One New Year’s resolution my family all agreed on was to read more books in 2019.(A resolution that seems to be going around amongst our staff!) So, in my favorite annual Cool Mom Picks post, I’m sharing all the best children’s books on 2018 lists from our favorite sources — from big publications and media like NPR and the New York Times to the national award winners, to indie bloggers with the absolute best taste in children’s books.
If your kids love to read — or you’re hoping to discover the title or genre that finally makes it click with them — consider starting an Amazon wish list, Pinterest board, or Goodreads Challenge board with the books here that look most interesting to you. That way, you can keep these handy for your next trip to the library or bookstore.
We are so thrilled to see so many diverse voices, perspectives and backgrounds reflected on the best-of-2018 children’s books lists right now. Happy reading, and here’s to wishing you even more wonderfully eye-opening children’s books in 2019!
Please note however, that some of the 2018 lists include the best books of 2017. Not that it’s ever too late to read a fantastic book! Keep an eye out for the most recent award-winning and critically acclaimed books on our site throughout the year. We’re always looking for more.
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The American Library Association (ALA) hands out the biggest awards in children’s publishing every year, like the Newbery, Caldecott, and Coretta Scott King awards, among others. But you may not know that they maintain a comprehensive list of best children’s books each year too, with titles from great graphic novels to quick picks for reluctant readers.
From their full list, these are the awards we pay attention to each year for our own kids:
The 2018 Newbery Medal, for excellence in writing
This past year’s winner is Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly, a story that weaves Filipino folklore with the real life of a child stuck at the bottom of a well. It sounds dire, but it’s celebrated for its masterful use of humor and authentic emotion, and Newbery picks have never steered us wrong. You can even read a sample chapter here.
The Caldecott Medal, for outstanding illustration
Matthew Cordell was awarded the Caldecott medal this year for his striking book Wolf in the Snow, a charming story of a young girl and a wolf cub lost in a snow storm.
But don’t miss the 2018 Caldecott honor books as well, like Thi But and Par Phi’s story of a Vietnamese immigrant father and his son in A Different Pond; or the sweet and simple Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper that’s perfect for preschoolers and early readers.
The Pura Belpré Awards, for Hispanic authors and illustrators
This year’s winners include some of our own favorite Hispanic books for kids this past year, including illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal’s La Princesa and the Pea (written by Susan Middleton Elya), which retells the classic fairy tale with a Peruvian twist.
Another favorite is Lucky Broken Girl, a powerful, poignant YA novel by Ruth Behar, based on the author’s own childhood experience as a Cuban-Jewish immigrant in the1960s who finds community after a life-changing auto accident in fifth grade. (Publisher Penguin-Random House offers an excerpt here.)
The Coretta Scott King Award, for African-American authors and illustrators
This year, Euka Holmes won this award for her wonderfully vivid illustrations in Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets. This is an amazing collection for children, written by the incredible Kwame Alexander (Solo, The Crossover) with Chris Colderly and Marjory Wentworth.
The Coretta Scott-King winning novel for 2018 went to Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson, is a complex and layered look at Black womanhood that’s been lauded by authors from Jacqueline Woodson to John Green.
The Stonewall Book Awards, for LGBTQ topics
Two children’s books were awarded the Stonewall prize this year, starting with The 57 Bus by journalist Dashka Slater. It’s a very difficult true story of a transgender teen who is set on fire by another teen while riding a bus, told from both teens’ perspectives, and touches on so many issues — gender, sexuality, the justice system — that it’s an outstanding book for more mature kids who we’re trying to raise with more empathy. (You can read a full excerpt at the publisher’s website.)
The second Stonewall Book Award winner is Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert. This novel is a compelling, thoughtful exploration of blended families, mental illness, and young adulthood, in which a Black teenager finds herself falling for the same girl that her white brother likes. It also happened to be name Best Book of the Year by Kirkus, Buzzfeed, Bustle, Vulture, and Seventeen Magazine — so if you have high school-aged kids, this one is clearly worth a read.
