We asked staffers at children’s publishing houses to tell us about their favorite children’s or YA book they read this year. Our only condition: it couldn’t be a book that their company had published. Here we present their recommendations—happy reading!
Susan Van Metre, executive editorial director, Walker Books US
I’d bought a copy of Small Spaces by Katherine Arden when I’d seen one of the many rave reviews it collected (from R.L. Stine and Jonathan Auxier, no less!) but I’d never found time to read it. My daughter, who is now at the how-scary-can-I-stand-it age, spotted it inON? the bookcase and begged to make it our bedtime read. What a big mistake. If you would like to be up half the night wondering if those scratching tree branches are the grasping hands of zombie-like scarecrows longing to trap you in their nighttime netherworld of undying servitude, then, by all means, read this at bedtime! Just hope you don’t have launch the next day.
Susan Rich, editor-at-large, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
I adore Annie Barrows’s writing wherever I encounter it—she’s a master at her craft, and admiringly adept at inhabiting a child’s frame of reference. In Like, illustrated by Leo Espinosa, she celebrates the way that we are all scientists with a surprising and delightful exploration of the world through curious observation and comparison. Espinosa’s art brings buckets of joy through delicious graphic layouts and a mastery of color and shape that will delight the youngest readers. Like invites its readers to approach their own environment with similar curiosity—and what’s not to like about that?
Talia Behrend-Wilcox, senior manager, subsidiary rights, Abrams Children’s Books
Frankly in Love by David Yoon is honestly, one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, period. I picked this one up on a recommendation from a friend and I think she put it best when she wrote, “It’s hard to describe how exactly [Yoon] gets it so right. The combination of angst and hubris and hope and jokes is so good.” Yoon doesn’t villainize a single character, community, or self-destructive tendency, which was both frustrating and enlightening for this reader whose main coping mechanism is processing the world through a dichotomy of good and bad, right and wrong. He not only respects but honors the shiny and the messy, the big and the small, the simple and the complicated parts of being a teenager, going as far as coining the term simplicated to capture just that—a term I readily incorporated into my vocabulary and world view.
Carol Hinz, associate publisher, Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books
At ALA in June, I grabbed an ARC of Seen and Unseen: What Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake, and Ansel Adams’s Photographs Reveal About the Japanese American Incarceration by Elizabeth Partridge and Lauren Tamaki. I now have a finished copy, and every time I pick it up to look at a page or two, I can’t help getting sucked in. The thing that stops me in my tracks is the way text, illustrations, and photographs are interwoven to tell this story. The book presents not only the facts of the unjust incarceration of Japanese and Japanese American people during World War II, but also how the government used (and suppressed) the photographs that documented what was happening. It’s a riveting exploration of the topic, presented in a stunningly designed package.
Katie Cunningham, executive editor, Candlewick Press
This year, I read (and read and read and read) the board book edition of Before We Eat: From Farm to Table by Pat Brisson, illustrated by Mary Azarian. We spend a lot of time at our local farm (Small Farm in Stow, Mass.!), and our son Jack loves it. This book replicates the farm-visit experience perfectly. It’s replete with all kinds of vehicles, the rhyme is pitch-perfect, the illustrations are perfect for poring over, and it’s generally an awesome meditation about the importance of folks who work in all sectors of our food system. Plus, for some reason known only to him, Jack thinks the picture of Pat and Mary is a picture of my wife and my mom, so he is always delighted to see the back cover.
Charles Kochman, editorial director, Abrams ComicArts
I really loved Swim Team by Johnnie Christmas. Long before this graphic novel was released, there had been some industry buzz about Johnnie, and I was eager to see what the fuss was all about. From the opening pages, I was all in and, like its lead character Bree, was swimming in the story’s layouts and bright colors. Editing Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I am particularly interested in depictions of middle school and how creators reflect the reality of childhood to their readers. Johnnie has Bree wade through waters I had not seen represented before in books for this age group, and that is its superpower. For readers of Jerry Craft’s New Kid looking for more diversity, this book is the perfect companion volume and continues the discussions we need to keep having with our kids.
Elizabeth Law, backlist and special projects editor, Holiday House Publishing
“Nineteen-year-old Nathan Leopold would kill a child today”—that’s the opening sentence of the most unputdownable work of YA nonfiction this year: Murder Among Friends: How Leopold and Loeb Tried to Commit the Perfect Crime by Candace Fleming. Because I’m a Hitchcock fan and had seen the movie Rope, I’d always sort of wondered about the real-life crime the movie was based on. I was slightly afraid to read about such a horrific event, though (Leopold and Loeb murdered Loeb’s 14-year-old cousin), but Fleming handles the crime itself delicately and with superb control. In fact, she manages to tell three stories—a thriller about the crime and how it’s solved (pay attention to Leopold’s eyeglasses), a psychological one about the teens’ motives and their troubled (though privileged) childhoods, and a legal drama about what Clarence Darrow had to pull off to save the two from the death penalty. By the end of the book, I understood the thinking of the detectives and the prosecutors, as well as the sentiments of the public, the feelings of the families involved, and the motivations of the teenaged killers. How did Fleming get so much into one book and have it read so compellingly? I don’t know, but her storytelling sets the bar for narrative nonfiction in our field.
