best new baby books

Favorite Recently-Published Children’s Books.

This is a guest post by my sister, Elizabeth Sites, an expert in early childhood literacy. You can read her tips on promoting literacy at home in the face of the coronavirus pandemic here.

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The holidays are approaching, and for me, there is no better gift than that perfect book for just the right person.  I love writing a personal note on the inside cover, but in the face of this pandemic, I have had to settle for a card mailed separately. (It bears noting that my favorite D.C.-area bookstore, One Page Books, will kindly write a note for me if I request it!)

Because I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of picture books over my career as a reading specialist-trained educator, aspiring picture book writer, and library-obsessed mother of two young boys, I hope I can inspire a few fun gift ideas for you this season and beyond. In this post, I’m focusing on recently-published works (i.e., books published in the last five years) to share my perception of current market trends. At the end of this post, I include a footnote on how to decipher which books are appropriate for your child’s age (or the age of a child you know!).

I will note when a book is especially geared to an age group, but if not designated, you can assume the book is best for ages 3-8. I also asterisked my absolute favorites but all the books on this list are fantastic!  Bold-named author/illustrators are considered especially “hot” in the publishing world right now. Enjoy!

For the Mama-to-be or Brand-new Mama:

+The Wonderful Things You Will Be by Emily Winfield Martin (2015)

+Wish by Matthew Cordell (2015) – especially for parents who suffered a miscarriage previously

Hot Board Books (for ages 0-2):

+Peek-A-Boo Zoo series by Joyce Wan (2015) 

+Do Cats Moo? series by Salina Yoon (2020)

+Quantum Physics for Babies by Chris Ferrie (2017)

+ABCs of Art by Sabrina Hahn (2019)

For Very Young Children / Minimal Words (for ages 1-4):

+OUT! by Arree Chung (2017)*

+Play by Jez Alborough (2017)

+The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC’s (The Hard Way) by Patrick McDonnell (2017)

+They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel (2016)

Self-Esteem-Boosting Books:

+The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson (2018)*

+You Matter by Christian Robinson (2020)

+Be You! by Peter H. Reynolds (2020)

Books That Encourage Empathy:

+Finding Kindness by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Irene Chan (2019) – I love this book from one of my favorite authors; so many opportunities to have rich discussions with a child about ways to be kind.*

+Friends by Aiko Ikegami (2016) – ages 3-5*

+A Map Into The World by Kao Kalia Yang, illustrated by Seo Kim (2019)

+The Digger and The Flower by Joseph Kuefler (2018)

+Tilly and Tank by Jay Fleck (2018)

+I Walk With Vanessa by Kerascoet (2018)

+The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld (2018) – ages 3-5

Christian Books:

+Who Is My Neighbor? by Tim Ladwig (2020)

+When God Made You by Matthew Paul Turner, illustrated by David Catrow (2020)

+The Gifts of The Animals: A Christmas Tale, by Carole Gerber, illustrated by Yumi Shimokawara (2019)

For the Future Coder:

+How to Code a Sand Castle by Josh Funk, illustrated by Sara Palacios (2018 – series)

For the Future Engineer:

+The Fix-It Man by Susan Hood, illustrated by Arree Chung (2016)

For the Little Artist:

+Drawn Together by Minh Le, illustrated by Dan Santat (2018)

+Jackson Pollock Splashed Paint and Wasn’t Sorry by Fausto Gilberti (2019 – series) 

For the Little Yogi:

+Good Morning Yoga or Good Night Yoga by Miriam Gates, illustrated by Sarah Jane Hinder (2016; 2018)

For the Animal-Lover:

+National Geographic Animal Ark by Kwame Alexander, photographs by Joel Sartore (2017)*

+Bird Count by Susan Edwards Richmond, illustrate by Stephanie Fizer Coleman (2019)

+Who Would Win?: Ultimate Shark Rumble by Jerry Pallotta, illustrated by Rob Bolster (2020 – series)

Sweet Sibling and Family Books:

+When My Brother Gets Home by Tom Litchenheld (2020)

+The Climbing Tree by John Stith, illustrated by Yuliya Pieletskaya (2019)

+Home in the Woods by Eliza Wheeler (2019)

For the Nature-Lover/Scientist-to-be:

+Best in Snow, Full of Fall, and Being Frog by April Pulley Sayre (2016, 2017, 2020) – Just a few of her wonderfully-photographed and thoughtfully-written books.*

