Welcome to Publishers Weekly’s fifth Children’s Starred Reviews Annual! In these pages, you’ll find nearly 400 reviews of books for children and teens published in 2017 that received a star from PW, indicating that they are titles of exceptional merit. We’ve arranged these reviews into three categories—Picture Books, Middle Grade, and Young Adult—and further grouped them by genres, topics, and themes, making it easy to find that swoon-worthy YA romance, quirky middle grade graphic novel, or new read-aloud favorite.
Our issue also includes a look at the backlist gems that publishers finally caught up with this year, interviews with some of today’s top children’s authors and illustrators, and a list of our 50 best books of 2017.
About Our Cover Artist
Dan Santat grew up reading comic books and studiously drawing his favorite Marvel characters, but it wasn’t until after college that he considered a career in the arts. “My parents never let me take art classes,” he says. “They wanted me to grow up to be a doctor.”
That pressure followed him until graduation, when his roommate at the University of California, San Diego, encouraged him to ditch his plans of becoming a dentist to pursue his passion. After careful research, Santat enrolled in the Art Center College for Design in Pasadena.
From art school, Santat set his sights on the video game industry. “I heard that studios like Disney were seeking animators, and they paid six-figure salaries,” he says. “I thought maybe this was the thing to show my parents, to legitimize art as a profession. I still had their voice in my head.”
At the same time that he was working as a background artist at Activision for a series of Spider-Man video games, Santat was developing ideas for picture books. More than just illustrating books, he says, “I wanted the opportunity to tell my own stories.”
A fortuitous meeting at a 2002 SCBWI conference in Los Angeles opened the door to publishing opportunities. About an hour into the judging for the Don Freeman Grant (which Santat won), a Scholastic editor approached the illustrator, offering him a two-book deal on the spot. Santat politely declined, as another editor had previously expressed interest in the project. But Santat’s SCBWI mentor immediately persuaded him to take the new offer, saying: “That was Arthur Levine! He does Harry Potter!” Santat accepted, and his debut picture book, The Guild of Geniuses, was published in 2004 by Scholastic’s Arthur A. Levine Books.
Santat went on to develop an animated series for Disney in 2006, The Replacements. But as with the video game business, he was frustrated by the pressure from studio executives and realized, “I didn’t want all that big budget stuff.”
With more than 60 published titles to his credit, Santat is firmly planted in the children’s book world, which he finds to be “an amazing, liberating experience.” That creative freedom has paid off; Santat received the 2015 Caldecott Award for The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend. Santat is currently at work on a YA graphic memoir, You Bad Son, due from First Second in 2018.
And how do his parents view his career path? Santat says they made a point of telling him when he first set out for art school, “We just want you to be happy.” —E.K.