Arts

The best children’s books of 2018

PICTURE BOOKS

The Wall in the Middle of the Book,’’ Jon Agee (Dial)

A little knight appreciates how a wall protects him from the big ogre on the other side — until he needs a big rescue when his side of the wall floods. Ages 3-8.

Hello Lighthouse,’’ Sophie Blackall (Little, Brown)

Meet the lighthouse and follow along through all weather and seasons as it guides ships to safety and provides a special home for the new keeper and his growing family. Ages 3-8.

Up the Mountain Path,’’ Marianne Dubuc
(Princeton Architectural)

Every Sunday Mrs. Badger hikes up the mountain, taking care of creatures and observing the world along the way, until one day she meets a small cat named Lulu who joins her for an inspiring journey to be treasured and passed on. Ages 3-8.

A House That Once Was,’’
Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Lane Smith (Roaring Brook)

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Perfectly written and illustrated to ignite the imagination, this story invites readers to follow two children into an abandoned house and wonder what it was like when it was once a home. Ages 3-8.

Mustafa,’’ Marie-Louise Gay (Groundwood)

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Feeling invisible in his new country and city, Mustafa mostly finds comfort in nature — until he bravely accepts an overture of friendship from a girl and her cat. Ages
4-8.

A Parade of Elephants,’’
Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow)

Five energetic little elephants will march the youngest listeners all over this book until they settle down with a trumpet and a yawn and well-deserved stretch. Ages 2-5.

A Big Mooncake for Little Star,’’ Grace Lin (Little, Brown)

Little Star and her mother live in the night sky where they bake a giant mooncake, launching an enchanting tale of the moon’s phases with illustrations full of stars, constellations, and other details to enjoy. Ages 4-8.

Julián Is a Mermaid,’’
Jessica Love (Candlewick)

When three women in mermaid costumes prompt Julián to create his own, his abuela has the best surprise. Ages 3-8

Thank You, Omu!,’’
Oge Mora (Little, Brown)

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The delicious scent of Omu’s stew lures so many hungry neighbors to her top-floor apartment that nothing is left for her own dinner — and then she hears another knock at the door. Ages 3-7.

Dreamers,’’ Yuyi Morales
(Neal Porter)

In this visually striking, autobiographical picture book, a mother and child facing the challenges of being alone in a new country find welcome, hope, and a voice in the public library and in books; an author’s note and her terrific list of inspirational children’s books is appended. Ages 4-8.

The Little Barbarian,’’
Renato Moriconi (Eerdmans)

Up, down, and through this entertaining wordless picture book, the little barbarian and his horse encounter every kind of danger until the end, where readers will find a surprise. Ages 4-8.

Carmela Full of Wishes,’’
Matt de la Peña, illustrated
by Christian Robinson
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

One birthday wish has come true for Carmela as she is now old enough to accompany her brother on errands, but a dandelion they find on the way promises another special wish — how will she ever choose? Ages 4-8.

Fox & Chick: The Party and Other Stories,’’ Sergio Ruzzier (Chronicle)

Punctuated with their misunderstandings and struggles, Fox and Chick’s steadfast friendship survives an impulsive party, vegetarian soup, and the painting of a challenging portrait with the hope for many more adventures to come. Ages 4-8.

Kitten and the Night Watchman,’’ John Sullivan, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo (Simon and Schuster/Paula Wiseman)

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Based on an actual event, this heartwarming story captures the sights and sounds of the night as well as the powerful bond between a perceptive night watchman and the tiny kitten he befriends on his rounds. Ages 3-8.

Florette,’’ Anna Walker (Clarion)

Mae misses her garden when her family moves to the city, but an intrepid little sprout growing through a sidewalk crack provides just the new start and encouragement she needs. Ages 4-7.

MIDDLE GRADE

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster’’ by Jonathan Auxier (Abrams)

The warm, mysterious lump of char that 11-year-old Nan’s mentor left her the night he disappeared stays with her always while she climbs and sweeps chimneys until the day the keepsake saves her life in this engrossing fantasy set in Victorian England.

Be Prepared,’’ Vera Brosgol (First Second) **

In this funny, earnest graphic novel, Vera desperately wants to attend a summer camp like her school friends, until she gets her wish, and nothing is as she imagined. 

Saving Winslow,’’ Sharon Creech (HarperCollins) **

No one thinks Winslow, the sickly, newborn miniature donkey, will survive the night — except Louie, who has an unfortunate track record with animals but plenty of heart and determination.

Louisiana’s Way Home,’’
Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick)

Adventure awaits when Louisiana’s granny insists they skip town at 3 a.m. to outrun a family curse, but Louisiana misses her cat, her friends, and what she knew as the safety of home.