+Flower Talk: How Plants Use Color To Communicate by Sara Levine, illustrated by Masha Dylans (2019)

+An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth by Karlin Gray, illustrated by Steliyana Doneva (2018)

+Seeds by Carme Lemniscates (2020)

For the Future Paleontologist:

+National Geographic You Can Be A Paleontologist! by Scott D. Sampson, PhD. (2017) – ages 4-8

For the Space-Loving Child:

+Pluto Gets The Call by Adam Rex, illustrated by Laurie Keller (2019)*

+Earth, Sun, Moon series by Stacy McAnulty (2017, 2018, 2019), illustrated by Dave Litchfield (Earth), Steve Lewis (Sun, Moon)

+Moon’s First Friends: One Giant Leap For Friendship by Susanna Leonard Hill, illustrated by Elisa Paganelli (2018)

For the Mini-Mathematician:

+Billions of Bricks by Kurt Cyrus (2016)*

+7 Ate 9 by Tara Lazar (2017)

For Those With a Funny Bone!:

+Give Me Back My Bones! by Kim Norman, illustrated by Bob Kolar (2019)

Other Funny STEM Books:

+I’m Trying To Love… series by Bethany Barton

+Germs: Fact and Fiction, Friends and Foes by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James Ransome (2017) – ages 5-8

+The Brain Is Kind Of A Big Deal by Nick Seluk (2019)

Books about Interesting People:

+The Next President by Kate Messner, illustrated by Adam Rex (2020) – ages 5-8

+The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned To Read, by Rita Lorraine Hubbard, illustrated by Oge Mora (2020) – ages 5-8

+The Boy Who Grew A Forest: The True Story of Jadav Payeng, by Sophia M. Gohlz, illustrated by Kayla Harren (2019)

Books That Reflect Diversity:

Note that many books included in other sections of this post are also by a diverse set of creators:

+Dreamers by Yuyi Morales (2018) – Absolutely gorgeous, gorgeous book from the tender immigration story to the intricate illustrations*

+A Big Mooncake For Little Star (2018) and A Big Bed For Little Snow (2019) by Grace Lin – ages 2-5

+We Are Grateful (2018) by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frane Lessac

+Vamos! Let’s Go To The Market! (2019) and Vamos! Let’s Go Eat! (2020) by Raul The Third

+My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Pena (2019)

+Outside My Window by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Jamey Christoph (2018)

+Birdsong by Julie Flett (2019)

+The Last Stop On Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson (2017)

+Saturday by Oge Mora (2019). Note that Mora is on Forbes’ 2021 List of “30 Under 30”!

Books that Promote Inclusivity:

+Julian Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love (2018) 

+Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, by Vashti Harrison (2017) – ages 5-8

+Go Show The World by Wab Kinew, illustrated by Joe Morse (2018)

+Speak Up by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Ebony Glenn (2020)

For the Curious Daydreamer:

+The Night Gardener by the Fan brothers (2016)

+The Lost House by B.B. Cronin (2016)

Holiday Books:

+Gingerbread Man Loose At Christmas by Laura Murray, illustrated by Mike Lowery (2015 – series)

+A Christmas For Bear by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton (2017 – series)

+The Crayons’ Christmas by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (2019 – series)

+Construction Site on Christmas Night by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by AG Ford (2018 – series) – ages 1-5

+Pick A Pine Tree by Patricia Toht, illustrated by Jarvis (2017)

+Little Santa by Jon Agee (Board book edition 2015)

+Meet the Latkes by Alan Silberberg (2018)

Funny and Sweet Friendship Books:

+Here Comes Teacher Cat by Deborah Underwood (2017 – series)

+Monster and Mouse Go Camping by Deborah Underwood (2018)

+Sheep Dog and Sheep Sheep by Eric Barclay (2019 – series)

+Wordy Birdy by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Dave Mottram (2018-9 – series)

Funny Books with A Shade of Dark Humor:

+We Found A Hat (2016) and Hat Series (2019) by Jon Klassen – brilliant and worth the hype*

+The Bad Seed, The Cool Bean, etc. series by Jory John, illustrated by Pete Oswald (2017, 2019)

+Triangle, Square, Circle by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen (2017, 2018, 2019) 

Just Plain Hilarious Books:

