Monday, January 1, 2018

The Best of the Best: My 50 Favorite Fiction Picture Books and Board Books of 2017

Seven highly-experienced children's book reviewers.

357 fiction picture books and board books published in the last year.

Two and a half months of reading and reviewing and discussing.

 Just for Fun

A pushy dinosaur-shaped cut-out cookie. Guinea pigs who all want glasses. Insect talk.


A girl who is crazy about gorillas. Two sheep and an adventure. Bear and Mouse at Christmas. A boy who goes against the grain. A queen seeks a perfect cup of tea.


Blue. And white. And all the other colors.


Harry and Clare stay home but have the most amazing adventures.

Familiar Characters

Lots of great fractured fairy tales.

Little Stories

Small stories with eggs and cats and even a bear.


It's a big world, so let's see more than our own backyard.


War stories.

Scary Stuff

Will Jabari dive off the high board?
Will Jasper Rabbit face some scary underwear?


Off on an antlered ship, on a bicycle, and on a trip across a salad.


No words.

Wacky Word Play

A detective story. Another interactive Herve Tullet tale. What rhymes with orange? You never know where a mistake may take you.

Board Books

And lots and lots of wonderful new board books.

And, finally, we are delighted to announce
our 2017 Cybils Fiction Picture Book and Board Book Finalists:


After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) 
written and illustrated by Dan Santat 
(Roaring Brook Press)

The story of what happened to Humpty Dumpty sounds like a simple,
little kid story, but this Humpty Dumpty story? It’s so much more than
a cute children’s book. Kids of all age groups will be touched by the
emotional message.

Dan Santat is not subtle about telling and showing Humpty’s anxiety:
“I was so scared that it kept me from enjoying some of my favorite
things.” This straightforward approach allows us to easily relate to
Humpty’s feelings. The soft, detailed illustrations enhance the text
by adding touches of humor and by deepening Humpty’s worry and his
struggle. There are many important messages here about coping with
accidents, perseverance and not giving up, but also about waiting to
be ready for new challenges and how it can take slow steps to get past
fear. This is a book that can open the door to important discussions
but it can also quietly soothe and remind one child they are not

Andrea Mack
That's Another Story

Baabwaa and Wooliam 
written by David Elliott and illustrated by Melissa Sweet 
(Walker Books)

"This is Baabwaa, also a sheep. In this picture, Baabwaa is knitting. Knitting is a practical hobby for a sheep. It's surprising not more of them do it. Oh, well."

In this sheepishly-funny picture book story, best friends Wooliam and Baabwaa attempt to find adventure. Not long after, they encounter a wolf (quite like one Wooliam has read about). Readers will enjoy this hilarious duo as they attempt to discover just what adventure means and who it may include. Melissa Sweet's illustrations in water color, gouache, and mixed media entertain and add fun details as does the story's voice, which tends to state the obvious. It's a tale tale of friendship that children will love to hear, and adults will love to read, with elements that tie together nicely and lead to a satisfying ending,

Lynne Marie Pisano
My Word Playground

written by Dashka Slater and illustrated by Sydney Hanson 
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Escargot is easily the most charming and earnest snail you have ever met. At times seeming confident ("You may kiss me if you want!"), it becomes clear that he finds himself in a position recognizable to children and adults alike: he wants very much to be someone's friend (yours!), but he is afraid you are not as interested in friendship as he is.

The text begs to be read aloud, and invitations to readers to stroke Escargot's shell or to make a fierce face make it a wonderfully interactive story time read. The large, bright illustrations are every bit as charming as the text. This one is begging to be read over and over again.

Ami Jones
A Mom's Spare Time

Flowers for Sarajevo 
written by John McCutcheon and illustrated by Kristy Caldwell 

Flowers for Sarajevo, written by John McCutcheon and illustrated by Kristy Caldwell is one for our older picture book readers. The events in this book took place over two decades ago, but in a world where acts of war and terror take place regularly, this story gives children a chance to explore and process these troubling ideas, emotions, and actions. In the pages following the mortar blast, when the square goes silent from lack of activity, the audience you might be reading aloud to will also go silent. There is a depth of sadness and seriousness that warrants it. The cellist, Vedrun Smailovic, enters the story as a figure of bravery and peace, which softens the ending of the story, though does not erase the seriousness. The CD accompanying the book is powerful to play. Listeners will be transported to the square as Vedrun Smailovic himself plays the song he played those many years ago.

Nicole Levesque
Bluestocking Thinking

Creepy Pair of Underwear! 
written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Peter Brown 
(Simon & Schuster)

"...the underwear glowed.
A ghoulish, greenish glow.”

This book bursts with kid appeal.  What kid doesn't love underwear or glowing in the dark? Jasper Rabbit is an endearing character who overcomes his fear all on his own.  Engaging and emotive illustrations utilize a limited color palette to enhance the clever writing and compelling story.  Hilarious and heartfelt, the story will resonate with readers of all ages.  

Kirstine Call

Book of Mistakes 
written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken 
(Dial Books)

In the Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken readers are dazzled and watch in amazement as Luyken turns mistakes into something beautiful. The progression of the story feels like a magic trick. Humor and elegance promote courage and flexibility over fear in making mistakes. Readers of all ages will be delighted and awed by the twists and turns of Luyken's illuminating artwork. Inspiring, surreal, playful, and gorgeous, this book puts mistakes into a life-affirming perspective.  

