Best Childrens Books for 2013

The annual “Best Of” list is always the most difficult list we make.  There are so many differing opinions regarding what makes a good piece of juvenile literature.  Is it the story, the illustrations?  Is a book one that contains meaningful themes, teaches important principles or makes children think and learn?  Is it a book that has garnered critical acclaim from established sources? Can a great book just be silly and fun?

With the many conflicting notions of what makes a “good” children’s book, we just tend to go with our gut.  If a book, when opened or read for the first time possesses an allure or compels an unexpected emotion, it’s one that we will read again and again to see what it is about the book that makes it different or distinct.

The year known as 2013 was a good one for juvenile literature.  There were so many superb books released from both new and well-established authors and illustrators.  The year brought us many books that push the envelope in terms of art and writing.  We saw many books that made us think and laugh.  We also saw many that made us scratch our heads wondering what publishers were thinking when then sent the book to print–that’s another list.

Now, with no further adieu, the list of books that were OUR favorites for 2013–in no particular order:


Brief Thief by Michael Escoffier, Illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo

This is a book that made us laugh and laugh hard.  The main character, Leon the chameleon has to, well, poo.  When he does, he is beset with a common problem, no paper.  The way he solves his problem, which is done with little regard for another, makes for a great beginning to the story.  The way Leon resolves his offense teaches a beautifully masked lesson in being considerate.  Unlike many other books that might deal with potty humor, this one is direct without being gross.  The illustrations are superb and add to the text to bring life and body to the story and the life-lesson it contains.

The book itself is a beautiful piece.  The interior pages are printed on card stock and the covers are heavy boards.  This is a book that will last a long time and thousands of readings.


This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

I know, it seems easy to pick the 2013 winner of the Caldecott Medal.  But, this book is really good.  The genius in this and other books by Klassen is the interplay between the words and the illustrations.  In this book, the main character, a very small fish, has stolen the hat of a very large fish.  As he swims from page to page, he justifies and dismisses his crime while the illustration shows that his bad deed will not go unrecognized or dismissed.

It is a wonderful little story that young children identify with.  As the little fish swims along telling the story, his words are in conflict with everything that is happening around him.  This is Not My Hat is a wonderful piece of art that engages the mind and delights the reader.


Journey by Aaron Becker

We have a stated weakness for wordless books.  The ability to tell a coherent and interesting story using pictures only is high art as far as we’re concerned.

This debut book from Aaron Becker is a beautiful story of a girl who takes an incredible journey through fantastic places when she engages her red marker.

The illustrations are beautiful and the story has many layers that allow each reader to come up with his or her own interpretation.  We wrote a full review that you can read by clicking here.  Needless to say, no family will ever regret having this book in their home.


Mr Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
Chris Grabenstien has a superb track record for creating excellent books for the so-called YA audience.  Thankfully, he has not fallen to skillfully packaging rated R material into his books for children like so many YA authors have lately.
This book tells a story that is entertaining and very interesting.  Kyle, the main character, must find a way out of being trapped in a library through solving clues and puzzles.  The pretense under which he enters the library and the intricate and interesting tasks he must perform to escape are riveting and thought-provoking.
The story is rich and well told.  At 291 pages, it’s just right for the YA audience and will be a book that parents can feel good about.  Highly recommended for proficient readers.





Bink and Gollie
Bink and Gollie: Best Friends Forever by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee.
Illustrated by Tony Fucile
The Bink and Gollie series typifies a wonderful trend in juvenile literature.  That is the excellent graphic novel.  Bink and Gollie are two girls who are the best of friends and they engage in superb adventures on every page.  The pairing of authors Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee is a match made in graphic novel heaven.
This installation in this series does not disappoint.  It has all the great story work and the beautiful illustration work that Tony Fucile created in previous installments.  The fist book in this series won the Theodore Geisel Prize for illustration.  Fucile could have received the award for every book in the series.  But, it looks bad for an organization to give the same award to the same person year after year.
The proliferation of excellent graphic novels is best for readers who are between picture books and chapter books.  These books keep these readers entertained and build reading skills without them knowing it.  If your child isn’t quite to dense chapter books yet, this is a series that deserves consideration.   You can see more of this series here.