+Life on Mars (2017) and The Wall In The Middle Of The Book (2018) by Jon Agee. In my opinion, the all-time funniest author. I don’t think there is a single book of his I haven’t laughed at…and I’m pretty sure I’ve read them all! These books in particular are clever and well-executed.*

+XO, OX, A Love Story by Adam Rex, illustrated by Scott Campbell (2017)* 

+The Farm That Mac Built by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Jackie Urbanovie (2020)

+Goodnight, Everyone by Chris Haughton (2016)

+Snappsy The Alligator by Julie Falatko, illustrated by Tim Miller (2016 – series)

+I Don’t Want To Be A Frog by Dev Petty, illustrated by Mike Boldt (2015)

+Mother Goose Bruce (2015) and Be Quiet! by Ryan T. Higgins (2017)

+Dragons Love Tacos 2 by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri (2017 – series)

Pun-ny, Funny Books:

+Straw by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Scott Magoon (2020 – series)

+Love, Triangle by Marcie Colleen, illustrated by Bob Shea (2017)

For the Child Who Loves Breakfast Food:

+Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast: Short and Sweet by Josh Funk, illustrated by Brendan Kearney (2015 – series)

+Woodpecker Wants A Waffle by Steve Breen (2016)

For the Child Who Just Got Glasses:

+Douglas, You Need Glasses, by Ged Adamson (2016) — Jen so sweetly sent this one for my three-year-old son, who just got glasses!

Funny Early Readers:

Often for readers in Grades 1-2, but can be read aloud!

+Ling and Ting series by Grace Lin (2015)

+Rabbit & Robot series by Cece Bell (2016)

+Frank and Bean series by Jamie Michalak, illustrated by Bob Kolar (2019)

For the Child Who Loves Comic-Style Books:

Note that in recent years every major publishing imprint started a graphic novel arm!

+Chick and Brain: Smell My Foot by Cece Bell (2019 – series)

Other Themes/Characters Your Children Might Like:

Ninjas: Ninja: Attack of the Clan by Arree Chung (2016 – series)

Pugs: Pug Meets Pig by Sue Lowell Gallion, illustrated by Joyce Wan (2016 – series)

Unicorns: Thelma the Unicorn by Aaron Blabey (2017)

Fairies: Ten Magic Butterflies by Danica McKellar, illustrated by Jennifer Bricking (2018 – part of a number series) – ages 1-4

Sharks: Shark Nate-O by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie, illustrated by Daniel Duncan (2018) or Misunderstood Shark by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Scott Magoon (2018)

Silly-Spooky Things: Creepy Pair of Underwear by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown (2017)

Mermaids: Part-Time Mermaid by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Cambria Evans (2018)

For Your Teacher Friends or Your Child’s Teacher:

+School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex, illustrated by Christian Robinson (2016)*

+We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins (2018)

+All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman (2018)

Hope you found a good book idea or two and that you share in my love of children’s books! Wishing you a happy and safe holiday season. You can follow me on Twitter @LizSitesWriting for more book suggestions and please do share your suggestions in the comments!

Footnote: Which Book Is Appropriate for A Child Aged ___?

Here are some notes on deciphering which books are appropriate for your child’s age:

0-2: Board books are usually best because babies have been known to chew on books! (See my post here for even more ideas.)

3-5: Read-aloud picture books aimed for this age often have shorter word counts and heavy use of picture clues to support the story. Emergent and beginning reading books for this age group may have one word or up to a sentence or two as the levels advance on each page. One example is the BOB books series. Sometimes, Mo Willems’ books can be read at this age level, depending on the child.

5-8: Read-aloud picture books may have more advanced concepts and plot lines. Beginning-to-independent level books for children to read by themselves at this age still use a formula of decodable text with high-frequency words. As children advance, they may start to read “Early readers” such as Frog and Toad, National Geographic books, and early chapter books.

8-12: Publishers generally call chapter books aimed at this age group “middle grade.”

12-18: Publishers generally call books aimed at this age group “young adult” or “YA.”

P.S. Many of these books would be excellent gifts on their own or bundled with a stocking stuffer from this list. Bigger ticket items for babies here, small children here, and older children here.

P.P.S. My daughter is my other heartbeat.

P.P.P.S. Practical notes on welcoming a second child to the family.

21 Comments

  1. What a great list — thank you, Liz, for these suggestions! I’m always looking for new books for my nieces and I’ve already bookmarked this post as a resource.

