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!
Alvina Ling, v-p and editor-in-chief, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
My favorite read of the year was The Mona Lisa Vanishes: A Legendary Painter, A Shocking Heist, and the Birth of a Global Celebrity by Nicholas Day. Alison Morris of First Book gives monthly book recommendations on my podcast with Grace Lin, Book Friends Forever, and her rave about this book made me immediately want to read it. I listened to the audiobook and found it to be utterly delightful. I loved the conversational voice sprinkled with humorous asides, the informative and engaging facts, and most of all this book tells an incredible story that I had no idea even happened. I found myself recounting so many facts to my husband and friends while I read, and when I finished the book I immediately went back and listened to the beginning again.
Kate O’Sullivan, executive editor, Clarion Books
As an editor, I was green with envy when I first read Gideon Sterer and Charles Santoso’s collab, I Will Read to You. But as an aunt to four picture book readers, I cheered. This book has lots of sparkle and surprise, loveable monsters of all stripes, and a rallying call to kindness. Though I predict we’ll be savoring this one year-round, it gets bonus points for being an extra sweet treat during many readers’ favorite season—the spooky one.
Kay Frost, inventory assistant, Candlewick Press
My recommendation is Little Thieves by Margaret Owen. Until I started at Candlewick this year, I was a bookseller, and this is the book I shoved at absolutely everyone and anyone. Owen is a witty, meticulous writer with a rare eye for craft, and her retelling of the little-known Brothers Grimm tale “The Goose Girl” is her best work yet. It feels overdone to say “this is the book I wish I’d had as a kid,” but I really mean it.
Emily Ritter, assistant director of digital marketing, Simon & Schuster
All That’s Left to Say by Emery Lord went and destroyed me. As a long-time Lord fan, I was so excited to read this new book, but I didn’t expect it to run me over in such a beautiful way. The alternating timelines between past and present drew me through the story, and the love between Hannah and her best friend, Sophie, was everything. I desperately wanted to hold Hannah as she struggled with her loss and grief. I loved all the secrets in this book, the swoony romance, the mystery of what happened, and above all, the friendship that is at the heart of every Emery Lord book. I immediately wanted to read it again, and I’m sure I will!
Kate Egan, executive editor, Pixel + Ink
This year I re-read one of my all-time favorites, Tim Federle’s Better Nate Than Ever, as research for a series I am developing. I love Nate’s wry voice and big dreams, plus I love being right there with him as he sees that the world is so much bigger than he had dared to imagine. Even on third reading, this book still makes me laugh and cry (for real!). Also, I first listened to it on a long-ago road trip with my own kids, not New Yorkers, and because of Nate they still believe that Duane Reade is a magical wonderland.
Katie Cunningham, senior v-p, editorial, and associate publisher, Candlewick Press
I read Huda F. Cares? by Huda Fahmy like a ball rolls downhill. Opened it up... read a few pages... read more pages... read the whole thing in one feverish hour. After that and over the next couple of days, I read everything of Huda’s that I could get my eyeballs on. Huda F. Are You? Yes. That Can Be Arranged? Absolutely. Yes, I’m Hot in This? You betcha. I only stopped because I ran out of material but I’m waiting patiently. Sort of.
Feather Flores, editor, Atheneum Books for Young Readers
I just loved J.P. Takahashi and Minako Tomigahara’s Tokyo Night Parade. It’s lush and wondrous, with an undercurrent of fierce love—a celebration big enough to hold the sorrow, confusion, and longing of belonging to many worlds but not always having easy answers about how they fit together, a sentiment that diasporic readers understand well. I’ve made a special place in my heart for this one!
Susan Van Metre, executive editorial director, Walker Books US
My first boss, Donna Brooks, was a brilliant, exacting editor. So when she admired a book, I knew to have high expectations. And young adult books, relatively few and often message-heavy in those days, rarely won her praise. Except the books of New Zealander Margaret Mahy. Donna adored them.
