As the year comes to a close, we’re looking back at our picks for the best children’s books of 2016 — according to our editors, writers, and of course our children! What a perfect way to kick off our Editors Picks of the Year.
As our readers know, we all adore books here at Cool Mom Picks and we’ve collectively read hundreds of great kids’ books this year, from the sweetest board books for babies, to excellent picture books for early readers, to compelling graphic novels — and it’s not an easy job to whittle it down to just a few favorites. Ultimately, we go with the books that make lasting impressions on us, and that our children can (and do) read over and over again.
So here’s to great books and to a love reading! And heartfelt thank you to the publishers, editors, authors and illustrators who bring us such treasures.
Related: 11 of our favorite childhood books that we can’t wait for our kids to read
This post is part of of our annual series featuring our Editors’ Best of 2016. No pay-for-play, no contests to enter, no voting! Just the things we’ve loved in 2016 that we think deserve an extra nod for coolness.
Find all these books at our Amazon affiliate, or visit your public library or support your local independent bookseller.
They All Saw a Cat
by Brendan Wenzel
This brilliantly illustrated picture book rose to the top of so many of our lists. What could be a simple story of a cat going on a walk becomes a fantastic lesson about perspective, and how sometimes we see people, events, and places differently than others do. It makes our list for its gorgeous and smart illustrations and for the simple fact that so many of our kids, a mix of all ages, truly enjoyed it.
A Child of Books
by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston
Award-winning children’s book author and illustrator Oliver Jeffers makes our best children’s books of the year list again because he just always manages to capture childhood so beautifully. This year, we love his bestselling A Child of Books, for its brilliant ode to storytelling., with passages from classic novels cleverly woven into each illustration. Superb.
Related: 6 new books about the arts to inspire young painters, musicians and writers
Music Is …
by Brian Stosuy, Amy Martin
This fantastic board book introduces very young kids to all the complexities of music, brought to life with evocative illustrations by Amy Martin that capture the mood of each page brilliantly. Also, props for the incredibly diverse group of characters which children’s books still need more of.
by Bomi Park
We recently featured this debut book from the wonderful South Korean artist Bomi Park as one of this year’s best new books for Christmas, but it’s truly wonderful winter book perfect for the entire season. Like my childhood favorite A Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, First Snow is about the joy of waking up to that first day of wintery magic and kids will adore how fantastic and imaginative it is.
TouchThinkLearn: ABC Board Book
by Xavier Deneux
We’ve been fans of French illustrator Xavier Deneux’s board books for years now, for their stylish minimalist design and architectural quality. His latest is exception, and easily earns a spot as one of our picks for best children’s books of 2016. Each two-page spread features a raised letter of the alphabet on the left-hand side and a corresponding scene on the right with a cutout that houses that letter. The vibrant color that will appeal to the youngest book lovers, and we imagine you’ll keep this one long after the other board books have been passed on.
Related: The coolest first birthday gifts | The Ultimate Birthday Party Gift Guide
We Found a Hat
by Jon Klassen
No surprise that Jon Klassen makes our list again, this time for the third book in his celebrated hat trilogy. I think it just might just be the best in the series, which isn’t an easy feat, since the original This is Not My Hat is a Caldecott Medal winner. There’s a simple moral dilemma here — two turtles and only one hat — that will inspire great conversations with even young children. The story handles emotions and feelings in such a lovely way and, like all of Klassen’s books, the illustrations are just gorgeous.
by Francesca Sanna
Our associate editor Kate Etue says this picture book about Syrian refugee crisis is the most powerful children’s book she’s read this year. “Maybe even in my entire career,” she added. Wow. The Journey is absolutely worthy of her high praise; it’s timely, it’s important, and it delicately tells heartbreaking true stories of the war and refugee crisis from a child’s perspective, while a mother’s pain is revealed through Sanna’s exquisite illustrations. Not surprisingly, it’s made plenty of lists of best children’s books of the year, from the New York Public Library to The NY Times and the Wall Street Journal, and we’re happy to include it in ours.
Related: How to talk to your kids about prejudice, with help of 12 of our favorite children’s books
Pablo and His Chair
by Delphine Perret
We all really love the quirkiness of this charming book by French artist and author Delphine Perret which makes our list because it’s such a good reminder to be open-minded about those er, less desirable aspects of our kids’ behavior and to try and see them instead as potential for whatever lies ahead. Maybe it’s parents who need this children’s book more than the children.
by Sara Pennypacker, Jon Klassen
If you have yet to discover this critically acclaimed adventure story for older children and tweens, it’s about a boy forced to return his pet fox to the wild after his father enlists in the military, and his subsequent search to find his friend again. What makes it so compelling in part, is that half the story is written from the fox’s perspective. Not a few reviewers have mentioned just how moving it is, even for adults. Keep some tissues nearby.
Vincent’s Starry Night and Other Stories: A Children’s History of Art
by Michael Bird, Kate Evans
Consider this Art History 101 for kids, or anyone who loves art. (That’s everyone, right?) The book takes the reader from early cave paintings to modern day contemporary art with such a wonderful narrative style for each artist, it will appeal to even the youngest kids. And because Bird is an educator and art historian himself, you can just feel his passion for the subject, and it’s utterly infectious.