Maggie Gibson, production supervisor, Random House Children’s Books
There’s a Ghost in This House is a simple, clever picture book that has all the subtle fun you’d expect from Oliver Jeffers. Every other page is semi-transparent and when overlaid with the four-color art reveals silly one-color white ghosts in a house with our main character (a little girl), explaining that she can’t find any hauntings. It’s slightly eerie but so much fun to reveal the ghosts and their antics. As a production person, I love the ingenuity of the design—it’s beautiful and out-of-the box. His book is a delight to read every spooky season, and let’s be honest—with a six-year-old, every season is a good reason to read this book.
Maggie Lehrman, editorial director, fiction, Abrams Children’s Books
I really enjoyed Murder for the Modern Girl by Kendall Kulper. It was fizzy and fun, with authentic period setting and some real emotional stakes. The past year I’ve been drawn to books that walk a fine line between total escapism and real-world parallels/incisiveness, and this book nails that balance, with a smart look at what it might mean to take justice into your own hands. Plus magic!
Phoebe Kosman, director of marketing, publicity and key partnerships, Candlewick Press
The New Zealand powerhouse that is Gecko Press can do no wrong in my eyes; through them I’ve discovered dozens of books, from board books to picture books to middle-grade novels, many in brilliant translation, that my five- and eight-year-old and I have absolutely adored reading together, and that—crucially—have borne repeated rereading. This year’s Gecko standout for us was Free Kid to Good Home by Hiroshi Ito, translated by Cathy Hirano. Expressive illustrations, a spare and funny, evocative text, and, most of all, Ito’s keen sense of how kids think and feel about prickly issues like jealousy, anger, and their place in their family, have made this an instant classic for us. (Plus, the dog looks just like our beloved elderly dog.)
Alvina Ling, editor-in-chief, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
My favorite book this year was The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida. I’ve had a few autism spectrum diagnoses in my family this year, and I remember hearing about this book when it was published and was curious to read it. It’s a slim but mighty book, and I found it so beautifully told and moving, and such a clear and profound look into the mind of an autistic boy.
Brittany Chance, office manager, Peachtree Publishers
I read The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes this year and it is probably my favorite YA book I consumed in 2022 (next to its sequel). I loved the fleshed-out cast and individual characterizations. The puzzles and loops it throws you into are so fun, and I constantly found myself trying to get ahead of them. I loved how complex but easily consumable it was. It gets two thumbs up from me and I would happily be the glass ballerina in the Hawthorne house (you’ve got to read the book to get that one).
Meredith Mundy, editorial director, preschool, Abrams Children’s Books
As a not-very-tall person myself, I was utterly charmed by the picture book Not Little by Maya Myers, illustrated by Hyewon Yum. Clues to the main character are given right from the front matter: Dot towers over the title page, giving readers immediate insight into this confident child’s sense of self. But the dedication/copyright spread features her tiny shoes next to the much larger footwear of her family, clarifying that this character is indeed very small. As she says throughout the book, however, she is not little. Just the right amount of repetition makes this a great read-aloud, and it’s highly satisfying when Dot stands up for another small classmate in an act that’s both big and brave. Former Abrams associate art director Hana Nakamura (now art director at Norton Young Readers) introduced me to this book. She and her young son love it, too!
Irene Vázquez, assistant editor and publicist, Levine Querido
In Nigel and the Moon by Antwan Eady, illustrated by Gracey Zhang, Zhang’s illustrations have this dream-like quality to them that absolutely immerse me in the world of the book, which is perfect for this story of dreaming big. I’ve been a fan of Zhang’s since her work on The Upside Down Hat, and I will happily admire anything that she creates.
Ginny Greene, receptionist, Candlewick Press
The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives is a page turner. The author, Dashka Slater, gently tells what happened both from the perspective of the victim and from another young high schooler on the 57 bus. Neither teenager knew each other. Slater pieced together what had happened and the consequences from a myriad of sources. I learned more about gender fluidity and racial prejudice from reading this. My husband brought this to me from an ALA conference; it’s my favorite book of the year.
Emily Daluga, associate editor, Abrams Children’s Books
To put it simply, The Honeys by Ryan La Sala was the queer horror story that I needed this year! I was lucky enough to grab an ARC of it at TLA, and I spent all my mornings and lunch breaks there tearing through to see how the mystery would unfurl. I was immediately pulled in by Mars’s voice as well as the shiver-inducing atmosphere of the camp, and as a twin myself, I was also really invested in the sibling relationship at the heart of the story. And while it takes quite a bit to genuinely gross me out at this point, there was one scene that made me say “Oh, no. Absolutely not” out loud. Full of sparkling prose, nuanced characters, and truly spine-chilling scenes, I totally adored this book and had a blast reading it.
Mabel Hsu, executive editor, Katherine Tegen Books, HarperCollins Children’s Books
The Snail by Emily Hughes is a marvel to behold. Every detail—from the unique interior design to the gentle but powerful illustrations—is done with such careful intention, and the end result is stunning. The story follows one of the great artists, Isamu Noguchi, as he grapples with his mixed-race heritage, rejections from the art world, tensions during Japanese incarceration, and the way he created his art to hold himself in an unforgiving world. I was thrilled to find this story at the Noguchi Museum gift shop, face out on a shelf and surrounded by the artist’s Akari light sculptures—seeing his very lamps shining on this beautiful book celebrating his life.