The Parker Inheritance,’’ Varian Johnson (Arthur A. Levine)

Past and present collide when 12-year-old Candace and her 11-year-old neighbor Brandon discover trouble, discrimination, and an unsolved mystery that might lead to a hidden fortune.

Love to Everyone,’’ Hilary McKay (Margaret K. McElderry)

Amid love, loss, and no end of cruel realities, determined Clarry wins her readers’ hearts while paving her own way in England during WWI.

Merci Suárez Changes Gears,’’ Meg Medina (Candlewick)

Encountering trouble both at home and school, Merci navigates sixth grade as a new scholarship student in an expensive private school with endearing humor and solid inner strength.

Detective Gordon: A Case for Buffy,’’ Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Gitte Spee (Gecko) **

Police detectives Gordon the toad and Buffy the mouse take things to a personal level in their fourth forest mystery. Readers, along with a couple of recruits from the “small police school,” can help solve the mystery of Buffy’s long lost family — there will be lots of cake.

Knights vs. Dinosaurs,’’
Matt Phelan
(Greenwillow) **

When the bragging of King Arthur’s bumbling knights gets to be a bit much, Merlin sends them off on a quest that will lead to surprises — and nonstop, hilarious chaos in this illustrated chapter book.

Harbor Me,’’ Jacqueline Woodson (Nancy Paulsen)

If you take six kids and leave them alone in an empty classroom, they will eventually start to talk, and their stories and conversation can teach us how to change the world.

— JULIE ROACH,
manager of youth services, Cambridge Public Library

YOUNG ADULT 

The Poet X,’’ Elizabeth Acevedo (HarperTeen)

An Afro-Latina teen poet tells her coming-of-age story in searing verse, as she struggles with the unfair expectations placed upon her and her twin brother by their strict mother, her Dominican-American community, the Catholic church, and, of course, the patriarchy.

Children of Blood and Bone,’’ Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt)

A sweeping fantasy epic, inspired by West African lore, serves as a stunning backdrop for the star-crossed love between a girl who might be able to restore her people’s lost magic and the prince who’s sworn to keep magic banished from the kingdom.

The Hazel Wood’’
Melissa Albert (Flatiron)

It’s rare to find a novel that can bear a comparison to Shirley Jackson without buckling under the weight of expectations, but this beautifully written and supremely creepy fantasy about a young woman who finds out the myths that have dogged her family for generations are far less mythical than she’d previously supposed is excellent enough to support such praise. 

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge’’ M.T. Anderson, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin (Candlewick)

Anderson and Yelchin’s funny, odd, allegorical yarn of a cloak-and-dagger operation masquerading as a peace mission is spun from dueling points of view . Yelchin’s illustrations represent the magically transmitted reports the inept elfin spy Spurge sends back from the goblin kingdom, while Anderson’s prose presents the same events from the perspective of his enthusiastic goblin host, Werfel the Archivist, revealing the challenges of cross-cultural communication.

The Cruel Prince,’’
Holly Black (Little, Brown)

Black’s latest is the first installment in a new urban fantasy series about human sisters, raised by the faerie who killed their parents, and the difficult choices the siblings must make to survive when the faerie High Court is threatened by civil war.

The Belles,’’
Dhonielle Clayton (Freeform)

Most in this alternate-reality novel are born physically hideous. Only Belles, descendents of the Goddess of Beauty, can control appearances and manufacture the fanciful faces life at court demands. This book is full of twists, turns, and intrigue — plus an additional je ne sais quoi owing to its embrace of Creole folklore and tradition. 

Give Me Some Truth,’’ Eric Gansworth (Arthur A. Levine)

Historical fiction fans should check out this bittersweet and sharply funny book, narrated by the strong voices of two Native American teens on the Tuscarora Nation Reservation in upstate New York in 1980. Carson loves John Lennon and could really use the money from a local battle of the bands, if he can keep his cover band from breaking up, while Maggi draws inspiration from Yoko Ono’s art for her modern, conceptual twists on traditional beadwork, even though tourists never want to buy her creations. 

The Way You Make Me Feel,’’ Maurene Goo (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

In this funny, heartfelt novel, cynical prankster Clara Shin learns to love a lot of things over a single summer: her dad’s Brazilian-Korean fusion food truck, where she is forced to work after one of her stunts nearly incinerates her school; her arch nemesis and new co-worker, Rose Carver, Queen of the High School Try Hards; and an almost fatally earnest boy named Hamlet, whose good looks and kindness are qualities from which Clara would usually flee in terror. 

