Subjective as the term can be, here are some of the books Bookshop Santa Cruz has selected as the best books for young readers published in the year 2019, presented as part of our Best Books of 2019 lists. All books reviewed by Bookshop staff below.
You may find other favorite kids books of ours, from 2019, here.
This interactive board book is fun for adults as well as toddlers! The beautiful, colorful, detailed art gives readers lots to pour over and the fun fold-out flaps that correspond to the animal sounds in questions are cleverly designed. A great choice for babies and toddlers!
This book is an ode to the power of music and a meditation on the many hands needed to cultivate the garden of inspiration—and the power of inspiration once it takes root and blooms. Ren’s art is full of beautiful detail, all kinds of diversity, and refreshingly steering clear of gender stereotypes. This lovely and inspiring story will appeal to music and non-music fans alike. - Stephanie
With spare text and dazzling, gorgeous illustrations, this story manages to sing a song of freedom while speaking to the sadness of loss and ending with the beauty of hope. Ransome’s art is gorgeous and allows readers to connect to the characters emotions as we follow them through a momentous week in their lives. In addition to the power of the story and the art, the significance of the bird at the end nearly had me in tears. A powerful, moving book and an ode to hope. - Stephanie
This heartwarming story of a beautiful intergenerational friendship moves through the seasons like a breeze, following young Katherena as she moves from the city to “the country, far from the sea.” There she befriends her elderly neighbor, Agnes. Their beautiful friendship--especially an act of deep empathy by Katherena—made me tear up in the best way. I hope it touches your heart as well. - Stephanie
This book is laugh-out-loud funny! Mama Bird thinks it’s time for Baby Bird to fly. So she attempts a coercive strategy to get her baby out of their apparently too comfy nest, but Baby Bird has other ideas, as readers will see in the pair’s comical illustrated speech-bubble dialogue. When Baby Bird’s brattiness lands it on the ground, the hilarity soars—as does Mama Bird’s frustration with Baby Bird’s antics. Sure to elicit laughs from adult and child readers alike.
This book makes me want to get outside and go! Wren, El, and Hattie, with Bean the dog, do just that on a day-long hike and their friendship, individuality, curiosity, and self-confidence take them to the summit. I’m impressed with how prepared they are. Getting tired, cold, or lost doesn’t phase them. Wren sketches in her nature journal, El composes poems along the way, and Hattie follows the map. They figure things out together. Young readers will love it! - Noreen
“You never know what treasures we’ll find,” says the mom of eight children as they embark on a magical, but also an actual, Depression-era year turning a house into a home. Based on the life of the author’s grandma, Marvel, this picture book recounts the family’s inspiring journey through lovely green-infused watercolors, inconspicuously labeled with general-store items on one page and wildflowers on the next. A generous story of love, with endpapers for those like me who crave more details. - Michelle
This beautiful story about the bonds of sisterhood is going to be my favorite book this year. It’s told through the eyes of Faizah, whose older sister is wearing a blue hijab on their first day of school. It’s an insightful look into bullying in a way that isn’t scary or traumatic for younger children going into school: The story, like Faizah, focuses on her sister’s strength and the words of her kinder classmates. - MJ
A young girl’s dream to see a puma takes more patience than she bargained for, but is well worth it. I love her Gram who says, “Easy dreams aren’t worth a pin or a pickle,” and other wise words. This story’s themes of patience and environmentalism feel gentle--never preachy--and Jim LaMarche’s lovely illustrations evoke an almost palpable sense of place. A great choice for anyone who loves the natural world, pumas, or who has big dreams! - Stephanie
Change is hard, but that doesn’t make it bad. When Rabbit loses an old friend, he gains the friend’s motorbike. As someone who never left the farm, it seemed an odd gift, but one day Rabbit hops on and takes a chance on the great unknown. Gorgeously illustrated and lovingly told, it is a reminder that sometimes the hardest risks have the greatest rewards. Roads are long, but they all end somewhere new and exciting. - Ivy
This splendid book by Caldecott honoree Oge Mora is an ode to resilience and the mother– daughter bond. Since Ava’s mother works “Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday,” Saturday is their special day together. The beautiful collage art is so charming and really makes the love between the pair palpable. When their plans go awry, the touching twist at the end provides a heartwarming conclusion that brought tears to my eyes. A great choice for any and everyone! - Stephanie
Guojing dedicated this beautifully illustrated book to her lost dog Dou Dou. The story follows a stray whose life is changed when a woman attempts to befriend him. Stormy is wordless, but the stunning illustrations capture all the compassion and empathy embedded in the story. A heartwarming tale about trust, love, and the unbreakable bond that forms between a dog and their owner. A story for dog lovers. - Natalie O.
