We asked staffers at children’s publishing houses to tell us about their favorite children’s or YA book they read this year, and what they loved about it. Our only proviso: it couldn’t be a book that their company had published. Happy reading!
Allison Moore, editor, Bloomsbury Children’s Books
I really enjoyed Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed. I actually listened to the audiobook, and both the author’s words and Priya Ayyar’s narration were nuanced, rich, and inspired. I love Amal as a character, balancing what she believes must change with what she knows is best for her family. This is the kind of book that can truly open readers’ eyes to the daily lives of young people across the world, in a way that’s wholly accessible and not at all didactic, about seeing things from Amal’s perspective and understanding more and more about her ability to stand up for herself and challenge the status quo within the circumstances she’s been allotted. And, of course, I loved the message about the power of reading, both to keep up Amal’s deep hope that there is a better life out there for her and, in the end, as a discrete path towards change. I hope this book makes its way into many classrooms—it feels like a contemporary classic!
Susan Rich, editor-at-large, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee: oh, the deadpan wit of a Jon Agee book! The deceptively simple art, the brilliantly crafted visual story—how does he manage to make it all appear so effortless? All of Agee’s talents wind up together gloriously in this offering, with the added bonus of a setup that makes excellent use of a book as a machine with a hinge, and then he springs it all in action to play out with such satisfying surprise. And as always, Mr. Agee is a generous teller, allowing his reader to feel always one step ahead of the action, one realization ahead of our hero. And, without being too on-the-nose, here a book for these times—a wall in the middle of everything, that in the end, proves to be more of a bridge.
Alex Robertson, editorial assistant, Candlewick
When I saw a trailer for To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, I just knew I had to read the book. And let me say, I fell hard. I love that Lara Jean starts fake dating the popular guy to make the boy next door jealous. And I love that, of course, Peter K. and Lara Jean might actually start falling for each other as the line between fake dating and real dating starts to blur. But for me, the real love, the true love is the bond between Lara Jean and her older sister, Margot, and her younger sister, Kitty. As the girls argue, fight, and make up, I couldn’t help but really miss my own sister. It’s been five years since I’ve consistently lived at home and like the oldest sister, Margot, who goes off to college, I can’t help but feel a little guilty for missing out on certain moments that were important to my sister as she grew up. My sister is the most caring, kind, funny, loyal person that I know. But no matter how far apart or how much time passes between our in-person time together, I know she’s forever my best friend, and that we’d do anything and everything for each other.
Carol Hinz, editorial director of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books, Lerner Publishing Group
The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman captured my heart this year. I purchased it at the launch party at the wonderful Red Balloon Bookshop on a snowy February day, and that night I curled up with my seven-year-old son and began to read it aloud. Each night we read another chapter, and I was struck by the exquisite precision of Sidman’s prose—it flowed so smoothly and I never felt tripped up or tongue-tied as I went along. The sidebars came in just the right places to provide the context my son and I needed to fully understand the world Merian inhabited, and we appreciated the varied visuals, including archival images, photos of the life cycle of a painted lady butterfly, and of course, Merian’s own art. He and I were equally enchanted by the book, and I was more than a little sorry when we finally reached the end.
Maggie Lehrman, executive editor, Amulet Books and Abrams Books for Young Readers
Without much else to recommend it, at least 2018 will go down as the year I finally read the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. I can’t even remember who told me to read them because they’re favorites of so many of my friends and colleagues. The way they were described to me sounded like a gentle summer walk of a book, which was what I needed in a year like this. Right now I’m almost finished with book three. I understand I’ll get to see Betsy and Tacy as teenagers eventually, and at first that made me impatient to get through all this little kid stuff—I edit for all age groups but often gravitate toward YA. But after a few chapters, I’m perfectly happy to sit with Betsy and Tacy and Tib and have a picnic on the Big Hill for as long as Lovelace wants me to.
Diana M. Pho, editor, Tor Teen/Starscape
Melancholy, introspective, and beautifully told, Emily X.R. Pan’s The Astonishing Color of After truly swept me away from page one. I heard some wonderful buzz about the book in kidlit circles, but what really caught my eye was the gorgeous cover design while browsing at Powerhouse Arena after an event. Leigh’s teen voice feels painfully grounded and mythic at the same time; I love how her synesthesia literally brings vibrancy and nuance to the story as she explores grief, newfound love, and complicated family dynamics. I really look forward to seeing what the author writes next.
Andrea Spooner, v-p and editorial director, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Stumpkin by Lucy Ruth Cummins was mailed to me by the author-artist’s agent in a promotional mailing. It was a complete surprise when it arrived on my desk and I immediately fell in love with the sensory experience of it even without reading it: the texture of the jacket paper, the weight of the book in my hands, the clean and minimalist design of the cover and jacket. As I turned the pages, every choice seemed perfect: the limited palette with its pops of bright orange, the simple yet emotive storytelling that has the cozy familiarity of Corduroy but with a fresher voice and style; and the striking visual thinking behind the surprise page turns that reveal the world through a lonely pumpkin’s eyes. I was quite inspired by its combination of elegance and genuine child-appeal, and I hope it becomes a contemporary classic!
