Best kids books in 2023 are the topic of our blog post today!
As we approach the end of the year, it’s about time we indulge in the annual tradition of sharing “best-of” lists. For today’s post on Selected Reads, I’m thrilled to dive into this handpicked list of the best award-winning kids’ books of 2023. This curated selection comes to us from Bookshop, a platform that’s a fantastic ally for all us bibliophiles out there. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll likely recognize several titles on this list. I’ve covered many of them in previous posts, and for good reason—these books are key elements in children’s literature.
What I absolutely love about this year’s selections is the broad range of themes and the depth of the subject matter. From confronting mental health issues and embracing diversity to inspiring environmental stewardship and stimulating boundless imagination, these books don’t shy away from big ideas. They’re empowering our kids to not just navigate but thrive in this complex world, offering insights and adventures in a form that’s accessible and engaging for young minds.
Related: Best Books of 2023
Best Kids Books in 2023
Here are the best kids books in 2023:
1. Parachute Kids: A Graphic Novel, by Betty C. Tang
Talk about a page-turner that really gets at the heart of the immigrant experience! “Parachute Kids” doesn’t shy away from the complexities of being a young, undocumented newcomer to America. It beautifully captures the emotional rollercoaster Feng-Li and her siblings go through as they navigate a new culture, all while dealing with family dynamics that can make even the simplest tasks chaotic. It’s not just a story of struggle; there are laughs and life lessons that balance it out. What makes it super compelling is that it’s drawn from the author’s own experiences. The accolades are well-deserved—this book should be on every teacher’s and parent’s radar.
2. Remember Us, by Jacqueline Woodson
You know, “Remember Us” is the kind of book that really resonates with kids who are trying to find themselves while the world around them is changing rapidly. Jacqueline Woodson nails it with her deep dive into the emotional complexities that Sage faces. The story tackles issues like identity, friendship, and the often painful process of growing up, all set against a backdrop of a community in crisis. It offers a poignant look at the impermanence of things and the importance of memories. It’s also worth noting that the writing is just so evocative—it’s Woodson, what did we expect?
3. Big, by Vashti Harrison
Ah, “Big,” the title itself suggests something out of the ordinary, and Vashti Harrison doesn’t disappoint. This is not just another children’s picture book; it deals with themes of self-love, acceptance, and the power of words. The minimal text juxtaposed with expressive illustrations creates an emotional landscape that can help kids explore their feelings about fitting in—or not. This book should definitely be on your “to-share” list if you’re interested in cultivating empathy and self-love in your young readers.
4. Simon Sort of Says, by Erin Bow
Alright, this one hit close to home. “Simon Sort of Says” takes a difficult topic—school gun violence—and frames it in a way that’s digestible but doesn’t lose any of the impact. Simon’s journey from victim to survivor and, eventually, to empowered youth, is both heartbreaking and uplifting. The move to a “quiet zone” is a clever narrative device, giving us space to hear Simon’s inner struggles and triumphs. This book is more than just an engaging story; it’s a conversation starter for some tough topics that, sadly, are relevant in classrooms today.
5. Henry, Like Always, by Jenn Bailey
“Henry, Like Always” is an amazing entry in the world of beginning chapter books, especially because it addresses the autism spectrum so directly. It’s really cool to see Henry’s world come to life through Jenn Bailey’s writing and Mika Song’s illustrations. With humor and insight, the book portrays a week in Henry’s life that is not “like always,” offering kids on the spectrum a character they can see themselves in, while giving other readers a window into that experience. It’s an excellent pick for young readers making the transition to longer books, and for any parent or educator looking to add some diversity and inclusion to their bookshelves.
6. Buzzing (a Graphic Novel), by Samuel Sattin and Rye Hickman
A relatable story for any middle-schooler grappling with inner turmoil, “Buzzing” follows 12-year-old Isaac who is dealing with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). He discovers a supportive community through an after-school role-playing game, which gives him a much-needed respite from his invasive thoughts. However, his newfound relief is cut short as his grades decline and his therapist and overprotective mother intervene. The graphic novel offers a poignant look at the challenges of managing mental health while navigating the social maze of middle school.
7. The Year My Life Went Down the Toilet by Jake Maia Arlow
Twelve-year-old Al Schneider is grappling with two enormous secrets: her chronic stomach pains and her emerging feelings for girls. When she’s diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, it only adds more complexity to her life. She’s forced into an uncomfortable openness about her condition, while still struggling with her sexual orientation. Al has to balance these challenges with the trials and tribulations of middle school, giving the reader a hilariously honest journey through a tumultuous year.
8. Elf Dog and Owl Head by M. T. Anderson and Junyi Wu
Clay finds an escape from his monotonous life and family struggles through a magical dog, Elphinore, who leads him on surreal adventures in the woods. However, the forest is fraught with its own set of perils. This is more than a tale of a boy and his dog; it’s a mind-bending journey that blurs the line between the ordinary and the extraordinary. The book taps into themes of escapism, magical realism, and the intricacies of familial relationships, made even more engaging through Junyi Wu’s evocative black-and-white illustrations.
9. Something, Someday by Amanda Gorman and Christian Robinson
A perfect read for those who need a dose of inspiration and hope, “Something, Someday” encourages young readers to find their voice and take action, even when the world seems overwhelming. Collaboratively written by presidential inaugural poet Amanda Gorman and illustrated by Caldecott Honor-winner Christian Robinson, the book portrays the timeless power of optimism, resilience, and friendship.
10. The Tree and the River, by Aaron Becker
This wordless picture book captures the unyielding march of time and human impact on nature through the life of a tree beside a river. The book starts with a rural setting, then a village, a town, and an expanding society that alters the landscape in dramatic ways. It is a thought-provoking commentary on how industrialization and technology have changed our relationship with nature, giving readers of all ages pause to consider the environment and our role in preserving it.
View it on Amazon and Bookshop
As I close the chapter on this roundup of 2023’s best kids’ books, I’m left with a sense of optimism and excitement for the future of children’s literature. It’s like a breath of fresh air to see how authors and illustrators are harnessing the power of storytelling to shed light on the intricate realities that our young ones face today. From navigating mental health issues to fostering inclusivity, these books are more than just stories; they’re tools for change and understanding.
Whether you’re a parent, an educator, or simply someone interested in children’s development, these books offer a treasure trove of teaching moments. I strongly recommend checking them out, not just for the kids in your life but also for yourself because the learning never stops, no matter how old we get.