(You can listen to an excerpt of Little & Lion on at the publisher’s website; note that the book is available with two different covers.)
The National Book Award for Young People’s Literature is a highly respected award, given to a literary book generally suited to the reading levels of our older teens. Or, you know, us. Because we love YA books too.
The National Book Award winner this year goes to Elizabeth Acevedo for her stunning novel The Poet X, about a young Afro-Latina girl in Harlem who slowly begins to understand her mother (and her mother’s faith) through slam poetry. She’s a strong, complicated heroine who will give our kids a lot to think about, in this story that’s recommended for fans of authors like Jacqueline Woodson and Jason Reynolds.
But don’t stop here; each of the National Book Awards finalists has made its way onto my own library list too. The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M. T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin is a subversive political saga about a warring elf and goblin. (Timely, maybe?) And I’ve heard over and over how amazing the graphic memoir Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka is, but the difficult themes about addiction and abuse may be triggering for some, and admittedly I haven’t gotten to it just yet.
Among the New York Times list of best children’s books each year, we tend to find the types of children’s and YA books that we like reading as much as (or, possibly more than) our kids do. They’re thoughtful books with stunning art, and not so obscure that you won’t find them at your local bookstore or library.
We also were completely smitten with The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld this year which also makes The Times’ list, as well as Jessica Love’s debut Julián Is a Mermaid, a beautiful story of individuality and acceptance.
As for the graphic novel and YA book categegory, it’s hard to narrow down our favorites in the. As a Scout leader, I’ve been wanting to read the funny and honest graphic novel Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol for a while now, and it might be next on my list. Also appealing is Veera Hiranandani’s The Night Diary, set during the Muslim-Hindu conflict of 1947 India and told through the protagonist’s letters back home to her mother. If you’re a fan of The War that Saved My Life or The Hired Girl this is a great selection for you.
Publisher’s Weekly reviews 1,500 children’s books each year, and their best-of list includes 50 favorites — divided into picture books, middle grade books, and young adult books. (Psst…don’t miss their top 10 books for adults, too.) They are a standard in the publishing and bookselling industry because of their careful reviews. If a book makes their best-of list, it’s a very good book.
For Early Readers
From Publisher Weekly’s picture book list, I see some of our favorite picks (and so many diverse books!) this year, like Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson’s Carmela Full of Wishes, and Yuyi Morales’ Dreamers, both of which we included in our roundup of favorite new books for Hispanic Heritage month.
Another notable title on the list: Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora, an early-ready story about inclusivity and gratitude centered around a bowl of thick red African stew, that has made best-of lists from the New York Times, The Boston Globe, The School Library Journal, and more.
I also can’t wait to get a copy of The Elephant by Jenni Desmond. It’s an educational, but celebratory book about endangered African and Asian elephants — great for any young animal lover. And because I loved Sophie Blackall’s 2015 nonfiction title Finding Winnie so much, I can’t wait to read her newest: Hello Lighthouse to my youngest. This book, about a dying way of life, has been featured on many of these lists and described as “a jewel of a creation” which is enough for me.
And I have to give a very personal shout-out to the stunningly simple, beautiful, and moving Up the Mountain Path by Marianne Dubuc. As my own family went through a season of heartbreaking loss this past year, Dubuc’s book guided our hearts through the beauty of friendship, change, and new beginnings, just when we needed it.
For Middle Grade Readers
Onto the middle grade list of best books — there are so many excellent titles included, from Aisha Saeed’s exploration of gender inequality in Amal Unbound, the story of a Pakistani girl forced to work off her father’s debt; to the darkly funny The Book of Boy, Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s story of a boy drafted to steal the seven relics of St. Peter in medieval France.
For something lighter, the lively Front Desk by Kelly Yang is a 10-year-old Chinese-American immigrant who works the front desk at her family’s motel and manages to help some people facing some fairly serious injustices.