David Levithan, v-p, publisher and editorial director, Scholastic
There are very few books I’ve waited over a decade to read—but Markus Zusak’s Bridge of Clay had that much anticipation attached to it. And, lo and behold, it floored me. It’s hard enough to write a book that connects emotionally with a reader—it’s near miraculous to write a book that the reader experiences as if it’s life itself. But that’s how I felt when I read this extraordinary story of love, loss, redemption, and regret—like I was experiencing a brilliant articulation of what it’s like to be human.
Kerry Martin, director of art and design, Holiday House
I recently received A Fish Out of Water by Helen Palmer, illustrated by P.D. Eastman, as a hand-me-down from my neighbor. It quickly became a favorite bedtime story to read my four-year-old son. He was delighted there are firefighters, since he believes himself to be one. When we got to the part where the boy calls the fire department to rescue the fish, I asked who the boy calls and my son whispered “me.” I loved reading the text out loud and indulging in the illustrations with their wonderful orange and green palette. It’s out of rotation for now but I keep trying to put it back in.
Ashley Kuehl, executive editor, trade YA nonfiction, Lerner Publishing Group
The best and most inspiring book I read this year was The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater. A colleague mentioned it as a nonfiction title about trans issues, but of course it is so much more than that! It’s kind of a new style of literary nonfiction. It includes snippets of poetry, journalistic-style news bits, novelistic prose, and a fascinatingly gripping true story. I have so many questions about how it was crafted and I still can’t get them out of my head. Like, did the author bring the fully formed structure to her editor and they just tweaked things? Or did they work together on the idea and then have a lot of back-and-forth on the components? Or did the editor initially think it seemed too crazy to have random snippets of poetry... but then when s/he saw the end result, she saw how amazing it could be? I just wish I could have been a fly on the wall of that project.
Phoebe Kosman, assistant director of marketing, publicity, and events, Candlewick
Whenever we’re in Brooklyn visiting my brother, we stop by Stories to ask their hero booksellers for their recommendations; past slam dunks, courtesy of Stories, have included Remy Charlip’s Fortunately (which still has my now four-year-old son regularly starting sentences “Unfortunately...”). This year, we asked about an early chapter book series rec for that four-year-old, a Princess in Black superfan, and they steered us to Abby Hanlon’s antic, emotionally true, and completely hilarious Dory Fantasmagory books. Now the villain Mrs. Gobble Gracker makes regular appearances in family conversation, and recalling certain lines from the books makes me snort-laugh in public (“ ‘Here... look, do you want some floppy cookies?’ I whisper to her, which is my nickname for salami because I love it so much. She does not.”) Eagerly awaiting the next installment (and the next trip to Stories)!
Shelly Romero, editorial assistant, Scholastic
If I had to pick just one favorite book of 2018, I’d have to pick All of This Is True by Lygia Day Peñaflor. I received a galley through YPG’s Little Big Mouth mailing and after reading the letter attached, I knew this book was perfect for me: part Gossip Girl, part Pretty Little Liars, and filled with just as many twists and turns. The format—which combines interview transcriptions, a book within a book, and published diary entries—made for a page-turning read that I devoured in less than two days. And as someone who spent a long time on Tumblr and in many fandoms, I felt the voice and actions of the teens who wanted to get closer to Fatima Ro were realistic. I highly recommend it!
Karen Boss, associate editor, Charlesbridge
I loved several books this year, and The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor is on the top of my pile. What a glorious, gorgeous, well-written, and excellently crafted book. Mason is one of the most alive, rounded characters I’ve read in years, and Connor stayed away from emotionally manipulating her reader into feeling bad for him. Instead, we root for him and come to understand him. And in the current political climate, truth-telling is an important theme.
Mabel Hsu, associate editor, HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books
I kept hearing hilariously terrible French accents being performed out from the big, brown couch at Books Are Magic. I was working at the indie bookstore part-time, and every weekend I would hear parents playing out suspenseful page turns and both adults and children giggling loudly. Dave Eggers and Shawn Harris’s Her Right Foot asks a boggling question: Why is the Statue of Liberty’s right foot raised? Is she on her way to grab a panini in SoHo? Or perhaps the West Village for vintage Nico records? No. It’s because she remembers her immigrant roots, and thus cannot stay still—she must greet our incoming immigrant friends at shore. What an incredibly timely and beautiful message, striking just the right balance of heart, humor, and history. I cannot stop reading aloud this book to many a friend and coworker. This is a special book, and it makes me proud to see our Lady Liberty on the move.
