We’re about to head into the fourth quarter of 2023, which got me thinking about which picture books I’ve read this year that I’ve loved the most.
Before I get going, here are some useful disclaimers:
- I, of course, have not come close to reading all the picture books released so far this year. So my choices come from the pool of what I have read.
- I know more books are coming. And, it’s entirely possible I may love upcoming books equally or more than the ones listed here.
- I probably am missing a few books I read and adored. This could be due to distraction, confusion or general life chaos. I am a human, and therefore, imperfect.
- Picture book taste is subjective. I happily give you permission to disagree with my choices.
In an effort to overcome some of these obstacles, please share your favorite picture books from 2023 in the comments and also let me know about ones still coming out that you’re especially looking forward to. Your choices will keep me reading through the end of the year.
So. Here we go. My favorite 2023 picture book releases so far — listed alphabetically by title:
THE BRILLIANT MS. BANGLE by Cara Devins and K-Fai Steele, pubbed by Feiwel and Friends. There were a few back-to-school-themed books released this year that were billed as being supremely funny. I read them and thought … hmmm … but didn’t laugh. This book, however, did make me laugh. And, I loved it. (Note: I do not laugh or cry easily at books. They really have to work for it to get me.)
This book is about some students who find out their beloved school librarian hasn’t returned for the new school year. They vow to ignore the replacement until Ms. Stack (ha!) comes back. Their plan is foiled — or is it? — by Ms. Bangle, the new librarian who is nothing like her predecessor — or is she?
This book has more text than a lot of picture books released today, but it totally works. And, it has hilarious asides including references to lithographic printing, hemming pants, rotator cuff surgery, lesson plans and lima beans. Who could ask for anything more?
This is Cara Devins’ debut picture book, which makes me curious about what she’ll create next.
ENOUGH IS ... by Jessica Whipple and Nicole Wong, pubbed by Tilbury House Publishers. I wrote a whole Picture Book Builders post about this book earlier this year, so I’ll quote part of what I said then: “ENOUGH IS … addresses the age-old question, ‘How much is enough?’ It’s one of those questions that applies equally well to small children, tweens, teens, young adults, middle-aged folks and senior citizens.
“Whether you want the latest heavily marketed toy or iPhone, are trying to decide how much house you can afford, what you can spend on a vacation, or how much you’ll need to comfortably retire, it’s a question we’ve all pondered.”
This lovely, lyrical book is the perfect way to ponder the topic even more.
HOPEFULLY THE SCARECROW by Michelle Houts and Sara Palacios, pubbed by Flamingo Books. This is a fresh take on a fall book. The writing is extremely clever and hinges on two different ways key sentences can be interpreted. The story is well-constructed and well-paced.
And, it make me feel all the warm and fuzzy things. It’s such a huggable book.
This book is a great autumn read when you’re thinking about harvests, haystacks, and your next pumpkin-spiced latte, but because of strong universal themes, it works, equally well year-round.
It also has a lovely nod to reading, books, and libraries, which made me award it several bonus points.
I HAVE SEVEN DOGS by Molly Horan and Dana Wulfekotte, pubbed by Nancy Paulsen Books. Early in my writing career, I was at an SCBWI conference and an editor whose name I no longer remember said something like:
“Why does everyone write about kids wanting a dog? Be creative. Make the kid want an iguana or a dolphin or a rhinoceros. If you simply have to write about a kid wanting a dog, you’re going to need a really innovative approach to make your book stand out.”
Spoiler alert. This book has that. It really, truly does. And, the approach is executed in a way that’s so wonderfully perfect, I’m amazed no one has thought of it before.
IN EVERY LIFE by Marla Frazee, pubbed by Beach Lane Books. I’m an unabashed Marla Frazee fan, and this is Marla at her finest.
I also wrote a Picture Book Builders post about this book that says, in part: “IN EVERY LIFE is gorgeously structured. It contains seven sentences. That’s all. Each sentence follows this pattern: In every XXXXX, blessed is the XXXXX.
