You’ll notice there isn’t a Dr Seuss book in sight. And where on Earth is Where the Wild Things Are? Or Goodnight Moon for that matter (which we love, but still puzzle over why the old lady chose to eat mush). The problem with the scores of ‘best of’ kids books lists is that they’re almost all the same – and that’s understandable considering the titles that regularly feature are classics. But here at Literati, a try-before-you-buy book club for kids, we think so many great books get missed; books that aren’t in Amazon’s top 100, for example. In fact, the books we’ve chosen are between 11,000 and 800,000 in Amazon’s rankings, yet they are crushing more famous books when we put them in front of the best critics – kids themselves.
We believe that when these ‘best of’ lists are compiled, whoever’s asked to contribute just opts for the well-thumbed tomes they grew up reading; the same ones they then bought their own children or recommended to friends. Compiling best-of book lists becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. Well, it’s time for some new titles to bolster your child’s bedside bookcase. Literati has compiled a list of our favorite 25 children’s books, and there’s a good chance you may not have heard of any of them.
1. Orion and the Dark by Emma Yarlett (Club Nova — ages 5 through 7)
Brilliance and hilarity emanate from every page of this book about Orion’s attempt to break the psychological barriers of his fear of the dark. It was Rilke who wrote in Letters To a Young Poet that “perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” It is in that spirit that you will come to know (and love) Emma Yartlett’s Dark.
2. Soft Shapes Ocean by iKids (Club Neo — newborn through 3 years)
Whether you’re little one’s fitting the jigsaw puzzle pieces back to their pages or sticking them to the walls of the tub, this book gives new meaning to the notion of a foam lexicon. We’ll see you aboard the Nautilus real soon.
3. Together by Emma Dodd (Club Sprout — ages 3 through 5)
One of the sweetest and most beautiful selections from UK Publisher Nosy Crow, which won Children’s Publisher of the Year at the 2017 British Book Awards. Together is executed perfectly with stunning illustrations that incorporate foil in the paper so the watery world that its central characters (a sea otter and her pup) inhabit literally shimmers. But it is the heartfelt message of being in the moment that makes this book a winner.
4. Mr Ferris and his Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis & Gilbert Ford (Club Sage — ages 7 through 9)
A colorful, touching, and historically accurate account of the invention of the Ferris Wheel for its first unveiling at the 1883 Chicago World’s Fair. Any young innovator will be inspired by George Ferris, who overcame frozen earth (it was one of the coldest winters in the city’s history), quicksand, a shoestring budget, and that most challenging obstacle of all —doubt.
5. The Pencil by Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman (Club Nova — ages 5 through 7)
Alan Ahlberg and his wife Janet (who died in 1994) were one of the best-known writer-artist duos in British children’s literature – responsible for Peepo! and The Jolly Postman. For The Pencil, Alan Ahlberg teamed up with illustrator Bruce Ingman, and we almost can’t say anything about it without ruining the havoc and hilarity. You’ll just have to step into the world of the runaway pencil and experience his problems on the page yourself. Maybe we’ve already said too much. Can anyone spare an eraser?
6. Arctic White by Danna Smith & Lee White (Club Sprout — ages 3 through 5)
When you live deep in the tundra, it’s like living on a blank canvas: any bit of color can stir the imagination, and a burst – like the Northern Lights – can set the mind aglow. That is what we think your child will experience with this rare and sweet journey through the Arctic, where an explosion of inspiration awaits.
7. Dragon Was Terrible by Kelly DiPucchio & Greg Pizzoli (Club Nova — ages 5 through 7)
Hear Ye! Hear Ye! A terribly cute dragon is menacing the kingdom with rude burps and unkind behavior. This mischievous menace has even stooped to taking candy from baby unicorns. Imagine that. It will take the heart and mind of a child and the power of story to get village life back on track. (There are also some precious life lessons: like don’t scribble in books!) A 2016 NYPL Best Children’s Book Selection.
8. Illuminature by Carnovsky & Rachel Williams (Club Sage — ages 7 through 9)
Italian design duo Carnovsky (Francesco Rugi and Silvia Quintanilla) have collaborated with writer Rachel Williams to produce a really incredible book – more a piece of art – in which children use the enclosed viewfinder to reveal different scenes as they tour our planet’s most exotic ecosystems. They’ll learn about the Ganges river dolphin, the squirrelfish, and the West African forest gecko as they explore the Congo Rainforest, Andes Mountains, East Siberian Taiga, Redwood Forests, Serengeti, and Apo Reef.
9. Tinyville Town I’m a Veterinarian by Brian Biggs (Club Neo — newborn through 3 years)
With brilliantly simple text and illustrations, Brian Biggs has created the cozy community of Tinyville, where everyone has a purpose and everyone is kind: like the Tinyville Town vet who cares for her family and her clients with real generosity. Don’t know about you but we’re looking into Tinyville Town real estate…
10. Presto Change-o by Edouard Manceau (Club Sprout — ages 3 through 5)
When is a teapot not a teapot? When it’s an elephant. Welcome to the world of Presto Change-O! – a book of animated magic. This magician’s command will delight little ones everywhere as a hat flips to reveal a red bird, a bowl filled with veggies becomes a turtle, and a clock transforms into an owl. This book casts a spell.
11. Big Questions from Little People by Gemma Elwin Harris (Club Sage — ages 7 through 9)
What are rainbows made of? Why do I get hiccups? Why can’t I tickle myself? (okay, we all need to tune in for that one…) and can a bee sting a bee (spoiler: yes, it can). In this delightful little volume, some of the world’s leading minds (including Richard Dawkins, Noam Chomsky, and Baroness Susan Greenfield) join forces to answer curious questions from kids.