I’m also so glad to see one of our favorite women’s biographical anthologies this year: Herstory: 50 Women and Girls Who Shook Up the World, which pairs Sarah Walsh’s lovely illustrations with Katherine Halligan’s smart, concise storytelling about diverse women through history you may know (Maya Angelou, Anne Frank, Frida Kahlo ) and women you may not (Empress Wu Zetian).
For Young Adult Readers
The Publisher’s Weekly YA list of best 2018 books has us intrigued as well, with titles like The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke, a loose retelling if Beowulf featuring four young women as the heroes. Another notable entry is Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram is a remarkable coming-of-age story about a bullied US high school student who finds himself on a visit to his family in Iran.
For fans of dystopian novels, there’s Dry by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman, set in post-climate-change California when the water finally runs out.
And there are several LGBTQ-themed titles here including the all female/non-binary cast of Tillie Walden’s graphic novel On a Sunbeam; and I’m particularly interested in The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang, another graphic novel in which a tailor is secretly hired to make dazzling gowns for a 19th-century prince’s alter ego, Lady Crystallia. Sounds ready to be adapted for Broadway, doesn’t it?
One of the things I most appreciate about Amazon’s Best Children’s Books of 2018 list, which is decidedly smattered with more “commercial” titles than any other list here, is that they sort their books by very narrow age brackets, helping us find perfect gifts for our kids at every developmental stage.
From Amazon’s top 20 children’s books (which includes both chapter books and illustrated books), I’d start with Jacqueline Woodson’s The Day You Begin. It’s about the struggle of feeling new and different, and finding out that when you share your story others are usually happy to share theirs too.
We also loved Drawn Together, by one of my favorite artists Dan Santat with writer Minh Lê. It was featured in our best books for Asian Heritage month, and is the touching story of a young boy who discovers his roots and common ground with his grandfather.
If you’re up for a laugh and a smile, we can’t leave out the terrifically subversive A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss and the team from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, which imagines the life of the Vice President’s pet bunny, transplanted from Indiana to DC, who falls in love with another (male) bunny, overcomes discrimination, and eventually has a massive wedding on the White House lawn.
One notable middle-school chapter book from this category that’s appeared on a lot of other best-of lists this year is Christopher Paul Curtis’s National Book Award finalist, The Journey of Little Charlie. For the past two decades, Curtis has created award-winning stories featuring wonderful African-American protagonists, and his most recent book about a 19th century sharecropper’s pre-teen son in South Carolina who incredible obstacles after his father’s death, is clever, humorous, and incredibly thoughtful — and should provoke plenty of great conversations with your kids.
In Amazon’s YA cagtegory — which is decidedly for teens, not tweens —I’m seeing lots of critically acclaimed books among the popular best-sellers. Of note: The Children of Blood and Bone is the debut novel from Tomi Adeyemi, the first in a trilogy set in a fantastical West African world of magic and danger. On a (much) lighter note, there’s Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi, a page-turner about the awkward experience of young love that fans of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before will love.
From this list, I also have A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi on my own list of must-reads. Set in 2002, it follows a young Muslim girl trying to find her way through adolescence and young love while dealing with the prejudice and stereotypes of a post 9/11 world.
And, of course, our Broadway-loving kids are grabbing Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel which is inspired by the hit show they are already obsessed with; just know that like the musical, it covers some tough but resonant themes like suicide, depression and the universal desire for teens to just fit in.
I tend to find many of my own favorite books each year through NPR book reviews, so it’s no surprise that their children’s book recommendations tend to align with our tastes here at Cool Mom Picks HQ as well.
In NPR’s list of best picture books for children of 2018, I’m seeing some of my favorite books of this entire year, including Everything You Need for a Treehouse by Carter Higgins and Emily Hughes, which is an imaginative romp though a child’s love for the outdoors. There’s also the deeply moving Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini, written as a lament to the treacherous journey of Syrian refugees. It’s a timely topic, and one that should fascinate kids, especially those who have learned about the Syrian war in school or at home.