I read a few while working for her but somehow never got around to reading The Changeover, Mahy’s best-known book. But I was listening to Caroline O’Donoghue’s insightful, irreverent podcast, Sentimental Garbage, and she talked at length about The Changeover. A very cool teacher had assigned The Changeover to Caroline in school and it had a big influence on her as a writer. A very cool teacher because it is a book about witchcraft and gender confusion and demon possession and sexual longing. To quote Caroline, “It’s a banger,” and one that presaged so many of today’s romantic fantasies. But it also has something rare, even in today’s YA novels: parent characters who have their own agendas and complicated lives on the page. So maybe reading it now, 30 years after Donna praised it, was meant to be. Because I’ve had my own changeover, to parenthood, and reading about a mother and teenage daughter who see each other’s full, messy humanity was definitely what I needed this year.
Megan Noes, marketing coordinator, education and library, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing
I love Looking Up by Stephan Pastis and didn’t expect such nuance and humor in this middle grade book. The main character reminded me of myself as a kid—snarky and sweet. Pastis manages to comically and touchingly depict the familiar angst of trying to resist change and deal with, or not deal with, grief. The best moments are with the strange yet authentic side characters, like the grumpy shopkeeper who can magically select the right toy for each kid, but only if they’ve done their homework. I felt somewhat duped that I didn’t see the twist coming, but it was completely worth it to get to spend time in Looking Up’s world.
Phoebe Kosman, director of marketing, publicity, and key partnerships, Candlewick Press
Finding a bedtime book that my two sons, nine and six, will agree on is becoming increasingly tricky: my older son craves plot and sophistication, while the younger one loves silly illustrated stories about friendship but can’t tolerate emotional conflict. With its strong characterization, lowish-stakes suspense, and sweet humor, not to mention its gorgeous illustrations, Mika Song’s brilliant Fort Greene Park-set squirrel graphic novel tetralogy—which began with Donut Feed the Squirrels, Apple of My Pie, and Pizza My Heart—brilliantly fills the bill. We couldn’t wait for One Smart Cookie to come out this summer. It was even better and funnier than we’d hoped, while (spoiler) answering the timeless question of who actually writes fortune-cookie fortunes, and it swiftly found a place in our bedtime-book rotation.
Andrea Colvin, editorial director, Graphic Publishing, Little, Brown Ink
Dan Santat’s A First Time for Everything was absolutely exhilarating. It perfectly captured both middle-school angst and the joy of a first requited crush, both set against the background of experiencing something completely new—a different culture and place—for the first time. Even more, this book is—exquisitely—about that first moment in our lives when we realize growth is happening, and that we are becoming someone new. A beautiful, sweet, perfect read.
Steph Stilwell, senior designer, Little Bee Books
My favorite book of the year is The Unfortunate Life of Worms by Noemi Vola. It’s a hefty book, decked out in pink painted edges and a satin pink bookmark ribbon. It was the striking design that first stood out to me on the shelf, and I was so pleasantly surprised when I flipped through its pages. At first, it appears to be a book that provides worm facts, but quickly becomes so much more than that—there’s a lot to learn from these earnest little worms! Not only is it a book that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but the illustrations are so, so fun. Highly recommend for anyone, not just kiddos.
Lisa Yoskowitz, executive editorial director, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Time loop novels are tough to get right, but 2022 saw the publication of two YA time loop novels that I think knocked it out of the park: The Do-Over by Lynn Painter (which I read and loved last fall), and See You Yesterday by Rachel Lynn Solomon, which I listened to on audiobook this year. The characters are amazing, the transition from high school to college life felt so honest, and each twist and turn was flawlessly executed. I’m a fan of Solomon’s writing and the way she centers smart, feminist, layered Jewish protagonists as they navigate life and love. As a teen, I only saw Jewish characters in Holocaust narratives, so I’m so glad that today’s teens have Solomon’s positive, uplifting, contemporary Jewish rep on the page.