Alexander and Nelson have created a perfect book that invites readers to truly feel. Every word is necessary, every illustration is just what it needs to be (even when it’s nothing at all). It’s a testament to the black experience in the United States that comes together in a central message: Black. Lives. Matter. Beautiful, heartrending, hopeful, true, and easily the best book of the year. - Stephanie
I must admit I cried (in a coffee shop) when I reached the spread about the protagonist coming from her abuelo’s heart and the hearts of their ancestors. As an Afro-Latinx person, I especially appreciated Méndez acknowledging the African ancestry many Latinx people share. I wish I’d had this lyrical, beautiful, and moving book as a child. - Stephanie
Barnett has fashioned a secret door that transports us to a world where Margaret Wise Brown chases dogs, drinks tea, and writes. This book shows us that truth in storytelling is important, especially with children. Awash in pastels, Jacoby’s long-striding Margaret keeps her chin up and her eyes open, and you’ll want to do the same while reading this book. - Michelle
Gyo Fujikawa’s is the inspiring story of a Japanese American woman succeeding despite the social limitations of the early 1900s. This well-illustrated book will appeal to anyone interested in art, history, and feminism. Gyo’s dedication to bringing her multicultural artwork into the mainstream media was groundbreaking and, I believe, her greatest accomplishment and contribution to creating a more diverse society. - SC
This book is for all of us—young and old, all races and ethnicities. The words and watercolors bring back that day in Charleston when “no words could say what must be said for all the living and the dead,” and President Obama lifted us out of despair by humbly singing “Amazing Grace.” Read the book, watch the video online, hear the song. Cry, and then share this with every child old enough to understand. There’s work to be done. - Noreen
Poor Flubby! He’s a cat that doesn’t sing, catch, jump, run, or do much of anything really! But Flubby loves his child--and his child loves Flubby. This hilarious easy reader is perfect for those who have just begun to read. Not only will it help them practice their phonics, but it’s sure to elicit a laugh! - Stephanie
Duane the polar bear wanders into the very, very far north, accompanied by his keen sense of adventure as well as his kindness and generosity of spirit. Misfortunes abound—inevitable with all adventuring—but Duane believes that “sometimes a day has a change of heart and decides to take you where you want to go.” With echoes of Winnie the Pooh, these snowy tales make the coziest of read-alouds. - Michelle
Ramée’s debut novel explores the awkwardness of middle school, the changing dynamics with friends, and getting “woke.” I found fallible and funny (with her “allergy” to trouble) Shayla utterly relatable as she navigates her feelings about an incident of race-based police violence and struggles to decide whether breaking the rules is sometimes the right choice. Books that examine race often fall short, painting with broad strokes, but this book avoids that misstep—it’s right on target, addressing essential nuances with courage and honesty. - Stephanie
Newbery medalist Erin Entrada Kelly has conjured a vivid fantasy world inspired by Fillipino folklore, full of people and creatures wonderful and terrible. Lalani is an ordinary girl kept down by tradition and fear, but neither ordinariness nor being afraid will keep her from risking it all to save her home. The result is a wonderful, authentic adventure of dark currents and bright points perfect for lovers of fairy tales and of the fight for what is right. - Jocelyn
Jason Reynolds is one talented writer. In this book, he weaves together ten stories, all centering on one block. He manages to subvert readers’ expectations and tackle serious themes with humor, all while allowing the characters humanity to shine through and connecting the stories in surprising ways. It’s no wonder it’s a finalist for the National Book Award! - Stephanie
