The Best Children’s Books of 2023

The Best Children’s Books of 2023

Alexander’s free verse and Coulter’s multitextured imagery, combining sculpture with painting and drawing, channel the story of Black Americans through a Black teacher grappling with how to honestly teach the hard history of slavery to her students.

A Black second grader is made to feel “too big” in so many ways that she grows almost larger than the book, pushing her feet against the walls of its pages, until the mirrored shards she cries as tears pierce the reflections that trap her, opening a gatefold.

As a boy and his mother snuggle in bed in their new apartment, the memories they trade of the life they left behind tilt their outlook from fearfulness to hopefulness. Smith’s watercolor and gouache illustrations are moody tone poems that alternate between full-page views of mother and son in the present and smaller, fragmentary images suggesting snapshots in an album and the scrappy nature of memory itself.

With a nuanced blend of watercolor and line art, Say depicts an episode from his childhood in postwar Japan when he stood up to three schoolyard bullies and saved a baby sparrow. Rather than take a maudlin turn, Say grounds his narrative in the question of how anyone, boy or bird, manages in early life to survive the serial cruelty and indifference of others.

Much as Langston Hughes often did, Reynolds (in synchronous collaboration with the Pumphrey brothers) uses the power of poetry to make a party out of language.

In Grimes’s wise and heartfelt tale, the route a young boy follows on a map his recently deceased dad left behind leads to sketches, poems and a note telling him to draw and write his own story. In a poignant twist of fate, Jerry Pinkney died before the book was finished, and his son Brian completed the art.

Pondering hypothetical disappearances, Handy’s playful text and Corrin’s by turns quiet and ebullient pictures create a satisfying rhythm: Precious things (water, the setting sun) are taken from us, and then joyfully returned.

In this droll reimagining of an old Tyrolean folk tale, Klassen, the dean of deadpan, has found his muse: The title character is the personification of his ingenious brand of expressionless humor.

Originally published in Ukraine, this sweet, strange, lightly philosophical book, illustrated with soft, scribbly drawings, features newborn twin moles who live in a whimsically imagined woodland community. The title comes from the moles’ belief that when they die they will rise to the clouds and make the snow for those left behind.

In this science fiction novel set centuries after the collapse of civilization, about the embedding of consciousness into Old World drones that look like animals, Higuera has created a future that has much to say about our present, and an adventure that soars above the dystopic fog.

After flames engulf Mama, a giant sycamore tree growing in a prehistoric world, two of her seeds embark on an epic journey — they’re washed into the ocean, wafted by a volcano, eaten, abandoned, rescued. Selznick’s elegant language imparts the drama and delight of the siblings’ escapades, and his subtle graphite illustrations provide their context: the eons-long story of life itself.

This warm, comedic novel of interspecies friendship, about the plotting of an “impossible” escape for the bison who live in a fenced-in park within a park, is a tour de force, told by a dog whose exuberance and good nature run like a bright thread through its pages. “When I run,” he says of his grand passion, “I pull at the earth and make it turn.”

A painter’s brush moves in tandem with an ailing boy’s imagination and, ultimately, his soul in the first English translation of an enchanting 1987 novel by Italy’s foremost living children’s author.

Based on his web comic of the same name, Martín’s wildly entertaining graphic memoir chronicles his family’s 1977 trip in a used Winnebago from California’s Central Coast to Jalisco to bring their abuelito back to live with them.

Through the eyes of a 12-year-old African American girl named Sage, Woodson conjures a captivating, elegiac story from the ashes of a frightening summer in the 1970s when the susceptible wooden homes of Black residents of Brooklyn’s Bushwick section regularly ignited like matchsticks.

Hobson pours elements of Cherokee storytelling (as well as humor and musical and literary references) into this coming-of-age novel about a tween who encounters an array of weirdly magical creatures on a quest to find his mother — “gone missing,” like so many Native American women, 10 years earlier.

Tasked by his preoccupied mother with finding one of his infant twin sisters’ socks in the family’s basement laundry room, a young boy descends into entire worlds in Hatke’s haunted, wondrous museum of a graphic novel.

In this structurally unique, masterfully crafted work that begins in 1952, when the well-preserved body of a 2,000-year-old child is unearthed from a bog in northern Germany, Lowry succeeds in providing three things at once: Iron Age history; gripping fiction that builds possible life stories for the child; and a glimpse of the writer at work as she uses her tools and starts over.

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