    Working in publishing, I have some former colleagues who are doing really interesting things in this space. For anyone interested in a board book that fits into what Mia referred to as the “growth mindset” category (thanks, Mia!) —I recommend I Am!: Affirmations for Resilience by Bela Barbosa, illustrated by Edel Rodriguez. I’ve given this to a few different young kids this year and it’s been a huge hit!

    Also, I gave the newest Sophie Blackall (If You Come to Earth) to my friend’s 4-y-o son and he loooved it. I adore Blackall’s illustration style.

    Another title from 2017 that I’d recommend (which I’ve given as a gift a few times) is Matt LaMothe’s This Is How We Do It, for the kid interested in how kids around the world structure their days. So interesting!

    Finally, I would be remiss without including Toto’s Apple by Mathieu Lavoie — translated from French in 2016 — that fits well into the “funny books with a shade of dark humor” category. Every child I’ve given this to (including my stepkids) have been obsessed with it! It has a relatively high page count but there are very few words on each page, and so I’ve found it to be an engaging page-turner for little ones. 🙂

    xx

  2. What an excellent list of book suggestions! I am always looking for new books for my son – can’t wait to work our way through this list! Thank you for taking the time to share with your readers!

  3. What a great post from your sister! (Thank you, Liz!)

    I have always loved children’s books, even before I had my own — I used to enjoy browsing the children’s section of bookstores for my nephews and nieces. We have a delightful children’s bookstore in our neighborhood that I used to frequent with my daughter pre-COVID. It’s such a happy place!

    Agree on Good Morning Yoga and Good Night Yoga! My 3 y.o. loves these too.

    Not sure how recent these are, but if I could add a few titles that my daughter enjoys:

    Diversity/inclusivity:

    When Charley Met Emma by Amy Webb

    Interesting People:

    Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly (definitely wordy for a 3 year old though, so I adjust as needed)

    Curious Daydreamer:

    If You Come To Earth by Sophie Blackall

    At the Same Moment Around the World by Clotilde Perrin

    Not a category listed, but I also like books on affirmations and fostering a growth mindset:

    I Can Do Hard Things: Mindful Affirmations for Kids by Gabi Garcia

    I’ve also been looking into books about positive body image, self-respect, and consent and I like these:

    My Body Belongs to Me from My Head to My Toes (pro familia)

    Let’s Talk About Body Boundaries, Consent and Respect by Jayneen Sanders

    Can’t wait to dig into those titles in the “Just Plain Hilarious” category! We definitely could use some humor in these strange times.

    1. This is so great! I am so excited about reading some of your recs (heard great things about If You Come To Earth by Sophie Blackall, and love the idea of mindfulness etc categories). Thanks for sharing and glad your enjoyed the post!:) Liz

    2. Oh! A couple more to add to the Interesting People/Curious Daydreamer category:

      Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed

      What Miss Mitchell Saw by Hayley Barrett

      My daughter got so into the space theme the past year and we’ve been thoroughly enjoying these!

      I’m so thankful to be raising a child during a time when there are so many more fascinating stories about women and girls — so much more empowering than the damsel-in-distress storyline of the old fairy tales (which I grew up reading)!

    3. Mia – Do you have “Margot and the Moon Landing”? It’s a little longer, but it is a lovely book about a girl’s love for space.

      Annie

      PS – thank you for this incredible list, Liz! It must have taken quite a bit of work to put this all together for us. I am going through it in depth now.

    4. Mia – thank you so much for all of these additions, too! Amazing, and love the “growth mindset” category. Merci!

  4. This was so great! I ordered a few animal ones 🙂 and have to tell you per your rec, the rabbit listened is a big hit around here with my boys!! (Adults too!)

    1. Yay! Love that book so much. So sweet. Something about the simplicity of the words really speaks to me — “and the rabbit listened” like a quiet refrain. xx

  5. Hi April! So glad you found it helpful! My sister spent a lot of time curating this post…w/r/t the presidency book, I believe the book is more a retrospective on presidents past with a focus on suggesting that you never know what the future president of the US is doing right now, but I agree the title is off/odd.

    xx

  6. This is a very comprehensive list, and I appreciate the suggestions as I have needed some help purchasing books for my nephews! However, I think that it should be noted that the book titled “The Next President” was published in 2020 and seems to exclude many details about our current president.

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