I love sharing our favorite new children's books. This part three in a year long series in which I share what my kids and I consider to be the best books of the year. Be sure to peruse our 2014 favorite children's books, part 1 and best children's books, part 2 for more great titles, and since good books never go out of style our lists of favorite children's books of 2013 will give you more material for your library lists!
For the first time ever, this list includes chapter books! Would you like to know more about our favorite new chapter books in my favorite books series? If so, I'll include it as part of my series next year.
Unfortunately, as is the case every year, I can't claim our "best books of the year" have been chosen from a complete selection of all the newly published books. I am always limited by which books are in our library. My favorite books are sure to turn up elsewhere, though, so be sure to check the index of all our book lists. You can also follow our facebook page, where I frequently share what my kids are currently reading. (Note: book covers and titles are affiliate links.)
The Princess in Black is an early chapter book by the author or The Princess Academy (the two books are unrelated) and her husband. I've been wanting to read it myself and I was wondering if my son would reject it out of hand because he is very into the idea that girl stuff is icky (insert eye roll here). However, on the other hand, his is currently obsessed with superheroes. Fortunately, the tongue in cheek story telling and action-packed adventure about a princess and unicorn with secret identities, along with colorful illustrations easily won over my son.
My 5 year old is OBSESSED with Naked! I am not exaggerating. We have read it every night before bed for the last several weeks. He also re-enacts the book several times a day -- whenever he finds himself without any clothes on, actually. I must say, I love to see him getting so involved with transferring his love of a story to "real" life! I can't imagine a child not liking this book. Is there any child who doesn't love running around in his birthday suit? I think not. Both the author and illustrated have perfectly captured the joy that comes with a cool breeze on one's bare backside.
The Storm Whale tells the story of a boy who brings home a baby whale he finds on the beach. He tries to keep it hidden in the bathtub, but his father eventually finds out. This is a gentle tale that focuses on the relationship between a boy and his working father, what it feels like to be lonely and how to make a connection with those we love. My 5 year old asks for it repeatedly (see my comment in Druthers about his daddy-obsession) and I don't mind reading it. The illustrations are lovely.
Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters has gotten a lot of praise this year, and rightly so. I'm a fan of Oliver Jeffers' work but wasn't entirely sure what to expect with this book. I'm often wary of alphabet-themed books. I don't always enjoy them. However, I found Jeffers' droll and ultra-short tales for each letter in the alphabet very entertaining, as did both of my boys and the book quickly became a favorite. The humorous stories are mostly unrelated to each other, although there are a few loose connectors that kids can pick up on. It may be called an "alphabet book" but it is something much more unique and not a book about learning your letters. I recommend it for ages 5 and up.
One Busy Day: A Story for Big Brothers and Sisters. Little sister Mia wants to play with her big brother, Spencer. Spencer claims he is too busy, but the two children become enmeshed in imaginative play and very, very busy together. What attracted my son to this book was the contrast between what was happening on the page and the words of the story. The text describes the grand adventure that is happening in the children's imagination, but in the illustrations we see them joyfully playing with everyday items like cardboard boxes and kiddie pools. My 5 year old loved pointing out that contrast, which was an excellent exercise in reading comprehension!
You Can't Have Too Many Friends! is one of the most bizarre stories I have read, but my son can't stop referring to it and I admit I quite like an offbeat picture book myself. It's a folktale-style story and lots of fun. A duck grows prize-winning jelly beans and the king borrows them, promising to return them. A year later, the duck has still not gotten his jelly beans back so he sets off to retrieve them. Along the way he meets a dog, a ladder, a babbling brook and hive of wasps who all want to travel with him. The duck shrinks the dog and the ladder and puts them in his pocket, the babbling brook travels in the duck's gullet and the wasps in his ear. (I said it was weird.) At the castle, the king lounges in his bath while his mother uses turkeys, an oven, and a well to thwart the duck's attempt to get back his beans. In a series of events too bizarrely hilarious to recount in a single paragraph review, the duck still fails to find his beans. However, all is not lost as the king makes a miraculous about face. That's all I can say. The book is super weird, but we all really loved it.
I considered finding a way to add Going Places onto my list of S.T.E.M. book and toy gift combinations but decided to save it for this list. Everyone in a class receives an identical "going places kit", complete with precise instructions. The kids are to assemble the kits and meet up for a go-cart race. Before the race, however, two kids collaborate and decide to discard the "precise instructions" and design their own fantastic vehicle. This is a delightful book for all little inventors and builders out there.
Druthers. My son has been interested in books which have two very important qualities. One is that they feature characters engaged in pretend play. The other is that the book features a father figure. He is going through a serious daddy-love phase right now. (I've decided to enjoy the break, rather than take it personally, ha ha ha.) He also loves new and interesting words, such as "druthers" so this book really hit the sweet spot. One rainy afternoon, a girl is bored, and her father asks what she would do if she "had her druthers." This leads to a series of imaginative play scenarios that are so enjoyable they result in the girl declaring if she had her druthers, it would rain again tomorrow.
It's a good thing the early chapter book, The Case of the Weird Blue Chicken: The Next Misadventure is relatively short because I've had to read it a million times. Somehow my son never fails to laugh when Sugar calls Winnie the Blue Jay "weird blue chicken." We haven't read the first book in the series, but I suspect we will shortly. This series is an offshoot of the J. J. Tully Mystery series (see that on my list of Mystery Early Chapter Books) and is by the author of Click Clack Moo, Cows that Type. It is a witty adventure starring 4 cheeky and bumbling chickens who solve mysteries on the farm. Large type and loads of pictures make it a good choice for kids just starting out with chapter books.
Give and Take has a folktale quality to it, which may be why my son found it so appealing. I've noticed he really goes for folktales (MORE: see all my multicultural folktale book lists). A farmer meets two tiny fellows named "Give" and "Take". They give him opposing bits of advice (as you might guess...). When the fellows get into a heated argument, the farmer discovers a way to cease their fighting and make the most of both viewpoints.
The Meaning of Maggie is my personal addition to the list. It's a middle grade novel that I loved. 11 year old Maggie decides, that as a future President of the United States, she should keep a journal of her life. Her writing is filled with humor about everyday situations as well as more serious issues, like learning about her dad's MS. I found myself smiling and cheering for Maggie and her family throughout the book. My older son has not read this book, I recommend it for the older end of middle grade readers, age 11 and up. (Note: Chronicle Books sent me a review copy)
Did any of your favorite new titles make our best of the year list. And remember, the term "best" is flexible! Whatever your child's favorite is your best, critical raves or no!