Tess of the Road,’’ Rachel Hartman (Random House)

In this richly detailed fantasy Tess Dombegh is sent away by her harsh family to live in a convent but decides instead to chop off her hair and wander the countryside in search of a better future, finding her place in a kingdom full of dragons. 

The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza,’’ Shaun David Hutchinson (Simon Pulse)

The titular character of this quirky, thought-provoking, genre-defying book was born by parthogenesis — a technical term for virgin birth. That can be explained by science, but it’s harder for Elena to explain why the mermaid in the Starbucks logo has suddenly begun speaking to her, or why she is miraculously able to heal her love interest after the young woman gets shot, or why the gunman mysteriously disappears.

Darius the Great is Not Okay,’’ Adib Khorram (Dial)

The protagonist of this moving and funny story is Darius Kellner, a half Persian and half American teen with clinical depression and a nerdy sense of humor, who doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere until he visits Iran to meet his dying grandfather and befriends a fellow misfit.

Hey Kiddo’’ 
Jarrett Krosoczka (Graphix)

Krosoczka’s unflinchingly honest graphic memoir chronicles the way he used art to cope with being raised by his grandparents as his mother struggled with addiction and his father abandoned him to start a new family. It is also a poignant testament to the power of art.

Blood Water Paint,’’
Joy McCullough (Dutton)

A work of historical fiction that feels shockingly timely, “Blood Water Paint’’ is a novel told in beautiful verse, based on the true story of 17th-century Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi, who took her rapist to court despite overwhelming societal pressure against her.

Blanca & Roja,’’ Anna-Marie McLemore (Feiwel & Friends)

McLemore’s gorgeous retelling of the fairy tale “Snow-White and Rose-Red’’ is a moving work of magical realism that traces the plight of the del Cisne sisters, one of whom will be taken by the cruel swans when they come of age — unless the sisters can outwit the curse with help from some new friends who are not quite whom they appear to be.

Hullmetal Girls,’’
Emily Skrutskie (Delacorte)

This propulsively plotted and fascinatingly dark science-fiction novel centers on two fully developed female characters. Aisha Un-Haad is a devout woman from a poor district who must surrender her humanity and become a machine-enhanced “Scela” to save her younger brother’s life, and Key Tanaka is a wealthy, pampered young woman who wakes melded to a Scela’s “exo-rig” with no recollection of what drove her to make this irrevocable choice. The two must work together to save their Federation — or dismantle it in the name of justice. 

 

The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burger in Los Angeles),’’ Amy Spalding
(Sky Pony)

If the words “teen rom-com” fill your heart with joy, you owe it to yourself to read this extraordinarily charming love story about Abby Ives, a plus-size fashion blogger who hates having her picture taken; Jordi Perez, the aspiring photographer who teaches her to love it; and the fizzy romance that blossoms between the two as they compete for their dream job at a local boutique.

 

Odd One Out,’’ Nic Stone (Crown)

With “Odd One Out,’’ Nic Stone shows more timid authors all the possibilities that bisexuality can add to a love triangle, telling a giddy and surprisingly emotional love story about 16-year-old Coop (star basketball player and male cheerleader) who’s either in love with Jupiter Charity-Sanchez, his lesbian best friend, or Rae Chin, the bisexual transfer student who’s fascinated them both. 

Sadie,’’ Courtney Summers (Wednesday)

A timely feminist page-turner that follows the titular Sadie as she seeks justice for her sister’s murder, interspersed with transcripts of a Serial-style podcast investigating Sadie’s disappearance. This book will keep you on the edge of your seat until the last page, rooting for Sadie every step of the way.

Check Please: #Hockey,’’ Ngozi Ukazu
(First Second) 

If the teens in your life spend any time on Tumblr, they are probably already obsessed with this excessively charming graphic novel about two hockey players who fall in love, adapted from Ukazu’s popular Web comic of the same name. If they aren’t, or you aren’t, prepare to fall in love with the boys of Samwell University’s hockey team, particularly pie-baking sweetie pie Eric Bittle and his heartbreakingly closed-off (but secretly beloved) team captain, Jack Zimmerman. 

The Prince and the Dressmaker,’’ Jen Wang
(First Second)

This darling love story, beautifully written and illustrated by Wang, is a fairy tale that blends traditional satisfactions complicated by delicious twists: It opens with a dashing prince sweeping a beleaguered commoner away from her humdrum life so that she can design breathtaking gowns for the prince’s secret alter-ego, fashion icon Lady Crystallia. 

Margaret H. Willison is a librarian, culture writer, and podcaster. You can find her work on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, the Appointment Television Podcast, or the Two Bossy Dames newsletter. Renata Sancken is a teen services librarian at Memorial Hall Library in Andover and the co-host of the readers advisory podcast The Worst Bestsellers.