — told in verse — that will challenge your teens to read outside their comfort zone, and be glad they did.
The Coretta Scott King Awards for Outstanding African American Authors/Illustrators
Firebird, for illustrations by Christopher Myers
A vivid book about that shows the athletic and artistic movement of ballerina (and here, author) Misty Copeland.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
This is a story told in verse, that spans South Carolina to Brooklyn and the Civil Rights movement. Powerful and beautiful.
The Pura Belpré Award for Latino Writers and Illustrators
Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales
A quirky picture book that teaches kids about the Spanish language and artist Frida Khalo all at once
I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosín and illustrated by Lee White
A story about the once-idyllic life of a Chilean 6th grader who must move to America when her parents go into hiding from their dictator government.
The Stonewall Book Awards in Children’s and Young Adult’s Literature
Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino and illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant (best picture book)
Morris isn’t exactly like the rest of the crowd at school, and he gets teased for it. And that doesn’t feel good.
I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson (best chapter book)
A vibrant story about brother-sister twins who find themselves reaching puberty and competing for the same boys, but it’s so much more than that.
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Juklin (best non-fiction book)
An honest look at the life, love, and struggles of transgender teens.
The Sibert Informational Book Medal
The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
It makes reading the thesaurus — or, at least, reading about how the thesaurus was created — interesting to kids.
The National Book Award for Young People’s Literature
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
This novel has been compared to Alice in Wonderland, but weirder and is a haunting, heartfelt look at schizophrenia that doesn’t glamorize the illness. This is one for your older kids to read, and you to read along with them, because whoa, the conversations you’ll have.
Updated to add: The 2016 Caldecott and Newbery award winners were announced just days after this post, so we wanted to share them here too.
Congratulations to Matt de la Peña and illustrator Christian Robinson for the Newbery Medal for their book Last Stop on Market Street (below). It’s rare to see a picture book win this award. Honorable mentions for the Newbery were The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (also below), Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, and Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan.
The Caldecott winner was Finding Winnie illustrated by Sophie Blackall and written by Lindsay Mattick (also below), with honors to Trombone Shorty by Bryan Collier, Waiting by Kevin Henkes (below), Voice of Freedom by Ekua Holmes and Carole Boston Weatherford, and again, Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson.
Since the New York Times Book Review chooses their books from the perspective of a literary review, we know we’re going to find well-written and beautifully illustrated books here sorted by Picture Books, Middle Grade, and Young Adult.
In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised to see one of their top choices for best illustrated children’s books of 2015 — maybe the wordless book Sidewalk Flowers, with story by JonArno Lawson and illustrated by Sydney Smith or the witty and charming Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett and Christian Robinson — win the Caldecott in 2016.
Their top middle grade books include some of our own favorites like Cassie Beasley’s Circus Mirandus and The Thing About Jellyfish, Ali Benjamin’s tragically beautiful story for kids who love realistic fiction.
Across the board, YA selections are tackling harder, heavier subjects from a teenage perspective. And the NYT list always includes excellent writing, not just bestsellers. This year, they run the gamut from moving WWII historical fiction in The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley to lighter, even funny novels perfect for fans of Downton Abbey in The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz, to the very modern theme of racial tension in All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely.
They also selected a book that has appeared on almost every best-of list we’ve read, was a National Book Award finalist this year, and is a big front-runner to win the Newbery next year: The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin. This one looks like a must-read.
Publisher’s Weekly is an industry trade magazine that reviews books specifically for booksellers, so they can get feedback on the best books to carry in their stores, meaning you’ll find a nice mix of literary choices and commercial hits. Interestingly, we noticed a lot of crossover with our own best children’s books of 2015 picks and their list. We like the way you think, PW.
Books shown here that I want to call out include The Only Child by Guojing (top left); The Night World by Mordicai Gerstein; Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear (hint: it’s Winnie the Pooh) by Lindsay Mattick and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. And Lenny & Lucy by Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Erin E. Stead.
Dark stories are again wildly popular in this year’s YA selections, but if you’re looking for something a little brighter, we we were excited to find two rays of light on Publisher’s Weekly‘s list. Check out the graphic novel about medieval culture + modern tech, Nimona by Noelle Stevenson; and Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon, which is a fun twist on Sleeping Beauty that will get even reluctant kids reading,
Amazon breaks out their selections for best kids’ books by age group, which is really helpful for parents. (i.e. Shoppers.) Obviously Amazon is consumer-driven, so they feature many more pop-culture friendly titles on their lists than you’ll find other places. They include some adorable books we’ve reviewed ourselves this year, like Naptime with Theo & Beau by our friend Jessica Shyba (congrats Jess!), and other titles we can’t wait to buy, like the kids’ how-to book Sew Fab: Sewing and Style for Young Fashionistas by Lesley Ware.
Also shown above: the calming I Am Yoga by Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds; the hilarious Hoot Owl: Master of Disguise by Sean Taylor; and we’re so happy to see the empowering The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton, which has become one of our very favorites of the year too.
So you see? Even commercial books can be great books.
We always find progressive, artistic, thoughtful and creative books on NPR’s best-of lists, that we don’t necessarily see elsewhere. This year’s selections include my favorite book of the year, Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson, and the Pool picture book by Jihyeon Lee (at top) which features wonderfully evocative illustrations that are big hit with Liz’s own girls.
Other books shown above: a winsome and satisfying novel about Manhattan 7th graders, Goodbye Stranger by Newbery winner Rebecca Stead; a big twist on a classic fairytale, Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Meg Hunt; and a novel about discovering who you are, Listen, Slowly, Thanhhà Lai.
We’ve mentioned before the huge diversity gap in children’s publishing before, and we’re always thrilled to find and share excellent books that are centered on non-white stories. One of the first places we look for recommendations is the Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group, who selects their top books to expose kids to a global experience each year with 25 selections worth checking out.
From the view of larger-than-life Ghandi through the eyes of his grandson in Grandfather Ghandi by Arun Ghandi and Bethany Hegedus and illustrated by Evan Turk to the patient story of perseverance in Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin by Chieri Uegaki and illustrated by Qin Leng to I Remember Beirut by Zeina Abirached, the graphic novel that shows kids ordinary life inside a war zone — these are lovely, educational, and inspirational stories.
We’re such fans of Maria Popova’s Brainpickings, an “interestingness digest” which lives up to its description. Her point-of-view seems to be off-the-beaten path books that have a strong artistic bent, that adults are guaranteed to appreciate as much as kid do. Honestly, we want to read everything on this list which are all take-your-breath-away beautiful.
11 picks are all described with great detail, so it’s worth clicking over. You’ll find selections like Louis I, King of the Sheep by Olivier Tallec; the captivating new-baby book The Menino by Argentine pop-singer Isol; Home by Carson Ellis; and the classic fable The Tiger Who Would Be King by James Thurber with new illustrations by JooHee Yoon; The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes; and even the brand new Dr. Seuss book that was unearthed and published this year, What Pet Should I Get?
We recommended Brightly earlier this year, as a great new reading resource for parents, and we continue to appreciate their specific, helpful, and meaningful content and book recommendations that they share throughout the year. So, of course, we had to pay attention to their own best kids’ books list too. The list of 11 recommended books from each of their contributors includes another one of our favorites — Waiting by Kevin Henkes — along some new books we’re excited to check out. Like Polar Bear’s Underwear by Tupera Tupera; The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste; and Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone.
Hey, how can you not love a best kids’ book list that’s accessible enough to include underwear jokes?