Tiffa Foster
The Picture Book Review

Big Cat, Little Cat 
written and illustrated by Elisha Cooper 
(Roaring Brook Press)

“There was a cat
Who lived alone.
Until the day
a new cat came.”

Simple text, yes, with simple illustrations, yes, but don’t let the simplicity deceive you: this is a story of great depth and intensity. With the feel of a haiku and Japanese ink painting, Big Cat, Little Cat is a meditation on an endearing relationship that develops between opposites, big and little, black and white, and grows deeper and deeper, romping in work and play, until the inevitable end and the sadness that ensues. The author/illustrator doesn’t abandon us here, however, but nudges us forward with the reassurance of a new cycle of love and life beginning. Like all classic stories, Big Cat, Little Cat stirs readers of all ages to smiles, to laughter, to tears, to joy once again.

Deb Nance


Circle, Triangle, Elephant: A Book of Shapes and Surprises 
written by Kenji Oikawa and illustrated by Mayuko Takeuc 




This hilarious shape book approaches shapes in a fresh, unique way. Surprises throughout break up the pattern of shapes and provoke laughter because they are so unexpected. The book helps babies and toddlers recognize shapes and colors, and also notice what doesn't belong. Simple, bright and cheerful illustrations only enhance the kid-like text. This is a fantastic read-aloud that will be read and re-read!

Kirstine Call

written and illustrated by Leslie Patricelli 

Hair, by Leslie Patricelli, is one that you will be asked to read again and again, and you won't mind! Patricelli's bold illustration style brings to life a simply drawn baby in need of a haircut. Literally, one haircut. As the baby takes us through the emotions and steps of getting that first haircut, you won't be able to resist laughing. That single curly hair grows to hilarious lengths! Toddlers on the verge of a first haircut will be given a chance to rehearse the process, and toddlers that have experienced getting a haircut in a salon will enjoy the connection as they point out all the things they did just like the baby in the book.

Nicole Levesque
Bluestocking Thinking

One Happy Tiger 
written and illustrated by Catherine Rayner 
(Tiger Tales)

One Happy Tiger is, indeed, one happy tiger. Readers can't help but smile back at his quietly pleased expression as he explores the jungle, taking time to notice the smaller creatures along the way. Not simply a counting book, this pretty little board book explores adjectives such as thoughtful, watchful and curious as well. Illustrations are simple enough to catch a baby's eye - the bold tiger on a pastel background - yet make a pleasant change for parents from the usual cartoony board book illustrations. One that we think parents and libraries will be happy to keep on their shelves for years to come!

Ami Jones
A Mom's Spare Time

When Your Lion Needs a Bath 
written by Susanna Leonard Hill and illustrated by Daniel Wiseman 
(Little Simon)

Exploring the funny things that might result when your lion needs a bath, this 26-page board book is sure entertain little ones and older ones as well. While dealing with a simple and intriguing concept of dealing with your pet lion, it also reads like a picture book. In addition to its engaging antics, it offers delightful illustrations and most importantly, a fun read for all (no matter what age they may be).

Lynne Marie Pisano
My Word Playground

Changing Faces: Meet Happy Bear 
written by Nathan Thoms and illustrated by Carles Ballesteros 
(Harry N Abrams)

Meet Happy Bear by Carles Ballesteros enthralls young ones as they watch the panels slide and see Happy Bear's expressions change. The interactive participation to make the bear happy again is a roller coaster ride of emotions, but is ultimately satisfying. The adorable expressions on Happy Bear, the sense of empowerment by being able to make the bear smile, and finding what Happy Bear really needs makes for a delightful and exciting read for young readers.

Tiffa Foster
The Picture Book Review

written and illustrated by Nina Laden 
(Chronicle Books)

With all the fun of the classic game of peek-a-boo, Peek-A-Moo takes
babies to the farm. The brightly colored illustrations complement the
creative rhymes and the small size of this book is just right for
little hands. Small windows cut into the pages allow babies and
toddlers to predict what’s coming next. This is a book little ones
will want to read themselves, again and again.

Andrea Mack
That's Another Story

Bears are Big 
written by Douglas Florian and illustrated by Barbara Bakos 
(little bee books)

What happens when an award-winning poet writes a board book? Douglas Florian, as in his poems for older readers, calibrates each word in this small book for our youngest of readers. On the surface, the story is a common one for board books, a story of animal opposites, but while the words admit differences, paradoxically the illustrator perspicaciously hints at the ways the animals share the world contentedly.. Bears Are Big is a delight with brilliant bursts of color on every page, lovely clever and surprising text, and a gentle message of peaceful coexistence.

Deb Nance


  1. I LOVE the covers of children's books; they are so colorful and happy and make me want to read them.

  2. Congrats to the finalists. And thanks, Deb, for including A COOKED-UP FAIRY TALE as one of your faves! This post will be such a handy To Read list for me. I've read many of them and look forward to reading the ones I haven't.

    I hope you have a great 2018!

  3. May this New Year be special in every way… bringing you the gift of love and excitement.
    (01/01)From Japan to friends all over the world; Happy New Year! ! @Sakamoto2Ryouma

  4. We have only read a handful of these, so I will have to look them up!

  5. I think I will get a few of those board books from my grandson. Thanks.

  6. What a wonderful list! It is especially helpful to those of us who don't know our way around picture books.


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