From accounts of civil rights heroes, to harrowing (and hopeful) stories about contemporary teenagers, to picture books that perfectly capture friendship, curiosity, or flights of fancy, 2009 held a treasure trove of wonderful reading for children of all ages and interests. Narrowing them down to just 30 titles wasn't an easy task, but we believe the following books stand out for their remarkable writing, indelible characters, and arresting artwork.

Picture Books

The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors
Chris Barton, illus. by Tony Persiani (Charlesbridge)
The unlikely subjects of this fascinating picture book biography exemplify ingenuity and dedication to chasing one's dreams.
The Curious Garden
Peter Brown (Little, Brown)
With humor and some showstopping spreads, Brown offers a green fable about the rebirth of a city, without a hint of preachiness.
Yummy: Eight Favorite Fairy Tales
Lucy Cousins (Candlewick)
Moving beyond the geniality of Maisy, Cousins expertly draws out the primitive emotions at the core of Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, and six other beloved stories.
Chris Gall (Little, Brown)
Few things are more kid-pleasing than trucks and dinosaurs--put them together in a raucous, prehistoric hybrid and you have picture-book gold.
John Brown: His Fight for Freedom
John Hendrix (Abrams)
Hendrix's powerful, exaggerated imagery in this picture book biography is ideally suited to the life of this controversial American abolitionist.
Stagecoach Sal
Deborah Hopkinson, illus. by Carson Ellis (Disney-Hyperion)
Blithe storytelling and slyly humorous art give this story of an utterly confident, quick-thinking 19th-century heroine plenty of pioneer spirit.
The Lion & the Mouse
Jerry Pinkney (Little, Brown)
Not a single word from Aesop's fable of friendship appears in Pinkney's version, set in the Serengeti. This isn't a problem since the lovingly detailed interplay between the protagonists says it all.
Loren Long (Philomel)
Long's story of the friendship between a tractor and a young calf exudes a comforting sense of nostalgia and a gentleness of spirit.
Crow Call
Lois Lowry, illus. by Bagram Ibatoulline (Scholastic Press)
Newbery Medalist Lowry's first picture book, drawn from a childhood story about her father's return from war, is poignant and quietly moving, with a timely resonance.
Sweethearts of Rhythm: The Story of the Greatest All-Girl Swing Band in the World
Marilyn Nelson, illus. by Jerry Pinkney (Dial)
Gloriously evocative poetry and paintings create a stirring tribute to an all-female swing band that made spirits soar during an era of war and prejudice.
Duck! Rabbit!
Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illus. by Tom Lichtenheld (Chronicle)
A simple, fixed design and two combative, off-screen voices make this book and its central optical illusion--is that animal a duck or a rabbit?-- a delight.
All the World
Liz Garton Scanlon, illus. by Marla Frazee (S&S/Beach Lane)
A subtle undercurrent of interconnectedness and a spare elegance make this picture book more than just a gentle ode to families of all shapes, sizes and kinds (which it assuredly is).


Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking)
A powerful exploration of anorexia, dysfunction and death, Anderson's story of a friendship ripped apart is moving and haunting.
Going Bovine
Libba Bray (Delacorte)
An angel, a dwarf, cults, wormholes and mad cow disease all factor into the surreal cross-country road trip that teenage Cameron takes, in a satirical story that's as memorable as it is funny.
Kristin Cashore (Dial)
Introducing Fire, a human “monster” with psychic abilities, this companion novel to Graceling expands the scope of Cashore's fantasy world and offers twists, intrigue and romance aplenty.
Catching Fire
Suzanne Collins (Scholastic Press)
This much-awaited sequel to Collins's dystopian bestseller, The Hunger Games, doesn't disappoint; it's immersive, voracious reading as the ramifications of Katniss's actions in that book spread.
If I Stay
Gayle Forman (Dutton)
Masterful characterizations make the tragedy at the core of this novel all the more devastating, as narrator Mia weighs the decision to live or die.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
Jacqueline Kelly (Holt)
With a detailed, evocative setting and an authentic, relatable protagonist, this turn of the century coming-of-age novel teems with humor, spirit, and energy.
Purple Heart
Patricia McCormick (HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray)
This timely and provocative thriller, with a teenage American soldier at its center, is a nuanced exploration of war, heroism, and morality.
The Ask and the Answer
Patrick Ness (Candlewick)
Set on a planet colonized by men and now wracked with strife, Ness's sequel to The Knife of Never Letting Go entwines themes of sexism, terrorism, genocide and human nature, while bringing the action to a fever pitch.
A Season of Gifts
Richard Peck (Dial)
The singular Mrs. Dowdel from A Year Down Yonder and A Long Way from Chicagobrings humor and heart to this holiday story; as ever, Peck's writing has a comforting, evergreen quality.
When You Reach Me
Rebecca Stead (Random/Lamb)
Every syllable feels rich with meaning in this atmospheric mystery involving a girl, her former best friend, and her mother, set in 1970s New York City.
Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic Press)
Lyrical and thoughtful, this paranormal romance between a girl and a werewolf offers wit, an intriguing mythology, and dual (but equally honest and compelling) narratives.
Marcelo in the Real World
Francisco X. Stork (Scholastic/Levine)
Artfully crafted characters form the heart of this riveting novel about a 17-year-old with Asperger's syndrome, who grapples with issues of ethics, love, and other real-life conflicts.
Tales from Outer Suburbia
Shaun Tan (Scholastic/Levine)
Tan proves that his prose is every bit as hypnotic as his artwork in this wondrous collection that reveals the banality and strangeness of the suburbs.
Lips Touch: Three Times
Laini Taylor, illus. by Jim Di Bartolo (Scholastic/Levine)
In lush prose, Taylor offers three utterly captivating stories, each centered on a kiss; comic book--style prequels from Di Bartolo, her husband, add to the enchantment.
The Uninvited
Tim Wynne-Jones (Candlewick)
In this thriller about a college student uncovering twisted family secrets, Wynne-Jones expertly draws his characters and setting while ramping up the tension and the creepiness.


The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum
Candace Fleming, illus. by Ray Fenwick (Random/Schwartz & Wade)
This illuminating biography reveals Barnum as a complex, infinitely clever figure and delineates his triumphs as well as his failures.
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
Phillip Hoose (FSG/Kroupa)
Colvin's memories of fighting for civil rights in the 1950s--including refusing to give up her bus seat as a teenager in Montgomery, Ala. (before Rosa Parks)--make for a searing true-life story of courage.
Marching for Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don't You Grow Weary
Elizabeth Partridge (Viking)
Arresting photography and firsthand memories from those who participated, as children, in the 1965 march to Montgomery make for a haunting and inspirational read.