Underneath each sentence, which is hand-lettered and colored by Marla, is a collection of eight to 14 supporting images illustrating scenes from everyday life. Images of birth, smiles, hope, sadness, mystery, love, grief and so much more. The emotions of the people shown just leap off the page.”
THAT FLAG by Tameka Fryer Brown and Nikkolas Smith, pubbed by HarperCollins. This is a picture book about the confederate flag and two families’ very different views about what it represents. When I first read it, I wondered how Tameka and Nikkolas were going to pull it off, because the topic seemed so hard to successfully address.
But they are successful. So very successful.
THAT FLAG is a book about friendship. History. Perspectives. Listening. And learning. The main story is warm, relatable and informative, and there’s back matter to fill in the details. When I finished it, I said, “Wow!” I think you will too.
THIS BOOK IS MY BEST FRIEND by Robin Robinson, pubbed by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. I hadn’t heard any buzz about this book. Then, I saw a brief mention of it online and ordered it with no idea of what to expect. I’m glad I did.
This book is about two young library kids who love the same book for different reasons. The library only has one copy and they both want it, so they start trying to convince each other to check out another book instead: “How about this one? There’s a mouse in it too!”
That doesn’t go well, but the kids figure out how to keep the book as their best friend and maybe find a new friend as they do.
THE WORLD’S BEST CLASS PLANT by Liz Garton Scanlon, Audrey Vernick and Lynnor Bontigao, pubbed by G.P. Putnam’s Sons. This book is classic picture book perfection. It’s got a classroom of kids, a patient teacher who’s smarter than he seems, frustration, problem-solving, creativity, love, growth (in more ways than one), humor, and the absolutely most unexpected but perfect ending a picture book could hope for.
I said before that I’m a hard sell when it comes to picture books making me laugh, but this one got me too.
Trust me. You. Need. This. Book.
YOUR ONE AND ONLY HEART by Rajani LaRocca, MD and Lauren Paige Conrad, pubbed by Dial Books for Young Readers. I admire this book greatly, because it’s a book I could never have written for two main reasons.
First, it’s all about how the human heart actually, scientifically, works. And, sure, I might have been able to learn that, although not nearly as well as Rajani, who’s an actual, real-life medical doctor in addition to being a Newbery Honor winning author.
Second, it’s constructed as a series of separate free-verse poems about all the things your heart is — singular, cooperative, simple, complex, energetic, relaxed … and more. I love this style of picture book writing but have not yet been able to pull it off myself. And, oh, have I tried.
The creativity here is boundless. Kids will end up smarter after they read this book, and they’ll thoroughly enjoy the journey to get there.
Now it’s your turn.
What are your favorite 2023 picture books either already published or still to come? Tell me in the comments!
THREE QUICK ANNOUNCEMENTS …
If you’re a picture book creator, you might be interested in some upcoming online opportunities:
“Think Like an Author, Think Like an Illustrator,” Oct. 5, 7 p.m., ET. Lita Judge and I will share our very different but equally effective picture-book-creation processes in this webinar from The Kid Lit Hive. We shared this presentation at the New England SCBWI in-person spring conference, and now it’s available more widely. For $14.99, you’ll be inspired to hone how you create. If you register, you can watch the webinar live or on-demand after the fact. Details and sign-up.
“Writing a Story with Heart,” Oct. 9, 6 p.m., CT. In this DreamBank webinar, I’ll discuss how to add heart to picture book manuscripts. I’ve given this presentation several times before, but if you haven’t seen it, or if you want a refresher, it’s FREE. This is a watch live only event. No replay link will be available. Details and sign-up.
“Creative Boss Unleashed: How to Bounce Back from Creative Burnout.” Hosted by Kenzie Watters, a mixed-media artist and designer, this is FREE, online, interview series featuring conversations with artists, coaches and behavioral scientists, including me, as we talk about how to re-light our creative fires. One new interview is released a week, and you can register for a complimentary ticket to see them all on demand.