Welcome to Publishers Weekly’s sixth Children’s Starred Reviews Annual! In these pages, you’ll find nearly 350 reviews of books for children and teens published in 2018 that received a star from PW, indicating that they are titles of exceptional merit. We’ve arranged these reviews into five categories—Picture Books, Middle Grade, Young Adult, Comics, and Nonfiction—and further grouped them by intended age range, topic, and theme, making it easy to find your new favorite read, from compendia to comics and more.
Our issue also includes a look back at publishers’ paths to working with children’s books, interviews with some of today’s top children’s book authors and illustrators, and a list of our 50 Best Books of 2018. Happy reading!
About Our Cover Artist
Lucy Ruth Cummins is the children’s publishing equivalent of a triple threat: an author, an illustrator, and an executive art director. Since 2003, she has worked at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers and Paula Wiseman Books. Her creative mark can be seen in the design of picture books by Ben Clanton, Stuart Gibbs’s Spy School series for middle graders, and YA author Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy.
Cummins stayed within the S&S family for her 2016 author-illustrator debut, A Hungry Lion, or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals. She credits friend and literary agent Alexandra Penfold with encouraging her to make the shift to creating her own books. “Alexandra was visiting me at my office one day, and I had a bunch of thumbnails for a story idea lying on my desk,” Cummins recalls. “When I asked her who might want to write or draw a story based on the art, Alexandra said, ‘You should do it!’ I hadn’t considered it before; she gave me that initial push.”
Cummins took a week’s vacation to stay with her parents in upstate New York, where she set about making the book. “I worked in my childhood bedroom,” she says. Another push, this time from Jenny Han, led Cummins to show her dummy to Han’s agent, Emily van Beek at Folio Literary Management, who is now her agent, too. Van Beek brought the book to Justin Chanda, v-p and publisher at S&S Children’s Publishing, who liked what he saw. “The rest is history,” Cummins says.
When asked what aspect of picture book-making comes most naturally to her, Cummins says, “Page breaks. I have reflexes from working with other authors and illustrators. It feels really instinctual, but it’s only through that practice.” While she says her impulse is to make “funny books,” she describes the joy of collaborating with others on their dramatic picture books, including the 2018 titles Found by Jeff Newman, illustrated by Larry Day; and The Remember Balloons by Jessie Oliveros, illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte.
A self-described night owl, Cummins says she balances her day job at S&S with her personal projects, and raising her three-year-old son, by taking vacation time here and there and working overnight, fueled by “espresso, showers, and naps.” For her sophomore book, Stumpkin—a Halloween tale of a stemless pumpkin, and an homage to her neighborhood in Brooklyn—Cummins repeated her ritual of visiting her family upstate, hashing out the thumbnails and rough sketches for the book on the way there and back, and setting up shop in her old room.
The author describes how creating picture books takes her back to her own childhood and family, “I usually take the bus up from the Port Authority on a Saturday morning, work all the way—it’s about a five-hour ride—eat supper with my folks and work some more before turning in. They ‘put me to bed’ at about eight! And then after poached eggs in the morning, my parents insist on driving me to the bus stop to see me off, even though it is literally around the corner from my childhood home. It’s amazing how much I can get done in that time, and my mom and dad always like seeing what I’m working on when I visit.”
Cummins says her next project is about a penguin, and she has plans for another productive trip to see her folks. “That’s been a real driving force, to have that bus ride, and that place to go work.”—E.K.