Betsy Bird's List of Best Kids Books of 2016

Children's book expert extraordinaire, Betsy Bird, formerly of the New York Public Library and now head of special collections right here in Evanston, lugged a big bag of books to my home last week to tell all of us on hand about the Best Children's and YA Books of 2016. There are so many terrific books here! if you haven't sewn up your holiday lists, you're in luck. Personal favorites: PAX, Jazz Day, Quite Calling Me a Monster and The Cookie Fiasco! There is something for everyone here: Monsters, the Supernatural, History, Math, Chinese Folk Tales, a Pet Fox, Weird Superpowers, Jemima Puddleduck, and a little bit of Elephant and Piggie.  And for all my writer friends, take note of The Secrets of Story by Betsy's husband, Matt Bird. Ostensibly a guide to perfecting fiction for the young, I've found it a great catalyst for my own creativity and enormously helpful as I contemplate my next nonfiction book. Enjoy!


Picture Books:

The Alphabet from the Sky by Benedikt Groft and Joey Lee – Aerial shots of the world below become a game of hide and seek as you locate letters in the landscape.  Great for long plane rides!


Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxane Orgill, ill. Francis Vallejo – On day in 1954 a photographer decided to take a single photograph of all the living jazz greats.  This true tale is retold through poetry and Vallejo’s marvelous illustrations.


King Baby by Kate Beaton  - The popular webcomic artist produces a book that is certain to be a huge hit with new siblings and parents alike.


Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus by John Hendrix – Marvelous typography mixes with tales of Jesus’s various miracles.  A religious title at heart.


Quit Calling Me a Monster by Jory John, by Bob Shea – A monster by the name of Floyd Peterson expresses his frustration with the fact that everyone’s scared to death of him.


The Storyteller by Evan Turk – Inspired by Morrocoan storytellers, Turk tells a story within a story within a story about a world without stories and water.


Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie, ill. Yuyi Morales – A Native American boy objects heartily to his nickname, coming up with alternatives that sound a lot more fun.


Easy Books:

The Cookie Fiasco by Dan Santat – A book for emerging readers, for lovers of math, for people who adore the Elephant and Piggie books, and for anyone who has ever enjoyed Dan Santat’s marvelous style.


Early Chapter Books:

Armstrong by Torben Kuhlmann – A German import about an enterprising little mouse who make a break for the moon and gets there before the humans do.  Delightfully realistic.


The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan – Dark pieces of fairytales, some famous and some not, are accompanied by Tan’s breathtaking sculpture.  Might be best for adults, for that matter.


Middle Grade Novels:

The Inn Between by Marina Cohen – The Shining meets Hotel California.  A supernatural mystery novel that will keep kids guessing until the last page.


The Mighty Odds by Amy Ignatow – Four kids get superpowers.  Really really weird superpowers.


Pax by Sara Pennypacker – A boy and his pet fox are separated and then struggle to reunite in this heartbreakingly beautiful little novel.


Rebel Genius by Michael Dante DiMartino – Geometry, magic, and fantastical world building combine in this epic battle between good and evil.


When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin – Lin expertly weaves Chinese folktales with a peppy plot.  Great for a wide range of ages.


Middle Grade Graphic Novels

The King of Kazoo by Norm Feuti – A ridiculous king, his daughter, and a tech guy set out to save their kingdom from a cranky evil magician.  Upbeat, amusing, and a guaranteed crowd pleaser.


Snow White by Matt Phelan – This atmosphere noir sets the story of Snow White against the early 1930s where a girl must escape the Queen of the Ziegfeld Follies and finds safety with seven street kids. 


Young Adult

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge – If you had to lie to find your heart’s desire, would you do it?  How far would you go?  A haunting, delicious novel about a girl and her encounter with a tree that is far more than it first seems.


For Adults:

A Celebration of Beatrix Potter, Arts and Letters by More than 30 of Today’s Favorite Children’s Book Illustrators – Artists celebrate their favorite Potter characters. Some are well known.  Some are definitely not.


The Secrets of Story by Matt Bird – Writing is one thing, but how do you engage with your audience?  Matt breaks down the stories you love to explain why you love them and how you can apply their rules in your own writing.


And Keep An Eye Out For . . .

Funny Girl: Funniest. Stories. Ever. by Betsy Bird – A collection of the funniest women writing for kids today.  A portion of the proceeds goes to WriteGirl in L.A.


You can see more of Betsy's work at her blog, A Fuse #8 Production. And I'll be hosting a book party for Betsy when she puts on her author's hat for the debut of Funny Girl next May!