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profile picture of Celia Shatzman
Celia Shatzman
Contributing Writer

14 Best Children's Books Of 2017

Looking for just the right read for your little one? Check out the best children’s books of 2017, recommended by top critics.

With the many options out there these days, scrolling through children’s books online and browsing bookstore shelves can be overwhelming—let’s be honest, you could probably finish War and Peace in less time than it takes to find just the right read. Lucky for you, we’ve leafed through the volumes of kids’ titles that debuted in 2017 and found the best children’s books of the year, as recommended by the top critics across the country. From picture books to nonfiction and everything in between, these tomes will keep you and your kids turning the pages.

The Way Home in the Night

Written and illustrated by Akiko Miyakoshi
“This is a lovely book about experiences which are universal and universally shared,” Booklist says of this story of a sleepy little bunny who shares her observations—both real and imagined—as her mom carries her home through the city before tucking her into bed. Miyakoshi’s illustrations add to the wonder. “With their cinematic feel and charmingly anthropomorphic animals, Miyakoshi’s pencil and charcoal drawings capture the ever-changing delights of nighttime city life while evoking almost physical feelings of comfort, support and family love,” says the * New York Times.
*
Ages:** 3 - 6
Buy it: $17, Amazon.com

Photo: Courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC’s (The Hard Way)

Written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell
Learning the alphabet has never been such a blast. "We give this book an F—yes, an F: for fun and funny," says Kirkus Reviews. The clever wordless book follows a runaway cat and his chasers, including an alligator, a bear, a chicken and a dragon. After pursuing him across jungles and mountains, and through ice and snow, they eventually realize they’re better off as friends. "Touches of wit and plenty of zip recommend this for lap-sit sharing," says The Horn Book.
Ages: 3 - 6
Buy it: $18, Amazon.com

Photo: Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

Plume

Written and illustrated by Isabelle Simler
This plucky story introduces kids to a wide range of birds and their unique feathers, from the chicken to the ibis, while featuring a black cat named Plume hiding on every page. “A nose here, a bit of tail there—the artfully concealed cat is a clever detail that will keep kids interested in this avian study,” says Booklist. And it’s not just the kitty that’ll make little ones want to pounce on this read, according to the review: “Delicately textured and detailed, these illustrations show the patterns, colors and beauty present in every plume, and readers will appreciate how no two are alike. The large-scale illustrations make this book well suited for group sharing, though the feathers will warrant a closer look, and the mix of new and familiar birds will keep youngsters engaged.”
Ages: 3 - 7
Buy it: $18, Amazon.com

Photo: Courtesy of NorthSouth Books

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos

Written by Monica Brown; illustrated by John Parra
Frida Kahlo’s beloved pets—including two spider monkeys, a parrot, three dogs, two turkeys, an eagle, a black cat and a fawn—were a key part of her artwork. The famed painter’s personal menagerie takes the spotlight in this book, which follows her relationships with them through illustrations that celebrate her Mexican heritage. “With their folk-art sensibility, Parra’s elegant acrylic paintings evoke Kahlo’s style, her palette and her Mexican environment, but he creates a mood of harmony with the natural world and a lively, cheerful abundance all his own,” says the New York Times.
Ages: 4 - 8
Buy it: $18, Amazon.com

Photo: Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press

After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again

Written and illustrated by Dan Santat
This isn’t the typical tale of Humpty Dumpty—the imaginative pick for one of the best children’s books of 2017 puts a new spin on an old story by exploring what would happen if H.D. did put himself back together again and climb back up the wall. Suddenly, he’s afraid of heights—but can he move past his fear? “Santat’s precise illustrations and sensitive text combine for more emotional depth than the typical nursery rhyme remix,” says the School Library Journal. “A terrific redemptive read-aloud for story time and classroom sharing.”
Ages: 4 - 8
Buy it: $18, Amazon.com

Photo: Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters

Written by Michael Mahin; illustrated by Evan Turk
The life of blues legend Muddy Waters, who overcame a childhood of poverty in the Mississippi Delta to rule the Chicago music scene, comes alive on the page through a blend of collage, newspaper clippings, printer’s ink and paint. “Turk’s mixed-media illustrations leap off the page,” the School Library Journal says of this biography of the artist, born McKinley Morganfield in 1913. “The soul of the blues sings out through the pages.” Throughout the picture book, the color palette changes as Waters overcomes challenges in his life and career. “The words and pictures here mix exuberance with melancholy,” Booklist says of this best children’s books of 2017 pick. “Mahin’s words have a beat all their own, capturing the lows and highs with poetic verve. Turk’s watercolor, ink and collage artwork fills pages, exploding with a neon intensity—the equivalent of a dynamic guitar riff… Read the book, then get kids the music.”
Ages: 4 - 8
Buy it: $18, Amazon.com

Photo: Courtesy of HarperCollins

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day

Written and illustrated by Beatrice Alemagna
When you’re trying to convince your kids to ditch the gadgets and get outside, pull out this book. “Here true magic is found in the simple but transformative act of experiencing nature,” says Booklist. On a rainy day in the countryside, a young girl is annoyed at her mom’s “no electronic devices allowed” rule—until she steps outdoors. “Alemagna’s dense and textured illustrations feature exuberant pops of color, capturing the natural world’s immensity and creating a multilayered mood that allows for both introspection and wild flights of joy,” says the New York Times.
Ages: 4 - 8
Buy it: $18, Amazon.com