I loved and learned from this book. This is a story about the struggles that come with living in a country in turmoil and existing as a religious minority. It’s also a coming-of-age tale about endearing, relatable Jude, who is learning who she is and how to allow herself to be seen in a new place, making this a book that can serve as both a window and a mirror for everyone. - Stephanie
Be warned—I cannot describe how awesome this book is! At a Miami arts school, Sal Vidón, new kid, and Gabi Reál, class president, clash and collaborate with intelligence, mischief, science, showmanship, sleight of hand, and delicious Cuban food—all amidst robots, alternate realities, bullying, chronic health issues, and grief. At its heart, this book is about being a unique kid, and exploring the limits of love, friendship, and yourself. Do yourself a favor and strap in. - Jocelyn
Meet Jordan, an African American boy attending a prestigious New York middle school where he’s torn between two worlds—rich and working class, black and white. On the first page, Jordan says, “This is how I feel every single day of my life, like I’m falling without a parachute,” and illustrates his experiences (via a book within the book) with insight and ironic humor that all young students, especially students of color, will really appreciate. A humorous yet poignant story. - Noreen
This magical visual feast is a delight. Combining the whimsical, beautiful, and bizarre it evokes Studio Ghibli films with its dapper fisherbear, lanterns that transform into flying fish, mysterious paths, and magical cartographer crows. Ben and Nathaniel both felt so real, and Ben’s struggle to do what is right, despite potential social consequences, really rang true. Do yourself a favor and join them on their magical adventure! - Stephanie
Sara, a Jewish girl in Nazi-occupied France, has only ever wanted a normal life, but in a single, fateful day everything she knows and loves is destroyed. Relying on the everyday courage and kindness of friends and strangers, Sara fights for survival, finding hope in the unlikeliest of places. A companion book to her beloved novel Wonder, Palacio’s graphic novel debut is a harrowing but ultimately inspiring read. - Katherine
Move over Holden Caulfield, Juliet is here! Rivera sums up the awkward feeling of being caught between worlds and of trying to figure out what you believe. We follow Juliet on a journey of learning: through the LGBTQIA+ community, the Puerto Rican radicals before her, about her own family, her hero (they’re never who they seem), and most importantly, herself. This book is perfect for teens who have been waiting to see themselves reflected in the books they read. - MJ
This is one of my favorite books of the year. Reminiscent of modern classics by Diana Wynne Jones, Robin McKinley, Patricia C. Wrede, and Garth Nix, it defies age designations. Elisabeth is an entirely lovable protagonist whose fondness for books, willingness to reexamine her biases, and penchant for getting into scrapes both warmed my heart and made me laugh. I also fell in love with wry sorcerer Nathaniel and his dry wit. Though the stakes were high and danger abounded, I was in stitches for much of the book; chances are you will be too. - Stephanie
Fans of Leigh Bardugo and Sarah J. Maas, look no further for your next read: This epic, high-stakes, multiple-narrator fantasy is for you! Ephyra, Beru, Hassan, Anton, and Jude’s lives are all thrown into chaos when an ancient prophecy begins unfolding. Pool’s fantasy world is detailed, distinctive, and immersive—I felt I was there with the characters and I stayed up too late trying to unravel the various enigmas integral to the story. I’m already looking forward to the sequel! - Stephanie
Historic injustices are often treated as lacking any contemporary impact, but this book disabuses anyone suffering under that delusion. In modern-day Silicon Valley, the internment of their Japanese-American ancestors affects protagonist CJ Katsumaya and her family, though they (believably) don’t see eye to eye about it. This historical interconnectedness coupled with CJ’s evolution from an apathetic antihero (wave goodbye to the “model minority” myth) into a woke person of action, makes this book a compelling and thought-provoking read. - Stephanie