12. When Pigasso Met Mootisse by Nina Laden (Club Nova — ages 5 through 7)
What happens when two famous artists’ egos collide? In this hilarious “Moosterpiece” by one of our favorite writers, Nina Laden, you will see the real artistic styles of Picasso and Matisse rendered in animal forms that will crack up children and adults alike. “You paint like a two year old,” Mootisse quipps. “You paint like a wild beast,” is Pigasso’s retort. Laden hits on all fronts: humor, warmth, values, artistry and character. (Extra credit for being entertaining and educational!)
13. Art Detective: spot the difference by Doris Kutschbach & Julia Durr (Club Sage — ages 7 through 9)
Wait a minute… there’s an extra piece of fruit in the bowl of Cezanne’s famous still life. Young Sage, get your magnifying glass ready. It’s time to out-sleuth a master forger. Can you uncover the differences between an original painting and a copy? A wonderful way to carefully engage 20 iconic works of art that span a wide variety of styles and periods while learning about the history of famous artists.
14. Hug Me by Simona Ciraolo (Club Sprout — ages 3 through 5)
We all need a little affection from time to time but the waters are rough if you’re seeking intimacy and happen to be a cactus. In this marvelous tale of breaking barriers to love and overcoming prickly isolation, Felipe the cactus proves that there just might be someone for everyone, after all. You’d have to be really spineless not to fall for this heartwarming tale.
15. The Story Orchestra: Four Seasons in One Day by Jessica Courtney-Tickle (Club Nova — ages 5 through 7)
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons accompanies your child as they join Isabelle, The Story Orchestra‘s central character, on a tour of four seasons in just one day. We loved the idea of showing kids how music relates to emotion, nature, feelings and moods, and had this book been around decades ago, we’d have season tickets to the symphony.
16. You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum! by Andy Stanton (Club Sage — ages 7 through 9)
Meet disgusting Mr. Gum. He lives in filth, hates children, and has never made his bed. And we’re not talking sheets and pillows here: the guy just threw a mattress on top of wooden planks. Call us suckers for British humor, but we couldn’t breathe after reading chapter one.
17. Cloudette by Tom Lichtenheld (Club Nova — ages 5 through 7)
Cloudette is one cute little cumulus cloud. Her small size allows for lots of perks, like fitting in tight spaces, but like all good works of fiction, there’s a conflict: Cloudette sees all the other clouds doing important things like making storms, watering crops, and causing mighty rivers to flow, and she’s desperate to do important cloud things, too. Armed with determination and a sunny disposition, she shows us how small contributions can add up to something big.
18. You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey & Soyeon Kim (Club Nova — ages 5 through 7)
Every tiny atom in your body came from a star that exploded long before you were born. Grounded in science, Elin Kelsey’s wonderful book You Are Stardust displays unusual sensitivity and elegance when dealing with our origins. If the illustrations seem a bit unusual at first, it’s because they are photographs of three-dimensional art pieces merging real mediums like leaves, string, paper and gauze. We bow to you, illustrator Soyeon Kim.
19. Tashi by Anna Fienberg, Barbara Fienberg, & Kim Gamble (Club Sage — ages 7 through 9)
This little-known early chapter book series is adored for its humor and wonderfully imaginative take on adventure. Tashi, which means “auspicious” in Tibetan, is a gnome-like character that lives purely in little Jack’s imagination but whose cleverness will save the day. It’s full of engrossing plot lines with a slight hint of danger, and the simple, black and white pencil illustrations perfectly evoke Jack’s magical world.
20. Roberto the Insect Architect by Nina Laden (Club Nova — ages 5 through 7)
From the author of When Pigasso Met Mootisse comes this hilarious tale of Roberto, a termite with architectural aspirations. When he leaves his comfortable wood-eating surroundings for life in the bug, bad city, Roberto lives in the shadows of his heroes before he finally makes it. Hank Floyd Mite? Yes, really.
21. Usborne Peek Inside Space by Anna Milbourne & Simona Dimitri (Club Sprout — ages 3 through 5)
“If you peek into the night sky, past the clouds and way up high, what can you see?” So begins this lovely interactive book about outer space from Usborne. We love the interplay of creative form and educational science; lift the flaps to uncover new tidbits about our solar system, being an astronaut, and the international space station. Bonus points for the closing remarks on the question of possible extraterrestrial life.
22. Stories to Solve by George Shannon & Peter Sis (Club Sage — ages 7 and up)
You’ll remember riddles like these from your own childhood – like the man who must ferry three items across a river but with a boat that can only take two. Your whiz kid will enjoy solving these timeless problems collected from world folklore, but they’ll also make for engaging family discussion. We love that each brain teaser also features a description of its origin in the source notes. We think you’ll agree that Stories To Solve is a stimulating, educational gem.
23. If You’re a Robot and you Know it by David A. Carter (Club Sprout — ages 3 through 5)
If you’ve always hated “If You’re Happy & You Know It,” you might not agree with this choice, but with that disclaimer, know that the pull tabs that animate the robots in this interactive charmer will make it a sure-fire hit with your little one. Robot brings pop-up books into the 21st Century.
24. Superhero Dad by Timothy Knapman & Joe Berger (Club Sprout — ages 3 through 5)
This “action-packed” tale of snoring, slightly burned breakfasts, and super long laughs is a sweet love letter from a son to his father. Delightful illustrations, lovely rhymes, and a cute underlying message about the heroism of being present in the everyday make this a great tale to read again and again.
25. Grandma in Blue with Red Hat by Scott Menchin & Harry Bliss (Club Nova — ages 5 through 7)
Underpants in a museum? This book teaches there’s no right or wrong when it comes to art, and that you’re never too young to appreciate it – in all its forms. Menchin explores this through a touching relationship between a boy and his grandmother. A superb introduction to enjoying art, with humor and wit to boot.