Photo: Courtesy of Chronicle Books

A River

Written and illustrated by Marc Martin
A little girl looks out her window and imagines what would happen if the river swept her away. Where would it take her? What would she see? "A subtle study of how imagination allows children to safely explore the unknown without ever leaving home," says Publishers Weekly. Illustrated in blues and greens, the imaginary journey takes the girl through jungles, farms and cities. “Martin’s immersive gouache and watercolor paintings find complex and beautiful patterns everywhere, documenting the meandering splendor of a river as well as the striking variety of environments humans have created,” says the New York Times.
Ages: 4 - 8
Buy it: $18, Amazon.com

Photo: Courtesy of Candlewick

King of the Sky

Written by Nicola Davies; illustrated by Laura Carlin
When a young boy leaves behind his home country of Italy to move with his family to Wales, he feels like he’ll never fit in again. That all changes when he forms an unlikely friendship with an old man who lets him fly one of his pigeons in a race. “This lovely story will resonate with any child who has felt out of place, whether a transfer student in a new school or an immigrant in a new country,” Booklist says of the “unique and very special book,” which features mixed-media art that feels both old and modern. “This will work for group readings, but will be much more special for one-on-one sharing, where readers can absorb the language and pore over the detailed, nuanced pictures.”
Ages: 4 - 8
Buy it: $18, Amazon.com

Photo: Courtesy of TOON Books

Good Night, Planet

Written and illustrated by Liniers
What kid hasn’t wondered what his toys do once he shuts his eyes? "There are plenty of stories about what toys get up to at night, but this quiet, masterfully executed comic is particularly enchanting," Booklist says of this best children’s books of 2017 read. When a little girl falls asleep, her favorite stuffed animal, a rabbit named Planet, goes out for a night of adventure, including playing with the family dog and attempting to capture the moon. "A beautiful, original work for one-on-one or independent reading, and an excellent bedtime tale," says the School Library Journal.
Ages: 4 - 8
Buy it: $13, Amazon.com

Photo: Courtesy of Groundwood Books

Town Is by the Sea

Written by Joanne Schwartz; illustrated by Sydney Smith
Not every kid gets to pick his job when he grows up. That’s the premise of this touching story of a young boy who knows he’ll follow in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps of working in the mine and digging for coal under the sea. Kirkus Reviews calls it "a quiet book that will stay with readers long after they have closed it,” and the New York Times says the watercolor illustrations perfectly capture the story’s sentiments: “In brown, gray and black leavened by soft yellows and blues, Smith’s ardent paintings capture the brilliance of the sun on the sea and the smudgy darkness of a mine with equal intensity, creating an exquisitely personal feeling of the movement of time and history.”
Ages: 5 - 9
Buy it: $20, Amazon.com

Photo: Courtesy of Margaret K. McElderry Books

Hey, Boy

Written by Ben Strouse; illustrated by Jennifer Phelan
Few bonds are deeper than those between a child and his pet. That’s the theme of this tale told through retro illustrations. When a boy finds a dog, he takes him home, dreaming of all the good times they’ll share. But after the boy breaks his arm, his mother worries he’s not grown up enough to care for a pet and sends the dog to a shelter, leaving her son to wonder if they’ll ever be reunited. “The messages of patience, love and loyalty continue to the end,” says the New York Times. “Like a new old friend, it's sure to be a book worth revisiting." Booklist agrees, calling it "a bittersweet story of love and loss, reconciliation and aging."
Ages: 4 - 8 Buy it: $16, Amazon.com

Photo: Courtesy of Enchanted Lion Books

Feather

Written and illustrated by Rémi Courgeon
As the only girl in her family, Paulina is determined to show her father and brothers that she can take charge. She turns to boxing so she can beat them at arm wrestling and avoid the chores they give her when she loses, such as laundry, cooking and grocery shopping. “The illustrations shine...with gorgeous, intricate scenes of Paulina's home life and training, thoughtful portraits of each character and little treats such as boxing gloves arranged in a heart,” Kirkus Reviews says of this best children’s books of 2017 choice. “A beautiful and unusual tale of family and strength." It’s the ultimate story of girl power and acceptance, according to the New York Times: “With its bold colors and vivacious lines, Courgeon’s stylish, poster-like art is full of small, exquisite details that reveal poignant aspects of Paulina’s story, creating a deep emotional connection with a heroine who’s a fighter in more than one sense.”
Ages: 5 - 9
Buy it: $18, Amazon.com

Photo: Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality

Written by Jonah Winter; illustrated by Stacy Innerst
R.B.G’s life story is the perfect way to show kids how to fight for equality. The book tells how she overcame sexism—as a child, her father tried to discourage her from working, believing a woman’s place was in the home—and anti-Semitism to become a lawyer and, eventually, a Supreme Court Justice. "Innerst’s digital gouache-and-ink illustrations are as matter-of-fact as the text, clearly offering up facts that showcase what Ruth faced throughout her life,” writes Booklist. “A smart, sometimes biting biography that proves it’s never too early to start teaching kids about justice."
Ages: 6 - 9
Buy it: $19, Amazon.com

Published December 2017

PHOTO: Tuan Tran / Getty Images