Related: 6 new books about the arts to inspire young painters, musicians and writers
D is for Dress-Up: The ABC’s of What We Wear
by Maria Carluccio
Don’t let the title fool you; Liz called this charming picture book by artist and textile designer Maria Carluccio “a fabulous celebration of kids and creativity” as it takes early readers through the alphabet, from Apron and Bow Tie to Yoga Pants and Zippers. But what made it really special for her is that it’s really not about fashion at all, but an “alphabetical journey through all sorts of childhood activities, interests, and of course, styles that contribute to children feeling like the individuals that they are.”
Grover Cleveland, Again!
by Ken Burns and Gerald Kelley
In an election year, it’s not surprising that there have been many excellent books to help us talk to our kids about politics. Grover Cleveland, Again! by the celebrated documentarian Ken Burns makes the cut as one of our own best children’s books of 2016. The oversized book is filled with wonderfully told stories and illustrations of every president from George Washington to Barack Obama. We love how Burns offers an unbiased view of our country’s leaders, but doesn’t shy away from tactfully revealing their flaws. As for the title? Well, Grover Cleveland was the only president to have served two non-successive terms as president — just one of the facts you’ll have down after your kids recite presidential trivia to you over and over again at the dinner table after reading this book.
Hillary Rodham Clinton: Some Girls Are Born to Lead
by Michelle Markel, LeUyen Pham
Regardless of the outcome of the election, this book about Hillary Rodham Clinton absolutely inspires. This kid-friendly biography describes a little girl born into a man’s world, who fought to make a difference throughout her life, and the ways in which she became a woman who did. It’s remarkably witty and well-told, and absolutely captivated our kids with its charming illustrations and fascinating facts. In fact our editor Liz found her daughter buried in it every morning for a week, much to her surprise. Of course your own politics may dictate whether this one finds a home on your own kids’ bookshelves (and whether you spend your time trolling Amazon with fake one-star reviews – ed.), but we think it’s a terrific read.
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement
by Carole Boston Weatherford, Ekua Holmes
We think Voice of Freedom is an extremely important book for all families to read and judging by the awards it keeps stacking up, we’re not alone. Fannie Hamer was a champion of equal voting rights during the Civil Rights Movement in the ’60s, and despite hardships, struggles, and abuse — including being beaten nearly to death — Hamer would not stop fighting for what was right. This powerful book for older tweens and teens emphasizes the activist’s perseverance and courage, describing an inspiring legacy of hope and strength. And we think it’s important for kids to get to know more of the heroes who have fought for equality and civil rights, especially those who don’t get as much attention as others.
Lodestar (Keeper of the Lost Cities)
by Shannon Messenger
This series is a huge hit with some of our writers tweens, and Messenger’s latest deserves recognition as an outstanding adventure story about a girl who doesn’t fit in at her middle school and discovers she’s an elven telepath who’s been hidden among humans for her own safety. Transported to her real world, she struggles in her new school and must untangle mysterious dangerous plots. Exciting! We can’t imagine any tween not loving a book that our own contributor and YA author, Delilah Dawson, compares to the Harry Potter series or the Lord of The Rings — only with unicorns.
Related: 16 terrifically creepy YA novels for kids (and adults!) who dig dark themes.
by Kate DiCamillo
Two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo makes our list of best children’s books for her latest title which is also a 2016 National Book Award finalist. Fans of her previous books, Because of Winn-Dixie, Flora & Ulysses, and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane to name just a few, will love the simplicity of the poignant Raymie Nightengale, if they haven’t already devoured it. This book deals with some serious issues like parental desertion and loneliness, as Raymie sets out to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition in an attempt to bring her father back to her. But DiCamillo, as always, handles the subjects in a sensitive and soulful way, with plenty of wit, quirkiness, honesty and humor that middle grade readers are sure to appreciate.
by Raina Telgemeier
The latest graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier is another example of her true excellence. In my opinion, Ghosts cements Telgemeier’s status as graphic novelist extraordinaire. My daughters love all of her books, and now that they are older, this story of growing up, friendship, family, loss and love came along at the perfect time. Readers will be exposed to some cultural education (the main characters are Mexican-American sisters), an illness (Maya has cystic fibrosis), and paranormal activity, which you might have guessed from the title. There are no superheroes in Raina’s books, just real girls living real life, making for great role models for dealing with life’s greatest challenges. And we could all use more of those.
Related:10 graphic novels loaded with girl power
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women
We had high hopes for this collection of 100 mini biographies of 100 extraordinary women back when it was just a Kickstarter project. Let’s just say it exceeded all of our expectations — and Kickstarter’s too, considering it became the most funded project in crowdfunding history. The combination of fascinating stories of extraordinary women past and present whom you know (The Bronte Sisters, Frida Kahlo, Malala Yousafzai) and those you might not know as well (weightlifter Amna Al Haddad, astronaut Mae Jemison) all accompanied by spectacular illustrations from 60 different female artists, make this beautifully produced book one that readers of all ages need on our bookshelves to keep us keepin’ on when the going gets tough. In fact, not only is Rebel Girls one of our picks for the best children’s books of the year, we’d call it one of the best books of the year for absolutely anyone.
-Georgette, with contributions from Liz, Kate, Delilah, Caroline