On a lighter note, How to Be a Lion by Ed Vere is a refreshing take on issue of individuality and being who you are — a perfect lesson to discuss with our preschoolers and early readers.
From NPR’s chapter book and YA picks, I’m intrigued by A Stitch in Time by Daphne Kalmar. The plot involves a 11-year-old orphan named Donut who runs away to live in the woods of 1927 Vermont to avoid moving in with her disagreeable aunt, and it’s a great pick for tweens.
The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden is a much-lauded novel, exploring issues like poverty and domestic violence through the eyes of a quirky, funny narrator in a book appropriate for kids 8-12. And I can’t wait to pick up The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Hendrix, which is a graphic biography — an emerging category we love, thanks to titles like the March trilogy by Rep John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell). The Faithful Spy tells the fascinating true story of the noted theologian and pastor Deitrich Bonhoeffer’s attempts to take down Hitler and the Third Reich.
Brain Pickings focuses on the loveliest books for kids each year, and we always find the most absolutely gorgeous, thoughtful books here. Most are from indie publishers that you might not see in the huge display that requires a fat marketing budget. But we’ve found these are books we cherish for years.
We definitely encourage you to click through and read all the full reviews here, because the insight offered by Maria Popova — as in, quoting Anaïs Nin and Nietzsche in a kids’ book review — is a worthy use of your own reading time.
For children who love reading, you will want to take a look at A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader which collects letters to children about why we read, from a fascinating array of people, ranging from Yo-Yo Ma and Jane Goodall to Shonda Rimes and Judy Blume. Lovely original art accompanies the letters for a keepsake collection.
The Italian book The Forest by Riccardo Bozzi and illustrated by Violeta Lopíz and Valerio Vidali communicates the magic of an enormous, ancient forest floor and canopy with beautiful, interactive elements.
Matt de la Peña’s staggering book Love, illustrated by Loren Long, wrecked me this year. It’s complex and difficult but also beautiful and charming and perfectly appropriate for kids of all ages.
One last book to note on the Brain Pickings list is Bold and Brave: Ten Heroes Who Won Women the Right to Vote. I haven’t seen this on any other best books lists of 2018, and it’s such an important work written by New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and illustrated by the incomparable Maira Kalman. It’s a must-read.
Brightly: Best Children’s and YA Books of 2018
We’ve recommended the website Brightly since its launch because we love their very specific book lists for kids that help even non-readers find books they’ll love. This year they’ve published the best YA Science Fiction and Fantasy books of 2018, the most exciting YA books of 2018, 20 of the most buzzed-about middle grade books of 2018, and 20 must-read picture books of 2018.
Some of these books have appeared on the critically acclaimed lists, but others are more accessible to your kids who may not be devouring literary fiction at the moment. Try this list; we think you’ll find something your kids will love here.
The Children’s Literature & Reading Special Interest Group:
Notable 2018 Children’s Books for a Global Society
I have to mention how thrilled we all are to see so many diverse voices, perspectives, and backgrounds represented in these lists, and it seems to be growing ever year. But we’d also like to note that for a long time, we’ve directed readers and friends to the Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG), which has been curating the most compellingly diverse, inclusive, accurate, and in-depth books in their annual Notable Books for a Global Society list for years. It’s clear that their influence is reaching across the book world more and more, so it’s worth a stop at their own list of the Notable Books for a Global Society – 2018 List of Winners (PDF).
You’ll find books published in 2017 already mentioned above, like Out of Wonder, Piecing Me Together, and Lucky Broken Girl, as well as top picks from our own writers, like Dave Eggers’s Her Right Foot, a wonderful look at the construction of the Statue of Liberty and its meaning today.
But because this list includes titles for kids in grades K-12, all curated using impressive and very specific criteria by the way, there’s a lot that’s new to us — and maybe to you too. Take a look, and no doubt you and your family will find some new favorites.