Charles Kochman, editorial director, Abrams
Every year this time I reread two books—The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, illustrated by Jules Feiffer. Sophisticated middle grade and YA, the best of the form by far, they remind me of why I got into this business in the first place. Each voice is authentic, witty, and the stories and art are transformative for the reader. They are also perfectly packaged/designed: the stark and spare magenta cover with yellow type of Catcher and the now-iconic artwork of Milo and Toc on a pure blue background are visceral, inexorably linked to the reading experience. What more could a reader, much less an editor, hope for? My dog-eared copies are always within reach, a set on my desk at work and on my nightstand by my bed.
Emily Everhart, marketing associate, National Geographic Kids
I first picked up Up to This Pointe by Jennifer Longo because I’d heard about it on a podcast and it was a YA book that somehow incorporated early 20th-century Arctic explorers? The writing was funny and the themes poignant and universal. Harper was an incredibly relatable protagonist in a fascinating setting. There were also penguins. All wins in my book.
Christine Engels (she/her), assistant editor, Candlewick
We’re all lucky that this year Oni Press published A Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni and Tristan Jimerson. Short, funny, and endlessly helpful, this little comic is a wonderful resource on gender neutral pronouns. I learned so much from this guide: it answered questions I felt silly for wondering about, taught me what kinds of questions are rude to ask, and provided plenty of tips on how to stick up for my trans, genderqueer, and nonbinary friends (including when to shut up and listen!). There’s an entire section written for folks who already use they/them pronouns, so this guide is worth reading no matter your familiarity with the subject. Get a copy for your family, leave one in the break room of your job, pass a copy around among your friends. I can’t recommend it enough!
Emily Seife, senior editor, Scholastic Press
My favorite children’s book of 2018, the one that I have recommended to every single parent I meet, is City Moon by Rachael Cole, illustrated by Blanca Gomez. This picture book, about a mother and child who go for a walk to look for the moon, is either the perfect bedtime read, or the perfect stay-up-past-bedtime read, if you choose to take your child for a Moon Walk of your own. With a soothing, rhythmic text, and loads of fun details in the illustrations to notice and discuss (who doesn’t love peering into apartment windows for a glimpse of other people’s lives?), City Moon is as delightful for adults as it is for kids. This book is the modern-day city equivalent of Owl Moon, and my daughter and I both love it.
Diana Gill, executive editor, Tom Doherty Associates
I loved the discussion of beauty and power and classism and colorism along with the tense adventure and the sisterhood of The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton. I’d heard so many authors and peers raving about it and when I finally picked it up, I could see why they did. Totally recommend it.
Melanie Cordova, associate editor, Candlewick
I recently listened to the audiobook of American Panda by Gloria Chao in a single day because I couldn’t stop playing it. The story is about Mei, a Taiwanese-American 17-year-old going through the growing pains of going to college and being away from her strict immigrant parents for the very first time. I loved every part of this story but I loved Mei’s mom most of all, maybe because she reminded me a little too much of my own immigrant mom. This book was full of laughs but also had so much heart. It was definitely a favorite of mine this year.
Akshaya Iyer, editorial assistant, Scholastic/Graphix
I absolutely adore YA fantasy. It can be trite, it can be trope-y, I will wrestle with the need to shake the protagonist or secondary characters on more than one occasion, and I inevitably rant to friends and family about the predictability and tedious rhythm that young adult tends to fall into. A quick stroll through Barnes & Noble led me to Damsel, which managed to blow me out of the water and set me sailing off to discover books that pack that level of punch. Damsel is sharp and relevant despite its fairy tale setting and it successfully re-awakened my love for magical lands, nefarious plots, and bold, dangerous quests.
Seale Ballenger, publicity director, Disney Publishing Worldwide
The book I discovered and loved this year is Julián Is a Mermaid, written by the aptly named Jessica Love. I had seen its outstanding reviews and was intrigued by the book’s themes of family, acceptance, and unconditional love. Months after its publication, I had the pleasure of seeing the author read her lovely story aloud to an audience of spellbound kids at the Brooklyn Book Festival. It was there that I first experienced the magic of the book firsthand, mesmerized and drawn from page to page, lost in the beauty and poignancy of each new image. The colors were as rich and glorious as the text, and I found myself pouring over it, basking in its warm glow, and welling up with tears. The book touched a nerve and made me think of my husband reeling from a devastating year of hardship, who like Julián had been buoyed throughout a difficult childhood by the unconditional love of a grandmother who set him on course to stay true to himself as he made his way in the world. It struck me that this gentle story might help guide him back from this difficult period by evoking memories of his own beloved grandmother. I quickly grabbed a copy, stood in line to meet the author and have her sign it, and rushed home to share it with him. As he opened the cover and saw the inscription, “For Chris, who is a Mermaid,” we both laughed and cried. And as we read it aloud and shared its warm and lovely embrace, memories of a joyful time came pouring back to him. Thank you, Jessica Love, for sharing such a heartfelt, impactful, and meaningful story.