Bluffton by Matt Phelan
While we’re on the topic of graphic novels, this is one that we fell in love with very quickly.
The first thing you notice about this book is that it’s 223 pages of story-board watercolors.  The story is very interesting and full of historical tidbits.  The book is square, 7 inches by 7 inches.  The physical reality of the book is only a precursor to the intensely interesting story and artwork within.
Full of beautiful artwork that is soothing when needed and striking when necessary.  The book can be read quickly or consumed slowly with the reader taking in each picture.
The story follows the experience of a boy in Muskegon Michigan.  His little town is the summer resting place for a group of vaudeville performers.  He befriends Buster Keaton and has the experience of a lifetime.


Moby Dick, A Babylit Ocean Primer by Jennifer Adams
Illustrated by Alison Oliver
This book typifies another good development in juvenile literature.  Why not take the classic books, the ones that you claim to have read at dinner parties, but you really never have, and adapt them to board books?
Well, Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver are doing a great job at it and they call their new genre “BabyLit”.  These books tell the very basics of the story with pictures and words.  These elemental books bring the essence of literary classics to a form that is entertaining to youngsters.
These books also are made such that if they become a favorite of your young literature buff, it won’t drive you nuts to read it every day.  There is a respectable number of books in the series.  You can see them all here.  Best of all, if you buy the entire series, you can dazzle guests at your next dinner party with your insight into great classical works that you should have read in college.


Alpha Block by Christopher Franceschelli

The world of Juvenile Literature is saturated with alphabet books.  It’s difficult to stand out in this category.  Making matters worse for alphabet books is the introduction of the ipad and other toch screen devices as educational tools in the home.
This great book is a fresh and fun take on the alphabet.  Each page is a letter that is either cut-out, or has artful decoration that makes each letter a three-dimensional object.  The art is flawlessly rendered and the supporting text does not compete with the shapes that populate each book.
This is a book that young hands will love to explore again and again–it’s almost 2 inches thick.  Also one that parents will enjoy reading with their baby to pre-school age children.
If you must buy an alphabet book for a young child, buy this one.  It will not disappoint.
OdysseyThe Odyssey retold by Gillian Cross
Illustrated by Neil Packer
If you’re not teaching your prekindergarten child Greek mythology in 2013, you are a failed parent.  if you believe that statement, you are the very picture of a helicopter parent.
That said, the Odyssey is a timeless story that is beautiful and rich.  The magic of this book is that Gillian Cross managed to distill the elements of the story in a way that is wonderfully accessible to young readers.
The illustration work by Neil Packer is sophisticated and invites the reader to squint at the details of each illustration without them being too dense for the eye to easily absorb.
A common result for families who have this book will be teenagers who are introduced to the Odyssey in high school or college and suddenly realize that it’s an ancient Greek tale and not a book Mom and Dad read when they were very young.  This really is a very cool book that clearly is the result of much work and consideration.
Steam TrainSteam Train, Dream Train by Sherri Duskey Rinker
Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
Somebody at Chronicle Books had their head screwed on straight when Sherri Rinker’s Good Night Good Night Construction Site was submitted.  That title rocketed to the top of best sellers lists and collected a truckload of awards in 2011 and 2012.
Could Rinker and Lichtenheld match their success in 2013?  The answer is a resounding YES.  Steam Train Dream Train is a wonderful book that combines a story that lives independently in the imaginations of many children and adults.
The train pulls into the station and whimsical animals fill it with appropriate items:  Polar bears pack ice cream, tortoises pack race cars and so on.  Rinker’s language is soothing and subtle.  Lichtenheld’s whimsical illustrations fill out the story and the combines result is a story that invites the imagination of the reader to come forth.
This is a book that should be on the night-stand for every family.  It is a perfect story for the end of the day.

Well, that’s it.  Our list of favorite books for 2013.  This list is subject to change–if there is another great book released before the end of the year.  Please comment below if you think we have left off a book that you think ought to be included.